Friday, October 19, 2012

Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream

I was having trouble sleeping last night and was visited by several weird dreams, but by far the most bizarre was the dream involving me having sex with my father. In the dream I was an adolescent, probably around fifteen or sixteen, and my dream father didn't look much like my real father. However, I knew it was him because the scene of the action was the house in Philadelphia in which I lived as a child and we were both feeling anxious that my mother could arrive home at any minute. When I awoke I knew the man of my dream had been my father, despite the efforts of what Freud would have called the "dream work" to disguise that fact. Had the man in the dream resembled my father more closely there's a good chance I would have been startled into awakening. If the purpose of the dream was to allow me to experience a forbidden and repressed desire, awakening would have prevented the dream from attaining that end; as it was I continued sleeping and dreaming until the act reached its climax.

Then I woke up; surprised, but, strangely to me, not repulsed. Surprised, largely because I wasn't repulsed. I remember as  a young adolescent seeing my father working in the backyard in his tee shirt, sweaty and dirty, and feeling something close to repulsion; feeling that he was the opposite of attractive; nearly embarrassing in his working class appearance. What a snob I was! Growing up in a what might be called a mixed class family in America, as an adolescent I would have liked to shed the working class component. If my father, working out in the backyard, followed his preferences, he probably would have been shirtless, but I can hear my mother, calling from the back porch, "Albert, put your shirt on"; feeling the same shame as I. What would the neighbours think?

He was a very athletic man, no doubt handsome to many, including no doubt my mother, but not to me. For one thing, his was a generation before the emergence of the V shaped bodily ideal; an ideal grounded, I believe, in the emergence of body building as a sport; the type of body that was already predominant in the Fifties physique magazines I would surreptitiously purchase at the United Cigar Store. His was a block-shaped body; hips only slightly less wide than his shoulders; a body type seen in photos of prize fighters of the time. Along with most other boys and men in the Fifties, he used Brylcream to slick his hair straight back across his scalp, while I used "a little dab will do you" to get my crew cut to stand up straight, like the other boys to whom I was attracted. The word that best communicates what I felt when I looked at my father with my teen, classist, aesthetic/sexual sensibility would have been "yuk".

It could be said that it was cunning of my ego and unconscious working together to disguise him in my dream and at the same time make it evident who the man of my dream really was. The dream sex we had together was of the Daddy/Boy genre with which those familiar with gay porn will be familiar. (I feel I need to add a disclaimer for those not familiar with the genre to the effect that "boy" in the Daddy/Boy genre usually refers to the sexual partner who, will being visibly younger than the Daddy, is, nevertheless an adult; someone we would normally refer to as a young man and not as a boy. Often there are only a few years difference between the two in gay porn; as a fan of the genre once remarked, "Boy is a state of mind".) I've had many clients in their thirties, forties and even older who saw themselves as boys and were looking for a silver daddy. My age in the dream was somewhat on the younger side for the Daddy/Boy genre.

In the dream I remember feeling I was sexy; a little, lanky vixen. I must have been somewhat of a narcissist as a youth as I did spend a considerable time looking at myself in the mirror; maybe that's just being a normal, adolescent boy. I spent hours tanning in the back yard and at the beach; taking a hot shower while wearing my new Levis so they would shrink to fit tightly; carefully rolling my jean cut-offs as far as I could up my thighs. I felt I was that sexy, erotic object in my dream. Once the action moved to the bed room, I was happy it had to conclude quickly on account of my mother's immanent arrival; not because I wanted to get it over with, but because I wanted to get to the orgasm.

(A reflective interlude: I'm aware that I could just as readily describe my adolescent self as ashamed of my body; as I felt I was skinny and in some contexts was embarrassed to have it seen. I dreaded being chosen to be on the shirtless team in gym class. Such is the process of looking back and telling a story; organizing what we think we remember as fact; remembering being largely a process of focusing and embroidering on what renders the story coherent and passing over what doesn't fit; making coherent what might be storied in very different ways.)

Freudians, whether of the more traditional or contemporary practitioners, would have an amusing time interpreting my dream. For both camps the "yuk" of my conscious reaction to my father as a sexual object being seen as a defence against realizing that I actually desired him. For the traditional, my alleged desire to have sex with him would be seen as a further shield for the fact that I wanted to have sex with my mother; my submission in the dream being a reparation made to him for the fact that I desired his mate and merited his anger. A classic expression of the origin of homosexuality as both a denial and a renunciation of desire for the mother through submission to the father as represented in other men. For contemporary, more gay-positive Freudians, the dream both shows and conceals an actual attraction to my father.While for male heterosexuals the mother forms the template for future desire, for male gays the father serves that same function.

In my opinion, there is no evidence to support either interpretation. The power of Freud and Freudians is their skill as story tellers; giving sense to dream material, which by its nature is fragmentary, confusing and chaotic. The conceptual framework within which their narrative is situated posits the existence of entities, ego, id, unconscious (individual or collective), which exist only as postulates within a world view which is one of the variations of Freudian theory. I think that the psychoanalytic theorist, Jeffrey Masson is likely correct in his claim that Freud evolved the structure, which we know today as Freudian, as a consequence of uncovering in his early practice that sexual abuse within the family was much more widespread than society was willing to accept; transforming memories of actual abuse into the fantasies of the Oedipal Complex (The Assault on Truth).

From time to time people in my practice relate a dream to me with a belief that it must have some significance and wanting me to help with an interpretation of it. Naturally, dreams do often have a reference to our waking lives. Dreams we have when just falling asleep tend to make reference to things that happened during our day; dreams when awakening often make reference to what we're expecting in the day to come; "deeper" dreams often make reference to our desires and anxieties. However, I don't believe such references or indications provide some sort of access to otherwise hidden truths about our selves. As soon as we require some hermeneutics, some code or map for "interpreting" the content of a dream, we leave facts and just plain common sense behind. We enter the realm of narrative, of story-telling, which may be very interesting, but in my opinion is too tenuous to believe that hidden truths are being revealed.

I tend to believe my waking memories of having been turned off by my father's appearance as an adolescent, rather than that the dream revealed a deeper attraction towards him. The Freudian perspective, that my adolescent, "yuk" response to my father's physicality represents a deeper truth, is an instance of a characteristic of Freudian theory that is a seeming strength, but actually an Achilles' heal. Any theory that subsumes both a particular empirical result and its opposite in its explanations cannot be falsified and, hence, cannot claim to have any empirical or evidential basis, which is characteristic of many powerful world views.

The fact that the men to whom I've been attracted as an adult have some characterological resemblance to my father I find not at all surprising. I remember realizing as a younger adult, somewhere in my thirties, there were features of his personality I both shared and liked; features which I didn't appreciate as an adolescent. As an older adult, I've come to realize that there are also features of his character that I have never come to like, which are, nevertheless, annoyingly present in the men I've chosen as partners. Despite my dream I haven't come to accept that I actually may have been attracted to my father as an adolescent; yet, I must acknowledge, I've grown suspicious of the "yuk".

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