Perverts And You

My friend likes to play this game while walking down the street: As you pass each person — elderly Chinese woman, youngish hipster, middle-aged suit — say to yourself: “Pervert!” Suddenly, that person is transformed before your eyes, his or her entire being recast, as if perversion pervades all of his or her being.

The very premise of this game is that there is something, deep down, that defines us. There is a real you. And, thanks to the rise of a certain fear of sexuality, this reality is often thought to exist in one’s sexual proclivities, in one’s perversions. But perversions aside, we still assume there is a real lurking within.

I’ve recently come upon this in dating. I’m sitting there with some more or less random woman, trying to size her up and she tries to size me up. Usually, I’ll say something no doubt inappropriate — or considered as such — and I’ll watch as she withdraws. Suddenly, what was charming and safe about me has become suspect, refracted through the lens of being thatkind of guy — a pervert, a player, a motherfucker of some sort. And, once so categorized, there’s very little chance of escaping the box — “you are a pervert all the way down, you horny hebe” — and even my most generous, kind gestures become construed as perverse.

I, no doubt, do the same thing. “Oh, she’s just this or that kind of woman,” and I’ll dismiss her nuance — and hence her very humanity.

But people are more complicated than just being this or that. I may be a pervert in this way but that doesn’t mean I am a pervert in all ways. Which is to say, our assumption that there is a real self, some defining nugget of self truth, shuts down the complexity of what it means to be a human being. This insistence on truth, on authenticity, becomes a sledgehammer of judgement.

People are complex. We are different things, always. And we are different things to different people at different times. This doesn’t necessarily make us fickle or false. It makes us human.

So imagine that people — you, me, your parents, friends, strangers — are made up of dozens, hundreds, thousands of strands. Don’t look for the real person. Instead, enjoy (or don’t) the experience of being with that person. Does this performance please you? Make you feel strong, healthy, vital, capable, beautiful, sexy, smart?

If we assume people are complex, that people are different things and don’t have to be one thing, then perhaps we can become more generous in our judgements, in how we deal with others. And then perhaps we can enjoy a bit of perversion without the fear that it will overcome us like some alien invader. TC mark


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  • Viktoriya Gaponski

    We see in others what we hate in ourselves, hence you are friends with bunch of pervs. Run.

  • Viktoriya Gaponski

    We see in others what we fear in ourselves, hence you're friends with bunch of pervs. Run.

  • shakig my head

    Sounds like a dangerous game in that it supposes it is just a game. It reads as if you've got a test designed to evoke acceptance and / or to avoid rejection later. But perhaps the withdrawal is in protest to the inappropriateness and nature of the test itself, rather than subject.

    Some think sex with the lights on is perverse. For some it's
    masturbation, others it's using sex toys. Any guy would bring up
    sexual play before getting to know me, is letting me know he's not looking for a
    relationship with me specifically but a relationship that meets his own needs and desires. In that there is no love.  What you're implying with this is that women are objects to be used. Perhaps it's not your “perversions” but your predatory, demeaning perspective that turns them off.

    • Daniel Coffeen

      It's funny: I didn't see this as an essay about perversion per se but about how we construct identity and the funny way we locate identity in perversion. The personal anecdote is thoroughly a hypothetical encounter.  But thanks for the insight into my would-be behavior.

      • shakig my head

        You're very welcome. Next time I'm going to charge you for the therapy. 

        Perhaps there was a better way to illustrate your position without using titillating hypotheticals. From the comments, I'm not the only one who was confused by your intent.

      • shakig my head

        Your last line: “And then perhaps we can enjoy a bit of perversion without the fear that it will overcome us like some alien invader.”

        Reads like an argument for perversion. Had you left that off and simply concluded with the previous line, the intent you claim would have been clearer.

    • Sara David

      i actually think this is arguing the opposite of objectification, in saying that yes, people can be objects to us, but it's one role of many. i think, in all fairness, some people are born with a sense of
      modesty (or have learned some sort of religious guilt) or need for
      compartmentalization that makes it so that they don’t ever want to think
      of their bus driver as someone who also happens to enjoy fisting, or
      their middle school teacher who also loves to suck toes. i am the same
      girl when i’m choking on my knees as i am when i’m making straight a’s
      or flashing my tits at strangers across the street or reading in the
      library or cuddling in bed. i don’t really know how else i can insist
      that our complexity is really quite simple.

      maybe that is giving readers the benefit of the doubt? we're all people, and we're all animals too, and aren't we all anything at all at any given time?

      • Guest666

        'choking on my knees'…
        and keep studying hard, yea!

      • shakig my head

        I'm wasn't commenting on pros and cons of perversion. Define perversion and I might have something to say but that would be in relation to what works for me. A facebook friend posted about massaging her boyfriend's feet. The reactions were strong and typically “ick”, particularly when sucking his toes was mentioned. I found it amusing but not surprising. The “icks” have no idea what they're missing out on and never will because their minds are closed.

        One of the comments related how they didn't want to know this stuff about their friend, that it changed how they saw her. If you and Coffeen are saying that's a shame, then I agree. I think it says more about them than it does her.

  • Nick Beith

    Love this. I mean, sometimes I'm afraid of being all pervert, myself. So this helps.

  • Sara David

    exactly what i needed to read today, thank you.

  • Sara David

    but as an aside, judgment is misspelled repeatedly.

    • Daniel Coffeen

      This is going to sound absurd but I adopted “judgement” — with that”e” — many years ago and, without noticing, as I was reading a British translator's version of Kant's Critique of Judgement. That's the way they roll, it seems, in the UK (I think to distinguish person judgement from legal judgments). And it seems that insidious “e” infiltrated my spelling.

      • Categorical Imperative

        Incidentally, the same thing has happened to me while studying “abroad” in Canada–I'm originally from the States–and those insidious letters have irrevocably coloured my spelling. That said, it always amuses me to see how quick people are to point out a “misspelling” when, in reality, they are only pointing out their jingoism. I'm looking at you, Sara David. I hope this faux pas of yours turns out to be something of a consciousness raising moment for you–unless, of course, you are too self-centred to begin with.

      • Sara David

        way, wayyyyy too self-centered. i am just ALWAYS wondering in my mind… if a word has red-squiggly lines under it, why wouldn't someone go back to look at it?! that's what *I* would do, so therefore it's the only right way.

      • Daniel Coffeen

        I have the opposite reaction.  When I get those red squigglies — hey, there's one now! — I think: Fuck off, Microsoft or Google or whoever.  I'll spell shit my way! 

        Which, of course, is the same as your way in that's it's MY way.

      • Sara David

        boom, there it is. equal and opposite.
        …also i wonder if my jingoism is really jingoism or some sort of meta-jingoism because english is my second language. it's far more likely that i am a self-righteous bitch. i see the red squigglies as more of a safety net, i suppose. they don't even know that squigglies or heteronormativity or performative are words so they are not perfect. COMPLICATED BEINGS ONE COULD SAY. or also not.

  • Meaghan S

    love it

  • freddipass

    I've always wondered what makes up “the self.” I'm a psychologist by profession, which means I get to be paid to be a philosopher.  It leaves me happy to see that someone else has found that perhaps there is no such thing in that we are “complicated…different things to different people all the time…”  Good stuff. Thanks.

  • Joe

    As someone with a very low sex drive  (not prude, just can't be bothered to care about it), I wish society as a whole could get over its sexualization of everything. It is because of this societal obsession imprinted on us that makes me feel uncomfortable to go bowling with my own father, just the two of us, for fear that people will assume i'm not related to him and there is some weird, pederastic relationship going on between us. It shouldn't have to be that way. The homosocial world should not have to be thought of as a perverse thing.

  • Stefan

    For me, I don't think we have one defining truth that defines us, but I do believe that we all have many truths – and they are always fluctuating and changing, with additions and subtractions and multiplications. And they don't “define” us so much as they simply are. this insistence on truth, on authenticity, becomes a sledgehammer of judgement.”
    But does this negate any chance for authenticity? “This insistence on truth, on authenticity, becomes a sledgehammer of judgement.” Is that necessarily true, does it have to be?  I guess in general I'm just curious about what would be at stake in believing in authenticity (authenticities?) versus inauthenticity? I'm not sure I'm ready to throw away the concept of authenticity simply because people cannot see complexities.

    I'm not sure if this gets across what I'm meaning, but basically, where do you stand on the concept of “personal authenticites,” and multiple personal truths (rather than the dangerous and misguided search for a single truth of identity.)

    • Daniel Coffeen

      I know what you mean.  There is certainly something about being authentic that feels right.  But that makes me wonder if rather than authenticity per se, we can think rely on that state of feeling right.  So rather than saying: you're not being authentic, we can say: you're not making me feel good.  That is, to be philosophic about it, we can assess the performance rather than the being.  If that makes any sense at all.

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