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.