Outside of the incidents which were, I imagine, similar to the incidents other high school boys who also wore periwinkle pants with Beck t-shirts and Dr. Martins in a class of boys who wore blue jeans, Big Johnson t-shirts and Nike shoes, I have not known much shame. My preferred mode of feeling unconformable is not to do something I should not do – as I am far too obedient – but to fear things I have not yet done.
Not to say I do not know shame. I do. At the height of my faith, I routinely felt it. That feeling almost always came in front of a computer screen – not an indictment of modern life, but an indictment of myself – and it never came because I had been catfishing someone. Never after deceiving someone into thinking I was someone I was not. I did not hide behind a false name and act out on a message board.
To the contrary, and maybe to my detriment, I have always been myself on the internet. I’ve never even used a clever pseudonym. It has always been Jeffrey. My true self.
And when this truest self, which has also always been enamored with the female form, is presented with a machine capable of showing all varieties of the female form, then we have the recipe for shame, especially when seeing such varieties before marriage can send you to hell for eternity.
I have always liked the human body’s ability to awaken me. As a piece of art and as something primordially interesting, it has always made me want to continue going through the anxiety and fear and embarrassment of everyday living. As a high school boy or even as a college boy who could not admit it, knowing there were breasts in the world was a comfort. Then, later, knowing there were many good buns, that was reason enough to keep going through all manner of woes – woes I may or may not have brought on myself.
It’s true, sometimes, just knowing there are many good buns you will never be near can cause despair, in an unreachable sense. But it also nice to remember they exist, and they will continue to exist no matter what your insignificant troubles are.
Once upon a time, for me and others like me, the deepest shame possible was when those buns or breasts appeared in front of us on the internet. Even as I write that statement, I try to hide from the lunacy of it. But I have to try and face that I would feel great – great – shame because I desired to see another living organism from my species in its natural state. I was going by what it says in Genesis. By what Jesus said in Matthew when he said to have lust, even in your heart, was a sin against him.
My shame was rooted in that mysticism. I believed God had set apart one person on this earth for me to have and to hold and seeing any other in the state as Eve was before she bit the apple was anathema. It was dirty. It was everyone I was seeing, in picture form only – Hegre was my favorite – was being coerced. I was taught that no one on this earth would ever be undressed unless a man in power was telling them to do so. I was cashing in on a patriarchy run by the devil himself.
But I looked anyway, and I masturbated, sometimes, unbelievable now, for hours. And when it was done, the feeling would wash over me. A kind of warm evaporating would pour through my stomach. Alone, I would sit there in disbelief. In retrospect, some of that had to with not having another human against me for the aftermath. But the bigger thing of it was that there was something wrong with what I had done.
Genuinely, there was. A perfectly healthy 20-year-old man with the highest sexual desire of his life trying to avoid everything that made him human. And when he finally would give in, he would do it like a chore – until it was right in front of him and it excited him more than anything – while sitting in his parent’s basement on a Saturday night, home that summer or over Christmas break, using their computer because he did not have a computer of his own, with the only light the screen in front of him, and there, in a pool at his feet on the plastic mat made so the wheeled chair cold more easily twirl around, was his shame.
For next hour, I would take pains in erasing what I had done, cleaning until everything was spotless, deleting the browser history, taking a long shower after midnight – if my parents ever heard the water running they never asked – and when I felt I had done enough, I would dry off, then I would try to rest. But all I could was run the images over and over in my head. I had sentenced myself to death. I had given in to the flesh. I had let the devil win.
For the next hours I would stay awake as pangs of regret coursed through my body, sometimes into the early morning. And when I finally would get to sleep, I would only half-dream of strange things, of square pegs never fitting into round holes. My mind was trying to asses the damage. Sometimes the dreams would be so weird I would wake again later in the night – early morning – my heart beating fast.
In the weeks after my mind would be dogged with the memory. Palpable surges would run through my body, reminding me of my wrongdoings, and I would swear to myself and God I would never do it again. I’ll get an accountable partner. I’ll unplug every computer on earth. I’ll give every woman a sweater to always wear.
That’s only sort of a joke. I really did need to live in a world where everything had been neutered, at least until marriage, at which point I would be able to debase myself and another in every way imaginable. Because, the bible.
You can agree or disagree with that theology, but what I’d like to tell myself, 10 years later, is the reason you feel that shame is because you think the punishment for being human is suffering. When, in reality, the punishment for being human is being human. There’s no one up in the sky with a huge abacus.
You should not cause people harm. You should not engage in anything that would make anyone’s life worse. But you already know that. The reason you are in your parent’s basement or sneaking into your college radio station’s office or using a friend’s computer when he’s at class is because you are alone. And you believe that there is only one person on this earth for you, and that looking at anyone else will cause a ghost to turn that one person away from you for good.
Which is admirable, that idea, I guess. That you would believe in something pure. That you would try to keep the sanctity of some unknown love. That you would want to keep it consecrated by denying your cellular makeup.
But the shame I felt when I could not was so immense, I have to look back and say it was not worth it. Being squeezed in a vice the maker of the entire universe had made, I would not wish that on anyone.