On male sexual consent

This isn’t my article to write. It might be unwelcome. But here we are.

Over the summer, I had a conversation with somebody that had quite a profound effect on me. I was with an old friend among some people we had just met, and we were gently drinking our way into the evening. Whether it was because we’d had the perfect amount to drink, or because there was something about the particular people who were present, people had begun to open up in one of those ways that rarely occurs among strangers. We got on to the topic of consent, via consent workshops, and the experience of our female friends at our respective universities with regards to sexual assault – how common a thing we felt it was, how important we felt it was to be vocal about it so that the people around us would feel firmly comfortable expressing themselves if it ever happened to them; how often rape and sexual assault occur among friends, as opposed to psychotic strangers in dark alleyways. After some time, one of the men I had just met said gently,

“I was raped.”

I looked at him to see whether he was being serious. I didn’t know whether to call him out on his bizarre and offensive sense of humour, or to look the other way.

“By a guy?” my friend replied.

“No, by a girl.”

There was a house party; there was a lot of alcohol. It was one of those nights where the liquor consumption had a bit of a domino effect; everyone went a bit harder than they usually would because home wasn’t far away, and they were somewhere warm with their friends. A really very fun night, by anyone’s standards. He drank a lot, had a lot of fun, and collapsed somewhere sound asleep. Only to wake up to the sight of himself having sex. Being had sex with. With someone he barely recognised, and certainly hadn’t intended to have sex with earlier on in the evening.

I didn’t understand. How could a man wake up to watch himself have sex – an act which required a certain amount of consent from his body; because to have sex as a man, you have to reach a certain level of arousal? And if he was aroused – surely that meant he gave consent in some way?

But then, thinking about it, I had read about women who had been raped, whose sense of shame spread from the fact that their bodies had physically responded to the unwanted touch of the other person, in a way that convinced them that, on some level, they had desired the abuse. They had the sense that their bodies had betrayed them. Because the feeling of sexual arousal is something we associate with being with someone we actually like.

I knew this well. I could well imagine the confusion, the desperation you would feel if your rapist used against you the fact that you responded, came, even, as evidence that you had consented to the act. What was wrong with you? Why did your body appear to welcome that violation, even as you yourself despised it?

Of course, of course it could be the same for boys. Why hadn’t it occurred to me? Why had none of my male friends shared this type of experience with me? Other people around the table, at this time, started to share stories of a similar nature. Often not their own; friends, friends of friends. This boy I had just met was very much not alone.

As girls, we are told that all men want sex, all the time, and with pretty much everyone. I have also always assumed that if a guy is hard, he wants to have sex. This is a dangerous mistake to make, and it stems from the fact that we do not hear stories about men who are raped by women, and we associate rape with the non-consensual penetration of one person by another, not with a person forcing another to penetrate them. There is a mainstream sense that men are less emotional about sex, that somehow they are not capable of experiencing the trauma women who are raped and sexually assaulted feel as a result of having their body commandeered for the purposes of another person who has no interest in their consent, never mind in their enjoyment.

The man I met hasn’t been able to look at women in the same way since. He often flashes back to the experience, and only feels free enough to express himself on the subject because he has a circle of exceptionally open and loving friends.

As girls, we need to understand that this is an issue, and to be aware that it is important to give as to receive consent. Women do rape men. We are told it is not physiologically possible. It is. Insofar as consent goes, as soon as we understand that physical sexual responses do not indicate psychological consent, the better.

Hormones and mood

This is a really interesting article about the menstrual cycle and mood. I experience a lot of the same things this woman describes: increased confidence and self esteem in the run up to ovulation; an association between high estrogen levels and high anxiety; decreased body image in the pre menstrual phase. If you feel like shit it can be *so* helpful to know where you are in your cycle. Worth a read x

3:13 AM

It’s 3:13 AM.

I am coming back to this blog after a long period of quiet, in which I posted links to musical performances and poems I liked but rarely my own writing. This is because the relationship I have with it is complex. It is something I have always wanted to exist, but it feels like a stranger created it, out of a seemingly boundless confidence. For weeks I was able to express my innermost thoughts with absolute faith that they were a reflection of how I truly felt at the time, with an absolute conviction in the worth of what I was contributing and the quality of its expression.

This sudden surge of confidence, the sudden spurt of writing about very personal experiences alarmed those closest to me (or the people close to me who could not square this sudden candour with the girl they knew.)  I had a sense that my creativity was suddenly flowering into shape, and the more I allowed it to, the bigger it would become. I lay awake at night for hours on end teeming with ideas; ideas about what I’d read, creative projects that occurred to me, images and resonances. I felt… overwhelmed, different, but also, I have to admit to myself, deeply happy. I rejoiced in feeling articulate, I rejoiced in feeling this surge of creativity, as if the most promising part of myself was suddenly making itself known.

Why? What caused this?

I wrote in detail about my experience with the contraceptive implant. This was the first piece of writing that engendered the blog, and in it I report a state of happiness and enhanced creativity, following a period in which I would cry almost constantly ~ a side effect from the contraceptive implant. I felt returned to my natural happiness, as the artificial hormones affecting my mood were removed from my body, which was gratefully returning to its normal state.

Or so I thought. I could not have known that the feelings of exceptional joy and a persistent creativity that seemed to want to express itself through me would last much longer than I expected, and be accompanied by an intellectual confidence of an extent that I had never before possessed. I remember being feverishly happy, absorbed in my writing and revision for my finals.

But some of the people closest to me were worried. Suddenly I had a huge drive to spend extended periods of time wrapped up in nature, pacing up and down the beach or dancing around in the sun in my local park for hours at a time. I lay awake very late into the night, and I had previously slept all the way through, dependably. I was, they tell me, irritable, rapid of speech, and distracted from my studies (I remember feeling that anything I read was more stimulating than usual; a paragraph of writing could set off a train of thought that would occupy me for hours, in which I would appear to be lost in thought, but certainly not studying, and at this point I had my finals coming up.)

To a certain person in my life who knows a lot about mental health, my behaviour looked an awful lot like a manic episode of someone suffering from bipolar disorder.

I struggle with this, so so much. In my head I was flowering, full of joy, full of love, especially. I felt like I could suddenly see this whole life behind things. Social situations were suddenly weighted with symbolism; I thought I could catch the currents, good and bad, that ran between people; I was hyperempathetic, physically picking up on and feeling the emotions of those around me. In particular, I had ideas about a relationship between sexuality and creativity, as expressed here and here. I began to think of acts of childbirth and sex as creative acts, thinking of the artistically creative and the sexually creative as inextricably linked. I began to think of anxiety/depression and creativity as completely opposed, since in my joy I felt creativity that a few earlier months of stress and worry had temporarily silenced or suppressed. I felt like my own body, newly liberated from progesterone, was flooded with two linked desires: to create and to nurture. It sounds so strange but I felt like my first pieces of writing were as children to me; I couldn’t accept any criticism for them, because they seemed to me simply too honest, too me, too much a part of me to be able to bear correction by another person. I felt a desperate need to look after those around me, which extended for weeks and weeks, bolstered by this hyperempathetic state. It was as if my body, confused, was trying to insist on motherhood, tell me I was ready, and in the absence of things to nurture would nurture pieces of writing into life, nurture everyone around me.

Although I was scared by the depth of emotion I was plunged into, by the lucidity with which I felt I suddenly saw the world, and alarmed in turn by the panic of those around me at my changed behaviour, in a way the most painful thing is how good I know I felt. I loved feeling the emotions of people around me, I felt it made me able to care for them more profoundly. The creative feeling, and the confidence, have since ebbed away, although I sense that they were a magnification of something within me that was already there. How could I be ill, if I felt so happy? If I felt completely in control, how could I have been as utterly, utterly wrong about this as those around me thought at the time?

Was I as ill as those around me thought? Perhaps not. Perhaps some kind of internal rudder was still keeping me safe, looking after me. Yes, I wrote and published a lot of things that I cannot imagine having had the confidence to publish. Yes, sometimes I could not sleep, sometimes the ideas overwhelmed me. The fact that the sweet and exciting feeling that I was finally unravelling and expressing the most promising part of myself could not only be purely down to a wild hormone imbalance within me, but could actually also be interpreted as the symptom of an illness is something I am still puzzling over, and upset and confused by. I suppose it comes down to a fear that once I could not trust that guardian voice inside my head, the voice that looks after me and tells me what to do, tells me how to interpret the world. Without confidence in that voice the world is terrifying.

It has now been months and months since this period, which came after I had the implant taken out in April last year, and lasted until May and perhaps June. Over the months I have developed an ambivalent relationship with this blog. In many ways I have rarely been prouder of anything, especially of the first piece, not only because many people wrote to me and told me they were grateful and it resonated with their experiences, but more because it expressed something I considered important in a way that felt true to me. It was utterly, utterly honest. But the blog symbolises this wild, honest, unabashed creativity that seemed very sudden to those close to me and caused them a lot of worry; this wasn’t so much for the content, but for the fact of its existence, spurred into existence by a physical, hormonal, change. The blog represents an unknown entity within me.

But I am holding onto the fact that I have wanted to write a blog forever, I have in fact written forever. I have diaries that stretch way back; some of the poems and pieces I put up were written before the blog’s inception. I have always written for myself, always loved writing for its ability to control and make sense of the world around me by putting it into words.

It’s 4:13 AM. An hour, an outpouring.

What am I pushing back to? I think fundamentally I want to come back to this, or at least to some form of creativity. I want to know that in a balanced, hormonally normal state I am still creative, I am still healthy, that the satisfaction of writing and sharing my writing with others doesn’t have to be confined to a period of my life that I am to this day mystified, terrified and fascinated by. If by some miracle you’re still here, or you ever have been here, thank you.

***

12/2/18

 

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Lovesong

He loved her and she loved him.
His kisses sucked out her whole past and future or tried to
He had no other appetite
She bit him she gnawed him she sucked
She wanted him complete inside her
Safe and sure forever and ever
Their little cries fluttered into the curtains

Her eyes wanted nothing to get away
Her looks nailed down his hands his wrists his elbows
He gripped her hard so that life
Should not drag her from that moment
He wanted all future to cease
He wanted to topple with his arms round her
Off that moment’s brink and into nothing
Or everlasting or whatever there was

Her embrace was an immense press
To print him into her bones
His smiles were the garrets of a fairy palace
Where the real world would never come
Her smiles were spider bites
So he would lie still till she felt hungry
His words were occupying armies
Her laughs were an assassin’s attempts
His looks were bullets daggers of revenge
His glances were ghosts in the corner with horrible secrets
His whispers were whips and jackboots
Her kisses were lawyers steadily writing
His caresses were the last hooks of a castaway
Her love-tricks were the grinding of locks
And their deep cries crawled over the floors
Like an animal dragging a great trap
His promises were the surgeon’s gag
Her promises took the top off his skull
She would get a brooch made of it
His vows pulled out all her sinews
He showed her how to make a love-knot
Her vows put his eyes in formalin
At the back of her secret drawer
Their screams stuck in the wall

Their heads fell apart into sleep like the two halves
Of a lopped melon, but love is hard to stop

In their entwined sleep they exchanged arms and legs
In their dreams their brains took each other hostage

In the morning they wore each other’s face

 

Ted Hughes

an untitled poem

and finally the longed for arms, longed for eyes

are here with me and all 

effort flies free it is easy as breathing

we sit and look at each other and the fear

The fear of not being known falls away 

our June voices stretch though the 

haze of darkened memories, darkened time

breaking through, sun 

kissing a plant after a long time kept in the dark

***

A.W. Spring, 2017

 

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King Lear: what could have been

I was due to direct King Lear at the Edinburgh Fringe this August but after a series of heartbreaking pitfalls, this is no longer possible. Here is a treatment I wrote for the play when we thought it was going to happen. It includes some reflections on love, honesty, power, and the psychology of relationships within the family.

 

***

 

The question the play poses:

what do we have when we have absolutely nothing left?

 

Other big questions:

why does Shakespeare choose to deny a sense of divine justice, coming short of offering us this with Cordelia’s death? How can she die; is justice asserted in the deaths of Goneril, Regan, Edmund, or not?

 

No.

 

It is not. There can be no justice, really, in death.

 

The search for hamartia

 

Many interpreters, readers, audiences have attempted to interpret Lear along the lines of Aristotle’s theory of tragedy, one that necessitates the fall of a protagonist of great stature from a high station to a low station as the result of a hamartia. Hamartia has been translated variously as ‘character flaw’, ‘moral violation’, and simply, mistake, which I think given examination of the context and the history of tragedy is the most useful. This is not a popular or widely accepted opinion.

 

To be clear, the temptation to search for a moral flaw in the characters in Lear whose choices drive the plot is natural and irresistible. Lear treads the line between fairytale and psychological realism, and one way of reading the play is seeing King Lear and Gloucester as being righteously punished for two sets of hamartia that they complete. When hamartia is translated as ‘moral violation’, we can see how Gloucester’s fate in the play could be explained by the hamartia he enacted before the play’s action: adultery, namely the adultery that produced Edmund. Arguably, had he not erred in sexual fidelity Edmund would never have been born to resent the society in which despite his fathers’ earldom he stands to inherit neither title nor fortune, unlike Edgar, Gloucester’s legitimate son.

 

I do not think this explanation is psychologically satisfactory, nor is it really possible to leave King Lear feeling like justice has been served. Gloucester’s mutilation is hideous to watch, and action-wise constitutes the tragic climax of the play. Additionally and decisively, the reconciliation scene between Edgar and Gloucester on the hilltop as Gloucester tries to kill himself and his son, for a reason which I think is best dramatically explained by grief, shock, and resentment at the position he suddenly finds himself in, is in many ways the most moving and heart-breaking of the whole play.

 

Nor do I think identifying a hamartia in the character of King Lear is either constructive or ultimately satisfying. However, critics can make a more convincing case for this than they can for Gloucester, if they identify Lear’s hamartia as his failure to recognise that Cordelia is his one loyal daughter, and Kent a true advisor, and his choice to exile them both in the first scene for expressing themselves honestly and refusing to pander to his show.

 

Arguably, this mistake, which one can colour with a moral judgement and claim that like Sophocles’ Oedipus Lear can be blamed for rage, (Oedipus unknowingly commits parricide on a crossroads in a fit of rage a long time before he realises he is married to his mother) can be used to ‘explain’ the entire ensuing narrative – the vindictive rage of Goneril, Regan, and Edmund at the stubbornness, selfishness and stupidity of their parents that culminates in Gloucester’s, Cordelia’s and Lear’s deaths, and indeed all the death and suffering that the audience witness before the play is over.

 

I have never found this satisfying, and it is a reading that plays down the psychological and dramatic autonomy of the play’s female characters. Goneril and Regan are in no way presdestined to torture Lear psychologically; we must ask, if we are committed to psychological realism, why Goneril and Regan hate Lear so much.

 

The first place to look is Act One, Scene One. Why is Cordelia Lear’s only loyal and loving daughter? Other productions have explained Goneril and Regan’s hatred by suggesting in the first scene that Lear has sexually abused the older daughters but not the youngest. This is a deeply depressing reading, but opens up the audiences hearts to Goneril and Regan. The elder sisters are dynamic, passionate women, who the audience can be inclined to sympathise with totally and completely up until the stabbing of Gloucester, a physical mutilation so grotesque that though technically just it is so visually disturbing that ‘poetic justice’ that you can read into this act is utterly, emotionally, undermined.

 

Nor is the play a simple conflict between ‘good’ characters and ‘evil’ ones; Shakespeare’s characterisation is too psychologically compelling to allow the mundanity of a ‘good versus evil’ narrative to really be convincing. The line between the purportedly ‘good’ characters (Lear, Cordelia, Kent, Gloucester, Edgar, the Fool) and ‘bad’ characters (Goneril, Regan, Edmund, Cornwall, Albany (?)) is increasingly blurry. Though the fact that Kent is Lear’s only loyal advisor is borne out by his honesty in the first scene and his choice to return in disguise and serve Lear even without status, his violence to Oswald in Act One puts him morally alongside Albany and Regan if we view physical violence as the ultimate indicator of immorality. Cordelia is verbally and emotionally violent in the first scene; had she not accepted that for once, she would need to perform her love and swallow her pride, there would be no conflict and no play.

 

Therein lies the ‘problem’. Good, honest people make mistakes, and are driven to moral violations that spiral out of control in the worst of circumstances and lead to death. Old men are annoying, and Lear’s infirmity, the lack of judgement that he demonstrates and Sam Mendes chose to interpret as only explainable by a degenerative disease is as much attributed to old age as some kind of eternal moral flaw; rashness, rage, etc.

 

So what is left, at the end? Cordelia lies dead in Lear’s arms. He dies of grief; as does Gloucester, both suffering from the loss of their loyal children.

But the utter dejection and impossibility that Cordelia’s death entails is in itself a redeeming force. Cordelia represents honesty, loyalty, forgiveness; the capacity of love to overcome less welcome emotions within us, the capacity we all have to continue to see the best in people, the light in the darkness, even if the evidence around us shows that man’s animal nature can undermine all the values he professes to have. The very pain with which her death comes, and the fatal effect of this grief on Lear, is proportional to how important are the values she stands for.

 

Moreover, the joy which Lear’s vision of himself and his daughter locked up forever in prison gives him, the force of his gratitude, has a thoroughly redeeming force. Father and daughter may be despoiled of all the trappings of wealth and status, and have no hope of recovering them, or the respect society afforded them as king and princess. But they have each other; the capacity of caged birds to sing represents the capacity of the human being to voice his or her joys and sorrows honestly, to communicate, to love and remain wholehearted while still alive no matter what they have been through. It takes seeing Lear’s transformation from bitter, puerile king to naked old man, and repentant old man with loving child for us to discover what is left when everything that can be taken away has been taken away.

 

Sexuality

 

Every character who expresses their sexuality and is shown to be prone to sexual desire is punished. Gloucester receives the ultimate punishment for his infidelity (blinding); Goneril and Regan die for their desire of Edmund, who cares not for them as people but as pawns in his power game, and throughout uses his sexuality to further his own interests. He dies. Cordelia comes across as pure because she does not desire France, but he chooses to welcome her and marry her for who she is rather than what he can gain from her. It is familial love – father daughter (Lear-Cordelia) and father-son (Gloucester-Edmund) rather than romantic love which carries the redeeming emotional force. This is starkly different from the ideal of heterosexual love that resolves the end of most fairy stories (prince kills dragon marries beautiful princess.) At the end of the play we have a father with his daughter in his arms, rather than a pair of characters in each others arms who have a sexual/romantic bond. As if to say that lust – for power, for sex, for status, for material goods (the trappings of wealth) is defined by its transience, where love, when true, is defined by its imperviousness to fortune circumstance.

(am I what I love)

(Am I what I love)

Whither, whither

Went thee

My essential self?

Are you hovering in the wild darkness and light

Of dream-memories? Glinting silvery-grey

a dark shape in brown eyes

Sooty- lashed and wide

Do they pierce you, free you?

Are you what you love? Believe in?

Feeling, fleeting, fleeing

now forever lost in the pool of Time?

Are you in the music warm,

The chords that sway my depths

Until chokingly, I cry

Yes- yes- yes

Are you the dancer or the dance itself

O body swayed to music

visit me enraptured

Eyes wide and lips uplifted

***

A.R.A, 2014

I found this poem looking through some old scribblings. It’s strange for me to read because I don’t remember writing it and there are lots of moments in time where I suspect it may have come from, but I not remember for sure as it’s not dated. 2014 is a suspicion that could be entirely wrong! Love x

Coachella (Woodstock on my Mind)

Lana has been gently dropping songs before the release of her next album. Having a lil listen and I love this one the most so far:

 

What about all these children
And all their children’s children
And why am I even wondering that today
Maybe my contribution
Could be as small as hoping
That words could turn to birds and birds would send my thoughts your way

***

I’d give it all away if you give me just one day to ask him one question

In Praise of Limestone

If it form the one landscape that we, the inconstant ones,
Are consistently homesick for, this is chiefly
Because it dissolves in water. Mark these rounded slopes
With their surface fragrance of thyme and, beneath,
A secret system of caves and conduits; hear the springs
That spurt out everywhere with a chuckle,
Each filling a private pool for its fish and carving
Its own little ravine whose cliffs entertain
The butterfly and the lizard; examine this region
Of short distances and definite places:
What could be more like Mother or a fitter background
For her son, the flirtatious male who lounges
Against a rock in the sunlight, never doubting
That for all his faults he is loved; whose works are but
Extensions of his power to charm? From weathered outcrop
To hill-top temple, from appearing waters to
Conspicuous fountains, from a wild to a formal vineyard,
Are ingenious but short steps that a child’s wish
To receive more attention than his brothers, whether
By pleasing or teasing, can easily take.

Watch, then, the band of rivals as they climb up and down
Their steep stone gennels in twos and threes, at times
Arm in arm, but never, thank God, in step; or engaged
On the shady side of a square at midday in
Voluble discourse, knowing each other too well to think
There are any important secrets, unable
To conceive a god whose temper-tantrums are moral
And not to be pacified by a clever line
Or a good lay: for accustomed to a stone that responds,
They have never had to veil their faces in awe
Of a crater whose blazing fury could not be fixed;
Adjusted to the local needs of valleys
Where everything can be touched or reached by walking,
Their eyes have never looked into infinite space
Through the lattice-work of a nomad’s comb; born lucky,
Their legs have never encountered the fungi
And insects of the jungle, the monstrous forms and lives
With which we have nothing, we like to hope, in common.
So, when one of them goes to the bad, the way his mind works
Remains incomprehensible: to become a pimp
Or deal in fake jewellery or ruin a fine tenor voice
For effects that bring down the house, could happen to all
But the best and the worst of us…
That is why, I suppose,
The best and worst never stayed here long but sought
Immoderate soils where the beauty was not so external,
The light less public and the meaning of life
Something more than a mad camp. `Come!’ cried the granite wastes,
`How evasive is your humour, how accidental
Your kindest kiss, how permanent is death.’ (Saints-to-be
Slipped away sighing.) `Come!’ purred the clays and gravels,
`On our plains there is room for armies to drill; rivers
Wait to be tamed and slaves to construct you a tomb
In the grand manner: soft as the earth is mankind and both
Need to be altered.’ (Intendant Caesars rose and
Left, slamming the door.) But the really reckless were fetched
By an older colder voice, the oceanic whisper:
`I am the solitude that asks and promises nothing;
That is how I shall set you free. There is no love;
There are only the various envies, all of them sad.’

They were right, my dear, all those voices were right
And still are; this land is not the sweet home that it looks,
Nor its peace the historical calm of a site
Where something was settled once and for all: A back ward
And dilapidated province, connected
To the big busy world by a tunnel, with a certain
Seedy appeal, is that all it is now? Not quite:
It has a worldy duty which in spite of itself
It does not neglect, but calls into question
All the Great Powers assume; it disturbs our rights. The poet,
Admired for his earnest habit of calling
The sun the sun, his mind Puzzle, is made uneasy
By these marble statues which so obviously doubt
His antimythological myth; and these gamins,
Pursuing the scientist down the tiled colonnade
With such lively offers, rebuke his concern for Nature’s
Remotest aspects: I, too, am reproached, for what
And how much you know. Not to lose time, not to get caught,
Not to be left behind, not, please! to resemble
The beasts who repeat themselves, or a thing like water
Or stone whose conduct can be predicted, these
Are our common prayer, whose greatest comfort is music
Which can be made anywhere, is invisible,
And does not smell. In so far as we have to look forward
To death as a fact, no doubt we are right: But if
Sins can be forgiven, if bodies rise from the dead,
These modifications of matter into
Innocent athletes and gesticulating fountains,
Made solely for pleasure, make a further point:
The blessed will not care what angle they are regarded from,
Having nothing to hide. Dear, I know nothing of
Either, but when I try to imagine a faultless love
Or the life to come, what I hear is the murmur
Of underground streams, what I see is a limestone landscape.

***

W.H. Auden

Source: https://www.poemhunter.com/best-poems/wh-auden/in-praise-of-limestone-3/

 

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Cambridge, Spring 2017