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|Journey to the In-Between - Page 6|
In the Realm of the Real World
It may be tempting to dismiss contemplations of in-betweenness as a kind of sexual "tripping." (I've never used hallucinogens, by the way, in case you were wondering.) Society's traditional argument is that a man is a man and a woman is a woman, period; they must experience sex accordingly, through the genitalia. But the more we discover about biology, the more we find that "a man is a man and a woman is a woman" just ain't so.
Alice Dreger is professor of clinical medical humanities and bioethics in the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. This summer, on August 21, during the controversy over whether South African runner Caster Semenya was a man or a woman, Dreger published an essay in The New York Times in which she stated: "The biology of sex is a lot more complicated than the average [person] believes. Many think you can simply look at a person's Ôsex chromosomes.' If a person has XY chromosomes, you declare him a man. If XX, she's a woman. Right? Wrong. A little biology: On the Y chromosome, a gene called SRY usually makes a fetus grow as a male. It turns out, though, that SRY can show up on an X, turning an XX [female] fetus essentially male. And if the SRY does not work on the Y, the [male] fetus develops essentially female."
No one knows how many people that describes. Dreger informs us that there exists no scientific test to determine whether a person is, finally and definitely, female or male! Still less can we be certain of the gender of the psyche. No matter how male-valenced, there are always female aspects; no matter how female-valenced, there are always male aspects.
"The real world" is still run on strictly heterosexual, male-dominated terms—less strictly than ever, but still strictly enough that it takes effort and gumption to go against the tottering but formidable assumptions of what's "normal." Where that struggle is most difficult of all is, if we but admit it, not out there in society, but in ourselves.
When I discussed this essay with an especially well-informed shrink friend whom we'll call Zachariah, he said, "The fear of encountering one's in-betweenness in the sexual trance is probably the least discussed aspect of sexuality. The secret of sex is that sense of the free-floatingness and boundarylessness of it, the way you float through the boundaries of male and female, the unpredictability of it. Sex remains a mystery because of this shape-shifting quality."
There's no fixed place in the realm of the senses—no "there" there. What you know changes every time you go into it. As was told me once by a woman whom we'll call Zia, "There are things you have to learn all over again, every night."
That's really what's so scary about sexuality. In the young phases of life—and we're young whenever we fall in love—we perceive sex as adventure, and that's when it's most completely satisfying, for that's when we're most open to journeys into the senses. Those journeys are genuine adventures. In the settled phases of our lives, we may miss the adventure, but we use sexuality for everything else: comfort, reassurance, release, and the confirmation of our sense of identity. In the settled phases of life, we don't want our identity threatened. But identity that isn't continually challenged grows stale and begins to lose its shape and firmness, for habit is poor nutrition for identity. That's when people begin to speak of something "missing." You hear that a lot in settled relationships. But what, exactly, is missing? What's missing are the unexplored realms of oneself.
Sexuality is scary because it's where we meet ourselves most directly, without filters, without verbiage, and, if we go far enough, without fixed roles. It's where we meet ourselves with and through the Other—this Other with whom we journey into the realm; this Other, a partner as fluid we are.
Let's, for a moment, leave the complexities of psychology aside and admit that it's natural to fear sex because it's natural to fear the unpredictable, and it's natural to fear danger, even though this sort of danger has many positive aspects. It's natural to fear change, and in the shape-shifting qualities of deep sexuality, change is ever-present; it can even be said that in the throes of such sex, sex is change. To see suddenly, upon someone long loved, a face you've never seen is unnerving, and some part of you wants to say, "Honey, put your mask back on," while some other part of you wants to say, "Who are you? and how do I get to know you better?" You go with one response or the other before you have time to think or even to feel, and that split-second decision might change your relationship to the other and to yourself. It might change your life.
So there's no such thing as safe sex. Not for the psyche. There's routine sex, in which partners remain within well-practiced roles, but even that isn't safe because of the hole it leaves inside and the yearnings it creates, yearnings that may even lead you elsewhere, to be with someone else. You may not act out these yearnings, but that sort of repression is its own agony. In the same way, there's no such thing as casual sex. What's meant by "casual sex" is engaging sexually while turning off those parts of yourself that are capable of caring. The price one pays for the repetition of such behavior is anything but casual.
Sex is scary the way the sea is scary, the way a storm is scary—because it's elemental, and, as in all great elemental things, the same qualities that make it so powerfully beautiful can make it powerfully frightening.
Zeb said, "A guy doesn't fuck just with his dick, a woman doesn't fuck just with her pussy. You fuck with your life."
And, uh, that's what's really scary about sex.
Michael Ventura's biweekly column appears in the Austin Chronicle. Tell us what you think about this article by e-mail at email@example.com, or at www.psychotherapynetworker.org. Log in and you'll find the comment section on every page of the online Magazine section.
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You can also find these articles by the author at www.psychotherapynetworker.org:
-"The New Social Mind"
- "Appointments with Yourself"