A week or two ago I wrote a blog post about what it’s like to write a sex book, identifying the challenge of translating a decade or two’s research and education into something readable, which can actually help people. And just recently this comment was made, and it was so thought-provoking for me that I’m writing a post about it:
[quoting me] “Women’s sexuality is not linear; it is abundantly and diversely non-linear. It pops up out of nowhere when you least expect it, and it declines emphatically to come when you call it. Like an ill-trained puppy who wins the lottery with improbable frequency.”[/quote]
Erm, what? No, it’s not. Really it’s not. We’re human beings, not “puppies” and NO woman is bloody helped by the promotion of the (deeply sexist) meme that we’re all so terribly mmmmyssstttterioussssss and difficult to understand.
The comment is an excellent example of the very problem I confront in the post: how do I translate 15 years’ academic training into something that is both scientifically accurate AND helpful? Because my post doesn’t at all imply that women are “mmmmyssstttterioussssss;” it merely says they’re non-linear, complex, which makes them surprising. Neither of those things is mysterious to a person who understands non-linearity or the nature of complex systems.
But the anonymous commenter (like practically everyone) is reading it in the context of a culture with centuries of misunderstanding, including multiple decades of modern research that has failed effectively to communicate with the mainstream about how women’s sexuality actually works. So how on earth COULD they interpret what I wrote in any way other than an incorrect one? I write “non-linear and complex” and they hear “condescending sexist bullshit.”
I’m trying to find language that people can read that will SOUND like truth it actually is, rather than the bullshit they fear it is. In this post I apparently failed dismally for this person.
When I started writing the blog, I was genuinely surprised at how little impact my professional qualifications had on people’s willingness to accept either the factual basis of what I wrote or even the goodness of my intention in writing it – surprised, particularly given how willing many people seem to be to listen to “sexperts” with not the least formal training or education. It has taken me literally YEARS of writing the blog to realize that this has to do with the “sexperts\‘” ability to communicate a message that FEELS GOOD. And that ability has nothing to do with the ability to be CORRECT. Indeed, I daily struggle to do both at once, and I’m not yet convinced that it’s possible.
The FEAR and MISTRUST, arising often from very real histories of oppression, is so profound as to shade many readers’ lenses with the color of sexism and essentialism, to believe, passionately and immediately, that I mean harm and I am ignorant and sexist (education and stated political beliefs notwithstanding) when I say that women are different from men.
It’s been a long, long time since my own cultural crap was washed away by training and knowledge. Maybe I’m no longer in a position to communicate effectively about sex. Maybe I have crossed through a veil and can’t go back. Maybe it’s too late for me. Maybe I’m the apple in flatland:
Sex, to me, is awesome in the purest sense of that word. The power and beauty of humans as a sexual species overpowers me on a regular basis; I sit at the kitchen table, crying as I write, so immediate is my wonder.
And then someone says, “That’s sexist,” and the whole thing deflates, and I see the shadow of my own thoughts, distorted by the loss of the dimension that I gained only after a long, effortful climb.
For all I know this is my seasonal mood stuff talking. For all I know, in April this kind of comment will fill me with enthusiasm about the vital, absolute importance of my work. Or. Maybe it’s too late for me to be helpful. Maybe I’m the tesseract.