Thursday, August 14, 2014

Ethics in Psychology

For those who know me, it is no secret that I have very little love for clinical psychology, particularly the kind that relies on bio-medical psychiatric practice.  For all of its ethical qualms when conducting research (e.g. the Stanford prison experiment atrocity) the great irony is that these limits further serve to enforce a standard of ‘culturally acceptable’ socialized behavior. Social standards and norms are not the product of some end all be all black and white morality; they are constructed by those who hold power and privilege.  Any type of therapy (be it cognitive, clinical, psychoanalytic, or even humanist) that strives to help make someone a functioning member of society is making the assumption that society is a greater good.
However I am a realist so I don’t think a completely excising the therapy model will do much good. People need to talk to people. Furthermore I believe in open dialogue for all things and viewpoints no matter how contentious they may seem to my personal worldview. However my problem with biomedical psychiatry, mood altering medicines, and drugs is that they change outlook and worldview before dialogue even has a chance to start. Sure, largely this is just used to alter serotonin levels nowadays to alleviate the symptoms of depression, but by changing how the mind works we change what it may conceive of and thus, ultimately say.  Would Poe still be Poe if he had taken his daily serotonin? It’s dangerous to tread into hypotheticals, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that because of the drugs and our complicity in using the drugs we’ve lost a lot of ideas, and we’ve conformed to a lot of standards.

Let me be clear: Clinical Psychology like any medicinal practice is not The Devil. In my opinion it has done far more (subjective) good then bad. As someone who suffers from either Depression or mild Bi-Polar disorder (in my case it’s inconclusive as to which) I understand that help in whatever form it takes is an imperative. Recent high profile suicides (or any suicide really) should only cement that. However psychology is a tool, and like all tools it is most accessible to the powerful.

It’s tempting to think that because at its core it’s a medical treatment and thus designed to heal there can be no downsides, The professionals are only trying to help, right? Well historically homosexuality was considered to be a sign of mental instability. In fact the only reason we have the word ‘homosexual’ (or ‘heterosexual’ for that matter) was because the Victorian’s thought that they could ‘help’ by garnering a clear understanding of the differences between those nasty little sodomites. And for those that think the stigma against the Queer community must have lessened, the American Psychiatric Association only declassified it as pathology in 1973. While I don’t claim to be an expert on the taxonomy of psychiatric pathologies the timing was not an accident. After the Civil Rights movement keeping it as pathology was simply no longer culturally expedient.  Yes, this is a leap, but once again not an unreasonable one, so allow me another: at the end of the day, science can be made to say, or not say, more than I am comfortable with.

Here’s a modern day example: people with autism. Why did society decide that autism was a mental ‘disability’?  In fact a lot of people who fall on the autism spectrum do not consider it to be disabling at all and laugh at ‘neurotypicals’ trying to dictate to them how they should or should not be thinking. Sure the way society is slanted now makes it harder for them to socialize but so is the way society is slanted towards homosexuality. However since Disability Studies and advocacy of the kind that calls the majority hegemony ‘neurotypical’ did not exist until very recently the APA still sees patients rather than individuals. 

I guess the main point is: question everything. Even the most benevolent of organizations has biases. This is okay and inevitable, since everything, great or small is made up of people and their perceptions even-and this is important- even and especially ‘Ethics’. Just because the Psychiatric practice as a whole does not, and by definition cannot, follow an objective ‘good’ does not mean that one should not seek counseling. It’s pretty much imperative to seek counseling, if only to have some one to talk to.  However one should always seek it and the drugs associated with the understanding that they are entering into a system of control that serves those who can manipulate it presumably more efficiently than they can. Perhaps this is pessimistic, but despite all this perhaps mental health is worth it. Life is compromise, even when it comes to the subtlest workings of our freedoms. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Katabasis: Part 1

"If the elephants have past lives/yet are destined to always remember/it's no wonder how they scream/like you and I they must have some temper."
-Rachel Yamagata, Elephants

"The heart isn't a recording device."
Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories

by Maxton Young-Jones

Dana: Appears 40. Appears Female
The Examiner: Appears any or every age. Appears any or every gender.

DANA alone on a dark stage. There are two chairs. She is sitting in one, professionally. There are footsteps. They belong to THE EXAMINER who eventually enters the light. The EXAMINER sits in the other chair.

You are here, because your memories are wrong.


Which is not to say that your thought patterns are outside acceptable Company parameters. There's some tendency towards hubris with a touch or two of raw ambition a little beyond the normative temperament markers. But as you know, we're more liberal then most Companies. We encourage our employees to not follow a strict mold, especially those marked for leadership like yourself. Furthermore how you remember the past ten years of your life show us that you are a valuable resource and well worth our time and investment.

Thank you, Examiner

I was not being charitable. I was simply stating facts.

Then state another. How am I in error?

You know why. Because beyond the last ten years of your life, there's nothing else. You don't remember it.


No. No I don't.

I'm going to need you elucidate.

 Everything before that is a bit vague. I wish I could be of more service.

I'm surprised we haven't caught this sooner.

It's strange. I didn't notice it myself until five years ago.

Interesting. You'd forgotten everything but the most recent events of your life and you didn't notice?

I had taught myself not to look.

Usually that kind of self-delusion affects work performance. Yours has been acceptional. How did you manage that?

I'm very clever, Examiner.

Ah. Hubris then.

I'm not discounting it. I've got a lot to be proud of, after all.

You don't have any memories. How do you know? 


You put us in a difficult position, Dana. Normally you would be terminated but your place is so valued to The Board and to the The Company as a whole that we are willing to explore alternative means.

Which brings us to now.

Which brings us to now, yes. Here is what is going to happen: I am going to enter your mind and rip your memories out one by one. This process is called 'Katabasis'. It is rarely performed anymore.

You can do that?

You are concealing information from The Company that may or may not pose a risk. Faced with that reality we can do anything.

Not intentionally.

You know that's irrelevant.

I guess I do. Am I permitted to ask you questions?

By all means, but keep them brief.

What are you doing exactly?

Ripping out your memories, although "Descending" into them is probably more accurate. My mind will be effected as well. 

But how?

Beyond your clearance level, but you're a clever woman. You know what kind of tech we have. I'm sure you could guess.

Nanites in my Cerebral Cortex?

You're wasting questions.

Fine. Why "Katabasis"?

Because that's what it is: A descent into Hell. Old Earth  Philosophy and to a lesser extent, old earth Psychology used to tout the human mind and the human 'spirit' as something that yearned to be connected to everything around it. We are much wiser now.

(hesitantly) It's going to hurt, isn't it?

Of course it is, but your cowardice towards pain is unbecoming. Self-delusion is not something we value. We are not savages that believe in 'triggers', or 'repression', or 'trauma'. We are a company and we believe in integrity. Either you survive this or you don't. We have faith in you. Don't prove us wrong.

I am not a coward. You go too far, Examiner. 

There are holes in your mind. You ran from them. 

We'll fix that.

Oh we will, will we? Alright. Let's descend.

He takes her hand. Slowly we hear a sound in the background distorted. Like a orchestra tuning it's instruments the sound slowly becomes less distorted and reaches a fortissimo. It is the sound of bullets, and bombs, and people dying Throughout Dana, does her best not to scream.


Saturday, April 5, 2014

Five Pornstars That Changed Society for the Better

Before we begin, this essay makes the assumption that pornography educational, culturally relevant, and, best of all, lots of fun.

However, I am told that porn is apparently still controversial.

This is not an entirely unfair claim. Some female friends, and at least one family member, have told me about how exploitive exploitive the Straight porn industry can be. It apparently promotes patriarchy by making the 'male gaze' both normalized and celebrated. Female pornstars are often coerced and face economic disenfranchisement. It implicitly supports rape. The arguments are endless.

While valid concerns, I really don't know how true any of these are. To me they seem to come from a sense of sex negativity. No one (at least no one I'll take seriously) will make the argument "porn is against God" or "watching porn means you're disrespecting your partner(s) and yourself" so they actively seek out other reasons to justify their own internal stigmata.

For example I had one woman who told me that any conversation about porn even gay (male/male) porn had to be about women. This is suspect, but fair. She then told me the only porn she supports is queer porn because it's outside the industry and thus patriarchy standards. Again, fair and commendable grounds for discussion. She then told me that she didn't really see the male/male porn industry as 'queer' (since it was structured in similar ways to the straight porn industry such as promoting the 'male gaze') and therefore should probably be dismantled.


Even in the most liberal environments people are looking to self-censor when it comes to sex. As a result you get a lot of shame and aversion to he subject. Worse yet people who 'have done the deed' aren't suppose to mention it, and if they do, it is with the expectation that they are treading into muddy watters. The above argument masquerades as both a feminist one as well as a queer one but it actually limits sexuality rather than celebrates. Furthermore the limitation of sexuality is the limitation of societal expression outside of anything that has to do with sex at all. To give a really banal example Queer Eye for the Straight Gay wouldn't have existed if gay sex or even sex in general, could never be acknowledged. And then we'd missed out on a lot of early to mid 2000's styling tips.

But enough about stigma. Let's look at some porn stars that have fought it.


Conner Habib

I discovered Conner, when I read his essay called What I Want to know is Why You Hate Pornstars. It's fascinating. Incredibly personal and moving, he shows how biases can end up utterly destroying otherwise perfectly happy relationships and the chance for interconnectivity. Worse yet he shows how society perpetuates those biases. It's a very very good read.

What makes Conner a good advocate both in and out of porn is that he's an academic. No really, he's a bona fide former English professor at UMASS. He even one the distinguished teaching award. Furthermore if you read his writing it definitely shows. Nor did he ever really stop writing, really. He still pens essay after essay, is invited to speak at several schools, and even offers coaching on his website for would be writers.  The stereotype is that you're stupid if you act in porn, but Conner's very existence challenges that.

To be honest, I wouldn't mind having Conner's life. I think no one would. Write well and make highly enjoyable films for when you need to get away from your desk? I'm surprised more professors don't do it. Sadly his profession is respected which is a damn shame because Conner makes no compunctions about it being difficult! Having to orgasm on command? Staying aroused for eight hours? Playing to the camera while having sex? Those things seem nearly impossible and kudos to Conner to be able to do them.


Sasha Grey

Probably the most famous person on this list, Sasha Grey started her career shortly after turning 18 in 2006 and started to win awards within a year. So yeah, she's definitely talented when it comes to her job. However she makes *my* list because she crossed over to film, advocacy, writing, modeling and very very weird music. Not only did she cross over, she found success using  the porngraphy as a springboard.

The best part? She acknowledges this and is grateful. No she probably wouldn't have been famous without doing porn, and no she wouldn't have had access to pursue all the projects she does but that's not a bad thing and she doesn't think you should it's a bad thing either. This is fascinating because she's doing something that women don't normally do: get praised for her prowess as an actively sexual beings. Sure women can be seen as sexual objects, but Sasha wants you to know that she performed the act, and she wants you to know that she performed it well. This strikes me as incredibly courages and incredibly feminist.


Buck Angel

He's on this list because I want to sleep with him.

Putting that aside though, he's really on this list because this man has managed to challenge notions of gender, sexuality, porn, celebrity, masculinity, femininity both from within and from without porn just by being inexorably, unabashedly himself. Who's that? A muscled out, bald, bearded tatted out man's man who does some of the more raunchy, dirty, and awesome scenes then any of the other porn stars I have here.

He's also a trans*man.

Here's some quick vocabulary for those who need it. He was female-bodied, but since he's a dude he transitioned into a muscular male-coded body with a some really awesome tattoos. He kept the pussy though.

Wait, what?

Yeah. When you transition you go as far as you feel is appropriate. That didn't stop Buck though. in 2005 he made his own porn studios and released his films with the moniker "the Man with the Pussy". His words not mine. It was a hit, since finally there was some mainstream female to male trans* representation in porn that was hot to, well, everyone. Even gay men with gynophobia (fear of vaginas usually stemming from misogyny) could get behind behind Buck, figuratively and literally. He even did a scene with a trans*woman that was so popular new and refreshingly representational that it won awards. Now he still does porn, but he's a respected speaker, founder of a  dating site for transmen, and activist.


Masaki Koh

The late Masaki Koh (真崎 航) was a famous GoGo dancer, pornstar and model. Simple enough man, simple enough life. To my knowledge he didn't write anything, or participate in any kind of influential business that allowed him to use his porn as a springboard. He was just a very very good porn star. So why is he on my list?

To answer that you've gotta understand the state of gay Japanese porn at the time he started. In a lot of ways the stigma of being a pornstar is worse there than here (especially if you're not acting in straight porn). Therefore you see a lot of people performing in surgical masks, or other things that obscured their faces and the performers would do there best not to comment on their work. Not so with Masaki. He very publicly had a boyfriend and was very very open about everything he was doing all the time with everyone. 

Furthermore, he challenged racial stereotypes in porn for a western audience. There's an unfortunate effeminization and enforced passivity of gay east asian males in porn. Masaki Koh, being a scruffy masculine top offered an alternative. I'm sure a lot of Asian Americans thank him for that since there is more than one way to be gay and that way is not always what society codes you as.

I should say that he died at 29 in 2013. We're still not sure why, though admittedly his death does call into question some aspects of the porn industry. While it was probably suicide I contest that it was less the porn itself and more society's reaction to the porn that may or may not have driven him to it. Regardless, he was much loved and will be missed.


Belle Knox
The liberal internet erupted when it heard that this nineteen year old pornstar was being harrassed, threatened, shamed, and stalked by her peers. No, not other pornstars. Fellow Duke University students.

That's right, she's a student at one of the most prestigious and most expensive schools in the country! From what I can gather she started doing porn to pay the bills. However this doesn't mean she does it entirely out of necessity and no other reason. As steep as bills are, there are always other ways to make money. No she does it because she genuinely has fun doing it as her twitter can attest (NSFW). 

This and the fact that she's serious about her studies tends to break people's brains a little. A girl who really really likes sex, who's also actively pursuing a degree seems to be a contradiction of terms. Like Conner Habib, the assumption is that smart people cannot also be deeply invested in their porn. However in her case the situation is more extreme because she's a student and thus (wrongly) still seen as a child, thus the fear is that she'll corrupt all the tender young minds  of her classmates. She's also female and women aren't expected to be so effervescent about they want sexually.

Unfortunately, a lot of media, even media that is largely sympathetic in tone, has spread rumours that she was thinking about dropping out. This is a problem because it presents porn and college as an either/or dichotomy. Either sexual liberation or scholastic enlightenment. The two are not diametrically opposed and Ms. Knox is a trailblazer for those of us that want to fight stigma.

In conclusion? Enjoy your porn. Talk about it. Talk about it with other people. Reassure each other that it's okay to be sexual. Because when we don't do that, we miss out on wonderful professional people, and we make the ways in which we're able to change the system around us a little worse.

*(as always you are encouraged to comment in the comment section)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Poetry: An Odyssey

An Odyssey

Sing to me of the man, Oh Muse
And through me enflame his nerves
The Singaporean man, buffeted, by
Flagellation and desire, An artist
A deaf artist and mute, can't hear your song
Lucky bastard, he was spared your sirens
I can hardly stand your voice of rust

Anyway, he left his showing in heat
Decided to escape his worry-wort handler
When you own a three piece suit, and tie-collar
And you can spin straw into goldleaf shading
You are closely watched, it wasn't easy
But this one was crafty, a stealthy lion

For Singapore is the city of liions don't you know?
We call it Disney-Land with the death penalty
They call it SingDollar utopia, so sing dollars
And he had plenty of those to chase the illicit

When you're horny, rich, and reckless
And have downed a cocktail or two to communicate
With rich socialites by universal watering hole
And forego your interpreter, you will not be babied
Oftentimes you get lost on the way to the strip club

Fate brought him, lost, to the shores of The Eagle
And mildly drunk, he decided to wax umildly
Ill-mannered, not that the gatekeeper noticed
Too contrite, he bounced away from deaf mute shriek-sound
And took the artist's ID, who took delight in unnerving

The bar was dark and had a second floor
A pool table on the first, real Americana
Dive deeply, dive, he thought of black waters
Surrounding his island when the incandescence
Was sure that no mortal or goddess was looking

On the first floor, there were no women

On the second floor half naked men in harnesses
In collars, in work-boots, in jockstraps and cleats
Some tied, some chained, some rubbered
The scent of new leather, sweat, and hair
Revel in the pig-sty, some find it enticing,
I paint a scene, Oh Eros, Eros! Such stimulus!
Prometheus fresh-bound, new-bound, bound by Dionysus
Bound and red-flagged, up for love and bloodsports

At that moment though, whatever, he needed a beer

He made the sign for deaf-mute, in Signed Exact English
Double language barrier signing, bastard ASL
They spoke English in Singapore, not that he'd heard it
Whatever, his gut, beer, now, hopefully Japanese
Which they did not have, sigh, grunt, point to Yuengling

Took a sip, paid, waved out his thanks
And quietly, for all is quiet, drank piss
Someone was probably into that, he thought
And how could he blame, when they settled for gold
Gold over his amber, He chuckled then scowled
He heard that his laugh had sounded satyr-like

There was porn on the TV, which he tried to ignore
There were patrons in the bar, whom he tried to ignore
Not that he hadn't crossed gender lines,
People were people, all of them a Tiresias
Money buys bisexuality, or at least its awareness
And artistry calls for leaping without looking
But not in this context, you stupid stupid man,
Not with all your chains, far apart from these

More beer. Now! His hands were aflutter
This too, did not go unnoticed, of course
Here too a curiosity, but at least not a celebrated one
Let him go, down then, this was now Tartarus
Debase me, hurt me, choke me, this was the place
To be othered it seemed, even here he was denied connection

We are such vocal lovers. Even he could feel vibrations
Screams linger in the air, and make it dance with ecstatics

And then, oh muse, a sign, finally a sign
A man had said hello, and he had understood
Praise such revelations, And praise Adonis
Aphrodite being absent in a den such as this
And Pan not able to abide with Protocol
They say we are bound by the strings of fate
I say, muse, that those hags don't understand
We have cut their threads and only are bound
Yes bound, and bind in turn, to each other in Bondage

The man, was scruffy. Brown haired, Pale and limber
Not like the rich fat Australians, who evade taxes
Islands Interlopers, but he had taken their patronage
No he was different breed of Caucasian,
Wearing a collar, and an absence of shirt
He wanted to know if this was his first time, and it was
He wanted to know where he was from, and the artist said

More questions followed, slightly slowed by their accents
ASL, Exact English, two and two hands do not make four
There should've been a universal language, but no
Ease was not in a mute vocabulary
Even if he could make the signs, it was not there

Anyway, the collar, the man had a Sir
Who was away in Cancun with his husband
Who himself had a The situation confused him
Language notwithstanding, Circe had done work
Here piggy-piggy but the pigs, as myth tells it
Could see the wind, and the wind blew forward
To unions of choice and not old bed-rite
And it seemed one of the choices
Was to leave none of the silent behind
It seemed these strange people
Always interpreted for one another

For useless are spells that can only be uttered
And to make words safe, you can' t make them words

What do you? I'm an artist? Really? A famous one.
Are you good? No. Oh no, why do say that?
I've never made real art. My irritation is spent
And the expense goes into irrigation, drown the well
The water nymphs, flirtation, and haze, I'm drunk
Poseidon on the side of a can of Sapporo

As he told, he was ashamed, Sapporo, really?
Ethnically Korean and addicted to the rising sun
Dawn with her rose colored fingers, had tainted his tongue

Put the beer down, said the man, his tone commanding
The artist did, with some reluctance, but with gratitude
Are you out of control? let me control you then. Make you my art.
Paint you on the side of an amphora, strum you like a lyre
Or immortalize you in the festival Dyonisia in role and epic

Had he divined correctly? Metaphors were gods' work.
He was no god. At least not to himself, but then
In the man's eyes, he saw, that to the man he was

Have I been to forward? the man's hands were skittish

Pause. Rewind. Stop. Watch the night in fast forward.
HD quality, Muse doesn't mess around with money
Sing dollar, dollar, sing! But still no sound
Few captions, no connections with characters
But this, only this, artist to canvas, a role
An escape from the beer, he needed discipline
Connection, those eyes, a family, an expansion

No, he said, take me to the third floor, he said
And led by Penelope, he returned to Ithaca

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Marriage Equality?

Everyone should have the right to get married. If I decide someday I want to enter into holy matrimony (patrimony?) with a man, it's not something that should be open to debate or controversy. I'm definitely not planning to do it regardless of who I decide to share my life with, but I recognize have a lot of life left. My opinions are often changeable. You never know. I could need to exercise my right to be shackled to a ring. If I do decide to go through with it, as a liberal, I need to acknowledge something important.

Marriage is a socially conservative institution.

That's right, folks. The thing that's being fought for in (as of this writing) 33 states is limiting love instead of allowing it. This will raise a few eyebrows so let me be clear: I have a right to get married to whomever I choose and about two thirds of the country is violating that right. However by entering into a marriage, or fighting for it as the Ideal Expression of Love(tm) I am endorsing its standard and normalizing its practice. While it's folly to define it, love is not nearly so linear that it comes with a neat tidy, culturally-heterosexual endpoint.

I say culturally-heterosexual, because queer people have most recently built relationship structures that aren't dependent on monogamy, employ consensual unequal power exchange, or are limited by sexual puritanism. While it's true that these things were developed out of necessity because straight-style courtship wasn't and still isn't accepted, they're pretty damn awesome and they are certainly not 'lesser'. They're an expression of humanity's basic right, not to get married, but to love and to love in a way that makes it happy. Or, to put like my straight romantically conservative roommate, "Be Hippies, 'n shit."

So whenever left wing activists say that gay marriage isn't going to lead to polygamy, I groan internally. I'm not advocating for radical mormon harems and creepy patriarchal institutions that force women into a culture of servitude. But maybe a man, a woman, and another man are in a triad. What if they want to express devotion to each other? How will they go about doing that? And if they do why isn't their devotion recognized by the government? What if I want to run the government but I'm in a BDSM relationship and I have a Sir? Will my candidacy be laughed out? What if my wife and I are honest swingers? Why does Bill Clinton get to cheat while our honesty is castigated?

So why is the one person to one person, monogamous, lifelong union so valued? Marx would say that it's for primarily economic reasons. Women after all were considered to be property for a long time in western and some eastern cultures. While I'm not a big Marx fan, I agree that it's probably a holdover from times when people had dowries. Even though they don't (at least not  commonly in America) the implications are still there, even if Third Wave Feminism has eroded a lot of them: women need one man, and men need one woman. With same-sex advocacy that's changed of, course but it's still a contract. People belong to their 'soulmates' instead of to themselves, even if they don't necessarily feel comfortable doing so.

This last is important. Unequal power exchange, that is being a Dom (of all flavors) or a sub (of all flavors), is consensual. Marriage, even though ideally the power exchange is 'equal', is not consensual. Society expects you to to give yourself, forever, to your betrothed and doesn't inform you that there are other choices. You have to be informed to give consent. What if you want to belong to yourself? What if you don't want the responsibility of having someone belong to you? Yes, it's true that I'm intentionally using rhetoric that calls to mind business practices, but the fact the rhetoric is still in usage should be telling enough. Marriage contract, Wedding vows, having someone complete you...all this is problematic and, to my mind, deeply limiting on what love can and should be. Here's what love can and should: any arrangement that makes you and your lover(s) happy.

Furthermore, these aren't new ideas. I mentioned Hippies and they did lay the groundwork for a lot of these ideals but honestly a lot of these were developed before the word 'marriage' had the connotations that it does today. Nor has it gone ignored. There are places like Unmarried Equality that try to tackle the variability of love from an legal standpoint and books like The Ethical Slut that try to do so from a social one. Check them out.

So yes, you have the right to get married. You have always had that right regardless of whether or not the government wants to recognize it. Should you get federal benefits for getting married however? Tax breaks.  No. I don't think so. Governments should not get to decide what love is for you. Sorry married friends, but if people don't get tax breaks for poly, kinky or any sort of 'alternate' arrangements then you shouldn't either.

In conclusion, be honest how you want to love. Love uniquely, love ardently, and love unashamed.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Disney's Frozen and Mental Difference

Once again I was late to the party and only just now managed to see Disney's Frozen.

I can see why it's blowing up my Facebook and why Buzzfeed has such a massive crush on it: It's a snarky liberal arts-major nerd's dream come true. I was planning to write a very straightforward review like I did with Mother Courage. Instead the English Major in me has smelt blood in the snow (see what I did there?) and wants to write about everything. The merits of adaptational media, deconstructionism of fairy-tale archetypes, feminist readings, anti-feminist readings, queer identity, family dynamics...they're all there and just screaming to have someone far more expert and far more scholarly extract them from the movie.

But you know what? I'm not really known for not doing things because I don't have credentials. In fact I love doing things that I'm not qualified for because I'm not qualified. So let's talk about Elsa and Mental Difference.

First let me say, I've tried to keep this relatively spoiler free and while their won't be many plot details, thematically it'll be pretty comprehensive for this character. The rest I think you can live with since even the things I say about the ending are vague and pretty obvious to anyone who's watched a Disney movie. Second? Yes I am pursuing counseling my self. The nature of my counseling may or may not have anything to do with this entry, and I believe everyone should pursue some counseling as a matter of course.

Anyway, based off of two distinctly different characters from the original fable, The Snow Queen and a young boy she abducts, Elsa acts as both her captor and her own captive. She's a cryokinetic (that's powery person), and like most magic in fiction when magic is used as a metaphor it works off of her emotions. It can be extremely beautiful and tender. The first thing we see her do is build a snowman for her sister, and even when she's using it for just herself she's really quite capable of awe inspiring feats of art and design. The trouble is, since her powers work on emotion, even when she's happy or acting with good intentions she can get carried away. The second thing we see her do with her powers is nearly kill her sister by trying to save her life.

What does this have to do with Mental Difference you might ask? Well if we look at the magic as a metaphor and not one for homosexuality (as tempting and as easy as it is to write about it) we've got a girl who's bipolar.

Yeah, yeah I know. At this point you think I'm reading too much into it. Whenever someone utters the 'b' word everyone seems to scream and run into the hills and discredits the utterer. Alright. Assuming that's true, think about why we tell stories. Failing that, think about the kind of stories Disney tries to tell. While making no claims to literal truth, they want to be applicable to life. If there were no people like Elsa in the world, they wouldn't have tried to make it a point to have her be worth your sympathy. It just happens that those people are bipolar, manic-depressive, or have others mental differences.

But what do I mean when I say that? Well I'm using bipolar to mean capable of extreme moods (both high and low) and the activity, creativity, and interpersonal relation skills that can come from those moods. Elsa is very even-tempered throughout the movie, but if you read her powers as her moods then it's a pretty easy jump. Especially when you consider that a lot of people with mental difference are pretty damn productive. A person allowing herself to ride the high of her manic episode may get a bit of a skewed view of the world but will feel unstoppable and will be all the more creative because of that. Even if they accidentally hurt someone or themselves. Again the parallels with Elsa practically scream.

Anyway back to the movie. Her parents, feeling that her uncontrolled emotions will get put someone in danger again, decide to impress upon her that teaching her to control her powers is of utmost importance. Since her powers are linked to her emotions and they really don't know the slightest thing about magic, they lovingly (but firmly) decide that she can't express herself. A lesson Elsa eagerly adopts. The second song in the movie is in fact about how her door is always shut and all that implies to her little sister Ana, who just wants to build a snowman with the older sibling she adores.


Will get to emotional self-policing later. Let's do a close reading of the movie's best moment; the song Let it Go. Here's a nifty link to it for context.

The snow glows white on the mountain tonight
Not a footprint to be seen
A kingdom of isolation,
And it looks like I’m the Queen.

This can be read as a depressive episode but honestly it can also be read as a reaction to anyone whose felt 'othered'. Elsa is surround by her own element, but that element (be it her depression, her mania, or some other thought pattern) just shows her how alone she really is. As she says, there are no footprints in the snow.

The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside
Couldn’t keep it in, heaven knows I tried

Here the movie is practically begging to be interpreted since it's making her magic and her emotions explicitly linked. Cool reserved Elsa has a storm that can't be stopped by just wishing it away.

Don’t let them in, don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know
Well, now they know 

So many people with mental difference struggle to fit in and associate their 'success' with being 'good'. The  line shows the issue with that by using 'have to' instead of 'want to''. Elsa is expressing this unfortunate attitude, especially with her little 'Conceal don't feel' mantra which she uses a lot more throughout the movie. Like a bipolar person she's afraid of her own emotions and how they effect her relationships. 

Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door

...and then she says, "Fuck it!" This is a fantastic moment. She starts actively doing magic and has a genuine unrestrained smile. Again if we read 'magic' as 'emotion' (which the movie wants you to do) then she starts to acknowledge she has feelings to herself. This may like an obvious revelation to some;  people have feelings. When your own emotions are your enemy it's a lot easier to deny that you ever had them in the first place then to look at the raw fact of them. However all is not ice-roses. Notice the 'slam the door?' As we've seen this is a major motif. Don't worry, we'll come back to it.

I don’t care
What they’re going to say
Let the storm rage on,
The cold never bothered me anyway

Oh dear. Now we have mania. This could easily come from a villain song (which this was in fact written as originally) but tonally the song is one of self emancipation. She's freeing herself from her fears, right guys?...guys? What I' getting at is while that may be true, and that acknowledging that your own emotions empower you is a good thing you have to recognize them in relation with other people. She doesn't. 'Let the storm rage on' is an extreme line and while 'the cold never bothered me anyway' is awesome and sassy she doesn't think that it's important that it bothers other people.  When manic, other people sometimes don't matter especially if you're busy 'slamming the door'. 

It’s funny how some distance
Makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me
Can’t get to me at all

Not much to say. Manic period after a lifetime of depression galore. Pretty obvious at least to me, and hopefully, now to you. 

It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me
I’m free

Remember that 'creative outporing' I was talking about? This is her deciding to do that. There's also some troubling language here like 'no right, no worn, no rules for me'. While she is absolutely portrayed sympathetically, what Disney princess have you ever heard say that? Even though she's meant to evoke our sympathy by learning more about herself, at this point her much needed internal focus comes at the price of her external focus. I would argue (and so would the movie) that people need to strike a balance. but when you're life is governed by extremes both high and low it can be hard to. This does not make you any less sympathetic or deserving.

Let it go, let it go
I am one with the wind and sky
Let it go, let it go
You’ll never see me cry

Oh dear.  More mania. Despite how literally true that claim may or may not be for a cryokinetic it's...pretty ballsy. So is 'you'll never see me cry'.  Implicit in that is an entire denial of ever feeling sorrow which when one is in the throws of happiness in extremis one tends to do.

Here I stand
And here I'll stay
Let the storm rage on

This little section is really impressive because of the animation. On 'stand' she stomps and a giant snowflake engrave ice-floor appears as a foundation for the castle she starts to conjure between this and the next stanza. Once you decide to embrace yourself as an emotional being, the narrative seems to be saying, you are capable of anything. Again though the troubling 'let the storm range on' is there. Often times bipolar disorder is characterized by racing and uncontrolled thoughts and if the storm is inside of her...

My power flurries through the air into the ground
My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around
And one thought crystallizes like an icy blast
I’m never going back,
The past is in the past

...if the storm is inside of her you get stanzas like this. Wow. Her power (emotion) is not acknowledged by Elsa to be inside her anymore. The movie even uses the word 'soul' in conjunction with the words 'spiralling' and 'all around'.  Sure she's creating a kingdom for herself (and it's awesome!) but in being everywhere she's lost self control. Furthermore by 'never going back' she's dismissing control's value entirely. In fact she even throws away her crown! That was probably a family heirloom and it's the symbol of what makes her queen. Look. While 'bipolar' should not be a four letter word, it's a disorder for a reason and not just for the times when it's bearer is feeling depressed. It's good that she's taking steps to heal herself.  It's just that she has not taken all of them.

Let it go, let it go
And I'll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone

This is another moment when the lyrics are only really good because of the action on the screen. This is the part where Elsa gets rid of her conservative clothing and spins herself a sexy ice dress. While this is sung triumphantly 'the perfect girl is gone' is kind of sad if you think about it. She still has her parent's internalized standards. Her powers, while she chooses to revel in them, are still imperfect. Even when we see her looking and acting like the hot witch that she is, her emotions are still intrinsically imperfect to her. This is really poignant for people living with mental difference who are conditioned not to trust the way they feel. Even when acknowledging that they feel differently they still self impose. In this way Elsa is very realistic. Which is another way of saying 'she's a very cynical portrayal.'

Here I stand
In the light of day
Let the storm rage on,
The cold never bothered me anyway

I've already said what I want to say about these lines and if I haven't, you can probably guess by know what I would say. However you'll notice that the song ends with Elsa slamming a door in the viewers face. Interesting, no?

While it should be clear by know that people with mental difference (especially the bipolar) should be able to see themselves in Elsa, that's not the main point I want to make. No, the main point I want to make is that she's a sympathetic, loving, kind, powerful queen. Arguably largely because of her powers. It's so easy to self stigmatize, but here's an example, albeit fictious, of someone who is allegorically Mentally Different ruling a kingdom and using her art to enhance her rule (especially at the end of the movie). Also notice that while her parents love her and try to help her, they get her into the emotional mess in the first place. Being open with people is good, no matter how much you may fear you'll hurt them. Seeing a professional is better. They say each snowflake is unique. Go out and design your own.


The first version of this was nearly unreadable. I made it better.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Vignette: The Hart in Love

When I did speak of some distressful stroke
That my youth suffered. My story being done
She gave me for my pains a world of sighs.
She swore, in faith, ’twas strange, ’twas passing strange,
'Twas pitiful, ’twas wondrous pitiful.
She wished she had not heard it, yet she wished
That heaven had made her such a man. She thanked me
And bade me, if I had a friend that loved her,
I should but teach him how to tell my story
And that would woo her. Upon this hint I spake.

-William Shakespeare, Othello

Curio:Will you go hunt my Lord?
Orsino: What, Curio?
Curio: The Hart.
Orsino: Why so I do, the noblest that I have.

-William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

Last year I woke up and my mate was dead.

I remember getting up in the middle of the night for no real reason. It's not like I heard or smelled anything funny, I just had a sense of something being a little bit off kilter. Like when you get something small stuck in your antlers. Not enough to seriously impede you but enough to make you want to beat your head across a tree for a bit. We we're taking shelter in one of the caves for the night but it had been  windy so I had to shake a little snow of my fur. Somehow I didn't wake the rest of my family up. I felt alone. Normally we're never alone.

I think that's when I first knew. I didn't have to sniff, or to feel the absence of breath to understand that she was dead, though of course I did those things a second later. The next morning my brothers and sisters said it had probably been poison sprayed on the rosebushes in the suburbs, but I knew somehow, irrationally that if I hadn't woken up alone she would still be alive. We are not a people given to mourn. Death is a part of life, and the oldest of us said that she would be taken into the sky as a consort for the God of the Hunt as a Huntress rather than the hunted. The old words. I had never believed them, especially not now.

Perhaps we had been too close? I don't know.

In any case I was expected to move on, so I did. I ran. I ate. I rutted and fathered more children on more women. I taught these children how to do all these things in turn. I grew older, wise, and a little bit fatter. Sometimes there were dark days, but I had had a pretty good life.

And then she came back. That wasn't right. It wasn't her. Not exactly. She didn't smell anything at all like she had when I had first met her. She wasn't even the same breed as us anymore, although a quick sniff told me that despite her lighter fur she would still be compatible for lovemaking without me hurting her. Worst of all she didn't remember me and no one else seemed to recognize her.

Also she was odd now.

"What's your name?" she asked me after wandering into our camp.

I didn't understand the question. I think she was trying to find out what I did, what I was, who I was and to sum it up in a single thought for good measure. I had never been great with abstract concepts. The Great Hunt in the Sky still gave me trouble. Still this would have stumped even people who knew all the old words the best. A word like a Name seemed older and more dangerous than even they could handle.

"I don't understand," I said because I really really didn't.

"That's okay," she said being kind about it, "My name is Autumn."

Autumn. Another big concept but one I was familiar with. The time when food got scarce. The time of the first cold. The last gasp before the snow. Still, somehow, it also meant her, and she meant the word kindly. Wrapped up in Autumn was an identity and a sense of herself though. There was also a promise. A promise, that somehow all sacrifices would be made meaningful and all deaths would be made necessary.

"Why have you come back?" I asked.
"Back to our family. You died last year."
"I don't understand," she said and I was amused because now it was her turn.

So I told her the story of how we had been a family together all our lives, and how we used to play as children. I told her about the happy times when we would find clovers and the scary times when we would be chased by things that wanted to eat us. I told her about how hard I had fought for her, my antlers barred against a stronger man, how badly I had lost, and how, against all custom, she had chosen me anyway. I told her how we had stood together on hind-legs against a tree, lost in passion. I told her about not understanding God. I told her about our children. I told her how we had been different. I told her about the rosebushes and how she had died.

She listened.

"And now there is nothing left to tell," I said, "Why have you come back?"

But she just looked at me sadly and said, "I'm not her."

"Then how come you make me feel this way," I said.
"How do you feel?"
"Like I could be sacrificed for you and it would be made meaningful," I said after a moment and I meant it. It was a difficult concept, that thought in her name, but it felt absolutely true.

After that though I couldn't tell what she was thinking. She just cocked her head and stared at me. I found it strange that she wasn't trying to get my scent, but also a little endearing for reasons I couldn't understand. She trusted her eyes more than her nose. Autumn, I thought, correcting myself. Autumn trusted her eyes more than her nose.

"Do you believe in love at first sight?" she said finally.
"I'm not sure I understand...-"
"...the question. Yeah, sorry, I sound a little weird sometimes. Let me rephrase: Do you think people who have never met each other can fall in love instantly?"

I considered this. "I don't think so," I said. "Not everyone at least. It takes time. But I've known these people all my life. I love them all. I guess I've had the time."

"Right!" Autumn said excitedly, "I agree with the 'not everyone' bit. But for you? I think you do. Fall in love at first sight. That's why you think I'm her."

"I'm not sure I agree but I'm willing to try loving you either way," I said after a moment.

"It doesn't work that way," Autumn said laughing suddenly. It was infectious. Soon I was laughing too. The entire thing seemed silly all of a sudden.

I told her so, "I'm not used to talking about why I feel the way I do."

She sighed and shook her fur saying, "I don't think anyone is."

We allowed ourselves to just be for awhile. Even though she was the instigator of the conversation I could tell it was difficult for her too, at least in long doses. I took her to one of my favorite places to graze. There were blueberries in the bushes and dandelions on the grass. If you slowed down, and mashed them in your mouth together it could be tastier than either one individually. I'm still not sure why though after experimenting and showing an interest I had actually become known for those weird food tricks. Autumn was delighted and called me a 'chef' a concept that while I found difficult, didn't seem entirely inaccurate. After gorging ourselves, and sniffing the air to make sure nothing dangerous was around we sat down.

"I was raised on a patch of meadow that researchers would use for an zoological survey," she said suddenly sad, "They talked with us and fed us. Told us stories. I liked the stories the most. At least they did, until they got shut down and the hunters moved in. I had to learn a lot quickly. Still in a lot of ways I'm more human than deer."

I only got about half of the meaning at first, but things like 'human' and 'deer' were easy to understand.

"The thing is, I like your story better. Your love story. Your family. There's more information, and more detail out there but with you here..."
"With you here, the story's more meaningful."
"Autumn..." I started to say something, but there was nothing more to say.

"Here's what I'm going to do," she said rising from the grass, "I will stay with you. I will listen to your stories, and I will run where you run and I will decide if I want to fall in love."

I shook my antlers in pleasure.

"But", she continued, "I will not be compared with her. She's dead. I know you loved her but I'm not her."

She really wasn't. I could see that now. It wasn't just the fur, or the size, or even the way Autumn smelled it was everything. The stuff in her mind and in her heart were different. She had never been part of my family, never drank the same water, or faced the same threats. She spoke like no one else I had ever met before, and would really stop and consider me. I knew I loved her for it, but knowing that didn't make it feel any less of a betrayal. My old mate was dead, yes, but she had never really left me. Perhaps we really had been too close. Perhaps we hadn't been close enough. Perhaps I should have followed her in The Big Hunt in the Sky. Even though I didn't know if I believed in it, I had believed in her.

Maybe it was time to believe in someone different.

"It'll be hard for me," I warned Autumn.
"That's okay. I know."
"Alright then. Where do we begin?
"Tell me a story."
"Yes, dear."