In the Viper Pit: Male Rape and Military Sexual Trauma (MST)

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This blog post explores some of the bio-psycho-social-spiritual effects of sexual assault on male survivors of Military Sexual Trauma (MST).  Although the percentage of female survivors of MST is greater than the percentage of male survivors, the number of men who have sustained this trauma far exceeds the number of female survivors, since the veteran population remains overwhelmingly male.  Men who have been sexually assaulted are as likely if not more likely to develop post-traumatic stress syndrome as veterans who have experienced combat-related trauma.   There is virtually no research on male survivors, who face some different problems than female survivors of MST  and who generally have greater difficulty discussing or seeking treatment for their trauma.  It is vital for social workers to educate themselves about men’s issues with MST and to develop novel ways to make it easier for male survivors to discuss their experiences.

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The Problem
We have heard a great deal about the plight of female military service personnel who experience sexual assault at the hands of their fellow soldiers lately, but very little about male survivors of Military Sexual Trauma (MST).  A small but growing number of articles about the bio-psycho-social-spiritual effects of MST demonstrate that this corrosive, criminal activity leads more certainly to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than combat experience in women (Calhoun, 1994; Campbell, Dworkin, & Cabral, 2009; Donna L. Washington et al., 2010; M. M. Kelly et al., 2008; U. A. Kelly, Skelton, Patel, & Bradley, 2011; Kimerling, Gima, Smith, Street, & Frayne, 2007; Mary Ann Boyd; Sharon Valente & Callie Wight, 2007; Turchik & Wilson, 2010).  There are as yet no studies showing that MST is as likely or more likely to lead to PTSD in male survivors, but there are in fact very few studies on male survivors of this trauma.  Furthermore, while feminist social workers and theorists have rightly pointed to the devastating physical, psychological, social and spiritual affects that the hyper-masculinist military culture has had on women, we have only just begun to pay attention to how this culture has affected men.  In this paper, I examine some of the bio-psycho-social-spiritual causes and effects of sexual assaults by men against their male military personnel.

The Veterans Administration (VA) defines MST as “psychological trauma, which in the judgment of a VA mental health professional, resulted from a physical assault of a sexual nature, battery of a sexual nature, or sexual harassment which occurred while the Veteran was serving on active duty of active duty for training.”  The VA further defines sexual harassment as “repeated, unsolicited verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature which is threatening in nature” (Affairs, 2010). Male survivors of MST are only now beginning to speak about their experiences.  Although women constitute by far the greater percentage of survivors of MST in the military, the number of men who have experienced this trauma is much larger than the number of women, since the military remains overwhelmingly male (Affairs, 2010).  Indeed, the number of living veterans who experienced MST over the course of last seventy years is probably far greater than we could possibly estimate.   Cultural attitudes towards gender and sexuality changed dramatically during that period, but mainstream culture has remained cramped by rigid gender norms.  Although the entrance of women and very recent toleration for homosexuality in the armed forces has dramatically altered military culture, it remains hierarchical and masculinist (Burgess, Slattery, & Herlihy, 2013).  Masculinism is the arbitrary elevation of all things masculine over all things feminine.  Within military and civilian life, men’s experiences of MST are bound to differ from women’s.

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What are the bio-psycho-social-spiritual effects of this trauma in general? Consider some of these stories: Less than two weeks after Greg Jeloudov joined the army at the age of 35,  fellow-soldiers gang-raped him in the shower at Fort Benning, Georgia.   They didn’t like his Russian-Irish accent.   They didn’t like his previous history as an actor.  They called him a “commie faggot” and said, “We don’t like actors here.…We especially don’t like Russian and Irish actors.” (Duell, 2011).  They beat and sodomized him in 2009, and now Mr. Jeloudov takes 13 different medicines as he struggles with PTSD, depression, nightmares, and thoughts of suicide.   “Being a male victim is horrible,” Theodore James Skovranek told a reporter.  In 2003 soldiers grabbed and held him down while another shoved his genitals in his face.  He shrugged it off at the time, but said, “I walked around for a long time thinking: I don’t feel like a man. But I don’t feel like a woman either.  So there’s just this void.”

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In 1974, three Whitman Air Force Base servicemen jumped, beat, and sodomized Michael Matthews, who had just graduated from high school. Afraid to report the incident, Matthews became depressed and suicidal.  His first two marriages foundered while he suffered in silence.  “I lived with this beast in my head for nearly 30 years, before telling my wife and going for counseling” (Evans, 2012).

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Higher-ranking enlisted soldiers in Norfolk raped Thomas F. Drapac on three separate occasions in 1963. He, too, kept the assaults to the himself for decades, worried about his sexuality and drowned his recurring nightmares in alcohol and sex (Dao, 2013).

Sexual trauma, like combat trauma, injures the brain and the body in both men and women.  During the moment of attack, the sympathetic nervous system engages and stimulates a flood of cortisol throughout the system, elevating blood pressure, heart rate, inducing sweating and a hyper-aroused sensory state.  This is the “fight-or-flight” response that humans and other animals experience when we sense danger.   Because the victim of sexual trauma is temporarily rendered helpless to fight or flee, he is overwhelmed; his ordinary adaptations to life break down (Herman, 1992, 1997). The most fundamental psychological element of trauma is a feeling of “intense fear, helplessness, loss of control, and threat of annihilation” (Herman, 1992, 1997).  The neural system is injured: people who have been traumatized often feel as though their nervous systems have become unplugged from reality. (Herman, 1992, 1997).

It is difficult to separate the biological from the psychological effects of trauma, since the brain is corporeal, an organ within the biological organism.  Like all traumatized persons, MST survivors frequently re-live the initial moment of trauma in a sensory fashion, because the memory of the event is so terrible that it has not yet been incorporated, as it were, into the set of stories that a person recalls and retells about him- or herself in the past.

This happens because traumatic memories do not encode the same way that ordinary memories do.  They tend to be experienced as “fixed images” or vivid sensations felt in the body but incapable of being expressed in words.  These non-integrated, traumatic memories frequently intrude upon the traumatic survivor (Herman, 1992, 1997).  Involuntarily pulled back into the moment through nightmares or flashbacks, the traumatized person experiences the flood of cortisol again and again, enduring an overload of stress that impairs the immune system and weakens the heart.

Because of the association of sodomy with homosexuality, and the military’s long-standing, profoundly heterosexist bias, many male survivors of MST have been afraid to speak about their experiences.  Living with unprocessed traumatic memories and untreated PTSD over decades, as many survivors have done, can lead to dementia (Chao et al., 2010).  Dementia can be understood as a biological degeneration of the brain and psychological and spiritual disintegration, a kind of wasting away of the mind and soul that has profound social consequences.   Trauma effects people in similar ways.

Traumatized people typically experience what Herman calls “constriction,” the trance that the person transfixed by helplessness and terror experiences at the moment of the assault, as well as the disorientation and psychic numbing, even to the point of paralysis, that the survivor experiences in the aftermath of trauma.  Constriction interferes with purposeful action and initiative as well as with anticipation and planning for the future.

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Men who experience this common side-affect of trauma, but who are unable to speak about it or unwilling to seek treatment, may regard themselves as weak failures, men who are not “men” insofar as they are unable to meet cultural expectations that they pursue productive and lucrative action in the world.  Indeed, many if not most men who experienced MST report that their masculinity was impaired or damaged.

Masculinity is a social construction, a sense of self formed in opposition to what is construed as femininity (Bourdieu, 2001). The U.S. military sustains an aggressively hierarchical, patriarchal, and homophobic culture.   By homophobic I mean not “fear of men,” as the name implies, but rather, and ironically, “fear of femininity,” especially in men.  As Pierre Bourdieu observes, masculinity is continually demonstrated in dynamic display:

Like honor–or shame, its reverse side, which we know, in contrast to guilt, is felt before others–manliness must be validated by other men, in its reality as actual or potential violence, and certified by recognition of membership of the group of ‘real men’.  A number of rites of institution, especially in education or military milieu, include veritable tests of manliness oriented toward the reinforcement of male solidarity.  Practices such as some gang rapes…are designed to challenge those under test to prove before others their virility in its violent reality, in other words stripped of all the devirilizing tenderness and gentleness of love, and they dramatically demonstrate the heteronomy of all affirmations of virility, their dependence on the judgment of the male group.

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The soldiers who raped Greg Jeloudev confirmed their brotherhood and shored up masculinity by brutalizing a man who did not fit in, a man whose alternative manifestation of manliness challenged and threatened their own, precarious sense of themselves as men.  They could not tolerate his very difference.  The drill process by which soldiers are allegedly “broken down” often employs a similar dynamic.  The sergeant seeks to humiliate and shame the recruit by demeaning and “feminizing” him, insisting that he is not a “man” until he can himself turn off his emotions, eradicate his softness, and become a killing machine.

The actor in the following clip from Full Metal Jacket (Kubrik, 1987is notorious because was a former marine and gunnery sergeant originally hired only as an advisor.  Unsatisfied with the performance of the actor designated to play the part, he stepped in to demonstrate how the military turns what he here calls a “maggot” and a “lady” into a “weapon, a minister of death”:

Manliness in the military is constructed as the conquest of womanliness, of tenderness, of weakness, of that which is to be despised, demeaned, and dominated.The particularly pernicious effect that this obscene social dynamic has upon the male soldiers who have been raped by their fellows (a method of social cruelty that humans alone among all the animals perpetrate) is that they must become their worst enemies in order to survive.  They must adopt the mentality and sadistic behavior demanded in order to demonstrate that they are, indeed, men, or forever be spat upon as reviled, womanly outcasts who deserve nothing more than to be dominated again and again.

As with women who suffer MST, male survivors who are deployed or in the field often become captive to the culture, forced to endure the indignity of working alongside their abusers without recourse to any justice or understanding.   To report the attack, even to acknowledge its occurrence to one’s self, is to risk being subjected to further, unbearable humiliation and disgrace.   Before the Pentagon reversed its total ban on homosexuality in the service, anyone who reported having been assaulted was generally assumed to be unfit for duty.  “If you made a complaint, then you are gay and you’re out that that’s it,” Drapac explains.   Even though this would theoretically not take place in today’s military, for a man to admit that he has been “unmanned” in a culture that insists that manliness is superior to all other states of being requires immense courage, because the trauma cancels out his trust in others as well as himself (Herman, 1992).

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Moreover, because it radically destabilizes his understanding of himself as a male being in relation to other men and women, it unmoors his sexual identity and leaves him feeling lost, sexless, neither male nor female.  “Men don’t acknowledge being victims of sexual assault,” reports Dr. Carol O’Brien, who heads the PTSD program at Bay Pines Veterans Affairs Health Care System in Florida.  “Men tend to feel a great deal of shame, embarrassment and fear that others will respond negatively” (Dao, 2013). If, as happens in a small number of cases, the rapist is a woman, the male survivor of MST feels even further demeaned and unmoored.

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Male survivors may surely also experience spiritual isolation and confusion, through the inevitable question, “why me?” and the despair and self-loathing that fundamentally misconstrues his true nature.  He descends into a spiritual malaise, a separation from a sense of purpose and meaning in the world.   In fact the military culture that overtly promotes or covertly tolerates hyper-masculine concepts of honor is spiritually corrupt. When men and women embrace an ideal based on the arbitrary elevation of masculinity over femininity they exist not in harmony with one another, but rather in a permanent state of war against themselves.

The Population Concerned

The VA has been using an assessment tool to screen for MST since 2000  (Rowe, Gradus, Pineles, Batten, & Davison, 2009).  A 2012 study of a subset of veterans of 213,803 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan diagnosed with PTSD from April 1, 2002, to October 1, 2008, found that 31 % of the women and 1% of the mean screened positively for MST (Maguen et al., 2012).    Because the overwhelming number of veterans is male, the number of men is roughly equivalent to the number of women who have experienced MST.  Within this population, 12% of the men and 7% of the women have substance abuse problems, while 56% of the men and 70% of the women suffer from depression.  Male survivors of MST with PTSD displayed less frequency of comorbid depression, anxiety, and eating disorders than the female counterparts.  Both women and men with a history of MST were more likely to have three or more comorbid mental health diagnoses than those with PTSD who had not experienced MST (Maguen et al., 2012).  The most recent Department of Defense Annual Report on Sexual Assaults estimates that roughly 26,000 service members experienced sexual assault or unwanted sexual contact in 2012, an increase of 6% from the previous year.

According to the Department of Defense, sexual assault refers to “a range of crimes, including rape, sexual assault, nonconsensual sodomy, aggravated sexual contact, abusive sexual contact, and attempts to commit these offenses” (Defense, 2013). Incidents of sexual assault took place equally, in proportion to the number of troops in each division, throughout the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines.  The vast majority of the persons investigated for sexual assault were male, under the age of 35, and enlisted.  Of the reports made, only 12% of the victims were male, but the Department of Defense estimates that 53% of all the assaults actually committed were committed by men against men.   The Department of Military Affairs does not break down their statistics by race or ethnic identity.  Nor does is estimate the total number of living veterans who may have experienced MST.

Social Work Interventions

Social workers have not adequately addressed the problem of men’s experiences of MST. There is little published research on male survivors of MST, and so far no scientific or theoretical discussions designed to guide social workers engaged in practice with the male veterans who have endured this terrible trauma. The 2012 “Handbook of Military Social Work” only discusses MST in a chapter on women in the Military, utterly ignoring the phenomenon.  A different guide for social work with veterans published the same year includes a chapter on MST but only briefly touches upon male survivors.  What is especially needed is a body of literature from social workers, psychologists, and other behavioral health professionals who have worked directly with male veterans suffering from combat- and military sexual trauma.

One very helpful, recent resource is the forthcoming documentary film that social worker Geri Lynn Weinstein-Matthews and her husband, Michael Matthews, have produced.

“Justice Denied” examines sexual assault and rape against men in the U.S. armed forces.  Michael’s experience of rape as a 19 year-old airman is mentioned above (Evans, 2012).  An NASW blog, “Social Workers Speak” has included a few references to male soldiers suffering from MST, but the NASW needs to bring much more attention to this topic (NASW, 2013).

Conclusions and Recommendations

Military sexual trauma is a serious affliction affecting thousands of male veterans and military service personnel, whose problems social workers have only recently begin to understand. Like many people, I originally understood the problem solely as a women’s issue, since the increasing numbers of women soldiers and increasingly expanded roles for women in the service has brought this topic to the foreground of public discussion.  Recently changed policies and slowly changing attitudes towards homosexual soldiers has made it easier for men to speak out.  Sexually traumatized men are not homosexual by virtue of having been attacked, of course, and, in fact, most of the men who rape or sexually assault other men in the military are heterosexual.  As I explain above, sexual assault is a means of domination, of demonstrating masculinity.  It has very little to do with sexual desire.  Yet until recently men who reported that they had been assaulted were, tragically and unjustly, regarded as homosexual and therefore dismissed dishonorably from service.

Former victim testifies before a Senate committee investigating military sexual trauma. AP photo by Carolyn Kaster via KiroTV.com
Former victim testifies before a Senate committee investigating military sexual trauma. AP photo by Carolyn Kaster via KiroTV.com

Male-on-male sexual assault illuminates the fragility and complexity of masculine sexuality in general and illuminates the highly constructed nature of gender identity.  Mild assault as well as violent rape can damage a man’s psychological and spiritual understanding of himself as a “man,” especially in a culture with particularly rigid and narrow notions of masculinity and femininity.  The fault lies not in the man, but rather in the culture at large.

I’d like to see many more seminars for clinicians as well as survivors on the spiritual damage that MST inflicts on men as well as on our culture, seminars that would focus on the spiritual poverty of masculinism and patriarchy in general.  But therapists also need much more training and guidance in working with men who have survived this biologically and psychologically damaging trauma.

Social workers need to build new understandings of how to address and approach men who traditionally do not seek therapeutic healing, and we also need to advocate for a broader discussion of the issue in general.   I’d like to see government funding for scientific studies as well as for training social workers to engage this particularly vulnerable and forgotten population.

This will not be easy.  Men, especially military men who have served their country as soldiers, don’t want to be treated as victims.  Therefore we need to find novel and sensitive ways to discuss their experiences in ways that uphold their sense of themselves as strong, independent, and honorable human beings, respected members of the community, and beloved fathers, brothers, cousins, uncles, and grandfathers.

References

Affairs, U.S. Department of Veterans. (2010). Military Sexual Trauma.

Bourdieu, Pierre. (2001). Masculine Domination. Stanford: Stanford UP.

Burgess, Ann W., Slattery, Donna M., & Herlihy, Patricia A. (2013). Military Sexual Trauma: A Silent Syndrome. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing & Mental Health Services, 51(2), 20-26. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.3928/02793695-20130109-03

Calhoun, Rachel Kimerling and Karen S. (1994). Somatic Symptoms, Social Support, and Treatment Seeking Among Sexual Assault Victims. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 62(2), 333-340.

Campbell, R., Dworkin, E., & Cabral, G. (2009). An ecological model of the impact of sexual assault on women’s mental health. Trauma Violence Abuse, 10(3), 225-246. doi: 10.1177/1524838009334456

Chao, Linda L., Yaffe, Kristine, Neylan, Thomas C., Rothlind, Johannes C., Meyerhoff, Dieter J., & Weiner, Michael W. (2010). Hippocampal atrophy in young veterans with PTSD and cognitive impairment: A potential link between PTSD and dementia. Alzheimer’s & Dementia, 6(4, Supplement), S286. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jalz.2010.05.943

Dao, James. (2013). In debate over military sexual assault, men are overlooked victims, New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/24/us/in-debate-over-military-sexual-assault-men-are-overlooked-victims.html?pagewanted=all

Defense, Department of. (2013). Department of Defense Fiscal Year 2012 Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military

Donna L. Washington, MD, MPH, Elizabeth M. Yano, PhD, MSPH, James McGuire, PhD, MSW , Vivian Hines, MSW, ACSW , Martin Lee, PhD, & Lillian Gelberg, MD, MSPH. (2010). Risk factors for Homelessness among Women Veterans. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, 21.

Duell, Mark. (2011, 4 April 2011). ‘I was in the middle of the viper’s pit’: Soldier describes gang rape as male-on-male sexual assault in the military increases, Mailonline. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1373270/Male-male-sexual-assault-soldiers-increases-Greg-Jeloudov-reports-gang-rape.html

Evans, Heidi. (2012). Majority of sexual assaults and rapes commited in military in 2011 were against men, New York Daily News. Retrieved from http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/majority-sexual-assaults-rapes-committed-military-2011-men-article-1.1150235

Herman, Judith. (1992, 1997). Trama and Recovery: The aftermath of violence–from domestic abuse to political terror. New York: Basic Books.

Kelly, M. M., Vogt, D. S., Scheiderer, E. M., Ouimette, P., Daley, J., & Wolfe, J. (2008). Effects of military trauma exposure on women veterans’ use and perceptions of Veterans Health Administration care. J Gen Intern Med, 23(6), 741-747. doi: 10.1007/s11606-008-0589-x

Kelly, U. A., Skelton, K., Patel, M., & Bradley, B. (2011). More than military sexual trauma: interpersonal violence, PTSD, and mental health in women veterans. Res Nurs Health, 34(6), 457-467. doi: 10.1002/nur.20453

Kimerling, R., Gima, K., Smith, M. W., Street, A., & Frayne, S. (2007). The Veterans Health Administration and military sexual trauma. Am J Public Health, 97(12), 2160-2166. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2006.092999

Kubrik, Stanely (Writer). (1987). Full Metal Jacket.

Maguen, S., Cohen, B., Ren, L., Bosch, J., Kimerling, R., & Seal, K. (2012). Gender differences in military sexual trauma and mental health diagnoses among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder. Womens Health Issues, 22(1), e61-66. doi: 10.1016/j.whi.2011.07.010

Mary Ann Boyd, Wanda Bradshaw, and Marceline Robinson. Mental Health Issues of Women Deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Arch Psychiatr Nurs, 27(1). doi: 10.1016/j.apnu.2012.10.005

NASW. (2013).  Retrieved from http://www.socialworkersspeak.org/hollywood-connection/justice-denied-will-look-at-sexual-assault-and-rape-against-men-in-the-military.html – sthash.pgssBZj5.dpuf

Rowe, Erin L., Gradus, Jaimie L., Pineles, Suzanne L., Batten, Sonja V., & Davison, Eve H. (2009). Military Sexual Trauma in Treatment-Seeking Women Veterans. Military Psychology, 21(3), 387.

Sharon Valente, PhD FAAN, & Callie Wight, RN C MA. (2007). Military Sexual Trauma: Violence and Sexual Abuse. MILITARY MEDICINE, 172.

Turchik, Jessica A., & Wilson, Susan M. (2010). Sexual assault in the U.S. military: A review of the literature and recommendations for the future. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 15(4), 267-277. doi: 10.1016/j.avb.2010.01.005

Turse, Nick. (2013). Tomgram: Nick Turse, A Rape in Wartime.  Retrieved from From: http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175662/

Shoulder Stand

I had no idea how hard one could work to do a proper shoulder stand.  O, and I’m doing nearly every other pose wrong, it turns out.  My muscles all want to work en masse, fused together, locked down, whereas to do a good triangle, for example, my muscles need to work separately, in different directions.  It’s an interesting mental game to focus on muscles I didn’t know I had and try to move them separately.  Kind of like rubbing your tummy and patting your head at the same time,  only much harder.

Well, it clears the mind to have to tune in so intently on the body, and to realize that the body is not even close to being something under the control of the mind.  No, in fact, the body–with all its learned postures, its hunches, its clenched jaws, its legs pressed rigidly together, or crossed, or arms folded, or brow furrowed–influences the mind, makes it miserable, and then the mind sends distress signals that tighten down all the hatches, and the sphincter jams shut, which backs all the toxins into the body, and the mind complains, and the cycle continues.   This is the feedback loop that Tara Brach calls a “trance.”

So when you practice yoga with an expert Iyengar teacher such as Nancy Crum Stechart, whose class I took tonight, you are working so hard trying to get your brain to send the right signals to the muscles you’re trying to isolate and move, not to mention the focus you need to hold the pose while your entire body screams “ENOUGH!” that you don’t have time for the trance.  All this thinking about what getting your thigh to move forward while simultaneously moving your pelvis back and up, and then lengthening the spine while straightening the back leg and bending the front one just another half-inch, while keeping the pelvis tilted and the front thigh moving in the opposite direction–all this actually interrupts the feedback loop that usually takes over.  The sensations of pain or discomfort that you experience have clear and obvious relationships to the thoughts that you are having at that moment, and there simply isn’t time to think about anything else.  The mind clears for an hour or two.  It starts to clutter up again in Shivasana, corpse pose, when you are supposed to let everything go slack but also to do this consciously, remaining aware of the body and sending release to those muscles which are still holding on.

My mind is a mess of monkeys jumping from thought to thought.  It goes right into the jungle swinging, and it usually takes me a while to figure out where I’ve gotten to.  And then I go back to where I really am, on the floor, listening to the sounds coming from outside, and sensing soreness or tightness or fatigue in my body, and just staying there. But soon the monkey-mind is off again, and I just go along until I realize that it has carried me back to the feedback loop, and that my muscles are clenching again. I come back again and again, because I’m trying to recover from all the times throughout the day when I’m caught up in the loop.

I have had the great privilege to take some classes with Nancy Crum Stechert (so I’m repeating her name), who happens to be one of the premier Iyengar teachers in this country.  She started practicing yoga in San Francisco in 1976 and began studying with the Iyengars in India in 1983.  She has been studying regularly with them since then.  She founded the Colorado School of Yoga in Denver as well as the International School of Yoga in Tokyo.  She holds a Senior Intermediate level certificate in the iyengar method.  But aside from all her accomplishments, Nancy is a lovely person to be around.  She’s calm, non-judgmental, funny, and intelligent.  She reads a lot.  She disliked The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for the same reason I did.  Neither of us enjoyed the sexual violence scenes. You can turn on the tv at any time of day and find a channel showing a film or show about a woman being menaced.  Why would anyone want to read more graphic descriptions of this masculinist torture?

I met a woman at a feminist function who raved about the trilogy.  I couldn’t understand why.  I like that they’re set in Scandinavia, because my mother was Norwegian.  And the little mystery about the photo frames was somewhat interesting.  But it took me a long time to get into the plot, which became a page-turner only because I had already invested so much time into the book.  But I really didn’t enjoy the blow-by-blow descriptions of violent rape.  I don’t mind graphic descriptions of sex.  In fact I like them. And I have no political beef with porn, in general, but simply do not personally get off on this particular type.  This seems to be the type of porn that people who like to say they’re against porn really like.  The quasi-feminist heroine gives them an excuse to indulge in this stuff they otherwise wouldn’t let themselves read.  They’re against rape and sexual violence against women,  but perfectly happy to spend hours reading and imagining it.   Indeed, they’re enthralled.  Well, I don’t enjoy it and feel unhappy when I have to experience more of it than necessary, either on screen or in a book.  Rant over.

I’m home now, exhausted.  I’m having a glass of excellent unoaked Chardonnay from Leroux vineyards,  halfway between here and my excellent yoga class.  I just ate an entire spaghetti squash, baked and served with butter and salt. My soup from last night, by the way, turned out to be excellent.

I’m going to end on this excellent note.

Writing and Pontificating

I woke up a lot earlier than I had meant to this morning and was driven out of bed by remorse and anxiety.  I knew that I had not quite gotten out what I had meant to say in my previous post, and wanted to address it.  It took me all day to figure out how to do it.

I simply deleted everything that I didn’t want to say, or, rather, that I didn’t want to be recorded as having written.

This must be a disease peculiar to writers and politicians and members of the clergy: the compulsion to pontificate and the equally powerful anxiety about being held to one’s utterances.   This is a desire to be seen and heard that ceaselessly fights with the worry that you will be seen and heard and everyone will see that you are imperfect.   And then there is the fear that they will stop listening to, or reading you, and you will no longer be able to pay the bills, and then they will think bad thoughts about you.   Sometimes there is the fear, for example, that they will  think that you are not a nice person.  Or  that your readers or auditors might find you  rude, or unkind, or uncouth, or clumsy, or left-handed, or insane.  But if you are an academic writer, especially,  the worst thing that they could possibly think about you is that you are not smart.

For two reasons:

Either:

Because smart is what you are selling in this business.  Smart characterizes the commodity. And certain of your colleagues in this business will no longer associate with you because your lack of smartness might make them look less smart.  Smart defined,  of course, not as “really well turned out” or “put together,” but rather as “hyper-intelligent,” “brilliant,” “creative,” “uniquely productive of intellectual commodities.”

Or:

Because you yourself are really invested in being perceived as smart due to some terrible insecurity.  I think it is called imposter syndrome.  It is the fear that they will see through the pose, the mask, the pretence of knowledge, scientia, truth,  revelation, salvation.  You don’t actually know what salvation or sapientia, sophia, wisdom, is, and you have a sneaking suspicion that you have been faking it all this time and they will find you out at last.  And then they will stop liking you.  And then you will be alone.

And then? And then you will have to find different friends, and these friends could be human or animal or plant or mineral.

I don’t know why I always end up careening into saccharine preachiness and the pedagogical mode.  I’m not really that comfortable with it.  I doubt myself all the time, and wish that I were more certain about things than I am.

Like most people, I want to come to a quick conclusion, a moral of the story, because I  am attached to binary oppositions: dumb and smart, black and white, male and female, right and wrong, sane and crazy, rational and emotional, right and left, conservatives and radicals, sacred and  profane, sight and blindness, sun and moon, light and darkness, up and down, west and east, north and south, climbing and falling, dry and wet, hot and cold, salty and sweet, outside and inside.  These are the coordinates with which we map our universe, our experience of reality.  I know in my heart that they are both against and for one another, that they are together, not really separate.  The truth is far more complicated, far muddier.

I know this because I feel it but can’t quite articulate what It is.

Well, some of us can, or pretend do.  I think the job, the duty that one takes on when one signs up to be a minister of the word in a church or a university is to pretend to know the truth.  Popular preachers and professors are good at explaining everything they know and how all of it all hangs together, and passing this off as CORRECT.  For they know as well as I do that we need to make a profit in order to survive in this particular economic system, and that therefore it pays to be the person who can deliver the package, THE TRUTH,  in easily digestible chunks.

Sometimes I don’t know what  I’m thinking or doing.  I don’t always take responsibility for my mistakes, and I should.  Look.  I’m trying.  Seriously.  But it is not clear to me than an apology is what is needed here, but rather something more like a tirade.  But I can’t really work myself up into the lather of it all, because I never quite believe what I’m saying. And, yes,  I find this smug posture of ambivalence and fascination with ambiguity and “greyness” and fuzziness incredibly annoying, too.

So, fine! Grand denial, radical refusal to get carried away, big deal.  Haven’t we seen this all before in Hamlet?  And Hamlet is an idiot.  And so is Romeo, and lots of the handsome, dashing types in Shakespeare.   The handsome, dashing type is usually an asshole, so pleased with himself.  But you can find the exact same attitude of superior put-upon-ness in the working classes, or in among any oppressed group.  They can display the same dramatic self-indulgence and refusal to take responsibility for the mess that we have all, together, gotten into. All this posturing, by women, by men…

I’m starting to pontificate again, and so it’s best to stop.

The sick men (and women) who want the middle class to be sick

What is with these guys? Why are they blocking legislation that would expand health-care coverage to people in the middle class, who are already paying taxes for it, and who need it?  As a new report from the non-partisan Robert Wood Johnson Foundation finds, the health-care crisis in our country hits the working people, the middle class women and men who pay the taxes that keep this country going, harder than anyone else.  According to this report:

  • More middle-class Americans are uninsured.
    Nationwide, the total number of uninsured, middle-class people increased by more than 2 million since 2000, to12.9 million in 2008.
  • The average employee’s costs for health insurance rose, while income fell.
    Nationwide, the average cost an employee paid for a family insurance policy rose 81 percent from 2000 to 2008. During the same period, median household income fell 2.5 percent (adjusted for inflation).
  • Fewer people were offered, eligible for, or accepted insurance coverage through their jobs.
    As costs of health insurance premiums rose, some employers stopped offering coverage benefits to employees, or changed the criteria for employees’ eligibility. While most employers still paid the lion’s share of their employees’ insurance premiums, rising costs have been passed on to workers—with some choosing to drop insurance.

How many people do YOU know who have lost ground in the health care industry lately?  Just about everyone I know has.  How many people do you know who are miserably stuck in jobs in which they have never flourished, and never will, because they are afraid to lose their health insurance?   Think of how much more productive we would be as a society if people took and stayed in jobs because they liked the jobs, not because they needed health care, or because they know that if they leave, they’ll join the ranks of the unfortunate persons who, often for very trivial reasons, are tagged with “pre-existing conditions,” and who will never be able to afford private insurance? How well, how energetically, how creatively, how industriously, do you think the people who stay in stupid jobs they hate because they’re afraid to lose their employer-sponsored health care, do their jobs?

And why should employers have to pay?  How much more productive an economy do you think we’d have if small businesses didn’t have to pay health care premiums?  Think of the great county we could be if employers were not hampered in this broken system.

How can these guys in any kind of conscience, much less good conscience, stand up and block health care to millions of American people?  How can these people call themselves “representatives”?  Who are they representing?  Who are these mythical people they claim do not “want” health care reform?  Who does not need health care?  And how do you think these Republicans, and the few wacko Democrats who have been LYING about what the bill will do (as has been exhaustively demonstrated, the bill will not make federal tax dollars go to fund abortions) live with themselves?  How would you like to go down in history as the guy who was against health?  It’s kind of like going down in history as Hades, or Hitler, or Nero.

How can anyone be against health?  Why would anyone want to prevent sick people from getting medicine, treatment, and care?  How can these guys insist, which is what they are doing, that Americans who get sick (and that would be all of us, because we all get sick at some time or another), should STAY SICK?  Is this the voice of reason?  Is this the voice of sanity?  In what lunatic cosmos do these people live?  And why aren’t their constituents throwing these anti-health, pro-sickness bums out on their bums?

How are we supposed to recover from the worst economic depression that we have had in nearly 100 years, and get back to work, when we are sick because these guys don’t want us to have health care?  Why do they want us to be sick?  Don’t they think Americans deserve to have productive, healthy lives?

And they say they’re the party of fiscal sense?  In what universe does a country full of sick people who have been denied health care constitute a healthy economy?  These guys must be sick–they’ve been thinking out of the wrong end for so long that they’ve gone mad on the gas fumes.