Politics of Sexuality and Gender

As a small disclaimer, before we delve into something that is essentially a rant, but has been spruced up with politeness and reference to call an essay. Half of this is spawned by conversations with a few good friends; the other bits from my reading of Queer Theory, Gender Theory. Which I would recommend to any and all, but especially those with an interest in the (oft ironic) nuance of – wait for it – gender and sexuality, and how we have evolved it as a core feature of our identities.

In a simple overview, I’ve noticed a lot of trends in society. Perhaps they have always been there, perhaps they are more obvious now with social media and the great push for equal rights in gender identity, expression, and in sexuality. There still remains prejudice in all groups, an attempt to sub-categorize everyone based on minute details of appearance and lifestyle choices. The internalized need to verify and enforce sexuality, or romance, or romantic inclinations. Polarizing gender identity, while advocating for abolishing traditional standards of constricting roles in masculinity and femininity. Down to society’s dating structure (and what part of our lives have we, as humans, left free of the idealism of romance ?) A broad spectrum of topics I suppose, but they are rather tightly intertwined I’ve found and … well, most of them are easy to address within one another.

Onward,

It is the idealism regarding romance that I find irksome. Throughout life, we are surrounded by talk of marriage. By monogamy. By this vague, expectant goal that romantic love is an ultimate goal. A hallmark of one’s life, by which others who do not achieve this goal are measured and found lacking. Individuals who find fulfillment and peace in purely platonic companionship, are pitied – and urged to seek out a romantic partner. Perhaps it isn’t intentional, but others have a tendency to look down on these people, as though their lack of partner is a mark of some deficit in their person.

This bleeds into the ever-so-common misconception that; a person is attractive so how could they not have a romantic partner? As if someone’s physical looks plays any part in their interest (or lack thereof) to engage in such relationships. As if they must want to, because how could anyone not? When it is so dogmatically socialized into us that we cannot be whole, complete, or truly happy without romance.

Perhaps it all spurns from the driving “need” to procreate. I use need in the loosest sense, as we make claim to be so above the mere “animals” we share a planet with, and yet humans breed without thought to consequence. Thousands of children go homeless year after year, while – frankly, arrogant and greedy – individuals feel the need to produce their own. Why? It comes down, again, to romanticized ideal. Romance is the epoch of any relationship, and reproducing with this ‘perfect partner’ is the epoch of how each partner can display their devotion to one another. Although, I suspect the individual reasoning is far more simplistic than that. Babies are cute, women are supposed to have babies. Traditional home values and familial dynamics, and sexist gender roles.

Statements we’ve heard a hundred different times in a hundred different ways and yet never seems to even dent the thought processes of those so enamored with this lifestyle.

I read a statement once, on a blog, claiming that human procreation wouldn’t slow down until seeing families with three and four children was no longer a measure of awe, but one of disgust. Until reproducing like rats stops being this amazing feat, and seen as a repugnance, people will not slow down, or stop.

The aforementioned mentality does a lot in erasing the validity – and importance – of platonic relationships, and the existence of aromantic and asexual dispositions. How can people comprehend there are those among them who have no desire to sexual relations, when they cannot even conceive of anyone being fulfilled by something so subpar as platonic intimacy? It’s frustrating, a great deal because people don’t realize they are doing this, I think. Most people who are engaged in a romantic relationship look to their single friends with pity (or envy, in the event it is an unhappy situation.) That I have to catch myself while writing this to specify ‘romantic relationship’ rather than list it as an assumed romantic involvement simply through the word ‘relationship’, goes far in highlighting this idea.

In a way, viewing romance as the top-tier, most important relationship of one’s life, subjects platonic relationships to a role as temporary. They are ‘fillers’ until one finds that ultimate person. That perfect person to love them romantically forever. Why can this person not be a friend? A soul mate, a kindred, without designs of a romantic or sexual nature? Why must things like physical affection, kissing, sharing bed-space, home, and/or room, be things only appropriate in the confines of romance and/or sex?!

Beyond traditional values rooted in religion, there really isn’t any. If our lives, our identities, our sexualities, and our relationships are to be as vivid and broadly diverse as the current movement touts them to be. Then they must be treated as such.

No more ‘gold star lesbians’. No more looking down on heterosexuals and gloating not to have a heterosexual friend. No more pitying singles, or those without interest in sex or romance as somehow being defective or broken. When you alienate people for displaying the attributes you so loudly proclaim to be a core value of your movement, you’ve essentially chopped its legs off.

It displays a short-sightedness and lack of introspection we, as the new generation, as the more progressive, educated, and open-minded generation, like to pretend we do not suffer. 

Which rolls rather neatly into the stigma that surrounds many in the trans community. Especially those who do not conform to gender standards. There is a huge issue with people identifying as trans, who do not wish to fully transition, being treated as “fakes”. As if the validity of their gender identity lies solely in their desire to physically alter their appearance. While a vociferous point of the trans community is the freedom of gender expression. 

So how does this make sense? When a community pressures those within it to conform to a structure their very existence shatters? It is the same mentality as those who claim that ‘you are irrevocably what you are dubbed at birth’, forget the argument that these concepts only even exist to begin with because humans created them. 

In many ways, I understand the need to be fully recognized as one’s identified gender, but I wonder, if a lot of trans individuals aren’t swallowed up by the need to prove their validity? Not, that I think they are invalid. But the pressures put on them and non-trans people to conform to ideals of gender identity and presentation, can be overwhelming. This is doubled when, elitists within the community treat those comfortable as they are – so long as their identity is respected, as less than true. As if, by not undertaking the hallmarks of altering their physical appearance, they are less serious about their identity. Less valid. 

Really, the only way to even address those issues would be to step back and look at one’s self and one’s behavior. But that is hard isn’t it? It really wasn’t even something I thought about as recently as two years ago. It was just… accepted? Trans-men should of course, want to look like men…. but then there is the  question of what does a man look like? We of course have the example of those who have a penis and identify as men, but even there the image is vast. Sure, some are hairy and toned and fit. Some aren’t. Some are thin, some have hips, some are born with partial mammary glans, some never really develop body hair. Some wear dresses, or lingerie, or grow long hair and pluck their eyebrows. Does that make them any less their affirmed gender? No.

So why should it alter perceptions of trans individuals?

Long as this has droned on, and generally as I’ve swept each topic, I’ve rather come to an end of this string of conjecture. Of course, there’s about a hundred things I haven’t addressed, but for now, I’ve belched enough of my own personal rants into the ether.

Until next time.

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Reflections: A Picture of Dorian Grey

Art by: Unknown (( please leave a comment if you do know so I may credit ! ))

Throughout my later adolescent life and early adulthood, I gorged on classic literature; from the sordid angst of ‘Madame Bovary’ to the, admittedly dry, journey of ‘Dante’s Inferno’. Some novels I hated some I loved. Some, even now, stand out in memory though I have not read them since that first time. In particular, there is ‘A Picture of Dorian Gray’. This was the first work of Oscar Wilde I read and found myself immediately enthralled by his way with words. Writing that flows, has a rhythm and grace of its own beyond base description and dialogue. I do not know if I was more enamored with the story he told or how he told it.

Encountering such a style fundamentally altered my own approach to writing. Where before I considered description in terms of the concrete, my eyes were now opened to a whole other way of seeing things. While I understand much of Wilde’s style can be attributed to a standard of writing pervasive in his era of life, it inspired a hunger to improve my own writing in a way other works had not.

“He is all my art to me now,” said the painter, gravely. “I sometimes think, Harry, that there are only two eras of any importance in the world’s history. The first is the appearance of a new medium for art, and the second is the appearance of a new personality for art also. What the invention of oil-painting was to the Venetians, the face of Antinous was to late Greek sculpture, and the face of Dorian Gray will someday be to me. It is not merely that I paint from him, draw from him, sketch from him. Of course I have done all that. But he is much more to me than a model or a sitter. I won’t tell you that I am dissatisfied with what I have done of him, or that his beauty is such that Art cannot express it. There is nothing that Art cannot express, and I know that the work I have done, since I met Dorian Gray, is good work, is the best work of my life. But in some curious way – I wonder will you understand me?- his personality has suggested to me an entirely new manner in art, an entirely new mode of style. I see things differently, I think of them differently, I can now recreate life in a way that was hidden from me before. ‘A dream of form in days of thought:’ – who is it who says that? I forget; but it is what Dorian Gray has been to me. The merely visible presence of this lad – for he seems to me little more than a lad, though he is really over twenty – his merely visible presence – ah! I wonder can you realize all that that means? Unconsciously he defines for me the lines of a fresh school, a school that is to have in it all the passion of the romantic spirit, all the perfection of the spirit that is Greek. The harmony of soul and body – how much that is! We in our madness have separated the two, and have invented a realism that is vulgar, an ideality that is void. Harry! If you only knew what Dorian Gray is to me! You remember that landscape of mine for which Agnew offered me such a huge price, but which I would not part with? It is one of the best things I have ever done. And why is it so? Because, while I was painting it, Dorian Gray sat beside me. Some subtle influence passed from him to me, and for the first time in my life I saw in the plain woodland the wonder I had always looked for, and always missed.”
– Oscar Wilde, ‘A Picture of Dorian Gray’ Pgs. 11 – 12

Basil’s dialogue with Harry about Dorian Gray was my first encounter with seeing a muse described. Before then it wasn’t something I understood to exist in writing or in art. Beyond that, this is, I think, one of my favorite moments in the early part of the book. Despite my unfamiliarity with a muse, I could, in a way, understand what was being said. After all, reading the book left me with the most intense hunger to be able write like that and evoke such profound, I suppose feeling with words the way Wilde was able to achieve.

It was also about this time in their discussion that Harry’s irreverence really began to sink in. He is, to me, a hedonist. I found it curious, how he seemed to seek only pleasure or entertainment from life. While many of his statements were profound to a degree, I found them to be interestingly rationalized. Excuses, justifications for his amoral actions, although I do not think he was truly a bad person. In comparison to Basil, and his rose colored idealism, Harry is almost shockingly down to earth. Well, as down to earth as any aristocrat could be, I suppose. Lord Henry Wotton, Harry, an incorrigible character who seems to delight in pulling Dorian Gray from the pedestal Basil sets him upon. Almost from their very first interaction, it was as if he settled himself in pruning every bit of extraneous naivety and innocence he could find out of the young man.

“There’s no such thing as a good influence, Mr. Gray. All influence is immoral – immoral from the scientific point of view.” 

“There’s no such thing as a good influence, Mr. Gray. All influence is immoral – immoral from the scientific point of view.” “Why?” 

“Because to influence a person is to give him one’s own soul. He does not think his natural thoughts, or burn with his natural passions.”

 ‘A Picture of Dorian Gray’ Pg. 20

The irony of Lord Henry’s statement is galling even now. What better way to hook someone in than to completely refute things society accepts as common, normal even? I was terribly frustrated when watching Harry break down Dorian, but fascinated as well. There’s just something interesting about watching characters break, watching what once was picked apart – or perhaps it is so simple as uncovering something always there, but hidden.

Either way, Lord Henry’s role in this novel as something of a ‘should devil’ is irrefutable. He was a catalyst through which Dorian could be thoroughly corrupted, and poor, poor Basil, losing his muse to such darkness. Perhaps neither of them were meant to present such a dichotomy, but I cannot help but to see it. In a way, I wonder if the entire thing isn’t a commentary on human nature.

What would we all do, if offered freedom from repercussion? If we would not (could not) die; if we never aged? Is it in human nature to remain upstanding, righteous – admittedly naïve even – when faced with such power? I admit, I am somewhat jaded to as to the existence of inherent goodness, so I can definitely see where most people would give in. Perhaps not at first, but as one watches family, friends, or children age and fade and die – what would be left? What would fasten a person to humanity, to humility when all they have is themselves and their secrets?

All of this brings me to the most fascinating plot point in A Picture of Dorian Gray, his portrait. Basil claimed it as his greatest achievement yet, feared it for how much of himself was in it, feared it for how much of Dorian’s essence he captured. I have heard that people once believed painting portraits, like making dolls and taking photographs, could steal the subject’s soul, trap it on the mortal plain. While I think many of these were whispered by fear of drawing ghosts after death, I find Wilde’s more literal translation of that so very interesting. It wasn’t something I had read as a plot in anything before this novel.

I adore the concept of a portrait which takes on the true essence of a person, reflects their soul to them. I dread what this would do to a person, however. It is difficult to fathom having something so intangible, something ethereal made concrete. The soul isn’t something anyone ever really thinks about, not immediately. Even the most devout religious followers,  I would imagine, think of it as something disconnected from themselves. They think of going to Heaven, or being reborn in a better life, but that is different than imagining every bad thing they’ve done as tarnishing their soul.

Dorian loses that luxury, though he doesn’t think so at first. Until every cruel thought, every capricious action begins to change him. He doesn’t see it in the mirror, but every time he looks upon his portrait, his soul, stored in oil on a canvas, it’s different; a blemish here, a wrinkle there. Perhaps the eyes are hollower; perhaps they’ve lost a bit of that boyish light Basil so adored in the young man Lord Henry introduced to sin. He stops aging, but the painting grows old and withers, but people still adore him. After all, his face is beautiful, youthful as Adonis and immortal. No one believes anything truly bad about him because how can someone so angelic possibly be vile?

I think, perhaps, the portrait would only make it all worse. It became an object to display all his inhumanity, a perfect show of what a monster he is beneath flawless skin. Paranoia, in such a case, would only make sense. What with an ageing Lord Henry still whispering in his ear, doubts and jaded musings. Then there is his own fear, after all, if he can’t see a change in himself obviously it isn’t happening. So long as Dorian isn’t confronted with the effects of all his sin, he can deny it, pretend it doesn’t exist. His paranoia increases, his trust decreases – and then he begins to grow bitter, jaded to life and other people. Dorian begins the story as a naïve boy, and ends it as a twisted up, bitter man… but he was never really bad, not evil. Not really, though he did make so many terrible mistakes. Dorian was human, after all, and had he been completely bad, he would never have ended himself . I believe his guilt over Basil’s death to be selfish, less about killing the man and more about how it would affect himself.

It paints an interesting psychological event, although I doubt such was really Wilde’s intention when he wrote the novel. I wonder, should such circumstances befall anyone else, how different their actions would be. Would they regret an unchanging life? Would they fear laying eyes on their soul, marred by whatever decisions they made? How many would slow down, or consider their actions more heavily if they could actually see what affect their actions had on themselves?

 

 

The Costly and Illegal Snake Trade

Photograph by: Unknown (if you know please drop a comment)

Open any activism site and there are a slew of petitions and articles condemning the horrors of animal smuggling. It is a market that is ever growing and circulates an estimated $19 billion USD in revenue. However, among these, reptiles are rarely a primary focus. Especially with so much outcry against whale hunting, the ivory trade, and shark fishing dominating the activism stage. Of those you may find regarding the smuggle of reptiles, snakes make up an even smaller niche. Despite this, as little as 1 liter of snake venom can sale from $215,000 to $235,000 dollars. They are sold for skins, for venom, likely for pets in some cases, and for uses as aphrodisiacs.

Despite the consequences of live animal smuggling, and snake smuggling in particular, it isn’t a topic I had considered until recently. I interned with a petition organization, advocating animal welfare and safety. During that time, it never occurred to me to address this corner of the black market. In a way, it seemed almost counter-intuitive that anyone would not automatically acknowledge the illegality of keeping venomous snakes in their home, much less attempting to make a business from selling their venom. Not until I was talking with my boss about some of the crazy things one sees when working in real estate. He told me about a rented home he visited once, where the tenants were keeping rattle snakes in aquariums covered by slats of wood weighted by stones. Anyone with a survival instinct would consider how idiotic that is, not to mention illegal. However, he didn’t know. I didn’t realize they didn’t know until a colleague asked why ‘anyone would want a rattle snake for a pet.’ At the moment, I was shocked they didn’t know. Later, I kept thinking about it, took a hop-skip around the internet for articles – anything really – on snake smuggling. Most of the articles are more like case studies, hosted by science websites or organizations who keep tabs on the black market. Others were denouncing the idiocy of consumers who waste money on ‘snake oil.’ Not one petition, not one article attempting to take all these threads of information and piece them together into something informative for the general reader.

Snake smuggling may not be on the same scale as the ivory trade, the effects of this market can (are) even more catastrophic. Unlike ivory, snakes are live, they are sold and transported into foreign countries en masse. This poses a gargantuan danger to local ecosystems these snakes are likely to be introduced to. Between 1999 and 2015, 28 species of reptiles were seized 10 of which were species of snakes . Of those 28, scientists theorize that as many as 12 could settle and thrive in local ecosystem. Establishing a new prey animal, predator, or insect to an alien ecosystem can completely upend the balance of it. A dangerous thing in a time when so many of our indigenous animal populations are suffering mass extinctions. Snakes are generally introduced into these alien environments accidentally, or just irresponsibly. When the handler taking what they need finish with the snake, they often leave them to die. Abandon them to the wilds of wherever the handler lives. While this may kill the snake, there is also the chance the snake could establish itself. The risk grows higher and higher the more snakes are left, because it only takes that one to make it. To mingle and breed with local populations, and not only is there a new predator in the ecosystem, there is now a new strain entirely.

It may seem odd, that the snakes would be sold in mass numbers if their primary marketability lies with their venom. The answer to that is astoundingly simple. A snake handler by the name of Bill Haast measured the amount of time and number of milkings necessary to obtain 1 liter of coral snake venom. It must also be taken into account that not every milking will produce venom. While it wasn’t specified, I would assume he likely only noted successful milkings. So, 3 years and almost 70,000 milkings later, he obtained 1 liter of venom . Not exactly economic if one seeks to make oodles of money. So how do they overcome it? By having many, many of a breed of snake and milking all of them. Not only are the numbers these snakes are held in daunting, to imagine the danger they pose with every handling. Here is something that has the potential to kill a person with one bite, and they are handled every day. If we take into account how other smuggled animals are held, we can easily infer these snakes are held in equal levels of squalor. In a way, the danger posed by selling snake venom works against authorities trying to shut down smuggling rings. The sellers are small, tightly knit, and the network is expansive. Secretive. It makes it hard to find who is selling, and where that individual is obtaining their supply. Another difficulty is proving the venom came from a protected species. Especially in areas where it isn’t necessarily illegal to have a venomous snake, only certain species. However, thanks to a study conducted in 2012, scientists have finally discovered a way to isolate genes in snake venom specific to each venomous species.

So what’s going on with this venom? With the snakes? Facilities that study and synthesize anti-venom only use venom from certified – legal – facilities. They also don’t need a liter of venom at a time. Ironically enough, one of the biggest markets is drugs. There are a lot of problems with that statement, I understand. Why would a person eat venom that could kill them? Although, I would assume it is likely the same reasoning that urges them to inhale methamphetamine. The next problem, is that there is no evidence to say that snake venom will actually get the user ‘high’. In theory, on a biochemical level, the venom could potentially (could and potentially being key) cause some sort of altered state of mind, a ‘high’ even. The chances of that actually happening? Negligible. Still, the demand is high – especially in India  – and has become a popular ‘cocktail’ with liquor, cocaine, heroin, and hallucinogens such as molly. I think, what is the most frightening part of this craze, is that doctors don’t really know what this is, can, or will eventually do to human bodies.

Snakes have a pretty bad rep, especially in Western countries. However, this distaste in them shouldn’t be enough to deter focus on the dangers smuggling presents. If activism is going to be effective, it needs to be less biased toward the “cute and fuzzy”, and look to address the problems with as little bias as possible.

Sources

  1. Wildlife Command Crazy Prices on the Black Market; Snake Venom Sells at $215,000 Per Liter
    Niyi Aderibigbe. The Nerve. Dec 12, 2015.
    http://thenerveafrica.com/1817/wildlife-command-crazy-prices-on-the-black-market-snake-venom-sells-at-215000-per-litre-bear-bile-at-200000-per-pound-and-a-dead-tiger-costs-5000/
  2. Snake Venom for Sale. Global Black Market Information – Havoscope
    https://www.havoscope.com/snake-venom-for-sale
  3. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/11/161117101829.htm
  4. The Forensics of Snake Venom
    Douglas M. Main. New York Times – Green. February 10, 2012.
    https://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/10/the-forensics-of-snake-venom/?_r=0
  5. Species Identification from Dried Snake Venom
    Chandra S. Singh M.Sc., Ajay Gaur Ph.D., Ara Sreenivas M.Sc., Lalji Singh Ph.D. January 23, 2012.
    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/wol1/doi/10.1111/j.1556-4029.2011.02049.x/full
  1. Snake Black Market Poses Risk to Humans and Wildlife
    Science News. Science Daily. November 17, 2016.
    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/11/161117101829.htm
  2. Breakfast With Cobra Venom
    Shiv Pujan Jha. Daily News & Analysis India. February 20, 2014
    http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-breakfast-with-cobra-venom-to-get-a-high-1963543
  3. Snake Oil Merchants
    Janaki Lenin. The Hindu. November 2, 2012 & June 22, 2016.
    http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/chen-metroplus/snake-oil-merchants/article4058507.ece
  4. Snakes Alive, the Venomous Vino that Comes with Added Bite
    Daily Mail Reporter. Daily Mail. January 20, 2011.
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1348906/Vietnamese-snake-scorpion-rice-wines-leave-biting-headache.html