Saturday, May 14, 2011

I Like Pain; Masochistic Memoirs

(I thought I crossposted this from Fanpop's Sex and Sexuality spot a long time ago, but I guess I didn't. Ah, well, here it is.)

I like pain.

Just that. That simple sentence. It sums up a simple but significant aspect of my life. We all have likes. We are often asked our favorite colors or animals, simple likes that define us. I like hot pink. I like hyenas. I like pain.

It is sexual, but it can be as chaste as a childhood crush. As kids, we are sexual even without sexual maturity. We can be attracted to the opposite (or same!) sex even without finding them hot, and we have the platonic crushes of puppy love. In childhood we are thought to be innocent, so childhood sexuality is often glossed over and romanticized as an age without the supposed sinfulness brought by mature sexuality.

A boy saying he likes a girl or a girl saying she likes a boy; this is thought of as cute. It isn’t unexpected. It’s understood that neither of them wants to have sexual intercourse because it’s accepted that heterosexuality is an innate facet of a persons’ being that is present even before sexual maturity. (It is a sad fact that homosexuality would be less accepted, but this isn’t the focus of what I have to say.)

When I say as an adult that I like boys or I like girls it is sexual in a deeper way. People think about what I would do as a result of that like, going to sexual intercourse as a probable destination. Sexuality as an adult has more places to go than as a kid, and it’s less likely to be seen as cute and more likely to be seen as dirty. Technically, the purest sexuality in the modern view is to stay chaste until marriage to the opposite sex, perform sexual intercourse in the missionary position specifically to make babies, and stay together until death. Outside of the most far right right-wingers, there’s a bit more leniency and society is getting pretty progressive in general.

There do, however, seem to be some prevailing viewpoints that the Christian standard is innate and that any deviancy is because of conscious choice to turn from the path of righteousness and enter sin. The obvious version of this is homophobia. Homophobes can’t imagine anyone could be born gay just because they themselves were born straight. This demonstrates a lack of empathy—the ability to understand and respect other persons’ mental states of being—and is far from the supposed Christian love espoused by Christianity’s followers. This extends to disrespect toward anyone who demonstrates so called sexual deviancy, presumed to be a sin of the adult age that can be corrected by going to the allegedly proper path. These sexual deviants include innocent pain-likers like me, or masochists by our official name.

When I say I like pain, what comes to mind is an unrealistic girl from a sexual fantasy cooing she likes pain as part of some strategy to appeal to men. It’s akin to the way straight women kiss each other to titillate their boyfriends. It’s just some male fantasy that’s demeaning to women. We don’t think of masochists as real people. Masochism is just thought of as a performance to spice up vanilla sex, and there’s a focus on the man as on top and getting off on the power.

Part of the way masochists are denied legitimacy is the failure to recognize it as more than just something adults may do. Masochism is not just a performance. It can be as innate as sexual orientation. I like pain now. I liked pain as a kid. Some of the earliest memories I can recall, long before I was attracted to anyone, involve me liking pain. It is me. I am Jack’s love of pain.

Here’s an early memory: I was outside preschool with my mom. The sky was free of clouds and the sun lit the place up all around. There was the single large (to me) building where the preschool was, and next to it was this dark paved road. The color of the road was dark grey, almost black, and bright yellow stripes contrasted on it. There was a yellow curb that separated the road from the place where the preschool was, and I was trying to balance on it as my mom and I went toward the entrance. Then I slipped and fell, skinning my knee on the pavement. My mom helped me over to the end of the curb, and I sat down while she treated my knee. She asked me about the pain and it was the first time that I ever heard or at least registered the word “pain”.

“Paint?” I asked. My mind went to the yellow paint on the curb and the road. I wondered if the paint was wet and got on me, though I couldn’t see it.

“No, ‘pain’,” my mother corrected. “It’s what makes you feel bad.”

“Oh…” I said, analyzing it. I considered the sensation in my knee. It made me feel bad to some extent. It hurt. But in it, I also felt something enjoyable. I spoke up, “But it also… feels good.”

“Then it’s not pain,” my mom said simply. She left it at that. I think she was confused. Here I was, this little kid saying something that didn’t jive with the conversation, and she just tried to say something to help me understand the world based on her best understanding of it.

And her response confused me. I felt good even as I felt bad. I knew that it was the same sensation causing both negative and positive experiences. Even as a little kid being directed by a godly mother figure, I knew she was wrong. I didn’t argue the point, but I knew that she was wrong. Pain was sometimes good.

The thing about liking pain, though, is that you’re alone. My mother wasn’t the only one who failed to realize that pain could be enjoyable. No one recognizes it as a way some people just are. They have a lot of little instructional picture books for young kids. Kermit the Frog taught me to give up my bottle in favor of a sipper cup, but Gonzo never taught me that no matter how good it felt I needed to stop pressing the pointed items into my flesh or I would leave scars that never go away and spicy food is the safer alternative to self-injury. Young masochists are vulnerable. Society needs to realize that masochism isn’t just some adult deviancy and teach masochistic kids how to live in a way that gives them legitimacy.

The definition of masochism isn’t taught to kids. This is the biggest way young masochists are ignored. I began this article with the statement “I like pain.” Here’s another: I like humiliation. It took me well into my teens to figure out the two were connected. It may seem obvious to someone who isn’t a masochist, but to me it was two very different sensations. One was a physical sensation felt on a portion of my body, and the other was an enjoyment just kind of built into my personality. It’s like the enjoyment of eating pizza (taste) and the enjoyment of watching Seinfeld (unexpected scenarios, defying the norm; humor); you don’t connect the two.

I like humiliation. That one’s a bit hard to explain, mainly because the negative aspect of it is perhaps more firmly ingrained than pain. Uh… The idea of being caught in an embarrassing situation makes me hot. As an adult, the idea of humiliation causes sexual arousal. As a kid, I just was really into it. Yes, as a kid. I have always been a masochist.

Even as a young kid, I liked pain and humiliation. I hurt myself on purpose often, and the idea of being in some degrading situation was fascinating. They don’t make stories for young masochists, but I found stories that appealed just the same. I remember there was this book that took place in the fictional universe of Disney’s Aladdin, sometime after the second movie. It was your standard Freaky Friday story, except Aladdin switched bodies with the parrot Iago, so there was an additional cross-species element of discomfort. The deal was that Aladdin’s pet monkey Abu would regularly harass Iago and Aladdin would show no sympathy, and then Aladdin finds out how horrible Abu really is by experiencing it firsthand. There was a part where Aladdin-as-parrot lands on Iago’s birdbath, only to find Abu covered it with superglue. That moment of sickening dread where he discovers he’s been put in a compromising situation was utterly wonderful for me to read and imagine myself in that situation.

And then there was Jacob Two Two. It’s a book about a 6-year-old who goes undercover to expose an abusive children’s prison. It’s an empowering book about children getting the job done even when faced with disrespectful adults who thing they’re better just because they’re older. The empowering nature was not why I liked it. I liked it for the part where Jacob Two Two is forced to take an ice cold shower in a freezer, and he gets out naked. In the story, the guard throws a towel over him quickly, so the author never focuses on his nakedness, but for some reason the publisher included an illustration of the naked boy shivering. This was porn to me, not because of any attraction to the kid, but the kid was a vessel to fill for an attractive situation of humiliation.

As for pain, there were fewer items of attraction. I guess there just aren’t many scenarios in which a protagonist is both in pain and has an ambiguous reaction to it. There are a few exceptions. I mentioned the Muppets character Gonzo before. Gonzo is actually the closest thing to a positively-portrayed masochistic character for kids. The thing about him is that he’s really weird, and he does function as a good figure for kids who might be a little weird because even though the other Muppets might think he’s nuts sometimes, they always respect him and he’s a good guy. In his weirdness, Gonzo sometimes does things that could be considered masochistic like enjoying things any normal person would find ridiculously painful. In Muppet Treasure Island, there’s a scene where Gonzo and Rizzo accidentally explode a container of gunpowder, blowing them through a brick wall. We see the singed pair land some distance away. Rizzo moans about how everything hurts, while Gonzo’s like “OMG! That was so cool! Can we do that again?” Later in the movie, Gonzo’s put on the rack… and doesn’t mind. Okay, Gonzo isn’t a masochist, but he’s close enough to one that he’s a character I could love and reinterpret in my head as one when I watched him.

An actual group of sadomasochists were the Klingons from Star Trek. These warrior guys are all about pain, mostly the inflicting of it, but also receiving. You know the Klingon greeting? You take your right hand and you thump it on your left breast over your heart. Did it hurt? No? You did not do it properly. Granted, I don’t think they’re supposed to enjoy it. Maybe just enjoy their not enjoying.

Well, my first real masochist was Bill Murray’s character Arthur in Little Shop of Horrors, which isn’t exactly a kids’ movie. There’s this psychopathic dentist named Orin who sadistically hurts his patients, and Arthur makes an appointment with him. Orin tries to hurt him, but Arthur subverts him by enjoying the whole thing. Orin ends up throwing him out, humorously calling Arthur a “goddamn sicko.” You should talk, Orin.

There’s a real problem with finding good masochistic characters. They’re pretty much either sexual fantasies, as I described above, or freaks that are there to be laughed at. Generally, the former are women and the latter are men. Media is primarily developed by men for men, and female characters tend to be flat sexualized characters while men are considered to have to want to be strong. As masochism is seen as a weakness, it jives with the sexualized women but does not jive with the idea of the strong male character, creating humor in which the man is considered to be degraded. This isn’t cool.

Fortunately, that’s not the whole story. There’s a kinky element that’s gaining respect as the years go by. The movie Secretary was groundbreaking, if unfortunately lesser known. Sadomasochism is also pretty common in vampire fiction: True Blood, Buffy, Twilight. Twilight is even being read by a pretty young audience. While I agree with some of the criticisms directed toward Twilight and understand that it often sends a bad message to girls, Twilight at least gives us a masochistic protagonist who eventually turns into a powerful vampire. I would have loved having something like Twilight as a kid. Because I have always been a masochist.

And then there’re people who think it’s impossible for masochism to be an inherent trait akin to sexual orientation. Did they ever ask one? I’m guessing not. It’s easy for a normal person to look at a weird person and decide that there’s something wrong with them, and then make speculation as to why this supposedly wrong thing happened to them. It’s the same thing with homophobes deciding that parents who give their son dolls make him think he’s a girl, which confuses him into liking boys. Anyone can have a hypothesis.

These people perpetuate misinformation that hurts the very people they proclaim to feel for. There are people who say that people develop masochism after someone like their parents rape them as a kid. I have never been raped. Though I give best wishes to those who have been sexually assaulted, I need to say that I have not. It is total rubbish to say that masochism is definitely something that develops after someone rapes you. I won’t go as far to say that no one has ever become a masochist after such a trauma, the brain being the interesting thing it is, but it is not The Explanation. It’s easy to have a hypothesis. It’s easy to think that something weird with a person must be a symptom they developed after something bad happened, but this is very disrespectful to people for whom it may be perfectly natural. Now, even if it was a response to trauma, there’s nothing wrong with it. I don’t want your pity. I want your acceptance.

Then there are some radical feminists who say that masochism is misogynistic because it reflects the power disparity between men and women. They say that female masochists embrace the system that demeans them, and that male masochists basically want to be female and it’s offensive that they think women are necessarily weak. I think it’s kind of anti-feminist to look at an example of power disparity and think ‘ah, the weak one must embody femininity’. Some masochists are women (transgender or otherwise), true, but so are some sadists (i.e. people who engage in consensual power play activities with masochists). In any case, I’m very much pro-feminism. I’ve written several articles with feminist angles on the site. Being a masochist does not mean being anti-feminist.

I’m writing this to get the word out about masochism. There’s not a lot of talk about it—at least not from reliable sources—and there needs to be. I wish there had been something there for me as a kid. I suspect there are kids here (even though they shouldn’t be), and I want to offer my support. Maybe if there was an Internet with high-speed connections of today, I would have been better off in my own childhood.

At some point, I happened across a blog written by a masochist involved in a consensual relationship with a sadistic partner (by the way? Sadists? Not all psychopaths. Some can be quite cool people). The masochist described how her partner hit her and how she enjoyed the pain. I could relate. I mean, I’ve never been in that sort of relationship, but I can empathize with her. She described the pain in such a way that I could understand, and I believe only masochists would bother to think about it that way.

I felt so legitimized to have found this. It’s like ‘oh, I’m a person too’. I found someone like me. I’m not the only masochist in the universe. It was a pretty cool feeling.

I want to talk about it. I want it made clear that masochists are just another kind of person. There’s nothing wrong with being one. I can’t imagine not being one. I feel sorry for people who can’t feel even the slightest bit of good from pain. It seems like a poorer existence where every bit of damage causes suffering and no pleasure. But we’re different people, and I can respect that.

I like pain. It’s not dirty; it’s just me.

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