Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Blurred Lines

MORE ADULT CONTENT. Hey, we're all adults here, right?

Let's see how many friends I can terrify with this one.

How many of you know Robin Thicke's song "Blurred Lines"? ("Everybody get up!")

I used to be disgusted with it...a more rape-y lyric than

talk about getting blasted
I hate these blurred lines
I know you want it

would be hard to find in a pop hit. But then I stumbled across something that forced me to reinterpret the entire song.

So much of the debate seems to boil down to an argument over one question: Is it possible to respect someone yet still want them? I would think that it’s full-on desired. Certainly if you compare it to, say, the goals and techniques of pick-up artists, who reduce women to notches on bedposts, “Blurred Lines” seems at the very least friendly—in one verse Thicke notes how he won’t try to “domesticate” his desired woman like another man, which seems to mean that he won’t try to put her into a box defined by her gender. (I had someone quote the “try to domesticate you” line to me as its own tautological proof of why the song was horrible and sexist, and had to point that Thicke was saying he wouldn’t engage in that sort of behavior.) And further viewing it through the lens of the pick-up artist, “Blurred Lines” is sensual in a way that isn’t wholly reliant on any sort of consummating act—it fades out before its plot comes to any sort of endpoint, yet the pleasure provided by its music (and, let’s face it, Thicke’s sorta-endearing dorkiness on the “shake your body” bridge) is barely diminished.”
--Maura Johnston

Only a woman can take the first step towards defending this song, given how many women have attacked it. Respectfully piggybacking off Maura's observation, I would note the presence of these lines, which aren't blurred at all:

but you're a good girl
the way you grab me
must wanna get nasty
come on, get at me

That's asking her to make the first move. Which to me indicates he's seeking consent. (Am I wrong?)


So that's a song about the blurred lines surrounding sex. They do exist, because neither men nor women are mind readers and signs and signals get missed or misinterpreted all the time. You can't be responsible for how clearly your message is received, but you can be responsible for how clearly you send it.

There are blurred lines in relationships, at least in mine, that don't involve sex. The line between friendship and love, for example. Does it even exist? Do you love your friends? How much? And what forms can/should/will that love take, if it's there?

These questions have occupied my mind since I hit puberty. Love gets conflated with sex all the time: confounding all the rules of English syntax, a lover isn't necessarily someone you love, just someone you have sex with. If you're a boy and you have a boyfriend, he's not a friend, he's a lover (even if you don't love him)  and you're both gay, or at least bisexual. But girls can have girlfriends and nobody questions their sexuality.

Confused yet?

Nor do people usually ask if a woman loves her girlfriend. It's a given. For men, the only fully acceptable love is romantic and sexual love of a woman. Romantic and sexual love of another man is just beginning to become normalized--in some places on this continent, at any rate, and even in places where it's fully accepted, a man telling professing his love to another man in public raises eyebrows. I don't get that. I have male friends I love dearly. Most males do. I'm not afraid to tell them so. Why should you be?

And suggesting you love a woman, but not sexually and romantically, brands you a beta male. I get that one a lot. Alpha and beta are test models; I am a fully formed and functional human being, thanks.

To complicate things further, there's this category people insist on calling 'friends with benefits'.I hate that term so much! What it says to me is: there are friends, and then there are friends that are actually beneficial because you get to fuck them.

Fuck that. No, wait, don't fuck that. No wait....(tying myself in knots here)

I get downvoted to hell on Reddit every time I say that, and only one person has ever explained why. "Friends don't have to benefit me to be friends," he said, and it makes me wonder what kind of 'friends' are of no benefit whatsoever. God, my friends are a huge benefit in my life.


This stuff is all cultural, of course. We have a tendency in this time and place to assume that the values and mores of this time and place are universal. Nothing could be further from the truth. You know how women are highly encouraged, almost expected in some circles, to be at least bi-curious? In Ancient Rome, our notions of sexuality didn't apply. Males took male lovers all the time without stigma (or at least, as I'm about to show, without the same kind of stigma.) Please pardon this digression...I hope you find it half as interesting as I do.

Catullus was a Roman poet who lived from about 84 to about 54 BCE. He was very much in love with a woman he dubbed Lesbia...her actual name was probably Clodia Metelli, and she was most emphatically NOT a lesbian. That second name denotes her marriage to a man named Metellus. That marriage was not a happy one. Clodia had numerous affairs besides the one with Catullus, may have murdered her husband by poison, and as a widow continued to enjoy a variety of male lovers of all classes. Catullus immortalized his conflicted feelings for his unfaithful lover in this tiny poem, number 85:

"Odi et amo. quare id fasciam, fortasse requiris? 
nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.
I loathe (her)  and I lust (for her). Why do I do this, you might ask?
I don't know, but I feel it happening to me and I am crucified.

Catullus also had a male lover, and someone named Marcus Furius Bibaculus had an affair with him. Furius and another man challenged Catullus's masculinity. Catullus responded with a poem so filthy it  wasn't translated properly into English until the mid-twentieth century. Current practice would probably put a TRIGGER WARNING on this, Catullus 16, playfully translated by Carl Sesar (1974):

Paedicabo ego vos et irrumabo, 
Aureli pathice et cinaede Furi, 
qui me ex versiculis meis putastis, 
quod sunt molliculi, parum pudicum. 
Nam castum esse decet pium poetam 
ipsum, versiculos nihil necesse est, 
qui tum denique habent salem ac leporem, 
si sunt molliculi ac parum pudici 
et quod pruriat 
incitare possunt, 
non dico pueris, sed his pilosis,
qui duros nequeunt movere lumbos. 
Vos quod milia multa basiorum 
legistis, male me marem putatis? 
Paedicabo ego vos et irrumabo.

(I will) fuck you, up your ass and in your mouth
Aurelius, you too, Furius, you cocksuckers,
calling me dirt because my poems
have naughty naughty words in them.
Just the poet's got to be a boy scout
fellas, not his goddamn poems.
Anyway look, they've got wit, sass,
and sure they're lewd and lascivious,
and can get somebody pretty hard-up too,
I mean not just young kids, but you hairy guys
who can barely get your stiff asses going,
so just because you read about a lot of kisses
you want to put something nasty on me as a man?
(I will) fuck you, up your ass and in your mouth.

What does this poem tell us, besides the fact Catullus was supremely pissed off? It tells me a couple of things. One, that you really should separate the poet from the poem. Two, that gay sex was an exceptionally masculine thing in Rome back long as you were pitching and not catching. "You think I'm not a man? I'll face-fuck and ass-fuck you and PROVE what a man I am."

Sorry about that. I find Catullus, and ancient Rome in general, pretty fascinating, both for its similarities to today's world and for its differences. On the off chance this poem interests you at all (warning: it's deceptively deep), you can find a thorough scholarly analysis here.


Where was I? Ah, yes, discussing the love of friends. I love my male friends...if you've got a problem with that, paedicabo ego vos et irrumabo. In a manner of speaking.

What about female friends? Most of my friends are female. Can a man have a platonic female friend?

It amuses me to no end that people ask this question, because I have a bunch of them. Of course men and women can be friends. I refuse to put the word "just" in there, because those two words should never be placed together. Friendship is a beautiful thing, a loving thing, all on its own.

But then I run across a paragraph like this and it brings me up short:

The truth is, they (a man and a woman friend) may never do anything physical in life. They may never cross the line. But a relationship can never be truly platonic if you have to set up boundaries. A relationship can never be truly platonic if you have to adjust your feelings. A relationship can never truly be platonic if you have to pretend that you are happy with the way things really are...when deep down—you want something more.

That's...a very interesting paragraph there. It's further compounded with this:

Disclaimer: If there is absolutely no physical attraction between a male and female, then, I would say, it is possible that they can truly share a platonic relationship. But once a man is attracted to a woman; or the woman is attracted to the man; or both are attracted to each other—the relationship cannot and will never be platonic.

Well, shit. If that's true, none of my relationships with women are really platonic.

As I'm sure everyone is sick of hearing, I don't feel physical attraction first...ever. I am that bizarre person who read Penthouse for the letters. In fact, I once had a substantial collection of Penthouse Letters magazines (and books) but never once bought an actual Penthouse...the pictures are utterly wasted on me.  I think Eva may have been the first person to believe me about that, and only by observing me over time.
But just because I'm not attracted to women who taste like glossy magazine paper doesn't mean I don't feel physical attraction. I do. If I'm emotionally attracted. To whom am I emotionally attracted? To my friends.

Scared yet?

Back to those blurred lines...if we spend, let's say, more than an hour talking to each other, AND you possess those fabled qualities of empathy, intelligence, and humour, there's a damn good chance I'll be emotionally invested and hence physically attracted. And that emotional rabbit hole goes pretty deep. Over my lifetime I have indeed collected many details about many (not all, but many) of my female friends to which (they tell me)  their partners are not privy. And the reverse is sometimes true.

Now you're scared, right?

Here's where you can heave a big sigh of relief.

  • Just because I am attracted to you does not mean I'm ever going to do anything about it, not without permission, equally important, from you and from any other partner(s) you may have. 
  • Lacking some unmistakeable signal (see the lyrics near the top of this blog for an example) that I should seek those permissions, I won't do it Period. 
  • If you need proof of that...consider: I would have done it already. I live in a polyamorous marriage where it's not just permitted, but encouraged.
  • Here's the most important point of all: I AM PERFECTLY HAPPY WITH THE WAY THINGS ARE. 
Because I do love you...all of you. Just because a love is not romantic, let alone sexual, does not lessen it in any way. Some of the deepest loves of your life aren't romantic or sexual. A friend, for me, is someone to whom I feel an emotional connection and a sense of commitment. Both my partners are friends first and foremost. If that emotional connection and commitment are strong...I love you. Within the lines. Even if they seem blurred sometimes...they aren't. 

I can't do a blog with a favourite poet like Catullus in it without including a poem of my own.

What I would do (and I could, too!)
is teach the world to love.
Because few know (there’s less who show)
abundancy thereof.

The planet teems with those (it seems)
who know not love but hate;
That can be healed, with love repealed,
I know it’s not too late.

That’s a good start. I should impart
There’s so much more to do.
For there is more to love, ‘tis sure
Than what we ever knew.

Love has no end. Kindred, foe, friend,
or stranger, I don’t care.
To love them all, that is the call
I feel compelled to share.

That means to me that love, you see
Can’t be contained or caught.
To love just one, all the rest shun
Is how to love for naught.

If I hold her (even bolder:
if you hold him too),
if three or four or five or more
I love you just as true.

“That isn’t right!” you say in fright,
“That’s not how love should feel!
For if I split love bit by bit 
And dole it out piecemeal--”

--you’ll find, and soon, that love’s immune
from being cut that way...
The more you take, the more you make,
is what I mean to say.

I love you truer, to be sure
When I don’t seek to cage
Your heart, your soul, your love, your whole
And keep it on one page.

So be the light, take your delight
In all that love can reach
I’ll do the same, and so exclaim
The lesson I must teach.
--Ken Breadner

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