Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A portrait of the mind at nineteen . . .

Through all of my years of education I don't think that any one author changed my world more than Michel Foucault, and no book more so than his History of Sexuality: Volume One.

I recently stumbled across many of my college papers, while rummaging through my mother's garage, trying to determine what to keep and what to discard from twenty-seven years of my hoarding, essentially, junk. As I re-read some of these pages, it was visible, tangible, palpable, the moment of change in my mind, the shift in perspective: the Jacob before Foucault, and the Jacob after.

There was something so captivating about those first few classes, that roped me in, igniting my passion for the study of sexuality and gender, luring me away from other, perhaps (in retrospect) more useful fields of study. Never have I felt so passionately about anything than in those years. So full of meaning and purpose, the world around me seemed so easy, its problems so fixable. Maybe we have all had that moment, where we must face a universal truth that lay right before our eyes. Something before which we had not even paused to consider, let alone question, like the sky being blue. This is what it was like for me at nineteen, learning about gender and sex and sexuality. A whole web of lies, of constructs, a whole hegemonic network of false realities, right beneath the surface of our lives. Like I had been pulled from the Matrix itself, I was at once shocked and overwhelmed, hungry, thirsty for more. If I could have been blind to this, what else had been out there in front of me left unexamined.

My favorite, and perhaps one of his most famous quotes is :

"As defined by the ancient civil and canonical codes, sodomy was a category of forbidden acts; their perpetrator was nothing more than the juridical subject of them. The nineteenth-century homosexual became a personage, a past, a case history, and a childhood, in addition to being a type of life, a life form, and a morphology, with an indiscreet anatomy and possibly a mysterious physiology. . .The sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a species." (43)

At nineteen, in a paper I wrote for a sociology class (Sexuality and Power Structures) I cite this very line, and elaborate, going on to say:

"During this process we moved away from a system focusing on sexual aim–the acts that we perform–to a system which focused almost exclusively on sexual object–the person (or thing) with whom we desire to perform sexual acts. In this move, the act itself spoke not to what one had committed, but rather to the type of person one must be in order to do so. The subsequent “incitement to discourse,” or proliferation of new terminology and knowledge, spawn a peculiar development of fields within science and medicine in which emerged new truths that made possible the etymologizing of humans into subcategories. These new truths were then internalized by the individuals that they sought to describe in a move toward essentialistic modes of thinking: transforming from a “you are a homosexual” prescription to an “I am homosexual” self-identification. But as Foucault makes clear throughout his book, simply because something is socially constructed does not render it any less real or powerful. In fact, as was mentioned earlier, power is its most powerful when invisible; when something becomes commonsensical or ‘natural’ we no longer think to question it, and instead take it at face value, perceiving it as being self evident.

We see just how pervasive these ideologies have become over the last century in the ways in which ‘homosexuals’ have internalized the ideals of masculinity and femininity, which only served to support the ‘natural’ common sense behind sexuality, understood as being synonymous with being active and passive respectively. Thus, in this way, sexuality was able to become something “written immodestly on his face and body,” for if he showed traits of femininity he must be passive, and in turn homosexual. In gay culture presently, for example, the term ‘straight-acting’ is used extremely frequently; implying that although a male may practician ‘homosexual’ acts, it renders them, by appearance, no less manly. This is incredibly harmful, simply reifying the fact that ‘homosexual’ males are not men or masculine people, by definition, and are able only to theatrically portray them.

To begin with, ‘straight-acting’ individuals orchestrate themselves within a system which constructs heterosexuality as the ‘natural’ from which the ‘other,’ homosexuality, deviates. We see this first in the way in which the word ‘homosexual’ is now used almost exclusively as a noun rather than an adjective. The word ‘heterosexual’ is used to describe its subject, in this case the word ‘man’ or ‘male’ which follows it; whereas the use of the word ‘homosexual’ in reference to ‘man’(which deceptively masquerades as its subject) prescribes a status which precludes manliness and masculinity, which is supported by the use of both ‘masculine’ and ‘straight-acting’ as synonymous terms: the embodiment of masculinity is achieved only through heterosexuality. The phrase ‘heterosexual man,’ then, would seemingly be a redundancy, as the very definition of ‘man’ assumes heterosexuality. Thus, unlike the word ‘heterosexual,’ ‘homosexual’ ceases to be descriptive, and instead assumes a prescriptive authority, no longer describing a sub-group of men, but rather constructing a sui genres category of its own. ‘Homosexual,’then, becomes the subject, and ‘man’ the adjective used only to describe the relative anatomy, or sex, of this new aberrant (non-heterosexual) denomination .

This same process holds true for the more common social euphemisms we hear such as ‘gay’ and ‘straight.’ ‘Straight,’ itself seems to maintain that heterosexuality is a natural, unbending road, and homosexuality a divergence from it. Just as uncooked spaghetti, or so the logic held within ‘heterosexual’ would seem to argue, we all enter the world ‘straight’ and through a presently unexplained process one becomes flamboyant (or limp-wristed). Consequently, fields of etiology have emerged (psychiatry, psychoanalysis, etc.) taking as their mission the tracing, or regressing, of steps back to this metaphoric pot of boiling water; attempting to explain this ‘condition,’ or state of abnormality, searching for someone or something to blame: parents, gender non-conformity, or possibly a biological predisposition. The politically correct term ‘sexual orientation’ itself seems to imply that one is oriented either one way or the other, but never both or neither."

I include this, for a couple of reasons. First, as proof that I did, in fact, once have some sort of grasp of understanding of the world around me and a few brain cells with which to translate those thoughts articulately to others, before my brain eroded to my current state of complete nincompoopary. Second, because I still believe these things. This is still no different for me than it was then. Our world is slowly changing, yes, but we still look at people as black or white, and never stop to think why we do so. It hasn't always been like this. In fact, for most of civilization it was not. They had their own, albeit no less oppressive, rules governing sexuality, but what they did not have was an understanding of sexuality as being constant, static, a universal personal truth which pervaded every cell of our being. How can we not stop to realize that the very idea of "the homosexual" (and in turn, "the heterosexual") did not even exist until less than one hundred fifty years ago. It was created, invented, not too long after the civil war ended. And the categories themselves, of this new binary system of understanding, were constituted from the very moment they were characterized. And we just lined up to be labeled, like happy lab mice.

I have almost forgotten what it is like to explore my mind like this, to open it up to new horizons of understanding. To shed my own lenses to look at the world anew in wonder. How I long to have my world shaken again like that, by a book, an idea, a person. How many chances do we have? Are there still more surprises in store? Are there no more tooth fairies for us to dispel? Have we gotten too old, too entrenched to see or hear it at all when it finally comes along?

Here is to hoping not, to the old me, the me who once believed in everything at face value, to Michel Foucault for rocking my world with his brilliance, to that next big thrill, and to the nineteen year old mind!


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

From my pie hole to yours


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Witching Hour

Lately in the afternoons I have found it impossible to maintain consciousness. It isn't a general feeling of sleepiness throughout the day, or tiredness that slowly creeps up on you as your caffeine drip steadily tapers off. It happens suddenly, and without warning. One minute I am feeling fine and alert, all engines go, and the very next I nearly crumple to the floor under the sheer weight of my eyelids. My whole body becomes leaden. Every cell slows and solidifies, and I can barely move under their load. My neurons stop firing and my body shuts down, as if for some lengthy hibernation. I am compelled to sleep. I cannot fight it. It overtakes me.

The sleep I experience during these episodes is without question the best of my life. I feel as though I am floating, perfectly at peace. It is gentle and soothing, and not restless as most of my sleeping hours tend to be. It is not a hard sleep, a deep sleep. It is delicate, restful, effortless, like a leaf floating languidly on a gentle summer breeze. And just as suddenly as it came, I am awake, and I can continue about my day. Remarkable too, is that I never remember my dreams from these experiences, which as you know, is abnormal for me.

Without exception, everyday in the last two weeks I have felt this sudden onset of acute afternoon narcolepsy. And, when I do, I inevitably look over at the clock, and without exception, it is 2:28pm. I am not kidding. It is almost frightening. Is this some sort of mystical sign? Some paranormal coma set upon me by unseen forces? Or just a string of remarkable coincidence? Should I not complain, and simply enjoy these universally prescribed naps? Or should I be boobie-trapping my room to protect myself from the aliens? I don't have the answers.

To Jacob, With Love

Good times.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Death by Double Chocolate Chip

I know, right?

A couple of weeks ago, mid-sentence, I suddenly became aware of the fact that I use the phrase "I know, right?" far too often. And then, coincidentally, days after this revelation, I learned that some of my friends had already noticed this rampant over use months prior, and frequently reveled in my ridiculousness. This made me think of the many ways that I test the boundaries of tolerability, walking that fine line between being a super fun, sassy friend and patently annoying nuisance. And, as it turns out, the list is not short. It is worth noting here that I was able to tabulate this list with the help of Gabrielle, a lover of lists, who by the speed and enthusiasm with which she tossed out her suggestions, must have been secretly waiting, aching for the opportunity to inform me of my numerous annoying, sandpaper like, grating characteristics. So, you know, thanks for all of your help, Bitch! Kisses.

It is not the actual breadth of my annoying attributes, or any one specific off putting trait. No, it is my assumption that people will or should make allowances for them. While I, myself, am not always necessarily willing to return the favor.

I mean, don't get me wrong, I think I am great. My myriad of voices and outlandish mannerisms, catch phrases, and general effervescence are all the things that make me uniquely who I am, and, you know, so fun to be around. (That is except, of course, for Gabrielle who is only merely tolerating me.) I find that these very qualities, however, when pushed a little too far, which must inevitably be the case, are precisely the things that can get on people nerves. I totally get it.

But god forbid anyone around me have a strange quirk, or signature word. When and if I am confronted with one such person, it can go either one of two ways. First, I might find their uniqueness to be hysterical and try my best to emulate it, and incorporate it into my own little traveling circus. Or second, I will be totally and completely unable to get past it. Like a song stuck in my head it will consume me, and I will be able to focus on nothing else (you know, as discretely and politely as possible).

Now you are all probably wondering "oh no, is Jacob only tolerating me?" And the answer for most of you, of course, is yes. No, no, no, dry those tears, I am only joking, those whom I find to be intolerable are rarely graced with my presence, and most certainly would not be reading this blog.

It is strange though, right? This weird culture of co-opting other people's words and phrases. But it is simply unavoidable. If you spend enough time with someone, you are bound to share a common language and set of mannerisms, it is only natural. I find, however, that I am extremely, perhaps even pathologically, susceptible to this phenomenon. Like Madonna, given enough time around anyone with an accent, and you can be sure that I will begin to unconsciously pick it up. Hell, I can barely get through two episodes of Absolutely Fabulous without going British myself. It is a sickness. I am fully aware. As an example of this neurosis, I am sure none of you were able to escape my recent use of the word "charming," which like a parasitic virus, took an all consuming hold of my entire life, no thanks to Gabrielle, from whom I stole the word in the first place. I faced my "charming" intervention with courage, however, and have successfully completed a grueling rehabilitation, and can now proudly say that I use it much less often, perhaps even an appropriate amount.

So I guess the moral to my story here today is that I get that I am fun and sassy, and also that I can be a little too much from time to time. It is all part of my charm. And, as for those of you who don't pass my extremely lax co-opting test, and find yourselves on my intolerability list, get a life. You are not charming. You are annoying!

I know, right?

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Sunday's Strawberry Shortcake

I love a nice RimJob

Pumpkin Pie Martini

2 Parts Vanilla Vodka

2 Parts Pumpkin Spice Liqueur
1 Part Chai Liqueur

Shake with ice

Serve in chilled martini glass rimmed with cinnamon graham cracker crumbs

Saturday, May 3, 2008

C is for Cookie

Friday, May 2, 2008

Help Me Jacob: Th-hair-apy

Dear Jacob,

I write to you from under a short, frizzy, unkempt mullet. I am in an abusive relationship with my hairdresser. She has gone from cutting just a tad too short to completely butchering what had always been my best asset. I know I need to stop going to her, but how can I casually start "seeing someone else" in the hair world? We plan our appointments in advance. We see each other from time to time.

I have been going to "Carol" for almost four years. She's seen me through the short bob with the cascading back to the more recent hip long straight-ironed mane with blunt bangs. It was good in the beginning. We would chat and talk about our kids, and she would have great insight into what my hair needed. Those days are gone, and in their vacancy are the last eleven months of hair torture. She has fried my hair with bleach, and chomped it in eight uneven layers. Time after time, I leave the salon feeling like I had my hair done in the dark.

I will be honest, I have secretly gone to another stylist to fix "Carol's" mistakes. Skulking in the alleyways, I have ducked into SuperCuts to undo the damages. You see, the times that I have brought up my grievances to "Carol" she has made it seem like it's too new, and I am just not ready for the her 'hair improvements'. She's flippant with me, and for our friendship's sake I have avoided stepping up the confrontations.

Help me, Jacob. I want to take off my hoodie. Help me break up with my hairdresser. How can I respectfully tell her, as my friend, that I need to find a better stylist?
-Hairjacked in Hillsboro

Dear Hairjacked,

You poor thing. I think we all feel your pain. It is so difficult trying to walk that line between getting what you want and the possibly of hurting someone's feelings.

Like any relationship, in the beginning, you and your stylist work together in perfect hair-mony, all candle lit shampoos and walks on the bleach. And oh, how that hairneymoon is sweet. But, too often, this blissful partnership in beauty slowly disintegrates into tension, miscommunication, and emotional hair abuse. And like any battered housewife, you remain silent, hoping that it will get better, as you suffer through golden, brassy highlights and a jackknife coif that would make even the butchest lesbian shudder.

But realistically, when it comes down to it, you are paying for a service and have every right to demand an acceptable outcome. Ultimately the key to any good hair cut is how it makes you feel. I mean, no one enjoys the walk of shame from the salon to your car, your tail between your legs, as you reach for the nearest hat, scarf or paper bag, kicking yourself for allowing this to happen in the first place. And, if upon returning home and styling it yourself you are still not feeling the need to prance around the apartment like a peacock on Prozac, by all means return to the salon or call your stylist and schedule a time in which the problem can be addressed and corrected.

I would like to believe that all good stylists want you to be happy, and in my experience any stylist worth their salt will gladly make any necessary adjustments free of charge. If you are, instead, greeted with nothing but grief and attitude upon making your request, you clearly need to find another stylist in the future regardless. And, like any professional relationship, you need to separate the feelings you have for your friend, from that of your stylist. You are not questioning their skill as a hairdresser, you are merely pointing out that the outcome did not match the expectations that you had going into it. As a friend yourself, would you rather your friends tip toe around you, secretly harboring deep resentment? Or would you rather that they just tell you that they are unhappy? The truth should strengthen your friendship, not hurt it.

Like most situations, clear communication and healthy boundary setting is key. To prevent this from happening again in the future, come into your appointment knowing exactly what it is that you want, with accompanying pictures in hand if possible. Describe in detail what you want your hair to look and to feel like, and have them repeat it back to you to ensure that you are both on the same page. With your hands, show them how long or short it should be, how big or small you want your highlights, and the general shape that you are looking for. If you are, on the other hand, unsure as to how you want your hair, have them give you ideas and then describe to you step by step what they will do to achieve that look, so you can sign off on it.

When selecting color always choose from a sample book. This way if the outcome does not match what you selected it is all the easier to ask for correction. And, speaking from experience, believe me, your idea of "honey blond" and their's might be quite different. And what they call "auburn" might, in the end, be better classified as "Bozo the clown." With color, clarity is key.

If, however, you have tried all of these steps to no avail, and feel that it is time to sever your professional relationship, I would simply cancel my next appointment and go somewhere else. Tell "Carol" that because the two of you are incapable of communicating clearly, and since she has proven herself to be inflexible when you bring up any suggestions or criticisms, that you think that perhaps the two of you are too close to mix business and friendship. Maybe she is too modern or too daring for your more conservative hair philosophy. It doesn't have to be nasty, the two of you are simply not a good fit.

And if the next time you see her at a party she shoots you the evil eye, clearly she is mentally unstable and should not be befriended. Tell everyone you know how incompetent she is, and warn them against seeking out her services. Do not rest until you destroy both her business and her reputation. She needs to understand that hair is serious business, and this time it's personal.


Please send all questions to