Tuesday, August 6, 2013

What Is And Isn't Predatory Behavior

I was reading an article by Noah Brand on the Goodmen Project blog recently. In it, he details an incident from his youth. He describes it thus:
When I was thirteen, I was approached by a pedophile.
What struck me as I read the account was how absolutely normal and reasonable the behavior was despite being described in terminology meant to arouse disgust and fear.

The first thing he opens with is a description of the man's appearance. He takes special note of the fact that his appearance was so stereotypical of a child predator, and uses it to emphasize how stupid and naive he had been for not recognizing something was wrong.

I should take a moment to inform readers unfamiliar with Noah Brand and the Goodmen project that Noah is the editor-in-chief of the publication, who's stated goals are to hold conversations about men and masculinity and to confront harmful stereotypes about men. Full disclosure, the staff of the Goodmen project, Mr. Brand included, were the inspiration for this blog post.

The encounter itself was a conversation struck up in a fast food restaurant, during which the author was lured to a secluded alley under the pretense of finding job postings. When the man made his sexual interest clear, Noah left.

There are a number of linguistic tricks that the author uses to demonize the man he encountered, and I do encourage any of my readers to look over the original post in detail and see if they can spot them on their own. Anyone who can pick out one I've missed would be doing me a favor pointing it out, so I can be on the look out for the same trick in the future.

The inconsistencies in Noah's story start fairly early on. I suppose being the editor means you don't really get people giving your stuff a once over. He describes the man directing the conversation to what job he would like to have when he was old enough to enter the employment market. He suggests the alley because the local university had set out job postings and want ads there, and that it might give him a better feel for the job market. He later recounts with mock shock that there were no postings that an eighth grader would be qualified for.

For those who missed it, the point was never that he might find a job there, only that he might get a feel for the market which might help him in a future decision on his career path. This is, a bit beside the point, since the trip to the alley was clearly a pretense, but the verbal slight of hand used here is worth making a note of. Tricks like this can hide the actual course of events in a narrative while technically not lying. After all, he never said that the man made up some lie about there being listings he could qualify for, he just set that interpretation up for the reader to jump to on their own if they weren't reading carefully.

So, if we were to strip away all the deceptive language from the original post, what actually happened in this narrative that Noah presents? He was approached in a public place by a man who struck up a conversation. The man convinced him to go to a dead end alley, and there he made his intentions clear with a pickup line. Noah left, and that was the end of it until he saw the man a year later and gave him a dirty look.

I found a few points interesting about what the man actually did, according to Noah. He struck up a nonsexual conversation with a member of his own sex, and arranged to talk someplace private before making it clear his interests were sexual. Given Mr. Brand's current age, I'd like to invite readers to consider what the state of the Gay Rights Movement was when he was thirteen years old, and ask yourselves why you might want to hold off on any obvious pickup lines until you weren't in public.

Noah mentions that he was between the man and the exit when he realized what was going on, which he attributes to luck. I'm not so sure. This wasn't someone who didn't take no for an answer, as evidenced by the fact that when Noah said no, he didn't see the man again for a full year. Given that Noah was ostensibly there to look at the postings at the end of the alley, this man would have had to go out of his way to keep from getting between Noah and the alley's exit. I think he left the out precisely because he didn't want Noah to feel trapped.

If we remove the legal issues surrounding age and gender from the equation, this man did literally everything right, yet the language he's described in invites the reader to imagine a string of infractions that build and build as the narrative progresses. Stories like this contribute to the idea of male sexuality as inherently predatory. His readership must be so proud.

I don't currently support sexual relationships between adults and minors. I hold this position because it is my belief that the social climate is such that even a perfectly consensual, mutually desired, and mutually enjoyed encounter would be twisted by society into something traumatic for the younger party, by a constant bombardment of harmful messages, legal consequences for their lover over something the younger party participated and enjoyed, and so called therapy where they'll be told over and over again that they were raped. I am willing to be persuaded, but for now that's where I stand on the issue.

But I think it's important to distinguish what predatory behavior is and is not, regardless of whether that behavior is legal and/or something I approve of. This man's behavior was not predatory. His interest wasn't reciprocated, but he was far less a predator than your average pickup artist who thinks it's his job to push past a "no" and be forceful enough that the woman he's targeting can tell herself she didn't consent to sex with him, so it isn't her fault.

Taking no for an answer is not what a predator does. I'm getting real sick of needing to state the obvious.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Why I Haven't Killed Myself

It's hard to start writing about a suicide attempt, because every time I put metaphorical pen to paper, I'm reminded of all the wonderful things in my life, and all the ways I have it easier than other people. That doesn't help the depression, indeed, the guilt at feeling depressed in spite of those things only deepens the depression and the sense of worthlessness.

It's only years later that I've been able to contextualize what happened and recognize that's precisely what it was, a suacide attempt.

A bit of background. I've always been hyperaware of the legal situation that young people are in, and this dates from my time resenting it from well on the other side of the age line. My parents were and are wonderful people, but that didn't change the fact that they wielded arbitrary power against which I had no legal recourse. They weren't perfect, obviously, but if they had been less wonderful people... well, the stories are in the news all the time. Teachers were where I got a taste of what it feels like when someone with that kind of arbitrary power wants to use it against you. Again, it was never as bad for me as some, but it did happen, and the psychological pain was quite real.

Meanwhile, I was also quite isolated from my peers. I'm a natural introvert. To this day, after spending time among friends who's company I genuinely enjoy, I need to take time alone to decompress, unwind, and recover from the social activity.

When I was bullied, I was never able to view it as a temporary condition. The old "tell an adult" advice was tried, then rejected when the best outcome was the immediate cessation of hostilities, followed by a worse and more persistent campaign the instant the adult's back was turned, and the worst outcome was the adult disbelieving my words and heaping additional scorn on me, followed by a ramping up of hostilities from the initial bullies in retribution for trying to tell on them. I saw no value in the "fight back" school of thought, because I knew that if I hurt them, all that would mean was added motivation for them to hurt me even worse.

I decided fairly early on, as a result, that the only way anything would actually change would be if I fought back hard enough and vicious enough that whether they were willing to come back later and resume and redouble their torments would be irrelevant, because they would be physically unable to do so. Basically, the only way to ensure any permanent change to the status quo would be to kill one of them. I didn't have it in me to do that, which I spent considerable time berating myself over. Whether by nature or nurture, I couldn't bring myself to try to kill someone in cold blood, no matter how airtight the logic I presented myself with.

I considered just killing myself. I was quite capable of self-harming, even if I couldn't direct those destructive impulses outward. But suicide was something I realized I'd have to get right. The idea of suicide as a "cry for help" made zero sense to me. Everyone who actually gave a shit about me was presumably doing what they could already, and everyone else wouldn't care anyway, so who was going to listen to a "cry for help" suicide attempt? The only two outcomes in my mind were that I would successfully die, or that I would fuck it up, the normal bullying would continue as before, only now I'd have to deal with whatever potentially crippling injuries I'd inflicted on myself during the botched attempt.

I can easily see why people going on antidepressants are at higher risk for suicide. I didn't kill myself during that period because I was convinced I'd fuck it up and only make things worse for myself. If I had enough hope that I could do it right, or maybe that something would change after the attempt if I did botch the job, it's easy to see myself moving forward with it.

Things did eventually change for me after what I now recognize probably qualified as a suicide attempt. I was attacked in the school hallway, and I snapped. The only coherent thought in my mind through the red haze of anger was that one of us was going to die there, and I didn't care who. Either I'd end his life and thus make sure he at least, could never hurt me again, or I'd make him kill me to stop me. I was well aware that the later outcome was far more likely, as evidenced by my inability to land a single punch, even as most of the bones in my face were shattered by repeated blows to the head.

Of course, the fact that I'm able to write this should be proof enough that I failed. Some of the staff pulled us apart, and that was when things got interesting. The school attempted to downplay the incident, even as I was hospitalized, requiring reconstructive surgery. My parents pushed and the courts were eventually involved. I don't know for sure what happened to the bully who attacked me, only that he wasn't in the school after that.

After that object lesson in how vulnerable I was, and how little the school could or would do to protect me, my parents got me involved with martial arts, which helped both my actual safety, and my sense of security. I've never had to use it since I began studying nearly two decades ago.

This incident happened before I'd worked out my orientation, so this incident was there in the background as I was coming to terms with the prejudice I was going to have to deal with for the rest of my life. Since then, tons of people have tried to goad me into suicide and self-destructive behavior. I can't imagine why they think I'd even consider it knowing they'd count it as a win.