What-if questions are the introvert’s Schrödinger’s cat. At once educational and unworkable, they can provide insight into your current mental state or process, whatever that may be. More interesting than simply performing the thought-experiment once is performing it several times, posing the question to yourself again after a significant amount of time has elapsed since the last time you thought about it.
The ever-prolific Richard Evans Lee has been posting questions for bloggers on his new site, FetishMeme.com and Dev picked one up that I found interesting. It reads:
If you could remove your kinky sexuality, become ‘vanilla,’ conventionally sexualized, would you? Would you rather have normal erotic needs than face the challenges and frustrations of being unlike the majority? Could being like most people be a sufficient repayment for knowing exactly what you need even though it is specialized and not easily realized? Would you rather be normal?
I commented on that post, saying something like, to me, it seems to be a matter of satisfaction. Put simply, when I am feeling satisfied with what I have, then I don’t feel like changing it because what I have is wonderful and makes me happy. However, in times of distress when I am not feeling fulfilled due to a lack of that Thing I Want, then yes, I would exchange my differences for normalcy in the hopes that such normalcy would elevate my chances of fulfillment simply thanks to the probability of that Thing I Want being more available, less stigmatized, or hopefully both.
Here’s the thing: we all want whatever it is we want. You can’t escape your own desires, no matter how “abnormal” (though I prefer to use the word atypical) they are, no matter how likely or how well you can fulfill them, how difficult that process will be specifically for you, or what other people might think of you for wanting it in the first place. You just can’t. More people than I’d like to imagine try to do just that every day, with universally similar and depressing results—failure, every time.
For many people with atypical desires, especially sexual ones, actually experiencing fulfillment is a pipe dream, and (sadly) they accept it as such. Thankfully, the human psyche is an amazingly resilient thing. These people may feel bad about themselves or their state of affairs, but they’ll ultimately be okay, and the vast majority of them will blend into the everyday populous as completely normal, fully-functional people that are (for all intents and purposes) just like you and me.
What’s even more depressing, in fact, is that personal fulfillment of any kind, not just sexual, is so often regarded as being a pipe dream that it is actually considered “normal” to long for it and not to have it. Millions of employees work endless 9–5′s in jobs they don’t like for decades (that’s longer than I’ve been alive!), most of them for less money than I used to make last year when I was 22, and that’s if they’re lucky. What is it about these people that makes them so able, no, willing, to do that? And what makes me so unable, if not unwilling, to follow suit?
I’m reminded often of an anecdote my father once told me when I was very little about elephants in the circus. He said that elephants are often kept in their tents with a single iron cuff closed around one of their ankles that is then chained to a stake driven into the ground. Soon after birth, a baby elephant will find itself with such a shackle and, being a baby (small and weak), will also find that it is unable to pull itself away from this stake or escape. As it grows older, it stops trying to escape from the shackle and before long it considers the restraint to be irremovable except by its handlers. However, as a much stronger grown elephant, it would have no problem whatsoever removing the stake from the ground and yet it never attempts to do this.
I have no idea if that anecdote about elephants in the circus is true or not, but I think that most people, who are imbued so strongly with other people’s values from birth, values that reinforce their own importance while simultaneously suppressing or dismissing questions about them, end up like the elephant in my father’s anecdote. Most people—parents, teachers, older children—thoughtlessly tell kids, “you can do anything you want” while in the same breath berating them for doing the most mundane, natural of things. “Stop crying! Sit still! Don’t play with that!”
Little wonder most people start to think of things in terms of “don’t”s and “can’t”s by the time they’ve reached elementary school. At which point, of course, it’s the same thing all over again. Then when they reach adulthood, it’s once again more of the same only this time it’s in the shiny, brand-new packaging of A Job. Most people’s single significant reprieve, if it can even be called that, is college. If you want to know why college is what most people call the time of their lives, it’s because it’s usually the only time they can remember when the hope of possibility ever permeated their environment in amounts big enough to make a difference.
If this is all sounding a little dramatic, then you’re actually getting the point: most people feel exactly that sort of overwhelming hopelessness in regards to their sexual satisfaction. Furthermore, the more “abnormal,” the more “perverse,” the more stigmatized and discriminated against your sexuality is, the more overwhelmed you are by just such a feeling of hopelessness.
I am very lucky. I have counted my blessings. I have acknowledged the good and caring people around me, though perhaps not enough. (Can anyone ever do that enough when the disparity between the “lucky” and the “unlucky” is so vast?) Despite all of that, even I feel overwhelmed too often by sadness born from a lack of fulfillment in my social and sexual life, not to mention my professional life, my education (or lack thereof—I am a middle- and high-school drop out), and my own private sense of self-worth and self-image.
So you ask me if I would rather be vanilla, rather be more like everyone else, as though being that would make me happier. Unfortunately, the question is moot: I’m not like everyone else, and as all the evidence to the contrary has made abundantly clear, simply wishing it and waiting will not make it so. But if I could change? Be something or someone I’m not?
Well, yeah, I’d turn vanilla. Sure, I’d turn into a guy who wants the straight-forward 9–5, the house, the wife, the two-point-four kids, the family pet, and could be happy with that. And even though most other people are saying they wouldn’t, that they’d never give up who they are or what they have, I bet if you asked them at the right moment, maybe tomorrow or next year, or maybe last year, I bet at one point or another, they’d say yes, too.
Yes. I’d do it. I’d be someone else.