Underwear

I went to the Freud conference yesterday and my professional life
clashed yet again with the personal.
Several times I talked to people, most of whom seemed pleased to see me,
but I felt myself gush. Now I grow hot with shame. 
I should have kept myself to myself.  I fear I become one of those crazy women whom people
tolerate but behind the windows of their eyes they judge. 
We wear our underwear on the inside, I hear them
thinking.  We keep our failures to
ourselves. We put our best foot forward and we do not tell others about our
criticisms of colleagues nor of our colleague’s criticisms of us. 
I wear my underwear on the outside.  I make sure it is clean and there are
no holes, but the very fact of having underwear is another one of those things
that is best kept secret.  
We wear our underwear in order to keep the outer layer clean given what comes out of our
bodies, the sweat and other messes. 
Men have less of a problem down below, I imagine,
unless of course they’ve reached that dreadful late aged stage of incontinence, but at conferences like the one I attended yesterday, most people have not yet
reached this. 
Yesterday, the speakers talked about the difficulties of
working with Gender Identity Dysphoria, (GID) in children and adolescents.  Dysphoria means distress, the distress
of  some of us who decide they are
not their assigned gender, but its opposite. 
It’s a tricky one and apparently it’s on the rise. 
I’ve always felt reasonably confident about my
gender.  A girl from the start, and
still a girl, which is not to say there have not been many times when I wished
I were a boy, not for the bodily show of it but for the social power.  For the sense, as my fantasy has it,
that the world is masculine. 
As women we are always on the edge of the divide, though
not as sharply on the edge as those who do not accept the gender their body
assigns them at birth.
I sit in conferences like this and can feel the weight of
all those other bodies behind me.  I sit
in the front, to see and to hear better. 
Goodie goodies and the elderly tend to sit in the front.  I marvel at those who hide up the back
or those who do not care where they sit. 
To me it matters. 
So much matters to me.  I sometimes wonder whether my internal world is
not a mess of self consciousness.  
My daughter tells me that she too suffers, not so much at conferences,
or at lectures at her university, but on FaceBook, the younger person’s arena
for self presentation. 
On FaceBook some folks wear their underwear in multiple layers, to
give the illusion it’s not there. Their underwear itself is part of the
performance and their bodies underneath must be polished and
primped in perfect proportion to the image they want to create.
It puts my daughter off.  It makes her feel inadequate.  She can never measure up to those pouting, beauties, both men and women, who peer out from their FaceBook pages.
 
I am relieved that I was not born into the FaceBook
generation; that I might use FaceBook as a place to stream my political views
or to share the occasional item of interest, but I do not use it as my personal
platform. 
My blog can be my place to open out and explore these
things but every time I write I shudder inside at the thought, what will people
make of it? 
Among a small group of people to whom I spoke
at the conference yesterday during afternoon tea , I noticed the face of a woman who had joined our
group late and whose eyes suggested deep disapproval of me. 
Whenever I imagine someone dislikes or disapproves of me I
examine my conscience.  Now wait a
minute I say to myself, Isn’t it you who dislikes her? 
But then I reconsider, and in this instance I know the
feeling is mutual.  And I cannot put
my finger on the why?  Perhaps it has something to do with our underwear.  

Sins of impure thought

My grandsons stayed overnight during the past couple of
days.  At bath time – a bath time
of sorts, a puddle of water in the base of the bath on which the two paddled mechanized
ducks – I noticed how reluctant the older boy was to take off his clothes.  This compared to his younger brother of
two years, who has no shame or modesty.
 
I put those words together effortlessly, shame and
modesty.
 
Why be ashamed of your body?  What drives my grandson as a six-year-old, and not even into
the hormonal stirrings of pre-adolescence, to want to hide his penis from
others?
I remember the sensation as a thirteen-year-old; my
mortification when my older sister insisted I should not try to change my
clothes in private.  My desperation
when all the cubicles at the swimming pool change rooms were occupied and I was
forced to change out of my bathers in public.
Others did not mind. 
Others were okay with standing there naked to towel themselves dry.  Others bent over to pick up clothes,
unabashed by their nakedness, but I had decided early on that it was shameful,
my body was shameful and needed to be kept hidden.
There are those who might suggest my shame comes out of
some sort of desire frustrated, to use a technical term, out of ‘repressed
libido’.  The excitement of looking
at naked bodies,  as I did so
often in those days when I was a child .
 
I scanned the pages of my father’s art books under cover,
hidden beneath layers of blankets so that no one else, none of my siblings,
might see what I was up to.
 
What was I up to? 
Looking at naked men and women in old fashioned settings with bits of
material draped over strategic bits, the occasional fig leaf, but enough
nakedness revealed to send shivers of excitement through me. 
I did not understand my excited pleasure but I recognised
it as wrong. 
By the time I was my older grandson’s age I had begun
preparations for my first confession and first communion.  The nuns took us to the priest who
taught us about the nature of sin. 
Sins like stealing and telling lies.
 
Such tame and obvious sins did not trouble me, but the
priest gave a name to my excitement under the blankets with my father’s
borrowed art books.  
He called mine
the sin of impure thoughts.  And impure
thoughts were worse even than stealing ten pounds.  They were worse even than even the biggest of lies.
 
Whether it is true or not, in terms of Catholic doctrine,
in my mind it became true: impure thoughts constituted mortal sins, and mortal
sins were dangerous indeed.  
Die
with a mortal sin on your soul and you will be banished to hell forever.  Die with a mortal sin and you can never
enter the kingdom of heaven. 
By the time I was eight years old I agonized over these
incessant sins to the point where I imagined God’s pointed finger burning red
at the tip in my direction, but I could not bring myself to tell the priest
about my impure thoughts in the confessional. 
I could not bear to tell the priest things that I feared
might not only cause him to despise me, but might also stir him up. 
Somehow, I knew about that strange contagion of desire; the
way looking and being seen, listening and telling could evoke powerful
responses in the others. 
What could I do?  My sins of impure thought weighed me down as if I were carrying lead,
like the silver grey lump that rested on a bench in my father’s workshop; a
lump of lead, poisonous my brothers told me, and too heavy for us to
carry.
 
How could I be rid of this sin? 
Then I heard about novenas, and relief from sin, of all
kinds and degrees of severity, when a person goes to mass on the first Friday
of every month for nine months. 
How I managed to get to the first Friday of every month Mass
as a ten year old, I cannot fathom, but in my memory I managed it.  I most likely went along with my
sister. She was busy getting up early most mornings by then to avoid our
father’s visits in the night. 
She and I went to early Mass together. In those days daily
seven o’clock Mass was commonplace. 
She and I walked together to mass to cleanse our souls; she for what was
done to her, and me, for what I might do to others.