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by Connor Freff Cochran

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What happens when you try to ride a horse backward?

You don’t have to answer that question, since whether it’s you or the horse who are moving backward the result will be something less than pretty. You do have to answer the following three questions, however. They are a test. They are only a test. But you should know going in that the vast majority of you (i.e., the honest ones) are going to fail. Yes/No responses, please; our essay question comes later. And no peeking at your neighbor’s answers!

First question:  Can you take off your clothes, stand in front of a full-length mirror, and honestly enjoy the body reflected there?

Second question:  Can you use words like penis, vagina, cock, pussy, prick, cunt, lingam, yoni, or the big F,  ...in casual conversation, free of any fleeting hesitancies or abrupt upward or downward changes in volume that might indicate some significant psychological charge?

Third question:  If you had to walk naked from one end of Chicago’s O’Hare airport to the other, could you do so without feeling any emotional discomfort?

All done. You can breathe. So how many big NOs did you score, hmm? One? Two? Three, maybe? Zing! Told you you’d probably fail. These questions dig into hardcore body stuff, and it is absolutely astonishing how much shame, guilt, mortification, dishonor, embarrassment, humiliation, pain, and free-floating angst modern American society connects with anatomy, especially sexual anatomy. What’s equally astonishing is that these associations are completely bogus. They aren’t natural, or preordained. You won’t find them in any cosmic rulebook. Truth is, we made them up. You don’t even have to look beyond the American fishbowl to understand this. Though a ramble through the different sexual mores and erogenous zones prized by other cultures can certainly be enlightening, all it takes to pull the rug out from under our own precious belief system is pointing out that every question you answered “no” to, you would have answered “yes” to without a thought...when you were three years old.

At three you hadn’t learned shame. You were still free.

Now you aren’t. So here’s the essay question that goes with this particular test, and no, it isn’t Why?, or How the heck did this sorry state of affairs come about, anyway?, or Name four social structures that are supported by shackling the human spirit. This question is another personal one. It assumes you are at least as caged as the society you live within, and asks: What does shame about your body and your sexuality cost you?

No slick or silly answers, please. This is serious business. Give it some thought. You are face to face with a big chunk of your culture’s fear right now, a fear that people are literally dying from, and it deserves respect for its potential danger, if none for its substance.

Shame sucks. Crudely put, but accurate. It guts you. It hauls out your insides and leaves your personality a thin shell with a weakened framework, ready to crumple under the hundred real or imagined attacks you experience every day. Shame also teaches you to attack first, lest ye be attacked; it makes you a bully. Worse yet, shame teaches you to bully yourself.

When you walk down the street and look at people, are you really looking at them or just judging yourself in comparison? Are you appreciating their diversity and the eight millions things about them that are individually beautiful and wonderful, or beating yourself up over your supposed inadequacies? I’m sure you don’t do that with deer or trees or rainbows.

“Oh wow, that Sitka spruce is so pretty and I’m so ugly” is a stupid statement. “Oh wow, Mel Gibson is so handsome and I’m a schlub with a nose like a rutabaga” is no smarter.

It’s the shame talking. Who out there other than yourself really cares how tall you are, how short, how thin, how fat, how “pretty” or how “handsome” (knowing that what constitutes these definitions changes from place to place and time to time), or whether your penis is big enough, or your breasts round enough, or your butt and belly too big? Nobody that matters, that’s who. Anatomy is only destiny if you let it be; and shame...shame is the whip that keeps you from lifting your eyes to the truth.

Time to classify things. Level one, we’re here in the universe. We share something with everything else that’s here, from a dust mote to supernovas. Down a step to level two, we’re alive. We’ve got a little more in common with dogs, komodo dragons, and sunflowers than we do with granite and glaze-ice. Level three, we are evolved animals, something which should be a source of considerable pride, honor, and a sense of connection to our fellow evolvees. Level four, we can think (at least some of the time). That means we have a bond with whoever else is thinking out there in the noisy dark between the stars, a bond I fervently hope I live to see explored. Level five--getting pretty deep now--we are mammals. Hair, live birth, lactation, the works. Level six, we are human beings. And level seven, way down there in the sub-basement (but not so far down as race, nationality, religion, or golf club membership) we are men and women.

Looked at that way it becomes easier to understand why human beings are so compulsively fascinated by sex (even those cultures which are sexually repressive; repression is the flipside of fascination, not its inverse). It’s because sex, while small in the Scheme Of All Things, is right at the second rung in the Scheme Of Us.

Only we are raised to be afraid of sex, and ashamed of our own sexuality.

There is very little in this world as foolish as that.

Think you are liberated? Free of the taint? Go back to the questions at the beginning of this essay; if you honestly answered YES to all three of them, you are the fortunate one in a hundred thousand. Think I exaggerate the cultural hypocrisy, or overestimate its cost? Check out the news. In today’s paper I read an article about a television ad that was rejected because it showed a man in tight underwear in one shot and included “protuberance” in a list of words in another, although the same commercial’s female model in see-through bra and panties was deemed unobjectionable. That’s clearly hypocrisy. As for cost, in the same paper was an article pointing out that 26,823 people died of AIDS in the U.S. in 1990. In a world that was rational about sex a lot of those people would still be alive.

Fascination and fear! Fear and fascination! Ladies and gentleman, we’re screwed up!

And we’ve got to get unscrewed up if we are going to grow.

Put it this way: A whole hell of a lot of YOU is rooted in your sexual identity, and if that identity is straightjacketed in any way, then you are not whole. Some of your potential, some of your strength, some of your essence, is locked out of reach. It isn’t going into your life, your relationships, or your art -- in fact, it may be working directly against them -- and that’s not good. Worse, because society is nothing but lots and lots of individuals, it means that society is not whole. Today we face serious problems as individuals, as a culture, and as a species, few of which problems can be solved if we are individually and collectively crippled by fear, knee-jerk responses, and shame.

There’s a good side to all of this, though. Barring serious structural or biochemical anomalies in your brain, you weren’t born screwed up, and you definitely weren’t born repressed or ashamed. You had to learn to tie yourself in knots, which means you can learn to untie them. Here’s an exercise. Next time you go to the bathroom, take a good, long, three-year-old look at what you’ve got between your legs. Be as innocent and carefree about it as any child would be. Then laugh yourself silly over the fact that there are over three billion penises and three billion vulva/vaginas wandering around the planet...so what the hell is there to be scared of, really? Might as well ride a horse backward, or try and stop a wave with a police whistle, as deny yourself.

Your body is amazing. Everything about it is a wonder, and that includes your genitals. Women, go get a speculum and a mirror and look deep into your vaginas to see real beauty. If you can, share it with the men and women in your lives. And men, take a good, long, look at your cock and balls. Especially your balls. How many of you know that your scrotum is constantly shifting and dancing, moving slow as a sea anemone, rippling from one shape to another in order to maintain the narrow range of temperature necessary for the production of sperm? Go watch that dance and wonder, and yes, share it with the women and men in your lives. That dance is far more real than any of your fears.

If you can free yourself to think straight in the arena of your own sexuality, accepting it, even reveling in it as a gift to you from nature, to be explored or not as you choose, with creativity and love and kindness and humor and open, honest care...then you can free yourself in anything.

Copyright Connor Freff Cochran:    Used with author's permission.   Go to author's web site- http://www.freff.com