I've recently had an epiphany on some subjects that have been stewing in my head of late - fetishes, taboos, and what I perceive as the misguided direction that much of the social justice world is headed in on topics of a sexual nature.
Let me begin with an example. Ever since I was a child - even before I could understand what it was - I've been fascinated with being naked. I imagine that every child goes through this phase, until such time as they're properly socialized to be ashamed of their bodies. But for some reason, it stuck with me. I knew it was forbidden (if I didn't understand why) - except in very specific, and very private, circumstances - and so I kept it hidden. It wasn't a pervasive aspect of my life; I had few opportunities to indulge it, and I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about it. But just the same, it was there.
I don't imagine that I'm that much different from other people, who have scattered memories of semi-taboo experiences in their childhood - things like playing doctor with the girl next door. Except that I've always been socially isolated, so perhaps I've had to learn how to satisfy myself (much like I've approached my interest in photography). I don't mean to suggest that I'm talking strictly about sexual experiences here (I actually didn't learn to masturbate until a fairly late age), but definitely, when I was going through adolescence, I interpreted these taboo interests (which began to intensify at that time) as my personal experience with sexuality - even though they did not, as a necessity, incorporate any sort of direct sexual stimulation or satisfaction (although synergy between nudity and sexual experiences has always been high - much to nudists' enduring chagrin).
It wasn't until many years later that I learned about nudism, and discovered that there were other people who liked to be naked (outdoors, and even around other people), for reasons other than having sex. And while my naked experiences had been entangled with my sexual awakening (because there were no forces guiding them in a contrary direction - a nudist alone has no reason to shun the sexual impulse; incidentally, this phenomenon is only fostered by keeping non-sexual nudity a taboo), I had found (perhaps not surprisingly) that my experiences secretly roaming the yard - and, later, streets - at night without clothes on (I grew up in a pretty nice neighborhood) did not so much resemble the average adolescent's discovery of sexuality (i.e., getting drunk and fooling around at parties) as so-called "secret naturists" who simply did not have an appropriate outlet for their naked activities.
And because the societal stereotype of the exhibitionist (for better or, more likely, worse) involved absurdly antisocial activities that I would never dream of engaging in - like guerilla masturbation in front of unsuspecting strangers - which seem like they would almost certainly involve extremely undesirable repercussions (e.g., public humiliation, ostracization from the community, or even criminal sanction), I didn't consider it as a serious possibility until after I'd refined my understanding of what exhibitionism entails, and discovered how much I enjoy being an icon of desire via my experiences as an erotic model on the internet.
To steer this discussion back toward its point, everybody who has unusual desires that may involve the transgression of certain social standards or expectations, is at some point accused of "rationalizing" their behaviors. This is human nature. Nobody wants to believe that they're making poor decisions, unless they're in a process of recovery. But rationalization is not enough for me. I've been accused of being too smart for my own good. I'm utterly incapable of voluntarily pulling the wool over my own eyes. I could never talk myself out of my anxiety. And if I begin to rationalize my behaviors, I'll recognize it as that. You have to understand, I don't want to see myself as a bad person. But I also can't hate aspects of my identity that I can't change. I'm not immune to rationalizing, but rationalization isn't enough - because it's just making excuses. What I want - what I need - is to have recourse to legitimate outlets for whatever desires I may have. And this depends largely on society willing to work with the rebels and outlaws, to come (from both directions) to a diplomatic compromise. It's not enough for me to feel justified in what I'm doing - I have to have reassurance from the rest of society that it's okay. (And sometimes that's hard to get).
In the nudity example, the nudist lifestyle was a legitimate outlet for my interest in being naked (outdoors, and even around other people). Some may cite the taboo as being part of the excitement - and I can see where that feeling comes from - but at the end of the day, I'd rather be able to practice my hobbies in peace, relaxed, without the fear in the back of my mind that I'm doing something wrong, and that if I get caught, I could get into trouble. That does nothing for me. Maybe a little bit in fantasy, if anything. But not real life. I don't want to sneak around at night where I don't belong - I want to have a place I can go in broad daylight, where I feel welcome. I think most people desire this. But for me to do that, the rest of society has to be willing to let those places exist. Because when they don't, that's when ostracized minorities get vindictive and turn to suboptimal alternatives (i.e., the theory that a good dog subjected to regular beatings will eventually lash out - why? because it's not being treated fairly; it doesn't deserve punishment on account of qualities it has that it did not choose and cannot change).
So that's my epiphany - that much of the work I expend as a sex/gender/nudity activist is trying to open a dialogue with society at large, to give people who are misunderstood, people with alternative lifestyles, and especially sexual desires that are shunned, room to coexist. And there will undoubtedly have to be compromises on both sides - both sides need to understand this. But it's the humanitarian solution, as opposed to the Old Testament approach of just wiping out strangers who aren't like everyone else. (If for no other reason, then because evolution - the survival of the human race - thrives on diversity). To come back to the nudity example, I may have developed something of a hybrid approach to nudity, which is perhaps more sexual than the average nudist (yet less sexual than the average swinger), but I am totally willing to follow the rules of the nudist community. As long as one behaves and gets along fine, does it matter what his motivation for being there is? I wanna live in a world where there's room for everyone, so long as everyone follows one simple rule - live and let live.
Okay, maybe it's not that simple. Just...don't be so quick to judge, when you haven't taken the time to understand the other person first. If something is terribly wrong with them, then careful deliberation will not obscure that fact - quite the contrary. Don't be afraid to think with your head, instead of your heart. But be compassionate, too. We all have to share this world. Together. We don't all have to like each other, we just have to learn to coexist. And the more we understand each other (and I cannot stress enough that this is always a two-way street), the easier that will be. Ideally, nobody would be an "other". It would only be "us" - there would be no "them". That doesn't mean we all have to be alike, it just means we have to be willing to support each other in spite of our differences. The only threat to society would be those who chip away at the strength of our common union.
Tell me, honestly, is what I'm describing the utopia I envision it as, or is it a dystopia in disguise? I don't want to waste my life working towards a misguided dream. But I can't believe we should be satisfied living in a world that destroys good people for finding happiness in things most people think are strange or unusual, or because their bodies respond involuntarily to "weird" or unpopular sexual triggers. How can we believe in the basic doctrine that discrimination based on arbitrary factors (i.e., the way people are, as opposed to the things they do) is inhumane, and still uncritically vilify people for the things that turn them on? Maybe I'm a lunatic, but maybe there's more than one way to do this.