Fair Warning: This post will contain graphic descriptions of practices that may be disturbing to some people. Reader discretion is most definitely advised!
Why are some things “private” in our lives and not others? This is question of particular interest to me of late because of my work in the sexuality field. More than once I have found myself inadvertently making someone uncomfortable by sharing details of my life or work that, while not areas I considered private or taboo, in retrospect were not things this person wanted to know in that moment. While I find spiritual and personal value in pushing people’s comfort zones when appropriate, I also take pride in not being a jerk. Hence my recent ruminations on the subject of “private areas” in our personal and public lives.
I actually consider myself to be a relatively private person. If you have been reading BarkingShaman or my other writings, or have attended my classes in the past, there is a good chance that you are chuckling a bit right about now. However, I am being completely serious. From where I sit, I don’t share that much that I consider to be “private.” Sure I talk about sex, including my own sex life. My spiritual life is a pretty open book too, my gods like it that way. And despite my issues around my body, which I have written about on BarkingShaman in the past, I have demonstrated BDSM techniques on myself in many classes and was even been filmed naked for British prime time television.
However, there are whole chapters of my life I have spoken and written little about. As open as I am about my life as Wintersong, writing about who I was before I recieved that name is virtually nonexistent. Likewise, few people have heard me talk about what makes me cry, or what old dreams hold sway over me. Outside of my sexual explorations, few people know anything of my childhood. Details of my education and professional training, or my financial situation are likewise rarely shared beyond the broad strokes.
It is an interesting phenomena, this process by which certain topics or even body parts become designated in our society and our minds as “private.” I understand that by the nature of what I do as someone who talks publicly about sex and spirituality, that I transgress this taboo on a regular basis. Howver, I often feel like it is a taboo that even those who abide by it do not entirely understand.
Warning: if you have a delicate constitution, now might be a good time to stop reading this post!
Allow me to paint a picture for you. The picture is of a man’s genital area. His flaccid penis is held to a shaved pubic mound with a piece of medical tape. Dangling between his legs, one testicle has been freed from his scrotum through an incision. He’s holding it carefully between his forefinger and thumb, though it is still attached via the spermatic cords. The picture is in perfect focus and rather well framed at that. However, the glans of his penis has been digitally blurred, presumably for modesty reasons.
This isn’t a scene from a medical training manual. The photo was part of a series on BMEZine.com, a body modification community, and the man in question was engaging in “ball exposure play.” Over the course of the photo shoot he did eventually return the testicle to its regular location and stitch himself back up. It was not the first time he’d done such a scene.
If you were wondering, that was most assuredly not me.
So why describe this little tableau, and what could it possibly have to do with the topic of privacy?
What struck me when I first saw this shoot was what seemed to me the total absurdity of censoring out the head of his cock while showing us, the viewer at home, one of his testicles. When I mentioned this to a few friends however, several seemed to understand the desire to maintain some modesty by hiding his “private parts,” which in the end weren’t relevant to the scene anyway. This was incomprehensible to me. What part of one’s body could be more private than an internal organ? There really are few circumstances in which anyone would be seeing your testicle, which from my perspective, made it about as private a part as one could have. What thought process made it ok to show me, the viewer, that intimate a part of oneself, but still leaves one feeling it necessary to blur out a penis?
I realize this example raises the issues of modesty vs. privacy. The argument that could be made that rather than being private, this man was being modest. I can intellectually understand the accuracy there, in the context of modest as “Dressing or behaving so as to avoid impropriety or indecency, esp. to avoid attracting sexual attention” (Google word search March 2011). However, I still struggle to grok the rationale or value in the behavior.
Yet, in a way this man’s actions are not all that different from my own. As I said before, I am very open about all manner of things that most people would generally classify as part of their “private” lives and I am quite comfortable with that. But there are areas of my life that I choose not discuss outside of a small and select group of people. Graphic stories of sexual experimentation gone awry not only come out among friends, they feature prominently as cautionary tales in my workshops. But other subjects are off the table, or at the least are heavily censored for public consumption, just like a certain gentleman’s gentleman.
I had a conversation a while back with my friend Lee, a fabulous performer, educator and fellow traveler on the shamanic road, about the way our sense of what “normal” is shifts off of the societal baseline when we spend a lot of time in the kink/BDSM world, spiritual space, or any other specialized community. There are people in my life that I have seen naked, seen fucking, maybe played with personally, but could not tell you the first thing about. In my world that is not unusual, but I sometimes have to remind myself that it means that I am “off-normal” by society’s standards.
I think that people in the kink/sexuality and other subculture communities compensate for this shift by re-prioritizing what we consider to be private. As humans, we seem to have a need to have some parts of our lives belong just to us and our intimates. If we yield one area, another takes its place. Perhaps what matters is that we have something to be private, what that is may not be all that relevant.
There is a delightful science fiction writer named Spider Robinson whose work I am fond of. Many years ago he wrote a series of books, which I enjoyed called the “Stardance Trillogy.” Despite my enjoyment however, the fundamental belief of the series was that the best outcome for the advancement of humanity would be for us all to enter into a hive-mind of shared consciousness. I reject this idea, as I think many people do. We define ourselves in part as we relate to other people. What we choose not to share or share only selectively, helps to give us that definition that we need to have a sense of self.
Sometimes people who take my classes or read my online writing comment that they admire how open I am. Truthfully, this is largely an illusion. I doubt that I am any more open than most people. Like the man showing us his balls but hiding his “regular” bits, I simply keep different things “private” than most people. Not better things and hopefully not worse, just different.