February 08, 2005

Kinsey and Dr. Phil

I rather enjoyed the movie Kinsey. What was so remarkable about the film is its significance to our time and present social situations. The pioneering efforts of this remarkable man to enlighten us about our own sexuality is worthy of praise. He dared to enter a part of our lives we felt fearful, ashamed, misinformed, isolated and helpless about and at great personal sacrifice. It was so powerful watching just how ignorant our grandparents were about sex and the myths they believed, myths often compounded by the church. I couldn’t help but laugh when a young married couple approached Kinsey for help with their sex lives because the wife thought she was frigid. Kinsey asked the husband if he still engaged in heavy petting with her and the husband confessed, “I thought that was just for dating couples. Now that we are married, why do we have to do it when we can just have intercourse?” Now at this time, Kinsey could have been a real boastful prig about his knowledge of sexual technique but the really cool thing was that not that long ago, he too was ignorant about sex. Kinsey and his wife were virgins on their honeymoon night. It was his own terrible first experience with sex; his clumsiness and her pain, which led him to try to get the correct information on how to do it properly. Trying not to display his own shock at how widespread ignorance among Americans was, he assured the young husband that heavy petting (essentially foreplay) was not only not just for dating couples but a MUST, for a woman to become sufficiently aroused to enjoy sex and have an orgasm. It was like a revelation to this couple, you could see the bells going off in their heads. Kinsey also recommended genital kissing as well, much to the husband’s disbelief as he was told by friends and instructed by religious moral books on marriage that oral sex leads to infertility. Another big myth! He refused to believe Kinsey’s reassurance that it was not only normal but deeply satisfying and asked for proof. This is what sparked Kinsey to begin his extensive sexual research. He realized then the power of scientific knowledge to dispel ignorance.

The resurgence of the right wing Christian propaganda machine in the States is trying to stamp out sex education for kids based on real human study and replace it with essentially the same standards they used in the 50’s and 60’s. They want to return to the days of educating via fear and false information coloured by morality judgments passed on as fact. Fallacious claims that masturbation leads to mental illness and homosexuality were standard in school hygiene classes fifty years ago and even though extensive research has proven that to be ridiculous, modern Christian texts on sex, still read the same way. In fact, prudery and narrow-mindedness concerning sex is very much alive and kicking and we in the Caribbean are at particular risk of swallowing horse manure from the USA. The self righteousness, ignorance, double standards and homophobia amidst rising HIV infection in the Caribbean is so like Kinsey’s time when there was rising syphilis and other VDs amidst similar facades. All indications show that we desperately need clear thinking people like Kinsey in our age, with no political agenda attached. The movie’s time setting may seem like the stone-age to most people but the ignorance and moral prejudice which blinds individuals to the truth about human nature and human sexuality still exists.

If I had to identify modern day Kinseys, I’d say Dr. Phil is a good example. Perhaps he is made fun of, because he states the obvious and his analogies can be a bit kooky. But the man knows what he is doing and he knows his audience. His advice may seem obvious and trite to some of us who are savvy to self improvement, but these are fresh concepts to his particular Red State audience. Plus, the fact that the right wing hates him so much, begs my respect. The pervading ideologies of “Christian normalcy” versus “Secular dysfunction” seem to be on the rise in our time and just like Kinsey, the scientific community and academics are fighting an uphill battle with the Christian conservative right to provide the public with accurate information based on clear unbiased research in the fields of human study. The reason the religious right can’t stand people like Dr. Phil is three fold:

His refusal to condemn homosexuality- Dr. Phil accepts the American Psychological Association’s stance and advocates acceptance of gay people. When parents come to him because they are distressed over their kid being gay, he does not tell them what the conservative Christians wish he would tell them- “He had better change or he’s going to hell! Either he stops being gay or kick him out your house!” Instead, Dr. Phil tells them that being gay is normal and they have to accept their child for who he/she is and support them because they will have a challenging life. In addition, like the rest of the respected psychology community, he holds fast to the proven research that you cannot “convert” gay people. On one episode where a gay man got married to a woman to try and live a heterosexual life Dr. Phil spoke out very strongly against such a marriage and said it would eventually fail (which it did) because when it comes to orientation, you are what you are. The religious right really HATES this.

Heartland, middle class, white Americans are as screwed up as anyone else- Unlike Jerry Springer and Maury where a disproportionate percentage of the dysfunctional and scandalous guests are black or Hispanic if they are not obviously poor white trash, Dr. Phil’s guests tend to be as white bread middle class as “immaculate” as the Bush family. His show completely dispels the myth that Caucasian, middle class, small town, suburban, church attending, mini van driving Security moms and middle management NAZCAR dads with 2.5 kids and a dog called Skip are doing JUST FINE. Christian conservatives never saw Jerry Springer as a threat because “those sick people” he featured were not OUR KIND OF PEOPLE. But now, Dr. Phil is destroying the shiny veneer of “wholesome all American normalcy” and all the UGLINESS underneath perfect American families is being exposed- Child molestation, domestic abuse, sexual dysfunctions in marriage, infidelity, addictions, lying, emotional retardation, shallowness, obesity, stifled potential and out of control teenagers. From that famous Mormon wife on his “Families in Crises” series who unrepentantly cheated and manipulated her husband to the upstanding Christian family where the father abused his daughters. To the long list of seemingly normal married couples who cannot please each other in bed, stay faithful, demonstrate caring or even communicate properly. Dr. Phil shows that his red state, morality espousing Bush supporting audience is not as wholesome as they would like to let on. He quotes the statistics that show America’s high divorce rate and displays exactly which demographic the problem afflicts the most- white, middle class, Christian couples, which brings us to.......

The promotion of secular knowledge over religious tradition to solve problems. Conservative Christians espouse that the bible has the answers to all the problems a person can face and faith can help whether any storm. And while I do not doubt the bible has wisdom and faith offers comfort in tough times, I am also a realist and as Dr. Phil’s guest audience proves, there are limitations to the issues that can be addressed by a book whose most recent authors lived 2000 years ago in a different culture and time. But let’s not get into that. Fact is Dr. Phil offers advice based on psychological study and it WORKS often better than anything his mostly Christian audience hears in church. He can identify and diagnose personality flaws and emotional dysfunctions that would otherwise go unchecked by biblical standards. For example, a husband with a submissive wife, whom he “loves as he loves himself”, according to the bible can still have a disastrous marriage. How? Well here’s one reason of many- suppose he never really loved himself to begin with because of all kinds of unhealed emotional scars leading to low self esteem. He can follow scripture till the fat lady sings and his marriage will still be unhappy. You see, the problem is that many buy into the “perfect Christian” image and think that being born again and following certain scriptures AUTOMATICALLY solves all their social, personality, sexual, relationship or emotional problems. Those who evangelise often sell this pitch as well to attract members. But it is bullshit. If you lacked proper social skills and were an obnoxious asshole before you were Christian, you simply become a born again obnoxious Christian asshole afterwards. And until you accept you are an obnoxious asshole and confront the deep seated emotional and behavioural roots of your problem, you will always be one. It also doesn’t help that church goers are encouraged to show an all accepting face to anyone who professes to share their faith, whether they genuinely like them or not. It promotes disingenuous love parading as “Christian brotherhood”. It allows moronic, emotionally inept people to flock to and exist in a welcoming environment where they know they will be tolerated free of the objective criticism which they so desperately need. All they need to do to mask a massive personality flaw is gloss it over with Christian zeal. Someone outside the “special circle of trust” will be more forthcoming and say, “Well I don’t care if you’re a Christian and Jesus loves you. Everyone else thinks you’re an asshole! Deal with your shit!”

In a similar way, with the Kinsey life story, there were things no religious study or morality code could help people with but unwavering scientific research could. I love how that woman came to convey her gratitude to Kinsey at the most feeble point of his life. He was disenchanted because he felt he had not even made a dent in the study of human sexuality and what little he had done was to no avail. The woman told him that she was married for decades, had children but was never complete within herself. At fifty years old, after the kids grew up and left home, she started doing volunteer work and met another woman at the centre just like her. They became fast friends and before she knew it, she fell in love with her friend in such a way it made her suddenly realize that this had never happened to her before. Sure she cared for her husband but all that time, she never was in love with him. Suddenly the pieces fit, she was complete. She had been a lesbian all her life and did not realize it because things like that were not spoken about in her time and everyone, especially women, followed a pre-ordained routine whether it suited them or not and people kept feelings hidden. But even though she had discovered herself, she was even more distressed because being a homosexual was unthinkable in the 1950s. She got depressed, became an alcoholic, her marriage ended and she was ready to resort to fatal measures. Then one day she came upon Kinsey’s book and read it. It was the big turning point in her life, like a light breaking through a crack in the ceiling and cutting a path through a dusty room unto her face. She got the courage to reveal her true feelings to that woman she worked with and to her great surprise and delight they discovered the feelings were mutual. They have been together ever since.

To a deeply moved Kinsey, she held his hand and said, “You saved my life. Thank you. Thank you!”

February 03, 2005

Enjoying the view at Asa Wright, Trinidad Posted by Hello