Message modified by board administrator July 7, 2009, 4:24 am
Reposted with permission of Smoke Signals Online.
"The Politics of Self-Acceptance, Part 1"
The March From The Publisher column provided a nice overview of certain aspects of the clinical definitions and real world implications of having and living with a Smoking Fetish. And I agree wholeheartedly with the conclusion that it is important to accept and respect both our diversity as well as our basic philosophical unity as a Community. Our single greatest resource for both entertainment and self-acceptance is each other, and I believe that the more opportunities that we have to interact in a respectful and cooperative manner, the better for us all.
While I did not read the specific online discussion about deciding to "give up" SF stimulation to seek happiness with a non-smoking partner that the March From The Publisher column refers to, I have read and participated in numerous similar discussions about whether or not it is possible to either "cure" or "set aside" a sexual attraction to smoking, as well as the complexities of living with a SF and attempting to keep it hidden from a non-smoking partner.
The DSM-IV would seem to suggest that, at least for some, being able to actively ignore a sexual attraction to smoking should be possible. But I believe that thinking about our shared non-mainstream sexual interests in this way can be more than a little misleading, and quite possibly even psychologically dangerous and damaging, at least for some.
The DSM defines behavior as it relates to clinical perceptions of the norms for society, which can change with time and an increasing body of clinical and scientific case study. Consider that the DSM used to define homosexuality as psychologically aberrant, but no longer does. Aside from the response to scientific evidence that sexual orientation is almost certainly a pre-determined genetic trait (under no more control by an individual than height or shoe size), it was also eventually recognized that defining homosexuality as psychologically aberrant actually did more social and individual harm than good.
The reason for this is because negative social reactions to homosexuality have often historically caused gay men and lesbians to suffer deep injuries to their self-esteem. And this threat to accepting themselves and their sexual identities has often led them to behave in maladaptive ways, with promiscuity rising to the level of sexual addiction and substance abuse being the major problems.
However, it was eventually recognized that these maladaptive behaviors really had nothing to do with sexual orientation, but rather had everything to do with the fact that homosexuality itself was stigmatized. And unfortunately, the DSM's definition of homosexuality as psychologically aberrant only served to reinforce this stigma. But once the shame and social antagonism associated with being "different" are taken away, it seems clear that there is no more impetus to maladaptive social behavior among the Homosexual Community than there is among the Heterosexual Community.
Another important thing to keep in mind when considering the DSM clinical definition of a paraphilia is that this definition is based on an outsider's point of view, and in no way attempts to address or understand the personal and individual reasons for the development of the non-mainstream sexual attraction to smoking in the first place. I believe that one could even persuasively and convincingly argue that under a specific set of developmental circumstances, it would only be "sane" and reasonable to eventually respond sexually, and to develop a persistent non-mainstream sexual response to certain elements from those developmental circumstances.
As I stated in my January-February column, I believe that you can trace most dissatisfactions with having a SF to unresolved issues with accepting the Darker Dimensions of the attraction to smoking. But as I also attempted to illustrate in my March column, I believe that these Darker Dimensions are not only ultimately inescapable, but are also essential to establishing the Taboo that gives the SF it's sexual energy in the first place.
For many who are dissatisfied with their SF, it seems that there is this tendency to conclude that they are "bad" or "defective" people because they are attracted to something that is ultimately dangerous and deadly. And the fact that there is a clinical diagnosis that mostly describes our "condition" might unfortunately make it all too easy for some to conclude that we are all psychologically maladaptive, and should ideally work towards "curing" ourselves.
But let's take a moment to deconstruct this premise a little.
In many societies, there are still strong tendencies to feel shame over sexual urges of any kind, even mainstream "vanilla" sexual urges. And this general context of sexual repression is likely to be felt much more acutely by someone with a minority sexuality.
Also consider that no one with a SF ever made an adult choice to have an erotic response to smoking, but rather was exposed to an environment that essentially imposed the seeds of their erotic response in their minds as children. We didn't ask or decide to have these sexual feelings any more than we asked or decided to be heterosexual or homosexual.
So, if we stop to take both of these considerations into account, we can go a long way towards understanding that most of the shame that we might be inclined to feel over having a SF really has nothing to do with us, per se, but rather has to do with external influences that we have internalized and often unfairly use to evaluate ourselves with.
I believe that the situation is almost exactly analogous to the social implications of the DSM reversal of defining homosexuality as a mental illness. I believe that much of the obsessive behavior and deep stimulus immersion suggested by the deeper "Levels" outlined in the DSM clinical definition of paraphilic behavior are largely about acting out due to distress that is secondary and reactionary to having the paraphilia itself. The maladaptive behavior described by these deeper "Levels" is virtually identical to the sexual acting out of a gay man or lesbian who experiences "self-loathing" over their non-mainstream sexual identity, and who becomes sexually compulsive as a means of isolating and ultimately punishing themselves.
The other inescapable influence that we have to keep in mind is the deep, deep secrecy in which virtually all of our individual SFs took shape. The Taboo that smoking represents obviously extends to our individual thoughts and feelings about it, and the very strong developmental experiences related to smoking that we tend to revisit over and over in our minds strengthens the sexual energy of Taboo for each us in very personal and unique ways. And this intimacy and depth of sexual thought is bound to convey a sense of lingering isolation that can easily distort a reasonable impression of our selves and our relative "normalcy."
While a fetish or paraphilia is almost certainly due more to "nurture" than it is due to "nature", once established, I tend to believe that it becomes essentially as immutable and permanent as the basic sexual orientation that underlies it. Which means that attempting to ignore it is kind of like the psychological equivalent of attempting to ignore a part of your body that you use and see every day. To me, it seems a bizarre proposition at best, fraught with endless possibilities for frustration, unhappiness, and ultimately, despair.
Again, not unlike the politics of self-acceptance involved with homosexuality, there is this ongoing temptation to internalize and to believe the overly simplistic notion that what is "normal" is to be heterosexual and without any sexual interest that doesn't involve having missionary position intercourse with a _____________ partner (insert whatever description of commitment fits your conception of average and "normal") ___ times a week (insert whatever number fits your conception of average and "normal"). And if your sexual interests do not match whatever idea of "normal" you subscribe to, there can be this incredibly persistent and subtle pressure to believe that you should attempt to conform to whatever your internalized social concept of "normal" is, whether this is realistic and possible or not.
My point is that I believe that just because a given sexual interest is only shared by a relatively limited number of others, it doesn't necessarily mean that the sexual interest itself is either "good" or "bad". It simply is, and I believe that it is essentially beyond our ability to ever completely change or eliminate it, at least for the vast and overwhelming majority of us.
However, I also believe that how we individually respond and relate to our non-mainstream sexual desires is entirely under our control, and can easily mean the difference between behaving and feeling socially maladaptive, and behaving and feeling socially appropriate and at ease with ourselves and our non-mainstream sexual identities.
Responses are not allowed!