Reposted with permission of Smoke Signals Online.
"The Politics of Self-Acceptance, Part 3"
In part 1 of this essay, published in the April Issue, I discussed the implications for our self-esteem of how we think and feel about having a non-mainstream sexuality. In part 2, published in the May Issue, I discussed the implications of how our Smoking Fetish motivated behavior can influence our intimate relationships, as well as the intrinsic value of coming out to our intimate partners. In this last part, I will consider the implications of how we think about smoking itself, since I believe that our ability to accept and live comfortably with ourselves and with our partners depends on it. This certainly wonít be the last time that I explore these particular topics in this column, but I believe that the context of self-acceptance is an excellent place to begin.
Over the years, I have come to the conclusion that there are many in the SF Community who have created some very interesting personal barriers for themselves that prevent them from seeing what amounts to a complete picture of smoking. This is entirely consistent with the ideas that I discussed in my (then guest) column in the JanuaryĖFebruary 2004 Issue entitled "The Secret Garden," in which I suggested that the creation of a Personal Mythology is likely required to develop a fetish response to something. A Personal Mythology (as I am suggesting the concept) is essentially an accumulation of experiences related to something that are interpreted selectively through an individualís emotional states at the time they happen, and to which that individual attributes personal meaning and significance. If sufficient repetition of these events occurs related to a given thing, patterns of similar reactions can begin to form, and can eventually lead to the establishment of a sexual response.
What is especially interesting to me about this process is the way in which our SF attitudes about smoking often eventually come to echo the relationship that a smoker (without a SF) has with her or his own smoking! Rationalization. Denial. Mixed and conflicted motivations. Irrational and disproportionate fear. Irrational and disproportionate joy. Loss of control. Secrecy. Shame.
All of these could be used to describe either the thoughts and feelings related to being a smoker, or the thoughts and feelings related to living with a SF. I believe that much of this similarity is actually rooted in the complex nature of smoking itself, and failure to take all aspects of this complexity into account can result in being unable to make sense of why we feel as attracted to smoking as we do. Not just as a Fetish Community, but as a society, and also as a society in which the development of Smoking Fetishes is possible.
Again, a central premise of this column is that I believe that the implications of the Risks of smoking are essential to the attraction, both for smokers without a SF, and for smokers and non-smokers with a SF (albeit to obviously different degrees). And not recognizing the significance of the violation of the health Taboo of smoking can leave us with such an incomplete picture of our motivations that we can easily become frustrated and angry when something in our experience makes us more conscious of this possibility, especially before we might have had the chance to digest it and think it through.
I also think that smoking has become such a lightening rod, and such a deeply polarized topic in this day and age that it is easy to miss the subtlety and complexity of the motivations to smoke in the midst of the ongoing heated rhetoric that has come to surround it. In our zeal to either eliminate it or cling to the former broader public acceptance of smoking, we completely miss the details of the individual experience of smoking, since it is easy to get sidetracked by a focus on social considerations, and on our personal, perhaps selfish, desires to simply be publicly entertained.
But I think that there are substantial benefits to setting our feelings about the political firestorm surrounding smoking aside, and to refocus our attention and thinking on why people smoke in the first place. Because I think that this is where the magic of the attraction lies, and why I also think that smoking will continue to be embraced by generations to come, despite, or perhaps even because of, current public policy goals to the contrary.
I believe that the essence of the attraction can be summarized simply as:
The premise for each of these statements depends on the tension between opposing motivations in one way or another, and I believe that it is this psychological complexity that is at the core of the unique and singular appeal of smoking.
Consider the following hypotheses, taken from a recent discussion at my forum:
1) Denial can only happen once a real awareness of the Risks of smoking happens; you can't deny what you don't accept on some level.
2) Awareness of the Risks of smoking while smoking can only happen if you also maintain a certain level of denial about the reality of your personal Risk. (I tend to believe that this is the case even among many of those with the most hardcore Dark Side SF interests who smoke heavily themselves.)
3) Awareness of the Risks of smoking is completely inescapable, unless you happen to live your entire life in the absence of smoking, or are mentally or psychologically very impaired.
4) Awareness of the Risks of smoking and a personal denial of the Risks of smoking is something that every smoker experiences for virtually all of her or his smoking career. However, either or both may exist on a purely subconscious level.
5) Our subconscious thoughts influence our behavior and our impressions of our behavior as much as, if not more than, our conscious thoughts do.
6) Certain recurrent thoughts might not even be apparent to our conscious minds, which means that we wouldn't be able to express those thoughts unless we became consciously aware of them first.
7) Certain recurrent thoughts might be apparent to our conscious minds, but are so disturbing that we wouldn't want to share those thoughts, and keep them completely private.
I genuinely and sincerely believe that the vast and overwhelming majority of smokers (without a SF) wouldn't have started, and wouldn't enjoy smoking nearly as much, if cigarettes were as dangerous to smoke as coffee is to drink. Such a cigarette would have to be non-toxic, non-irritating, and non-addictive, and absolutely anyone could do it anytime and anywhere. Where's the challenge? Where's the initiation into a specific group? Where's the "Badness"? Where's the edge? Where's the fun?
I think we inherently crave excitement. I think we inherently crave jeopardy. I think we inherently crave Risk.
And I also think that the more that public health authorities attempt to demonize smoking, the stronger the appeal of violating the health Taboo of smoking becomes.
But how does this fit into our individual Personal Mythologies of smoking for those with a SF, especially for those without consciously recognized Dark Side interests? Well, I am inclined to believe that when it comes to the SF, we are all ultimately Dark Siders to some extent, but to varying degrees of conscious awareness and comfort levels with contemplating the Darker implications of smoking, which I believe are inescapable. And I believe that the key to finding comfort and balance with these Darker implications is to consider them in context, and to also distinguish the frightening extremes of reality and public health hyperbole from the responsibilities of our individual actions and our fantasies.
My theory is that when we donít think through the Darker appeal of smoking and how we respond to it on some level, we are left with an unrealistic picture of smoking that can allow us to feel personally threatened by the anti-smoking public health campaigns, and in turn, to feel potentially dissatisfied with our SFs overall.
As I have said before, I think that it is essential to recognize that being attracted to Risk does not equal wanting to see the gamble lost, and not recognizing this distinction can result in the inaccurate conclusion that any Darker interest in smoking equals taking pleasure in disease and death. This erroneous over-simplification can lead to deep cognitive dissonance, confusion, and anger when something comes along to remind you that you ultimately do recognize some manner of inescapable Darker interests in smoking yourself.
As with so many things in life, I believe that there is great value in recognizing the shades of gray that lie in between black and white, as well as the interplay between them, and their individual contributions to the overall composition. Anything less than allowing yourself to accept the complete picture of the attraction to smoking is to leave yourself open to misinterpreting your motivations and those of others, which can lead to all manner of dissatisfactions and frustrations with your SF, and itís place in your life and relationships.
Responses are not allowed!