Tag Archives: sexuality

Cleckley, Sexuality, and Circumscribed Behavior Disorder

In The Mask of Sanity, Cleckley devotes a chapter to a case about what was termed Circumscribed Behavior Disorder. Cleckley described it thusly:-

When behavior disorder is circumscribed, in a child or in an adult, one sometimes feels that symptomatically the patient resembles a psychopath but that a different sort of personality lies behind the manifestation.

The chapter is included among other chapters that are supposed to stand in contrast to psychopathic personality to help us better understand the psychopath, and includes such cases as the psychoticthe psychoneurotic, and the malingerer. One certainly gets the feel that this is 1940s psychiatry really struggling with classifications and groupings, after all, behavioral permissibility seems to be determined by the cultural and legal zeitgeist, and if something is deemed ‘wrong’ culturally, then psychiatrists automatically look at it as a disease or disorder.

This chapter is particularly striking, however. There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with the ‘patient’ in this case, a young woman who had sought help because she feared social repercussions  because of her deemed promiscuity. The other chapters all describe behavior or symptoms that now have reputable courses for treatment and therapy (mostly), and while it’s easy to attack the work of Cleckley for the obvious 1940s social climate and prejudices, he wrestles with this patient in the same way that Nietzsche struggled to understand women; if he could just lose the product of his time element from his observations and reasoning, the truth, I think, would have blown him away. You feel like he knows something is wrong in the same way that Mr. Anderson feels that something is wrong in the movie ‘The Matrix’ before he becomes Neo.

The young woman in the case ends up in counseling in her mid twenties. She clearly has a strong and curious sex drive, and she is also thoroughly intelligent, a keen social critic when it comes to cultural mores, and very book smart. She had no desire to form any long lasting relationship with a man (something that unfortunately flagged her as psychologically defective – because of course, sex for sex’s sake is clearly ridiculous). Cleckley interprets this as her not caring who she hurts: If men invest in a series of dates, there is some consensual sexual activity, and then she chooses to move on, the hurt the men suffer is obviously her fault and has nothing to do with their emotional immaturity and possessional attitudes.

In two years, she slept with twenty men. Cleckley notes that she easily experienced vaginal orgasm (wonderful that she had to answer those questions because she’s being screened as sexually dysfunctional), and even so, did not want to stay with any one man. After all, as we know, if women are sexually satisfied, what more could they possibly want out of life? There is never any evidence that she cut and run from relationships, or used sex to steal or blackmail from anyone, only that she ever wanted brief sexual encounters. There was also no guilt felt after sex, which is why Cleckley has connected this apparent disorder to psychopathy in the first place.

Later, the young woman finds an intimate and rewarding relationship with a woman who was fifteen years older and was a part of the faculty with her husband at a local college. This older lady was well read, erudite, and felt a reciprocal attraction; they would together listen to symphonies, read Shakespeare out loud together, and drink and chat well into the night. This progressed into nights spent together in the same bed where they had sex. This happened when the husband was away for research.

While the marital infidelity is enough to make one squeamish, the young woman clearly found everything she wanted in a partner. Who doesn’t want an intellectual, thought-provoking, charming, and sexual guru to spend most of their free time with, especially before the dawn of family and work life?  These needs that the young woman experienced would have made her selfish in the sense that she’s trying to figure out the best place for herself in the world, but her culture was against her all the way. In fact, she tells Cleckley how it was okay for little boys to wander off on tree climbing, hiking, or other adventures, but little girls were more restricted, and how boys became airline pilots, surgeons, and generals, but women became wives, and were destined to a life of housework. She fought this all the way and dared to listen to her own drives, dreams, and desires.

While in counseling, Cleckley noted that she was forced to admit that male and female genitalia are better suited to each other and work together to get better “sensual results.” He seems bang on the money – she was forced or defeated to admit something so preposterous. The concluding part to this chapter is disheartening. She’s being made to ‘understand’ that her feelings and drives are mechanisms for avoiding responsibility, in the same way that a child might feign sickness in an effort to avoid school. She is effectively punished for being herself.

I think Cleckley struggled with this case. He knew her observations of 1940s stereotypes were apt, yet her behavior is interpreted heavily by the prevailing morality of the time. One gets the impression that Cleckley’s primary duty for therapy was to encourage cultural assimilation. It wasn’t until 1973 that homosexuality was finally omitted from the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.

There was a disorder here, but it wasn’t Circumscribed Behavior Disorder. It was oppression.

 

Mental Stimulation and Sexuality

The proliferation of cultural diversity is always heralded as a good thing. In fact, there isn’t one politician with the potential for democratic success that will dare to challenge this maxim of worldly life. Whether or not they mean it, of course, when they speak of diversity, or how they’ve chosen to define diversity is another matter entirely.

Diversity, in all forms, brings new ideas and different perspectives. We don’t have to agree, or feel that it’s right for us, but we have the privilege to make up our own minds, and we’re usually grateful to have had the opportunity to be challenged. After all, if our opposition to new ideas falls on its face, it’s probably time we re-evaluated our own worldviews. There’s always denial, but that is never a particularly sunny refuge for our scared and fatigued minds.

To put it bluntly, diversity stimulates. And a stimulated mind might not be happy (happiness can be overrated, boring, and even lazy), but it’s engaged and has a temporary sense of purpose. It’s a rush, and a panacea for the existential fog that is always ready to cloud our minds as soon as the caffeine wears off.

Now, perhaps the most important reason for supporting and promoting the full gamut of homosexual and transgender expression is to be had from the stand point of human rights and protecting the sanctity of individual expression and their right to self determination. However, it’s worth coming at it from another angle.

With notable exceptions, the expression of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgendered individuals has been largely suppressed and denied. There have been explosive movements and great strides, especially in the arts and the literary tradition, but clearly there is still a long way to go before it’s universally accepted as a valid way of life with a legal system that is in full support and sympathy with the plight.

There is a turbulent, erudite, exciting, and stimulating cultural world that has been propagated by non-heterosexuals and transgendered people, looking to create a culture that allows the freedom of expression, not just sexual, but intellectual, too. The gender of the people that sexually attract you shapes your passage through life and will impact how you intellectualize your place in the universe. Becoming aware of the perspectives of others with a different sexual orientation can do nothing but put you in touch with the pulse of humanity – a force that is so much more dynamic than you and your world. If you hold knowledge acquisition as one of the highest virtues, the different perspectives of non-heterosexuals is a treasure trove of cognitive enrichment (not all life is ruled by eros, of course, two plus two is still four, no matter one’s sexuality).

I am aware that there is sometimes opposition to heterosexuals intruding on key aspects of gay lifestyle. This has been evidenced by disrespectful heterosexuals in gay bays, and authors that try to write from homosexual perspectives and fail miserably. I hope that I don’t come across as the latter. While I don’t agree with culture being entirely insular, I do think having respect is the first step to exposure. I can never ‘know’ what it is to be a gay man, but I can still enjoy being mentally stimulated by gay men, lesbians, and transgendered individuals, and I’m going to celebrate knowing that much more about life before my cognition doesn’t get another trip around the Sun.

Emotion and Worldviews: The Deep Empathic Failing of Homophobia

Anchor and balloonLately, I have been trying to make sense of how our emotions and our sense of morality are related. Everyone has ideas about what is ‘right’ in the world, and these ideas are usually held as explanations for having certain feelings about particular events. For example, witnessing an assault or abuse can make us feel bad (if our brain is working). We then justify our bad feeling with ideas that explain why we feel bad, and we soon have a sense of morality.

First, we might reason that the aggressor is wrong for behaving aggressively because we don’t like the way we feel when we witness what he is doing, or the way we feel when he is doing it to us. To make further sense of these feelings we start weaving together ideas, such as hitting people is wrong (it has to be, right, because it makes us feel bad?), and extend it to hitting smaller and weaker people is more wrong (because this change in context makes us feel worse). However, we might start to introduce caveats such as, hitting people is wrong, unless it’s to stop someone hitting someone else. And so as our emotional responses change throughout these different scenarios, our sense of morality and the way we understand the world evolves.

The key point to note here is that our emotions anchor our morality. It is also possible to have a cold and emotionless ‘code of ethics’, a system of rules that govern behavior, even though there is no emotional attachment to them. In fact, your emotion and the cold and emotionless ethical principles that you come into contact with probably duke it out to give you your sense of morality. Lacking an emotional attachment could cause a schism and internal conflict later, especially if we have (intellectually) accepted a moral position with no feeling, such as a stance on the death penalty or abortion. Should we experience for the first time a personal situation that involves these two issues, our emotions may go to war with our intellect.

But there’s no denying that the ideas about life that really stick, are the ones weighted down by a strong emotion, and this becomes problematic because our emotion, which is notoriously unreliable, becomes the first and often the most powerful truth criterion for understanding a moral action. If we feel strongly positive or negative towards something, that’s sometimes all the truth we need – our visceral experience.

I believe that it is this visceral failing that results in the most prejudice. For example, take homophobia. Sometimes it is touted that homophobes are really self-hating homosexuals. While I’m willing to merit that this is sometimes the case, I do not think it explains the majority of homophobia. What explains the majority of homophobia is a deep empathic failing – all justifications on top of this are all garbage, no matter what their brand. However, these justifications also form a culture that reinforces these deep empathic failings. Let me explain.

A heterosexual teenage male, with a new found and celebrated sexuality, will realize how awesome women can make him feel (this marks the beginning of personal growth and many political encounters with women, which will hopefully result in positive outcomes). Now, in an effort to understand homosexuality, there’ll be an attempt at empathy and he may fail miserably. In all likelihood he will recreate the experience of anal penetration, or imagine all of the sexual things he fantasizes about one day doing with a woman and supplanting the woman with a man. This will make him want to retreat into his shell like a turtle, and the bad feeling that results from this failed empathy could then easily be justified by bogus ideas of what it is to be gay. If the feeling is strong (or repulsive) enough, the quality of any further truth criteria doesn’t matter – the repulsion is his experience – his truth (I haven’t been to church in ages, but let me throw out Leviticus, and then show you this sour expression on my face).

There was a deep empathic failing here for the following reason.

The great feeling arising from the heterosexual sexuality will hinder attempts at homosexual empathy, and to a large extent, a heterosexual male will never know how awesome it feels to fall in love with another man. But this doesn’t matter. What the heterosexual person can empathize with is what it is to love somebody and be attracted to somebody. How great it is to curl up on the couch after a long and trying day with their significant other. If the empathic focus shifts from physical sex to the emotional satisfaction (or turmoil) of being in a relationship, empathy can prevail. Given time and maturity, the awkwardness elicited by thoughts of homosexual sex can also be diminished.

The problem is that homophobic ideas do focus on sex and encourage negative feelings, which in turn reinforces homophobic morality. It’s a particular problem with sex because the emotional experiences that result from our sexuality are often so powerful that there is no neutral ground – something is either very wrong or it’s very right. This is why sex is usually a major part of religion – the strong feelings of guilt (or in some cases empowerment) strengthens the underlying creed, which may force some to disband and others to cling even tighter.

I believe that a failure to empathize on this crucial issue could be addressed by mentioning sexuality in school. Firstly, it’s crucial that homosexual children can learn that there is nothing wrong with them, which is vital for their development, and secondly children/teenagers can learn some theory surrounding relationships. Obviously, there is much to be learned from experience, but some good foot holds from the beginning could be beneficial. It is perhaps time that children are shown how to empathize, because their morality depends on it.