Friday, August 24, 2007

II Sexuality, Otherness, and the Truth of the Self

The Blessing of Ambiguity

With the express permission of the person involved, I should like to begin by sharing part of the story of someone I shall call Ralph, with whom I was privileged to work some years ago, and whose difficulties proved a revelation for us both. The insights from this encounter have led directly to the creation of this paper for tonight, and I am deeply in his debt.

A detailed history is not necessary. Suffice it to say that the first words he spoke on entering my study were, ‘I’m gay but I’m not.’ This statement was made in such an open way that the ‘I’m not’ was obviously part of the assertion and not a denial of it. ‘I’m gay but I’m not’ in a paradoxical way, seemed for Ralph to be tautology. And so it was to prove as his story unfolded.

The episode in his life that emerged as the bearing on which the work turned was this: at the age of about eleven, he was sitting in his bedroom with his best friend, another boy, giggling over some naked ladies in a National Geographic magazine. The bedroom door was closed. When the friend left, Ralph’s mother, who didn’t like his friend and was intensely homophobic, called him into the kitchen and accused him of being homosexual.

As you can imagine, the months of work that followed on Ralph’s revelation offered one of the most intricate and intellectually challenging explorations of the human person, and of ambiguity, that one could ever hope to have, and the permutations and paradoxes we uncovered made the complexities of the Tibetan mandala of time seem like a Bart Simpson T-shirt. And of course it was essential to work within the ambiguities and paradoxes, and not try to dismantle them.

And as is so often the case, what Ralph presented as his greatest liability proved to be his greatest asset, for as we all know, the ability to be comfortable with ambiguity is one of the principle signs of personal maturity. In effect, in a strange sort of way, as a result of the foundational ambiguity induced by the traumatic scene with his mother at the time of his sexual awakening, Ralph was ten steps ahead of most people in terms of being in touch with the richness of himself as a human being, of discovering the truth of himself.

That’s all I need to tell you about Ralph, but you might find it helpful to keep his story in mind as we explore some familiar notions in a slightly different way.


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