When I was a teenager, my English teacher used me to illustrate the difference between “immoral” and “amoral”. I’ve never been much of a one for sticking to (or rebelling against) conventional ethical or ideological codes. That doesn’t mean I don’t have one, though. I’ve just worked it out, step by step, by myself. And yes, sometimes that means taking years and years to get to where most other people started off.
One of the things about this process is that when you let yourself down, ethically or ideologically, you’ve got no-one to blame but yourself. In the last week or so, there’ve been three incidents that have really made me think about whether or not I’m failing to live up to my own ideals.
We had EQC inspectors through the house this weekend, finally. And it was all great, and the guy I was talking to was just awesome and friendly and incredibly easy to deal with. Right up to the point where he asked for the floor area of the house, I gave it to him off the top of my head, and he replied, “Wow. Not bad for a girl.”
Now, fortunately my ethical code doesn’t say “You must fight every single battle,” because honestly, I was so gob-smacked that he’d said that, that I did nothing at all. I just sort of sat there while the conversation progressed. And later I had to think about why I’d done that, why I hadn’t called him on being a sexist arsehole, and if it was worth him liking me enough to decide our kitchen vinyl did need replacing.
Scenario Two. We have these neighbours we don’t get on very well with. Mostly because they’re fuckwads. But we try to have some kind of constructive contact with them so we’re not just calling noise control and the cops and hating on them all the time. So when the guy from next door came over and asked if I wanted to come back to his house for a coffee and a couple of cigarettes, I said yes. Reluctantly, but yes.
Now, my partner wasn’t home but my daughter was. I let Twitter know where I was going. There is nothing quite like the sense that 400 people have your back. I took my phone. Why? Because sometimes the guy next door stands at their kitchen window, or on their back doorstep, and watches me get dressed.
Anyway, I started over, he met me out on the street, and suggested we drive down to the surf club. I claimed to not be able to leave my daughter. In the end, he came over to my side and we sat out on our new deck in the sun. And he asked me if I would take photographs of him in his underwear. He asked me about my own underwear preferences.
Now, thing is, when he decided to verbally harass me, he chose to play in MY field. Half an hour later we were talking about Chris Cairns’s performances in Scotland. I handled him. That’s not to say it didn’t utterly squick me out, but I dealt with it.
My problem was a couple of days later, realising that I was changing the clothes I wore in case he saw me. I was unconsciously trying to be dowdier and less attractive. I was trying to see if he was around before I went outside. And my Code of Conduct says “Don’t let the fuckers change your life.” I caught myself. I went back to being all TOFO. I’m fully aware that might seem like a dangerous choice to some people, and the previous just a sensible precaution, but it’s my life, and I will not live it like that.
Incident Number Three. After it coming up in a couple of conversations lately, I acquired a copy of Secretary, which I basically hadn’t watched since it came out, when it was quite the Big Fucking Deal for me. I mean, how often do you see a complex but sympathetic depiction of a BDSM relationship in mainstream cinema? (I was going to make a parenthetical comment here about the Invisible Dom/me phenomenon, but it might actually be another column.)
And I had to think about whether I was going to leave the file in the household general sharing media folder, or hide it somewhere so my 16 and 14 year old children couldn’t find it. (Yes, it’s rated R18. As a parent, I’ve found our certification system completely fucking useless as a guide to what I can show my children.)
Thing is, I shouldn’t even have thought about it. I’m comfortable with them seeing vanilla sexual material of that degree of explicitness. And it is absolutely core to my beliefs that non-vanilla sexuality shouldn’t be treated any differently. In the end, I left the file where they could stumble across it, but I had to think about it for days.
The point of all this being, I guess, that it’s an eternally on-going process. That’s part of the reason I’m so down on policing and so open to talking about ideas when I haven’t yet made up my mind. Finding your own path is not a one-time deal.