Thursday, 22 December 2016

Brave New World (4)

Caveat lector: this post is personal but necessary to explain why I think the way I do....

I had a very liberal education and upbringing. The reason why I'm the rabid, uncompromising Catholic I have become is because sexual freedom, finding myself and exploring the possibilities of self actually bored the living daylights out of me.  I desired some discipline and found the uncompromising rigidity of the faith liberating.

It is time for some personal details of the days before my faith meant anything to me...

Sexual freedom had a dark side, I was a student in Edinburgh in the late 80s when it was dubbed the "AIDS capital of Europe". At least 1 in 10 sexually active men was said to be carrying the HIV virus, no distinction was made for the sexuality of those men.  Indeed the 'gay scene' seemed to be little more than a self-help group for those who were a little insecure and needed affirmation.  Sex just happened, it didn't need labelling.  If you were confident, you didn't need a club. I was bored but the risks associated with having sex out of boredom didn't seem worth the game. I was a keen swimmer and preferred using the wonderful old Infirmary St baths in the centre of the city (sadly long gone). It was a known hang out for gay men, it was the best place to swim and be ignored (if you were a woman). The other women there tended to be elderly matriarchs, in the other pools there was a fair amount of covert posturing from younger women, I knew the signs, and I was tempted. Women seemed immune to the AIDS tag in those days and there was a burgeoning sense that sisters should be doing it for themselves.  Luckily for me, one day out of the blue, a stunning Brazilian woman in a leopard print cat suit just happened to invite me to the Turkish Baths in Portobello.  I turned up but never went in.  There was a seedyness about the place back then, a sense of fakery (I don't even think the sand at Portobello is real sand), I headed back and outside a chippy near the bus stop something happened.

There was a man in a wheelchair and he smiled at me.  I had never seen such a beautiful smile.  I smiled back, we were connected in some way. Indeed for the first time in my life I actually felt connected to another human being, we were looking into each other's souls. I was loved and loved back.  I never saw him again, but it didn't matter, that was not the point, something else other than sex was necessary for relationships between consenting adults, and that something was beautifully liberating.  My friend in the wheelchair and me let go of each other, but in doing so we blessed each other's futures. Some people we meet are angels in disguise.

A few days later and I was out drinking with the boys from the course.  It was 3am, the only pubs officially open were the ones for the printers of The Scotsman, we lived close by and it prevented the need of attending the notorious 'lock-ins'. One of the lads turned to me and said "here I am buying a moderately attractive woman a drink at 3 in the morning and I don't want to get into bed with you, what is going on?".  Another smiled at me and turned to him and said, "she's one of us, can't you see".

I'm still not quite sure what he meant.... but in his comment I sensed something of a hidden truth about the nature of relationships that could be forged between men and women. I could connect to him, not near as intensely as to the guy in the wheelchair, but from then on I knew that we knew each other..... connections were being forged... life no longer seemed so boring.

The point of this look into my past is to try to show that we have to look beyond sex and sexuality.  There is a hunger that will only be satisfied if we look beyond the physicality of our bodies. Sexual desire is intoxicating, but there is something even more potent, something far more liberating and something far more capable of bringing us to understand why we love and are loved. Indeed, ironically, it is something that is absolutely necessary if sexual activity is to be as good as it was intended to be.

Welcome to the strange world of chastity (which isn't the same thing as celibacy) and it is just about the queerest thing imaginable.
Tomorrow's post will be the last in this series, I promise....

Infirmary St Baths

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