I wonder how much of my low self-esteem comes from guilt about sex. Religious guilt about thinking about sex, but also feminist guilt about being attracted to women. Did the low self-esteem, guilt and shame start when I hit adolescence? I was shy as a child, but did I have low self-esteem before adolescence? I can’t remember.

Is it hard for any “normal” male (or female? I don’t know) who cares deeply about a traditionalist religion to get through adolescence any more without feeling hugely guilty? Such is the culture clash between highly sexualised, even pornified, Western sexual culture and religious culture. Then there was my first relationship, much of which was spent negotiating what levels of physical contact we were comfortable with (contrary to stereotype, she wanted to be much more physical than I did; she was a lot more experienced than I was too). Whenever I try to think positively about myself, I feel my libido is there to indict me.

It’s weird being thirty-seven and still a virgin, or at least it seems that way from the world around me. Certainly in the Orthodox Jewish world it’s weird and rather pitiable, although no one voices that opinion. In the Western world its weird for for different reasons. I suppose I seem inadequate, or dangerous (the “dangerous misogynistic incel” meme). The first psychiatrist I saw thought I was gay because I was twenty and had never had a girlfriend. I wonder what he would have thought if he could have known I wouldn’t even go on a date until I was twenty-seven.

Maybe it’s different in a religious community that encourages monasticism and religious celibacy. In the Orthodox Jewish community, where early marriage and large families are the norm, I feel this weird pseudo-child, a fact not helped by my autism and mental illness history rendering me childish and helpless more often than I would like. I agree with the Orthodox Jewish prohibition on sex before marriage, but I wonder if I will ever get there — or if, when I do, it will be one more thing that autism renders difficult and uncomfortable for me. Many people on the spectrum struggle with sex for a variety of reasons, usually tied to sensory discomfort or issues around interpersonal relationships. My experiences with my first relationship don’t make this any easier, just adding more guilt and fear.

Now I’m in a relationship, which makes these worries both more and less pertinent: fewer worries of the “No one could ever love me?” type, but more of the “What if she decides I’m too broken?” or “What if I’m just too autistic to do make this work?” type, as well as the specific obstacles our relationship faces.

I’ve mentioned before my asexual childhood fictional heroes (possibly I had already intuited on some level that sex and relationships would be hard for me) have all been sexualised now. Not for the first time, I reflect that the diversity agenda (which I see a lot in librarianship) is, in many ways, not all that diverse.

I feel haunted by the question, “Am I normal?” Haunted both religiously and generally. Also, “Am I good?” I wonder if God thinks I am a good person or a good Jew. These questions are not uniquely related to sex, but they are not absent from it either. I would like to know very much if God thinks I’m a good Jew.

***

I don’t know if it was a cause or a result of these thoughts, or something entirely unrelated, but today I had a bit of a mid-Pesach slump. Actually, in OCD anxiety terms, it was good: some things that would normally have been very triggering were overcome quite easily, but my mood was low. I just felt down and struggled to get involved in anything. I managed about forty minutes of Torah study, which surprised me, as it was difficult to concentrate.

I went for a run, which was good in terms of pace and moved my low mood a bit, but also refocused the low mood as general angst: “What if PIMOJ breaks up with me?” “What if our relationship doesn’t work out for some other reason?” “What if I never progress past my autism to build a career?” “What if I never get published?” (Published more than I have been already, I guess.) It’s telling that I was worried about not getting published and didn’t even think about a librarianship career.

I do think lockdown has made my relationship with PIMOJ hard, particularly the last few weeks when we’ve both also been busy with Pesach preparation and she’s been working compulsory overtime several days a week and speaking on video, let alone in person, has been almost impossible. Hopefully things will get a bit easier from here on.

***

In the evening I had a Zoom call with a couple of university friends. It was good, but also hard in parts, partly because I’m not comfortable on Zoom, partly because I feel our lives are very different. One friend teaches in a law school, the other at a university and I feel a bit inferior. On the other hand, they’re really impressed with my novel, but I don’t like to talk about it for reasons I can’t understand. I was trying to say that someone had read the novel and not liked it without saying it was PIMOJ, because I haven’t told them about PIMOJ and don’t want to at this stage. I didn’t want to talk about my autism assessment either and was vague there when talking about bad Microsoft Teams experiences, which I had at my assessment. I don’t know why I hide so much from people in real life. I’m scared of making myself vulnerable, which is probably an issue I have with PIMOJ too. I’m trying to make myself more vulnerable to her and share more, but it’s not always easy. I’m scared of how she might respond. I also had the issue I had yesterday of wanting to know how long the meeting would last. It was a free meeting and so should have been forty minutes, but went on longer, which made me vaguely anxious. All that said, my mood was better afterwards and I’m glad I managed it.

***

Perhaps because my mood was better after the call, I decided to send the devar Torah (Torah thought, although this was shorter and less textually-based and possibly less well-reasoned than normal) I wrote earlier in the week after all, after having been on the point of dumping it because I disliked it so much. My belief that Judaism is fundamentally anarchist in outlook (not voiced in so many words) is one I have hinted at before, although I’m wary of stating it explicitly for fear of the response it will get. Obviously it’s a different kind of anarchism to that of modern anarchist thinkers, based on individual responsibility and self-restraint.

***

All day, when my mood was bad, I was saying I would just vegetate in front of the TV. But then I thought I would do some Torah study first and then I would run first and in the end I’ve only watched forty minutes of TV. I wonder if I do more than I give myself credit for, but I haven’t actually done much today, just thought about doing things.

17 thoughts on “Sir Galahad

    1. I’m not sure. Some was probably innate guilt, some from reading about “the male gaze” (which I know is more about cinema than real life). Maybe also some from things like this article I read yesterday:

      School was where I overheard the boys discussing the relative merits of the anointed hot girls outside class (I say “overheard”, but they filled the corridor with their bodies and the air with their newly-deepened voices, so there was no discretion involved at all, and anyway, boys will be boys).

      I never discussed girls (hot or otherwise) like that, but it’s the kind of thing that makes me feel that all male sexuality is wrong, and that being attracted to some women more than others is something to apologise for.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I suspect it’s the people who don’t worry at all about objectifying women who are the most likely to do so. If male sexuality was wrong, humanity probably would have ended at the Adam and Eve stage.

        Liked by 2 people

          1. I think as a simple test, if you’re attracted to a woman, do you consider her status and power to be above, equal to, or below yours? If it’s not below, then it’s a pretty safe bet that you’re not objectifying her.

            Liked by 1 person

  1. I hope that PIMOJ and you can begin getting together more frequently. It’s difficult to have a “distanced” relationship, especially in the early stages. Even John and I who have been together 2 1/2 years had some struggles with the situation. You seem to work very hard at being a good Jew which, in my opinion, makes you one. Not a perfect Jew–but a good one who works at improving and doing his best.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, it is hard. My husband (raised Orthodox) would identify with a lot of what you have written here. I also understand this. Prior to meeting my husband, I was in a shomer negia relationship with someone else. It was this odd mix of beautiful/romantic, overly sexualized, and religious guilt. The excessive sexualization-religious guilt dynamic was…a lot
    There is more that I would like to say in response to this post, but can’t say because it will absolutely result in divorce.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I definitely feel that the Orthodox community inadvertently sexualises a lot of non-sexual things through paradoxically trying to avoid sex e.g. the disturbing trend of not printing pictures of even modestly-clad women, which sends the message that women are intrinsically arousing to men and can’t do anything to stop that except disappearing. There is some psychological research that suggests that men in strict religious communities that put a lot of emphasis on avoiding masturbation and sex outside marriage think about sex more than men in general sexual culture, because they’re trying to focus on not thinking about it, which doesn’t work.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I completely agree with this. We have Orthodox publications in some communities here that blur faces of young girls and toy dolls – the implications and effect of this is even more disturbing!

        I think some of the halacha (because the erasing photos of girls/women has no halachic basis that I’m aware of…) has this effect as well. Kol isha, not passing objects during niddah…to be honest, I think some of it is a bit insulting to the men to suggest they will have no self-control should their wife pass them keys. I give men a bit more credit!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I understand although I am not orthodox jew but was raised fundamentalist evangelical Christian. I was asexual as a teenage because of intense guilt, shame, etc due to purity culture teachings. As a feminist person, I also feel guilty for finding women attractive.

    Bunch of really painful issues directly due to religious guilt and shame over sexuality.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I’ve never really understood why/how sex dominates so many people’s thoughts. And it floors me to contemplate that around 1/3 of internet traffic is pornography. In America, it seems that a lot of people view sex the way they do money: it really, really troubles them to think that they’re not getting as much as the next guy.

    I was never raised to feel guilty about sex. I remember overhearing my grandparents having some extremely energetic sex one night (they were well into their seventies at the time) and I just found it amusing. I identify as asexual although I probably am better described as gray-sexual because every once in a dozen blue moons I do actually encounter someone I really dig in that way, and so far it has always been a man. But as a lesbian friend once joked to me, I probably just haven’t met the right girl!

    Somehow, I got spared most of the angst over sex — which is good, cos I sure have plenty of angst about other stuff!

    Liked by 1 person

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