The Complexity of Self-Disgust
I learned my most profound lesson about self-disgust at the poker table one night several years ago (no, I did not unsuccessfully try to draw to an inside straight). Rather, one of my regular playing partners, Dr. Henry Adams, was the head of the psychology clinic at the University of Georgia, and he had just finished an interesting study of attitudes about homosexuality. He had surveyed a large group of men about their attitudes toward homosexuals. He then showed them gay porn and measured their sexual response in terms of turgidity. You guessed it--those who evidenced the most disgust about homosexuality were the most aroused by gay porn. For a brief summary of the study see http://www.blurtit.com/q446401.html
Henry was not a gay rights activist. In fact, I remember him expressing an inappropriate level of disgust when he was invited to celebrate his findings as grand marshall of a gay pride parade. But he was interested in the phenomenon of self-disgust, and his findings intensify the story told in yesterday’s post. If behavioral uniformity is the primary cloak whereby we lessen our feelings of anxiety about our body, about the desires of the flesh that St. Paul declares will damn us, then nothing is more frightening than not fitting within the norm. We lessen our anxiety about our decaying vessel by observing a litany of societal strictures about what we do with and to our bodies and those of others. Trying to conform against one’s nature creates a double anxiety: discomfort with the body and discomfort with the only accepted cultural attitude toward it. Self-disgust is to be expected in some cases.
Self-loathing and self-disgust are hardly inevitable. Martha Nussbaum points out that American attitudes toward homosexuality are softening, that the Politics of Disgust may be being replaced by a Politics of Humanity. Presumably the double anxiety of the closet is disappearing too. And not all homophobes are homosexual; for many a single anxiety is probably enough to distort their personality.
A final note. Martha notes that the Politics of Disgust seems to be relatively absent in discrimination toward lesbians. Henry’s study may provide a hint of an answer, at least for those men filled with self-disgust. Men may not be disgusted by what women do because they are too caught up in their own anxiety with their own bodies.