27 June, 2011

Voyeurism and Invisibility...and more

Note: Usually voyeurism is a topic I reserve for my other blog, Truth & Beauty, where I discuss sexuality in a philosophical context (illustrated with pictures I've taken of myself naked). But this time, the issue was intricately related to my anxiety, and the progress of my battle against it - a rather more personal issue that I like to reserve for this blog. Hence I post it here:

Just for the sake of today's argument, let's say that voyeurism is watching a person (or persons) who hasn't expressed a clear desire to be watched. If the person wants to be watched, then that's exhibitionism, even if the person(s) watching is getting something out of it. Also, for the sake of this, and often other, arguments, when I use the terms 'voyeurism' and 'exhibitionism', I'm not talking strictly about activities whose purpose is sexual stimulation, but any activity where a person makes a specific effort to watch or be watched, regardless of the nature of their motivation.

Voyeurism is often misunderstood. I suppose that's because we are a social species, and we interpret approach as standard protocol, whereas standing back and watching is abnormal behavior. That's unfortunate for those of us, like myself, who are wired to be less social and more voyeuristic. I like watching people, and in fact, my affinity for the activity is on the level that I tend to do it instinctively, and even out of pure curiosity, rather than a particular interest in what I might be watching (although an interesting target always leads to greater attention focused on it). But because voyeurs are interpreted as being 'creepy' ("What is he looking at? If he's interested in me, why doesn't he just come up and say hi? What's wrong with him?"), I have often expressed a desire to be invisible.

Because, true voyeurism isn't about the voyeur. Once a target is aware of being watched, it becomes more like exhibitionism - even if it happens to be non-consensual exhibitionism. Participating in voyeurism is about watching people do what they normally do, when they're not being watched. So drawing attention to the watching has a tendency to interrupt that - particularly if the target intentionally changes their behavior after becoming aware that they are being watched.

Furthermore, most people don't like to be watched intently. It makes them uncomfortable - even in public, where it's understood that anything they do could be witnessed by a complete stranger. Being seen by someone in this or that instant is acceptable, but being watched specifically, for an extended period of time, that tends to invoke reactionary behavior. All of this is understandable. If someone is watching you, you wonder what their interest is. It's true that some watchers, and watchers sometimes, have an invested interest in their target - although even then, it might be an entirely harmless interest. But in a lot of cases, it's just a matter of having a curiosity - therefore, if I could be invisible, I could do a lot more watching, without upsetting or alarming the people I watch.

In fact, I have gone a step further in the past, by saying that I would accept the incapacity of being a total ghost - not being able to interact physically with the world at all - in order to engage in my voyeurism. That way, I could follow a target around and watch them in places I wouldn't normally have access to, and they would have no idea of my presence - all of this at the price of not being capable of interacting with them in any meaningful way, just to prove that my voyeuristic interest is purely one of curiosity, and that I have no intention of interfering, in any way, in their life.

For the sake of pure voyeurism, this would really be ideal, I think. But, at least in my case, voyeurism isn't always the goal in and of itself; sometimes it's a substitute for actually interacting with a person I am interested in. And the reason I don't interact with them is because, unlike most people, that's a skill I'm not very good at. See, I'm just more comfortable sitting back and watching someone, than putting myself on the line and getting involved with their world. That's where the 'ghosting' comes back into play. Regarding a person I am specifically interested in, I wonder if I would be content to just watch. If avoiding the pressure and the embarrassment, and the potential failure, of approaching and interacting with them was worth the sacrifice of actually being a part of their world.

Of course, If I could be a part of their world, I don't think the sacrifice would be worth it. So I suspect that sit-back-and-watch approach is nothing more than a way to avoid taking a risk. It's sad, but I really am terrified of taking these kinds of social risks. And despite how invisible I try to make myself when I put on my voyeur's cap, it's not so far-fetched to believe that I may be making some people uncomfortable - the very people I want most to like me, not to be afraid of me. I suspect that it's happened in at least one important case in the past, and I regret that, even though it seems that my ultimate failure would have been inevitable regardless. I don't like that this part of me - and it really feels more like a part of the way I function, than simply a bad habit I could break - can make people uncomfortable, and I wish they could understand that I don't mean it that way, and furthermore that I don't have any sinister intentions in mind because I'm behaving in this way.

So on the one hand, I don't think there's any way I can make myself stop being curious, and stop being the type who likes to sit back and watch people. But the other side of it is that I think it may be possible to cultivate a more socially appropriate behavioral pattern which essentially involves overcoming my fears and actually acquiring the ability to approach people and introduce myself, and if allowed, give them a chance to actually get to know me and be reassured that my intentions are friendly and pure. Of course, when I say "possible" I mean "extremely difficult", but I guess it just really means a lot to me. Because in sitting back to watch, I feel like I'm missing out on a lot in life. From my current perspective, making that change seems about as likely as being able to wring blood from a stone (an apt analogy, given that success depends on making myself do things that are extremely painful - likely to draw blood, in a figurative sense). But even though I can't seem to do as much as get my feet to move, I'm really motivated to try to find some way to do it.

And I guess you'd have to wonder what kind of motivation could be that strong, especially if you know how stubborn my problems are. And the really wild thing is that if I told you, you might be inclined to stop me and keep me in my psychological cage, where I am being constantly tortured. But then, you'd have to respect something that has the strength (I can hope) to pull me out of the seemingly bottomless pit fate has tossed me into. That's really the funny thing. It's like I'm challenging you to accept me. To trade an egodystonic condition for an egosyntonic one. I'll agree to rid myself of my problems if you'll agree to accept my eccentricities. I can't really stop you from hating me, but maybe it's better, in the long run, than hating myself. Even, I suppose, if the unjust but inevitable result were exchanging my psychological cage for a physical one. Perhaps you can see how my success depends desperately on giving people a chance to get to know me, to reveal their misconceptions, to see that I am not dangerous in any way.

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