Shame and Regret: The Sting of Social Stigma

First posted in August 2012 Shame And Regret: The Sting of Social Stigma has more of a wallop five years later than four years earlier. We as a race must get something out of persecuting the disenfranchised and marginalized friends, family’s, lovers, idols, and heroes. Maybe we ought to look inside ourselves and find that kernel of fear. Then erase it. And then get back to being compassionate brothers and sisters.

 

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Why are we ashamed by what we do?  We do what we choose to do because we stand to gain something.  Yes, some people are forced, say at gun point, to compromise; some are coerced through drugs and alcohol; and yes, some actions are purely altruistic (ashamed of philanthropy?).  It’s my opinion that consciously withholding or denying or lying about our actions is caused by fear.  Not a generic fear, but a two-tier fear.  The first tier-fear: judgement by others is beyond your control; but the second tier-fear: consequence sits squarely in your lap, and which, by the way, you’d already equated as a potential cost of your unprecedented action.  We all know this simple truth: We have absolutely no control over the actions of others.  That said, we can remove the first tier-fear: judgement by others; we now find ourselves staring down the steely barrel of culpability: we encountered a situation, measured consequence against benefit, and toed the line or stepped across it.  So shame and regret were considered well before we pandered to our hunger, thirst, or warm body (emphasis on warm).

The best possible precursor to a mental illness diagnosis was, until 1973 its own mental illness: homosexuality.  Coming out as a gay man taught me the valuable lesson that there will be people who can’t distinguish between my sexual orientation (which places me in a specific group) and who I am (in general terms) as a fellow human being.  Having learned that lesson years ago I was well prepared to face similar discrimination based upon my mental orientation, i.e. mental illness, e.g. bipolar disorder.  And yet, what is there to be ashamed and regretful about?  Don’t carry the burden of Shame or wear the shackles of Regret; never apologize to anyone irritated by what you have, especially if what you have is a medically recognized disease.

Recently I conducted a thoroughly non-scientific giddy-up poll which asked: What diseases do you think you’d be ashamed to admit having?

Answers?  Anal warts, vaginal herpes, syphilis, gonorrhea. . .what?  Anal warts? Venereal diseases? According to our non-scientific poll of middle-aged men and women, they said that carrying a sexually transmitted disease is the only other human affliction besides mental illness that they would be ashamed of having and which also carries with it a damning social stigma.  STD’s are the result of risky and unsafe sexual activities engaged in by choice. Does mental illness really belong in their company? Really?

Shame and Regret are burdens that those who choose to remain ignorant and judgmental should shoulder.

Not me.  Not you.  And certainly not the neighbor, best friend, Richard Dreyfuss rdreyfuss2
parishioner, bowling buddy, Ryan Phillippe, phillippeprom date, recipient of the first kiss, Girl Scout, Teddy Roosevelt (yes, really), Girl Scout Leader, Sinéad O’Conner, full back,  Metta World Peace ,
mettapeace offensive line coach, movie star, Burgess Meredith, Opera Star, Ronald Braunstein, famous orchestra conductor, infamous commuter train conductor or any one of the other 25% of our world’s population. How about the other 75% of the world’s population loosen the reins of their prejudice.

My Moral Corruption

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“How you said what you said was simply enchanting,” were the first words he ever said to me.

“I was awake, I was always awake,” were the last words.

And between these two bookends were almost thirty years of an on-again/off-again relationship which redefined the term love affair, and which did very little to boost my self-confidence.  Instead this. . .entanglement. . .often followed a beachpalsdreadfully antagonistic and well-rehearsed sequence of deplorable behavior: Vanish, spot, affirm, invite, tempt, yield, pity, agony, masquerade, endure, discredit, and pluck.   And each incarnation ripped yet another piece of moral character from me until sometime in the early nineties I concluded that we were no more to each other than a dealer and an addict, and he was always, always willing to deal, not out of compassion for me, but to satisfy some dark hunger, a craving, maybe a need.

Like anonymous chunks of an ice shelf, we broke apart and drifted away from each boy-in-bushother.  I finding love and partnership and success in Chicago.  He and his art landed in New York.  It wasn’t his drawings they placed atop acrylic pedestals.  For dollar bills he ignored their probing fingers; for five’s he forgot their foraging.  We never discussed the activities associated with higher denominations but he emphasized they were few and far between (“even for someone that looks like me!”), a thinly veiled plea for adoration of which I ignored and which subsequently produced a stifling silence as though the bridge between us had been washed away by indifference.

He enjoyed a modicum of success with a small band of go-go-boys that played the voyeuristic circuit of Greenwich bars, and infrequently out-of-town gigs took them to South Beach, Atlanta and, of course, Chicago.  But by that time his mother had passed, his baby brother didn’t want to farm, and his father sold all three hundred acres, outbuildings, and the triple-generation farmhouse and moved into town,  So when he was in Chicago it was all business; most of it public, but private parties were viceprisonerhands down the most lucrative (and dangerous).  His last trip to Chicago was a bona fide performance, secretly cast by the Chicago Vice Squad who raided the place and arrested the lot and charged them with indecency (the cheek dividing string of his g-string was 0.25″ too narrow to entirely cover his anus).  I was called and took clothes and cash and bailed him out of jail.  As the sun started to peek above Lake Michigan we were driving north on Lake Shore Drive when he said, “You know, I think it’s time to hang up the g-string.”

“Really?” I asked in disbelief, knowing (from years of personal experience) that posing whether still or sparkling was his only talent.

Staring out the window he replied, “Yup!  Problem is. . .”  Here it comes, I thought.  “Problem is, the cops kept it as evidence!”

There’s Cold and then there’s Cold!

THERE’S COLD . . .

001-pondsCold cream, the cold shoulder, cold as ice, having a cold, Cold War, stone-cold dead, cold sores, knocked-out cold, cold (sexual disinterest), cold feet, cold turkey, cold water man (a Scot that doesn’t drink alcohol), cold cuts, cold storage, catch a cold, “…has a cold…” (politician, diplomat, or executive is fired), cold air, quit cold (die suddenly), cold fish, cold snap, cold as a cucumber, “blood runs cold” (profound apathy for others), cold blood, cold storage, cold cereal, cold sweat, cold front, cold comfort, “cold hands, warm heart” (lovey-dovey idiom), “cold, hard cash” (nothing’ but greenbacks003-coldone (US currency printed in green on one side starting in 1862; aka “Legal Tender”)), “feed a cold and starve a fever” (axiom first used in 1574 as a remedy for fever), “a cold one” (euphemism describing an ice-cold beer), “… she’s a cold one (or, cold tart)”, (disparaging expression used by a refuted suitor when describing a woman disinterested in his unmannerly advances), “cold as a witches bosom [sic]” (vague expression of “cold” in varying contexts), cold, hard facts (1. Empirical Data generally used in the sciences for unquestionable facts; 2. My mother’s off-handed remark whenever I 004-coldduck1was dumped by a girl (implying “. . . silly boy, you’ll never get a girl so face the facts . . .”)), cold case (police investigation which remains unsolvable after exhausting every lead), cold plate (recipes served cold), cold duck (originally invented in Detroit in 1937 and was based on a German legend. The recipe calls for one part Mosel wine, one part Rhine wine with one part of Champagne,002-coldshwr2 seasoned with lemons and balm mint.), knocked cold, leave out in the cold, out cold (unconscious, intoxicated, sound asleep), stop cold, take a cold shower (an often futile attempt to quell the hormones associated with lust). 

AND THEN THERE’S COLD . . .

004-below01“Cold enough for you?” I kept an eye on my thermometer all yesterday. The temperature remained steady at -13º F which coincidently is the precise temperature of ice cream. I’ve lived in the Northern Hemisphere all my life, so I’m very familiar with the winter season: days are shorter, sun remains low on the horizon, a cloudy and snowy day is likely to be warmer than a clear day (clouds capture heat and the sun’s too low on the horizon to radiate warmth added by clear skies which allows ground heat to rise upwards), all dogs love snow, we all wish for a “White Christmas.”

006-lifebelow0“If you don’t cover your ears and nose they’ll be the first to freeze, next will be your fingers and your toes,” At -13º F frostbite can begin immediately to susceptible parts of the body such as: tip or whole nose, ear lobes, fingers, and toes.  Common warning signs include: progressing numbness and a loss of sensitivity to touch. The affected area will also tingle or feel as if it is burning. As the condition worsens, the pain begins to fade or eventually disappear. Frostnip (which I experienced only yesterday on my right hand)) is a superficial freezing of the outer layer of the skin which turns white as blood circulation decreases, then stings, and becomes quite painful. Frostnip can occur during vigorous outdoor activity and you may not be aware of it until you stop exercising. 

001-sledding2“Come in from the cold!” was a chorus sung ritually during winter by my aunt that babysat for us. She knew what was coming when I refused to wear the childish, insulated, and nylon snow pants. So she kept vigil at the window which overlooked the school yard for that first warning sign of a child wearing cotton pants and sliding and falling into drifts of snow. I never noticed that my wet pants quickly yielded to the cold. Suddenly my bottom half was encased in ice which would stick to my legs. Every step home felt like pen knives were being poked into my legs, my bottom, and my feet. When I stepped into the house and started to undress my aunt hurried to stop me, then quickly placed me right in front of the heat register and turned up the heat. Then she handed me a cup of hot cocoa saying, “Drink that cocoa slowly because as those pants begin to melt, so will you. And honey, you ain’t felt anything that hurts like that!” Then over her shoulder as she walked away, “And tomorrow those snow pants won’t look so childish!”

001-girlwithdog1 “It’ll be a cold day in hell!” before I cross the street to schmooze. The other night I saw a leggy woman walking an equally leggy dog wearing a unitard (the long-legged dog was wearing it not the leggy walker, who’d resemble an Olympic swimmer languidly strolling down a snowy sidewalk on a blustery eve). I and my dog crossed the street beneath the guise of doggy introductions. After they’d had their bouts of butt-ery I finally asked the woman, “what on earth is your dog wearing?” Her Tsk, followed by the 180 degree hair toss followed by a voluminous, lung-filling sigh told me that our humorous repartee was chilly when her answer was dipped in the patronizing tone fondue, “Why, it’s a Unitard, of course; cold dogs are a reality. They’re all wearing them in Lincoln Park. But I suppose way up here in . . . in Roger’s Park . . . “ to which I interjected, “Lady, are you lost? This is Edgewater where, believe it or not, our dogs wear fur coats in winter and in summer we relish our hot dogs!”