Lez Get “Real” (“Psychologizing or Seeing-through‘”)

“The latest incarnation of Oedipus, the continued romance of Beauty and the Beast, stands this afternoon on the corner of Forty-second Street and Fifth Avenue, waiting for the traffic light to change.”[1]

The above quote from mythologist Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth could easily be applied to “the latest incarnations” of any number of gods, goddesses, heroes, and heroines walking passed us on today’s city streets. Aphrodite poses for her latest Facebook photos; Ares heads off to war in the workplace, his uniform a suit, his weapon a smartphone. Dionysus rocks his or her family room while playing Guitar Hero. And so on.

Certainly, the notion that in our lives we embody (or should embody) the archetypal energies of only one god or goddess is just as unhealthy and one-dimensional as it is to say that we embody none of them. The latter case in particular is indicative of a desire to hold on to a firmly and even sometimes rigidly created identity which declares “I am Chris Miller, son of so-and-so, youngest of four children, a Pennsylvanian, a teacher.”  I am my up-bringing and training and thus nothing but the sum of my life experiences.

One could argue that psychologist James Hillman (particularly in his Pulitzer Prize-nominated Re-Visioning Psychology) has waged an Ares-like war of his own on this type of one-sided ego-centric literalism:

“An ego’s specific characteristic, and its specific function, is to represent the literal view: it takes itself and its view for real. Literalism is an ego’s viewpoint; it means being locked into an ego. Ego psychology results from being trapped by the ego into its perspective: the other characters on the stage are merely characteristics, projections of mine. Only I am literally real. Our symptoms, however, can save us from this literalism…” [2]

The point here is not that our egos are unimportant but that they are only one of the characters on our soul’s stage. Our unwillingness to get to know the other “less important” characters means that they are not cultivated but repressed or as Hillman notes just as frequently expressed unconsciously in the form of symptoms such as neuroses and obsessive compulsive disorders, addictions, rage, anorexia, obesity, and more. In other words, our stubborn refusal to budge from what is “real” and “true,” aka “the literal,” hurts not only our egos, but our chance at a full and soulful experience of life.

One of several tools in Hillman’s arsenal for combating literalism is what he calls “the activity of psychologizing or ‘seeing-through’ events into their myths.” [3] Take for instance the recent very public “events” concerning the blog “Gay Girl in Damascus” and the lesbian online news website LezGetReal.com. In quick succession both blog and website were revealed to be run by men posing as gay women. That these two men, posing as women, occasionally worked with and perhaps even flirted with each other without knowing the other’s “real” identity probably has only been one-upped by Shakespeare — a fact already noted by others.[4]

However, side allusions to literature are perhaps no more insightful here than the claim that these men were engaging in their respective charades merely for the thrill of it. If we take these men at their word, something deeper and even mythic may very well have been working through them – in addition to whatever thrills they did experience. Here is what LezGetReal.com co-founder Julie Phineas had to say after learning that “Paula Brooks,” the other co-founder, is actually a man named Bill Graber:

“Thinking back on all we accomplished together, and how driven ‘Paula’ was to make a change in lesbian rights, I wondered if perhaps the hoax was a hoax!…You see ‘Paula’ was all about getting traffic to the site with breaking news and was a real piece of work once you got to know her…When I began to work with her I had a reverence for how well she collected news and I learned a lot of what I know now about web development from ‘Paula Brooks.’” [5]

And this is what the “Gay Girl in Damascus,” or Tom MacMaster, had to say for “herself”:

“It started innocently enough without any intention whatsoever of creating a massive hoax or duping the world. Ever since I was a child, I’ve wanted to write fiction but, when my first attempts met with universal rejection, I took a more serious look at my own work and I realized that I could not write conversation in a natural way nor could I convincingly write characters who weren’t me.”

He continues:

“So, I invented her. First, she was just a name. Amina Arraf. She commented on blogs and talkbacks on news-sites. Eventually, I set up an email for her. She joined the same lists I was already on and posted responses in her name. And, almost immediately, friendly and solicitous comments on mine appeared. It was intriguing . . . Amina came alive. I could hear her ‘voice’ and that voice and personality were clear and strong . . . Amina was clever and fun and had a story and a voice and I started writing it, almost as though she were dictating to me. Some of her details were mine, some were those of a dozen other friends borrowed liberally, others were purely ‘her’ from the get go.”[6]

Multiple words as well as ideas in these and other related articles are quite telling. Words like “hoax,” “dupe,” “duplicity,” “innocently,” “clever,” and “borrowed liberally”; ideas such as the creation of a fiction and the usage of the same to communicate or “traffic” important news.[7] Finally, combined with the more general motifs of gender reversal or confusion and the disguising of one’s identity so as to accomplish something one might otherwise not be able to, we return to the above Campbell and Hillman quotes with the following conclusion: once these recent events are psychologized or “seen through,” we discover their underlying myth is the “latest incarnation” of that mischief-making world-transformer extraordinaire, the Greek god Hermes.

In fact, one of the best resources for learning more on other recent incarnations of Hermes is Lewis Hyde’s Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art. Hyde does an incomparable job of conveying how Hermes and other trickster figures embody an energy vital not only to our survival but to our growth as individuals and as a collective. Referencing another classic trickster figure, the West African trickster Legba, Hyde writes that the trickster has been described as “a ‘mediator’ who works ‘by means of a lie that is really a truth, a deception that is in fact a revelation.’”[8] The aforementioned quotes about Bill Graber and from Tom MacMaster suggest that they too to a large degree were attempting to use their hermetic disguises in a mediating role.

Another of the many examples noted by Hyde which links these two men with Hermes is that they both wore “a cloak of shamelessness”:

“The hooks of shame can find no purchase on this lad with the trick shoes. He refuses absolutely the picture of the world implied by his elders’ morality, and refuses also the hierarchy that goes with it. Where others might sit quietly, he improvises a new song, ‘the way teenagers sing out insults at a fair.’”[9]

Mythfire is not alone in suggesting that Graber and MacMaster’s “insults” (much less their other comments and observations) most likely would not have been heard so widely or effectively had they not donned their feminine alter egos. [10]

Finally, tricksters by definition cross boundaries and break rules. From time to time they need to be reminded why the boundaries and rules are there; just as frequently they reveal the boundaries and rules to be fluid and malleable if not completely contrived or outdated. Toward this end, the damage inflicted by these two present cases of trickery is under debate.[11] Perhaps we will find that we do not have to bridle with Apollonian indignation at having been duped; instead, we can choose to laugh along with Zeus at Hermes’ earnest and incorrigible impudence as well as his unparalleled creativity.

More importantly, if we learn to “see through” these events to their mythic underpinnings, we may just discover that with his crafty shenanigans Hermes has not only made us feel but via feeling has educated us regarding that which is really “real,” in this case equality among men and women regardless of sexual orientation. LezGetReal.com’s Bill Graber has declared that “Paula the Surf Mom is officially dead. Let’s just say she had a surfing accident and died.”[12] Clearly, if we become wiser for having been in her presence, then “Paula” most certainly will not have died in vain.

Or perhaps we might just get lucky at some future date: like another modern day trickster, i.e., Bart Simpson with his skateboard, “Paula” will somehow resurrect herself, dust off her surfboard, and ride those breaks again.


Next Tuesday: “Scooter and the Big Man”

[1] Campbell, Joseph with Bill Moyers. The Power of Myth. Ed. Betty Sue Flowers. New York: Doubleday, 1988: xiii.

[2] Hillman, James. Re-Visioning Psychology. New York: HarperPerennial, 1975:48.

[3] Ibid., 24.

[6] http://damascusgaygirl.blogspot.com/. Entry dated June 13, 2011.

[7] This careful creation of fictions (most obviously that of “Gay Girl in Damascus”) adds new meaning to the verb “damask,” which is defined as “to weave or adorn with elaborate design, as damask cloth” and itself originated as “cloth from Damascus.”

[8] Hyde, Lewis. Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art. New York: North Point Press, 1998: 72. Compare this quote with Hillman: “As truths are the fictions of the rational soul, fictions are the truths of the imaginal” (Re-Visioning 152). Also, another edition of Hyde’s Trickster bears the suggestive subtitle: How the Disruptive Imagination Creates Culture.

[9] Ibid., 213.

[10] In his Slate commentary, Jack Shafer writes: “Both MacMaster and Graber defend their impersonations on the grounds that, had they voiced the same opinions as men, readers wouldn’t have taken them seriously. As much as I hate to agree with frauds, they’re likely right. MacMaster’s observations on Syria’s mayhem would have been ignored if readers had known he was an American guy in Scotland. And what lesbian among us would have heeded Graber’s “Gay Girl’s View on the World,” the site’s motto, if informed that the gay girl doing the viewing was a he?” (http://www.slate.com/id/2296930/).

[11] At the same time that she complains about having been “duped,” another contributor to LezGetReal.com writes that “There’s debate over the extent of damage the deceptions crafted by McMasters and Graber have caused.”(http://www.pghlesbian.com/blog/_archives/2011/6/18/4840868.html)

[12] http://juliephineas.com/?p=2599. Also, apropos of the present topic, Hillman in Healing Fiction and Rafael Lopez-Pedraza in Hermes and His Children identify the equality of men and women as a key characteristic of what they term “hermaphroditic consciousness.”

This entry was posted in Archetypal Psychology, Culture, Depth Psychology, Fundamentalism/Literalism, Myth, Trickster. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Lez Get “Real” (“Psychologizing or Seeing-through‘”)

  1. Bill Graber says:

    I would not count on a Paula resurrection any time soon….

    I am finding it much easier to just be Bill Graber.

  2. Bill Graber says:

    Its really is quite a lot of work to be mythological figure…. and I so get why the Olympians retired.

  3. Chris says:

    No worries, Bill. Some other “Hermes” or “Paula” will most assuredly step in and, as Hyde puts it, “rearticulate the cosmos” as needed and in his/her own inimitable way. — Chris

  4. Bill Graber says:

    I really view Paula Brooks as more of a Donnie Brasco type character. She was constructed to learn, and then take what she had learned to become an agent for real time changes.

    I created a “legend” for her only so much as to give her cover from real time contact (her deafness and the fact she was always in a relationship). That “legend” then allowed her unquestioned free access to the community she was working in and entry into the political discussion.

    As a lesbian, Paula had to know how to “talk the talk”, so initially she had to spend time talking, and more importantly listening real-life lesbians. She was always taking notes on their actions and words.

    I also made her into a person that would be respected in her chosen community (highly educated, well read, with a wealth of eclectic life experience, and always outspoken), so she could take what she had learned and then credibly present her learned information, letting her argue in a way that had real effect on the ongoing political discussions involving LGBT rights and in particular, the repeal of DADT.

    In the course of her 3 year run, she also managed to establish well placed contacts in the DoD, two Senatorial, three house campaigns and in the White House Press Office. She was, as well, able to develop good contacts at a major cable news network…. which I’d say was pretty good for a make believe lesbian activist blogger.

    As a cautionary note, we should all be glad her cause was LGBT rights and that she was not a North Korean spy fishing around for defense secrets. My experience says if that was her goal, she could have achieved it, because there were plenty of people willing to give her information.

  5. Chris says:

    Quite sophisticated and very interesting, Bill. Thanks for the insight. I would only comment on the last paragraph. The Hermes-like characters I have known generally misjudge their own capabilities, thinking they can get away with anything — until they are proven wrong. Even then they are often so busy with their next “project” that they don’t acknowledge or “remember” that they were proven wrong with the last. Oh well.

    That is to say, I am not quite as confident as your comment suggests you might be in Paula’s ability to engage in nefarious spying if she had chosen thus. The obstacles to this type of subterfuge are higher and more numerous. But then again it does happen, so…

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