I have been a believer-in- and goer-to- therapy on and off for, oh, fifteen years or so. I think of it as one of my most girly and metro- aspects of my man-self (along with yoga and my utter inability to carpent.) I have also been privileged to have had health insurance that paid for all but a fraction of that therapy. Would I have gone if I were paying a hundred bucks a shot or more? No way. Do I experience the epiphanies and gestalt-y moments that female friends experience in therapy? No, I don’t. I get to a certain point in whatever it is we’re discussing, where my therapist offers one more round, one more layer of “So, why to you think that is, Jamie?” (. . . that I like to look at pictures of soft, billowy breasts while masturbating, say [this is strictly hypothetical, of course].) and I zone out, disappear into the framed Ansel Adams snowy mountainscape on her wall, until she finally has to ask me again, and snap I tell her I don’t fucking know, I like it because everybody likes soft, billowy breasts, Jesus Christ let me alone! – I just can’t delve any further. Those walls beyond which I can’t proceed, (and I realize I’m about to generalize in a big way) are masculine in nature, and are what stop men from even going to therapy, let alone going deep into it.
The benefits of therapy, for me, have been cumulative and subtle as opposed to experiences that so many women I’ve known are able to open themselves to. But I do think therapy is worthwhile for me, for men. There’s just something about talking about your shit to someone who has no stake, who’s just a sounding board, that, in and of itself, is useful, in a similar way to how keeping a journal is useful. Anything beyond that, any spark of insight from the therapist herself, I always think of as gravy. (I write “herself” because I’ve only gone to women therapists, okay? Because I trust women more than men, that’s why, as I’ve probably mentioned in these pages. Just leave me be, I’m working on why that is . . . in therapy!)
I’m pretty sure that I’d never have met Dan or started this blog if it hadn’t been for therapy. As I’ve mentioned previously, we met over this World Wide Interweb in large part because Dan had read my essay, “Peep Show.” Without one therapist in particular, that essay would never have been written, and some major issues of mine re mannish stuff would never have been addressed. Here’s something from the follow-up to “Peep,” called, for want of a better title right now, "After," soon to make its debut here:
In June 2002, my therapist of six years was retiring from her practice, retiring quite young – around 50, I guessed – to pursue the sculpting career she’d abandoned long ago. My wife had left me eight months earlier (9/12/01, to be exact, that timing being just about her only unforgivable act ) – women were ditching me left and right. “Laura,” my shrink, was a native Californian, a small, attractive woman in her late mid-forties with freckles and blond hair with some pleasant grey sneaking in; she was thin and thoughtful, with a face that, while lined and angular, was still gentle. She had kind eyes and solid insights. During that final appointment, we were talking about one of my fundamental topics, porn and strippers, of course, and about their relationship to me, and my relationship to my mother and her feminism, and round and round we went, as ever. One of the main reasons I had originally gone to therapy was to address the shame and guilt I felt about my sexual predilections. Actually, that’s not quite right I went to therapy, in large part, to “cure” myself of said predilections/obsessions, of the need to get off by objectifying women through porn.
But this session was about closure (I had long since decided that a “cure” was not the solution any more than it’s the answer for a guiltily gay man) and we were focusing on my desire to write about all of the above. (The other major reason I started therapy was to rid myself of my hopeless procrastination. What I had succeeded in doing for much of my time in therapy was to neatly combine these disparate elements: I procrastinated about dealing with wanting to write about porn.) A dozen years and four therapists later, while the shame was not gone, it was markedly reduced, but the “adult” material remained, if less obsessively and tortuously so, a substantial part of my sexual life and identity, a part that I had come to, more or less, accept. During that last session, Laura and I talked about my progress over the years, about my plans for the future, for the writing. I told her that I was petrified, that any such writing, if done properly, would offend some people, alienate others, and, worst of all by far, expose me. As the session ended, I told her that I didn’t know if I could go through with it. Laura paused, I think pondering the uncharacteristically sweeping statement she was about to make, and the burden she was going to leave me with:
“It’s kind of your life’s work,” she said. It’s the last thing I remember her saying.