One day, I remember coming home from Catholic school with my younger brother, Earl, and stopping by Grandma's house. We had to be around 8 and 9 years old. After a big hug and kiss hello and some small talk about the school day, I made my way past the faded hallway curtain to Grandma's back bedroom, where the big TV was, as she prepared food for us to eat. I clicked on the television to Woody Woodpecker, or whatever cartoon happened to be on. As I walked back over to sit down on the bed, I noticed a stack of magazines sitting on a chair across the room. The glossy magazine on top read 'PLAYBOY' in big red lettering, and beneath the lettering a very friendly-looking, curvaceous, smiling white woman sat there invoking me to turn the pages and step into her realm. Instinct told me there were naked women stacked away in them there glossy pages, and a quick flip through confirmed all suspicions. While Grandma and Earl were engaged in conversation in the kitch! en, I strategically placed the girl y magazine underneath my Catholic school uniform and stealthily tiptoed my way to the privacy of the bathroom.
I remember sitting there on Grandma's toilet seat, flipping the pages and beating the meat. After a few minutes of gawking at pictures, I placed my tingling ear to the door. Hearing familial voices still up front, I quietly exited the bathroom, gingerly placed the magazine back in its original position, and stepped lively to the kitchen, eager to join the conversation.
I thought I was being slick, but unbeknownst to me, what had actually occurred was the beginning of years of addiction to pornography that would challenge, plague and pain me to the core of my being until well into my 20s.
Shortly thereafter regular reconnaissance missions around Grandma's apartment turned up hard-core pay dirt: explicitly graphic pornography in the form of magazines, video catalogs, sex toys, 'the works.' I don't remember thinking ill of my grandmother, as in, 'Damn, Grandma sho' is freaky.' I just concentrated on the naked thrill and excitement of seeing two human beings getting raw like sushi. (I would later learn that the majority of this porn paraphernalia belonged to my grandmother's then live-in boyfriend)
Even in those early days, there were times when I sensed something incorrect with my behavior. If everything were completely kosher...why feel a need to sneak around and be underhanded with it? I remember one time there was a 'glossy' laying out on Grandma's bed, so I picked it up and started eyeballing it in full view of her. Grandma's face said, 'Boy, if you turn one more page, you won't have a face to look through.' I gulped and put the scholarly text down. Shortly thereafter, all magazines were concealed - though, admittedly, it never took long to locate the hidden stash. Thinking back I can also recall awkward moments when Grandma would catch me with my hand in my pants and she'd say, 'Boy, I thought I told you to stop playing with yourself!'
Having attended an all-male, Catholic high school in Manhattan, I soon discovered a flourishing underground trade in X-rated videos. One of my best friends, Kenny, who attended a separate school, also had access to tapes, and by that time I had begun renting adult videos from a local store. The delivery boys from the video shop, most of whom were barely my age, paid little attention to my adolescence when I opened the door. Their primary focus was on a fat tip.
Kenny used to bring his VCR to my house and leave it for days on end. When my mother was home I'd tell her I was recording standard R-rated movies: Aliens, Ragtime, and the like. When she wasn't around I'd pop in the raunchy shirt and rerecord porno movies for hours. At that time, video tapes featuring black people were becoming more popular. Of course, I wanted to see black folk, but even back then I found the images disturbing, sexual fantasies with black women playing maids, or 'African savages,' were of color in extremely stereotypical roles, most often servicing white men. These images pierced on some level, but I never soul-searched long enough to really, truly understand the raw psychological assault that was taking place. After the tape played for a little while I'd find a way to deaden myself and ignore it. My mindset at the time focused on that fact that my boy Kenny and I had the ultimate hook-up! - which meant an abundant supply of porn! o tapes for trade on the open marke t at our respective (sacrosanct) schools.
It was in my personal attitudes toward women that I began to question more deeply my involvement with pornography. Probably my biggest source of cognitive dissonance arose from comparing the women I saw on video with the women in my life, particularly the black women of my family (who were by far the dominant role models of my childhood). The family women were independent, intelligent, warm, humorous, well-rounded human beings. The women portrayed on-screen, irrespective of race, were essentially objects for male pleasure. Personality-wise, they were either obsequious and servile, or cold, conniving opportunists. These two contrasting images of women - from my family and the video screen - never lined to focus in my mind.
I did notice that my attitude toward my first girlfriend fluctuated back and forth between these two extremes. While I admired her intelligence and humor, I loathed the manipulative aspect of her being. So sometimes I'd treat her like family, and other times I'd treat her like a video 'actress' by being cold, distant, distrustful. I remember once telling a friend of mine, partially in jest, that if my girlfriend kept acting up, I'd have to get a jar of grease and a stack of porno tapes to replace her ass. Thinking about comments such as this ultimately brought about greater realms of consciousness.
One time I was watching an X-rated tape. At the end of a sex scene, after the male had ejaculated, the woman with whom he was having sex, whom I had noticed had a severely disturbed expression on her face throughout the ordeal, broke down crying. The filmmakers had tried to edit it out and quickly cut to another scene. But I kept rewinding and watching this small part over and over again. She was definitely crying, and it wasn't from pleasure. I began to wonder whether this woman had been forced (either physically or financially) into doing the film. Or maybe she had been abused as a child, and that early sexual trauma had produced low self esteem that opened the door to her doing films. It occurred to me that the people whom I had blindly derived pleasure from over the years - and had objectified - may have in fact been actual human beings in pain. I though to myself, what kind of emotional or spiritual low point does one have to hit in order to make X-rated fi! lms or to work in the sex industry? And if that was the case, the idea of thriving on someone else's pain, subjugation or exploitation did not sit well with me, particularly as a black man understanding the insidious nature of this society (and how it so frequently thrives off of black people's pain, subjugation and exploitation).
My interest in pornography began to seriously wane. Sporadically, I'd watch, but after viewing a tape, oftentimes I'd destroy it rather than pass it on to friends. I did not want to consciously be responsible for promoting misogyny and blatant racism among my brothers, my peers.
Even with this new outlook and attitude, I still found that oftentimes when I was down, depressed, emotionally drained, I'd find my way back to frequenting porno shops along 42nd street, albeit at a greater cost to my spirit with each go 'round.
It was finally through the combination of meeting several extraordinary, revolutionary women in college and discussing my addiction with them (which in turn forced me to look at my behavior honestly), as well as entering into spiritual pacts with the Creator and summoning the discipline to actualize them, that I was finally able to break my addiction to pornography.
Years prior I had read that 'any addiction is tantamount to enslavement,' which I believe to be true. Having toppled my biggest addiction to date, my spirit could finally breather easier. But the breath is less sweet today knowing how many millions of men remain shackled to this very same addiction.
One of the most common questions asked is, 'Does repeated exposure to pornographic images of women lead men to misogynistic attitudes?' I would answer yes.
It is my belief that a man could not disrespect, abuse or rape a woman unless there was a preconceived notion in his mind that women were 'less than.' When media in general and pornography in particular emphasize a woman's body parts, imposed notions of her sexuality, or her physical appearance above all other qualities, when there is a de-emphasis of her intellect, her creativity, her human-ness, the stage is being set for a dangerous perception of 'less than,' of inferiority.
And this warped perception may in turn open the door to psychological, verbal or physical abuse.
The images of women promulgated in pornography today are the most blatantly degrading, hostile and sexist, and serve to denude all women of dignity. If we are serious about our advancement as a people, and human progress and evolution as a whole, we must rethink our negative, limited notions of womanhood, trace them back to their origins, and upon understanding, rebuild until we are finally fully conscious of the multi-dimensional, indescribable magic known to humanity as woman. For without her profound wisdom as a full and equal partner on the world stage, humanity is surely crippled at best - and doomed at worst.
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