Friday, April 26, 2019

Killing Eve and Bisexual Sociopaths

When the Confessions book came out, the publicist from the publisher asked me if there were any niche audiences that might be interested in the book. I told her that the gay/bisexual community might be interested, because they (especially at the time, in somewhat a dearth of gay themed books and other media) seemed to highlight anything with a touch of gay. I gave the publicist a list of such media outlets, but nothing seemed to come of them, which surprised me then, although it wouldn't surprise me now. The publicist basically shut down my inquiry, but reading between the lines I could see that they weren't interested in the sociopath angle.

Why the big reluctance to have homosexuality or bisexuality associated with sociopaths? I'm a little loose on the facts here so feel free to verify sources, but homosexuality was not only considered a mental health disorder until about the middle of the last century (unless the homosexual acts were done as part of an incarceration or military service, which was considered something that non-disordered people would get up to in those situations as well) -- it was also associated for a time with psychopathy. In my quick and dirty searches for this association, I found a reference in Hervey Cleckley's The Mask of Sanity wikipedia page: "He also notes he no longer considers that homosexuality should be classed as sexual psychopathy, on the grounds that many homosexuals seem to be able to live productive lives in society." But does say that sociopaths often show deviant behavior, and several of his case study subjects appear to be bisexual. (Click on the homosexuality link at the bottom of this article to read more).

Enter the BBC drama "Killing Eve," which features a bisexual sociopath that actually is so accurately portrayed that I'm 90% sure that the writers have done decent amounts of research, including reading the Confessions book? Here's why I think so, without too many spoilers. In Season 2, Episode 1 the sociopath is in the hospital with a serious condition. Her roommate says she's not looking too good and the sociopath starts responding she's fine and then passes out. This is almost identical to what happened to me on the 10th day of a ruptured appendix when nurses came back with my lab results, told me that my white blood cell count was through the roof and that I needed to immediately go to the hospital, asked me if I needed to sit down, I said I was fine then promptly passed out. When I came to everyone was freaking out and threatening to call an ambulance. My dad talked them down from it, saying that we were only blocks from the hospital and it would be quicker (and, I'm sure he also thought, infinitely cheaper without health insurance).

But how do people who identify as gay or bisexual love the fact that the character is both sociopathic and bisexual? (Which given the dozen plus sociopaths I've met in the past year or so is quite common in the sociopathic community, even if the reverse may not be true.) Not too well. A Buzz Feed writer complains (some spoiler-esque parts here): "Villanelle is bisexual, and for all the nuance we see around femininity and desire, Villanelle’s bisexuality is portrayed in a way that is both tired and damaging. Her need for sex with multiple genders is tied to her depraved and insatiable appetite, which she is only able to feed because of her total lack of a moral compass."

But I think the Buzz Feed writer actually gets it mostly wrong here. The sociopath character is not portrayed as being inherently depraved or having an insatiable appetite at all, I didn't think. In fact, if anything, she seems to have a classic sociopathic sort of indifference to sex. Even when she finally connects with the object of her obsession, there's no sex, there's just the visceral physical presence of the two. A lot of eye contact! And the Buzz Feed author goes on to describe not just this character but other classic sociopathic bisexual characters (e.g. Frank Underwood) with their voracious appetites that they can't control -- because a character eats ribs for breakfast? Come on. This is the trope that is tired, the sociopath whose appetites drive him or her to commit greater and greater atrocities. Sociopaths aren't engaged enough in the world for all of that. They're not driven by their appetites, so much as (aimlessly) seizing upon anything that intrigues them for longer than a moment, and as a remedy from the boredom that so often plagues them.

I get it that not all bisexuals are sociopaths, but I don't think these characters are chosen in these narratives because they're bisexual, but rather because they're sociopaths. And of course not all sociopaths are killers. But again, I guess if you need a killer for a narrative, a sociopath is a common choice for a reason -- because they're interesting and can be compelling without being offputting for the audience about that whole murderer thing. And if you're going to choose a sociopath character, accuracy demands that there's a good chance they're either bisexual or you'll see some other quirky features about the way they think about, desire, and engage in sex. Because sociopaths in real life don't have normal sex with all of the emotional underpinnings and awareness or acknowledgment of the intimacy of the act with another person. In my experience, they think of sex a lot like they think of exercising regularly or peeing or taking their boss up on that invitation for dinner with the family -- probably a good idea to do and maybe even in a certain way necessary and desirable. 

Friday, April 12, 2019

Transgressions vs. Sins and Differences in Motivations

This was also sent to me by a reader, and I found it to be a pretty interesting and valid distinction between the dark triads sociopathy, narcissism, and machiavellianism. I think that people can be surprised at why people do the things that they do. For instance, once sociopath recently told me about how when she was 21 years old, she got a job at a bar so she could get better tips than at her previous restaurant job. She only lasted two weekends because she was giving away free drinks (she says she grossly underestimated their ability to track alcohol sales) and stealing tips from other servers. I immediately related to this a sort of naïvety about the world, a childlike innocence.

I told this story to a lawyer friend of mine and immediately likened it to the way I was with my first law job, in which I exploited some of the weaknesses of that system in similar sorts of ways and ways that were equally unappreciated by my employers. My friend was scandalized by the free drinks and tip stealing, but responded to my story "who hasn't done that?" I thought this was an interesting response. Why? Is it just stealing from the server's? But a lot of servers split tips because of things like some people getting better areas of the restaurant, etc. In fact, this was exactly what was happening to the sociopath server. But my friend thought that my sketchiness was totally normal, and even that my employer probably had it coming or that was just part of the employment deal, whereas she was disturbed by the other story and thought there couldn't be any other explanation for the behavior other than maliciousness and greed.

I kept trying to give her different analogies to help her understand that it was really malicious, and wasn't even really this overwhelming sense of greed, so much as a childish way of exploiting things. I remember once being at Disneyland when I was aged 8 or 9. I was old enough to realize that lines were long and thought of the lines more like a multilane freeway than a static order of things, so I kept pushing forward in line until these people got very angry at me and said that no matter my physical position ahead of them, they were going to still ride the lines before me. Mine was a breach of a rule, yes, but I don't see it as a moral failing.

My theology has a word for the breach without moral failing, "transgression". You have transgressed a law, although you may not have necessarily sinned because you didn't have a sinful heart (so to speak) when you did the thing. Although cutting ahead of people in line did hurt others, and that was clear to me, I didn't understand it to be an unfair hurt. When I get off the plane and walk faster than others to the customs lines, that's also sort of like cutting in line, but we don't think of it that way. We don't have a sense of the line starting from the moment of the plane, so it's a fair exploitation of the system. It of course is hurting others, people for instance who have young children or a disability and cannot walk as fast and have to perhaps wait longer in line than I do. Or I may use scarce resources before others do. I'm going to camp at a location this summer that requires a permit. By me using the spot, someone else is not able to use that spot. That also is prioritizing myself at the expense of others.

I don't know. I have a strong sense of there being a distinction in the transgression behaviors that sociopaths engage in at the expense of others in which there's not really an intent to harm (even though there is an understanding that there will be harm), so there's no malice, vs. the sort of behavior that one might correctly classify sin.

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