Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A bit of context before we begin

 There's something about my curiosity and my willingness to interact with people without judgment that puts me in situations in which most people would never find themselves. EVER.

Let me explain. I am a cultural anthropologist in the truest sense of the word. I am most exhilarated, intrigued, and satisfied by the pursuit of knowledge about people. More specifically, I never tire of learning about how people experience their lives. When someone goes to church, I want to know what they are feeling, what they are thinking, how they understand the experience, why they go, who and what they believe. The religion itself is only of interest to me insomuch as it pertains to the person's individual existence and cognition of that experience.

This can apply to anything. Body modification is a great example of this, and was an interest that particularly scared my parents. Although I have ear piercings and 2 tattoos, I am hardly what would be considered a true body modification "insider." However, I've spent hours doing research online for the sheer fun of it - photos, anecdotes, glossaries of body modification terminology. My father, worried that I was about to show up with a forked tongue and some sort of amputation (yes, those do exist as a more extreme version of body modification), gingerly asked me one day why I was so enthralled. I simply said that I wanted to know why.

Why these people show such whole-hearted and enthusiastic devotion to something that can be seen as destructive to the body. I knew from my limited experience the rush that one can feel, and the strength of knowing what you can survive through, but there were sides of it that I couldn't even begin to understand. How does a person find themselves desperately feeling the need to rid themselves of a body part? What is the personal significance of scars left behind after scarification? What does a person tell themselves as their skin is burning from the red-hot brand?

I don't know how many of you in particular would just say, "Who cares? They're crazy!" I've gotten enough weird looks to realize that my sincere interest is quite out of the ordinary. Particularly since I tend to gravitate towards counter-culture, rather than understanding the ways in which cultural norms are understood and upheld in the general population. Finding ways in which people attempt to justify and normalize out-of-the-ordinary behavior is fascinating to me. The lengths that people will go to in order to make their "atypical" actions mimic the outside norms is extreme and seemingly superfluous, and yet is essential to their ability to comfortably express themselves.

Perhaps the point at which I truly separate myself from the normally curious population comes with my attempts to entrench myself in my studies. Anthropology's foundation is deeply rooted in participant-observation. So when I am fascinated by something, I find ways to observe, talk to the people involved, and and try to understand on a more personal level what is happening around me. Participation is generally my favorite part of anthropology. You can ask questions until your face turns blue, but it is only in putting ourselves in the same situation as those we are researching that we can hope to understand their words fully. Normally this proves no challenge for me. I jump in head-first to almost any situation. However, the work I'm doing now, you will quickly see, creates an intriguing issue when it comes to participation. 

Why? Because I have gotten myself started on research into sex parties.  Not sex toy parties. Sex parties. As one can imagine, participation in these events creates a certain threat to my personal and moral boundaries. Luckily, at least for the time being, I have found a way to participate as much as humanly possible without having to seriously rethink my own sense of self. This way... is Amanda Payne.

Up next: The Birth of Amanda Payne, Plain Jane

- Amanda

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