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NIA ABRAM: Have you ever thought about the connection between your political identity and your very personal pleasure identity? Join me on the politics of pleasure as we explore all these topics and more.
ELIZA MOTT: Reach within don’t reach without. Stay inside of yourself and develop…But to me I’ve interpreted that as I put so much of my worth on exterior things and being what somebody else wants you to be or what you think they want you to be. And they don’t think about you that much. And not in a bad way, just you’re not the center of the world, but I think yeah what is what is inside is what’s going to make your outside like be what it needs to be and not necessarily what you want.
NIA ABRAM: That was our first guest Eliza Mott a dear and longtime friend of mine. Someone who I’ve spent many a late night up talking to about these very topics. About how pleasure and identity and sex and sexuality and desire all overlap. And she’s someone who’s trained in trauma-informed care and used to beAnd she’s someone who is trained and trauma-informed care and youth development. She’s also on her way to pursuing an art therapy degree. She’s someone who has thought critically about sex and sexuality in her life and she and I actually used to work on a show together in college called Relations which was actually a community-led play about sex and sexuality. So I consider her someone who I feel comfortable with, someone who has a certain level of expertise in thinking and talking about these subjects.
So to dive really into what we’re talking about this episode before we have the full interview of her played, we really want to understand what the connection is between our political identity and our you know very private sexual identities. I think oftentimes we overlook the link between these two things. We view sex as this private act and you know our political identities as this very public thing that we’re moving through, right. It’s our race, it’s our sex, age so all of these different factors that typically we associate and know that impact things like our housing our income our schooling, but when do we ever sit down and think about how these aspects of our political identity affect how we experience pleasure? How we experience and access something that makes us feel good? Those are all things that Eliza does a great job at talking about this. Up next you can hear her interview.
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NIA ABRAM: I guess my first question is really going back to those kind of first moments in which you are figuring out what you like sexually or even figuring out that you maybe would want to be submissive, was that a decision or is that just something that you went along with because it was expected of you?
ELIZA MOTT: Cool so i think my i mean my sexual identity is obviously, uhm I mean obvious might not be the right word but is wrapped up in being a white person growing up in a white culture. Like a very specific coastal conservative upper-middle class community in like [pause] not the deep south but you’re below the Mason-Dixon in terms of Maryland or Severna Park (where Eliza is from) in a town that is close to the naval academy. So i think the presence of the settler colonial binaries that are set up in that particular type of hegemony uhm…
NIA ABRAM: What does hegemony mean? For the layperson. I think it’s an appropriate term, but just to clarify
ELIZA MOTT: Uhm so the type of sameness….I don’t know if I’m going to give you a perfect definition
NIA ABRAM: Yeah, yeah.
ELIZA MOTT: But the type of sameness that exists in a culture that presumes a certain identity or personhood as that which could be applied to everyone. Uhm and not only can be applied, but is the “correct”
NIA ABRAM: Yes the default
ELIZA MOTT: Yep or dominant person. So this idea of “normal” being the white cis heteronormative couple that inlcudes a man that is gendered as a man and woman that is gendered as a woman, identifies as a woman. Uhm and I think inside of that there’s the passivity that comes, or like the passive aggression that comes with white womanhood. Uhm as well as the submission and more of that sort of serving of the man and defaulting to a man. Which in the culture that I grew up, which has the northeastern sort of presence of lacrosse and that particular type of preppiness, and me being a white woman as someone who could pass in, I could be a part, I am welcomed to that. Uhmm and kind of getting caught in those trappings where I think very much because I was a part of that culture but didn’t feel comfortable, because I didn’t fully identify uhm with my queerness which I didn’t even know was a possibility, or from a very young age knew and felt was wrong. Uhm so i did something that I think many people who uhm are attracted to most people… or I guess I would say bisexual…I was like “Oh don’t really wanna kiss her, like that’s not what that is.” *laughs*
NIA ABRAM: *laughs along*
ELIZA MOTT: *continues with a satirical voice* “I just am horny”
NIA ABRAM: Haha yep “we’re just friends”
ELIZA MOTT: “I just think she’s pretty, like that has nothing to do with me” like especially being in third grade being like, “I need to stop” like girls are getting titties, like what does mean.
NIA ABRAM: *laughs*
ELIZA MOTT: and being like “I’m just staring because I’m curious and we’re all going through this proc-” like even then, knowing that there’s something weird or off about me and something weird or off meaning something culturally wrong. And uhmm that kind of continuing with a culmination of me living in a place that falls into a particular sort of dynamic where it’s a high pressure school with a lot of white wealthy kids and the prevalence of eating disorders is uhm I mean common in many high schools in many cultures and many dynamics, uhm but I felt it in that particular space. Because of this tendency within those lacrosse dynamics, or preppy school dynamics where you have this standard of beauty, which would fall within hegemony, of a white thin woman uhm who is cute in particular ways. I think also because Iw as tall I knew I was bigger in a way that I wasn’t supposed to be.
NIA ABRAM: Mhmm
ELIZA MOTT: And because I was thin that was cool, like I was taking up space, but it was still different, so I knew I had to maintain that thinness so I developed an eating disorder, anorexia, depression and other things. Uhm and those are very much connected to my sexuality in a way that I didn’t really identify until recently. Uhm they’re also wrapped up in my Irish Catholic identity.
NIA ABRAM: Mhmm
ELIZA MOTT: Not in a way that is super overt uhm because I didn’t go to church all the time or I didn’t do those things, but guilt was really present.
NIA ABRAM: And shame I feel like is very apart of Catholicism
ELIZA MOTT: yeah and shame mhm and just like hiding and things not being talked about while really traumatic or violent things are happening, is also so wrapped up in whiteness as well as far as Irish Catholicism and I mean definitely the Catholic church, but so like when it came to masturbation as a kid I felt really guilty, and I was like “if my family members are dead and they are watching over me…” *speaking comedically*
NIA ABRAM: *bursts out laughing* you think people are rolling over in their graves like “Eliza’s masturbating” *uses a finger-wagging tone*
ELIZA MOTT: *laughing* No! No! Worse than that! Like if they’re dead and they’re watching over me..they’re watching me right now!
NIA ABRAM: OH MY GOD! *continues laughing*
ELIZA MOTT: So I was like “Oh my god I gotta stop. This is the last time. This won’t happen again. I promise.” Again just the amount of guilt and pressure, and then also this restriction being a really overwhelming thing that I was doing and engaging in, in a really unhealthy way uhm that had to do with my anorexia and this feeling that I couldn’t be allowed – like I had to be this very specific thing. Uhm and because I am – and those specific things being tied to hegemony in the sense that like I had to be straight I had to show up in my particular whiteness in particular way, uhm that being submissive, that being all these other things in relationship to men. Uhm and those didn’t make sense, but I couldn’t remove myself like I literally live with my family and I’m like not running away so that’s not a thing that’s happening. Uhm but… and then feeling shame for all these different layers of who I was, translated into an embodied practice or ritual of restriction when it came to food. But then what I’ve realized now is that it also meant having all of these things translated to restricting pleasure.
NIA ABRAM: Mmmm
ELIZA MOTT: And so pleasure not necessarily being always sex but i think…
NIA ABRAM: Things that feel good
ELIZA MOTT: Yeah, things that feel good. And like now being like, I can have a sexual experience but it doesn’t have to be all these really intense committed things. Uhm and I am a deeply feeling person so engaging with someone is going to feel intense but I think that is amplified by this pressure of not acknowledging how deeply I’m committed – I’ve internalized maybe? The binary of if I am with someone sexually, so maybe the Catholicism also coming out in that way, then it also has to mean something deep versus like it can also just be pleasurable and like all these other things can be negotiated, but it doesn’t necessarily mean I have to commit in all these other ways.
NIA ABRAM: We’ve definitely talked about some great stuff, and I’d love to unpack more things, but for the sake of brevity, if there’s… knowing what you know now, and you’ve been through alot, you’ve clearly reflected a lot. You’ve taken the time to really sit down and understand what’s going on within yourself. What would you tell your childhood self, even like your college self when you’re in that mode of discovery, what would tell yourself to…
ELIZA MOTT: Relax
NIA ABRAM: yeah to relax yourself, or make yourself feel better, or just something you wish you had known in that moment
ELIZA MOTT: I think “relax” would literally be something I would tell myself. In the sense that I…just like relax. Like it’s gunna be okay. Uhm nothing is as high stakes as it feels right now. Like it’s gunna unfold the way it’s gunna unfold. Uhm but..it would be a smoother process if you embrace and really look at the things that you’re looking away from. Uhm and those things…all your ‘I don’t knows’ have answers. *laughing* Your ‘I don’t knows’ are just things you don’t wanna say yet, but you do know. All the answers are inside of you. And you don’t have to tell anyone or say it out loud yet, but you need to start speaking to yourself. Uhm and I think always for myself going forward now and also in the past is uhm reach within, don’t reach without. Stay inside yourself and develop.
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NIA ABRAM: That was an amazing interview with Eliza Mott. Thank you so much for listening and tuning. Definitely feel free to subscribe to the show if you liked what you heard. Also make sure to leave a review on Apple Podcast to make sure that we can get found and seen by other people who also excited about talking about these things. Check us out on our website, ThePoliticsofPleasurePodcast.com. And feel free to like us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook we are @pleasurepoliticspodcast. Thanks for listening. See you next time.
CW: Eating disorder, anorexia, depression
This week’s guest is Eliza Mott. She is a longtime friend, artist, former youth educator. She’s trained in trauma informed care and youth development.
She tells us about her experience growing up in a conservative environment as she struggled with an eating disorder and how this has shaped her relationship with pleasure.