Probably. I’m not talking about kink now, or alt-sex or poly or any of those variations. Just by virtue of wearing your open-toed shoes, squeezing onto that disco floor, getting yourself waxed that time, or enjoying the touch of tongue to your private parts – depending on when and where you are, friend, you are a pervert. Totally perved out, by the look of you.
Pervert. What a lovely, useful word. A noun and a verb. Pervert is something to do and something to be, and it’s one of the worst insults you can hurl, with enormous sticking power in this day and age. We don’t have to ask Freud to explain it (though it never hurts), because we all know that the pervert’s error is flirting with the taboo, and he risks being cast out of the family, banned from the primeval village, kicked off the island.
It’s telling that “perversion” bears an incestuous relationship to other words with a lot of currency these days, words like subversion, conversion, and the irony-rich inversion, all circling around a Latinate tongue –- vertere: to turn, to turn from, to turn against, to turn toward.
But what are you turning from, toward, or against? Answer that question and you’ll know if you’re a member of the faithful, the faithless, or the unholy perverted. These are words about taking a stand, about position and about power. In the Middle Ages perversion turned you away from the church and toward false idols, just as subversion turned you away from loyalty and tradition, and conversion turned you back.
The “pervert” as a deviant in a sexual sense was popularized in the Victorian Era, aimed then, as it often is now, at homosexuality or other sex acts “contrary to nature.” In other words, acts that didn’t produce babies. Are you a pervert yet?
On-the-go magazine editors in the 1940s needed to save time, so they gave us the punchier “perv,” which I do appreciate as it is one of my favorite four-letter words.
But I’m avoiding the root of the problem, aren’t I? Are you a perv? You have a thing for your girlfriend’s shoes. You think anal is the shit. You have fantasies about being tied up, blindfolded and shutting the whole world out. You want someone to take you in hand for an hour or a night and punish you if you step out of line, which you are most certain to do. Are you one of the unwashed – one ofthem?
As usual, the meaning of this hot-button word is in the mouth and ear of the user. The sex-pos have adopted “perv” as their own, and it’s commonplace to hear us call each other pervert with a smile and a wink. Co-opting the slur has a long tradition, of course, so why should pervs be any different?
But the horror of the word remains. People who sexually abuse children and animals are called perverts, too, unfortunately. The word blurs the line between taboos with victims, and taboos without. I say we just call abusers what they are: mentally ill, or criminals.
Does that mean you can call me pervert? Well, are you winking and smiling? Perversion is perspective and perception, and, as history shows, a movable feast. I know you’re a pervert in your own way. Do you know it?