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I write books about kingship.
In my novels, men find the truest, most glorious versions of themselves beneath mountains of shit. They endure their worst nightmares for the possibility to grow into someone amazing. To win his kingship, the hero in each book must confront his unique shadow. In these tales, I speak at some length about the shadow, how its damage manifests in life when we ignore its strength.
Our MM community has been struggling through yet another not-who-they-said-they-were revelation, and while plenty of voices urge us not to dwell—to ignore our hurt feelings and ignore the community consequences as we race toward insta-forgiveness—I think it’s healthy to discuss the deception, to see what we can learn. I have no intention of raking the deceiver over the coals or rehashing what was revealed. That’s been done. Also, I will not urge anyone toward forgiveness. Not deliberately, anyway. Forgive, don’t forgive, forgive six months from now, never forgive…each of us must take that journey inside ourselves. No, I want to discuss the shadow archetypes behind a deception like this. In doing so, perhaps there is something to learn about ourselves and our community.
In my fiction, I usually analyze the four masculine archetypes (king, warrior, lover, and magician) but the deceiver in this case—whom I will refer to as Thorny—is a woman. The masculine archetypes have corresponding female counterparts: queen, amazon, lover, crone (some sources define many more than four archetypes, but I’ll just work with these four today). There’s so much overlap in the male and female shadow archetypes, I’m convinced this is not a woman-issue. To me, this feels like a “person acting in deep shadow” issue.
For example, the shadow magician—male or female version—could pull off a deception on this scale. The shadow magician knows how to create realities, inventing believable stories from half-truths. (Isn’t this what writers do? Exercise the magician inside each of us to create believable worlds?) The shadow magician’s gift for creating worlds is much more manipulative its creative, golden counterpart. The shadow crone intuits what kind of story you most want to hear and tells exactly that story. The shadow magician understands human weaknesses—and human trust—so well, that he or she can dance with reality and you get swept along in the lies.
But why? Why would the shadow magician go to such lengths to invent Thorny’s elaborate world with a half-dozen primary characters and a number of supporting roles? Why create overlapping lives that span years of self-revelation and growth? Why invent a love life for an aging grandmother? Who drives such behavior?
The shadow lover.
The shadow lover has needs that are not being met. Well, that’s not fair. The lover has needs that aren’t being met: love, intimacy, connection. The golden lover—the better part of ourselves—says, “I’m not getting enough intimacy in my life. To get more of what I need, I need to grow the relationships in my life.” The shadow lover says, “Or…I could get all that intimacy in faster, more intense ways.” Think of it like this: In a monogamous relationship, the golden lover says, “I’m not feeling intimacy and connection with my partner. I need to make some changes so we find that flow between us again.” The shadow lover says, “I’m not getting what I need at home. I’m going to find it elsewhere, cheating if necessary.”
However, it’s not always so clear-cut, so instantly recognizable as, “I’m going to cheat.” The shadow lover might enjoy a little harmless flirting at first. The innuendo, the smiles, the casual touch. It feels good to be desired and sexy. The need for that energy keeps building. The flirting intensifies. Suddenly, a line is crossed and the person is surprised. “I never meant it to go this far!”
I wonder if that’s what happened with Thorny.
In her final explanation, Thorny said, “I never meant to hurt anybody…” I don’t doubt that’s true. The shadow parts of ourselves rarely start out saying, “I will now begin hurting people.” Shadow emerges in the attempt to get a basic need met.
When you feed your shadow—even a teensy, tiny bit—the shadow wants more. Just a little more. Just give me a tiny bit more of the good feeling that came so easily. But the shadow’s appetite is insatiable. If ten people adore you online, wouldn’t fifty people feel better? If you create a fiction around your life and thirty people pour out their compassion and sympathy toward you, wouldn’t it feel amazing to have one hundred people pour out their love?
I never meant to hurt anybody.
This is what shadow does.
Also in her goodbye post, Thorny said, “I loved bringing sunshine to your lives as you read about him. I loved supporting you offline and how you supported me in return. Though he was a character, he was always more me than fictional. They all were.”
Of course they felt real. She poured her intimate heart into fictional characters and through them got her very real needs met. Of course that feels real! She ignored the part of respecting the other person—and their right to interact with real people—but her feelings were real. The shadow lover rarely understands why someone else is upset. For the shadow lover, it’s all about me and my needs, my feelings. “Why can’t you understand that?”
I found it fascinating that in the final post, Thorny said people were persecuting her, threatening her in the real world. I saw two dozen response comments indignantly supporting her, saying, “Cyberstalking is just WRONG. You don’t deserve this.”
I had to shake my head. The shadow lover simply cannot turn off that intense desire to be fed. When the Thorny fiction fell apart, another fiction replaced it, one that was sure to create sympathy and empathy for someone who was currently experiencing a lot of pain. We can all agree cyberstalking or threatening someone in the real world is wrong. However, I’ve seen zero evidence this actually occurred. None. The shadow lover is insatiable. Even Thorny’s swan song had to appeal one last time for love and support. Tons of people responded just as (I imagine) Thorny had hoped. With kindness and compassion.
So, who permits this? What part of “you” thinks this behavior is all right—to take such severe actions to get what you want? The shadow lover is welcome to want what it wants…but who gives the blessing to act it out?
The shadow queen.
The shadow king.
This shadow regent says, “For convenience sake, I’ll just give the character a love interest so I don’t have to endure flirting with men online.” The shadow lover is fed immensely by everyone “ooo-ing” and “awwww-ing” over their smexy relationship. After the novelty wears off and the shadow lover hungers to be fed again, the queen’s voice says, “I’ll add a character who is a wounded war vet to draw attention to an important cause. What I’m doing is practically a public service.”
The shadow lover insatiably wants.
The shadow magician brilliantly executes.
But it’s the shadow king/queen who bestows permission. He or she thinks it’s okay because, “I’m doing this for the people.”
At some point, the deceiver—if she or he has a soul—says, “This is nuts. What I’ve done is wrong. I’m lying to people who trust me. I have to come clean.”
Enter the shadow warrior/amazon. The shadow amazon gets angry. “Are you fucking nuts? You can’t admit this is all a lie—they’ll crucify you. You’ll devastate them. The people need this ray of sunshine. No. You will keep up this deception. You will see this through. You will not let go. In fact, maybe you need to build this world further.”
The shadow queen says, “Okay, let’s have Thorny and Jazz get married.”
The shadow lover says, “Ooo, yes. How about a double-wedding with Carter and Alec?”
The shadow magician says, “I can make that happen. We can set up a webpage where people can donate money and gifts.”
Perhaps the golden queen interjects at this point and says, “Gifts? Wait, wait, that’s going too far…”
The shadow lover says, “Ooo! Presents! YES! PRESENTS! Presents are a symbol of love, and I need love!”
The shadow queen says, “Golden queen, you’re overruled. It might look suspicious if we don’t. Everyone accepts presents at their wedding.”
All four shadow archetypes contribute to tearing down the very best inside a person. Undoubtedly, the psychology behind this level of deception is more complex than this. I haven’t even tailored it to the individual who perpetuated these lies. But once you understand how archetypes operate, you get a little insight into the ways those internal conversations probably flowed.
When a lie like this is uncovered, the deceiver usually offers this as an explanation: “It was a dark time in my life.” Yes, undoubtedly. So? Dark times happen in everyone’s lives. How we respond to those dark times—with our shadow or our gold—is what makes us unique. A massive, years-long deception like Thorny’s may begin simply and without true malice during a dark time, but when shadow starts taking over, it doesn’t stop. It can’t. Lies beget more lies. The network to support the lies builds. Thorny’s deception lasted five years. Was the entire five years “a dark time?”
But hey, that’s on Thorny.
What about us?
How did we—as a community—contribute to this situation? Don’t get me wrong, we are in no way responsible for Thorny’s actions. But did we make it easier for her to manipulate us? (I’d like to be clear—when I say, us, I mean us. I wrote several posts for Thorny’s site, including one about living with authenticity. This is not an academic question for me. I was deceived. I believed in Thorny and Co.) Let’s take a moment to look at our group shadows.
Online, Thorny presented himself in the guise of exactly what this community wants to see: blushing, shy, ingénue who overcame terrible childhood/young-adult struggles and arrived at maturity and true love by the age of twenty. (True love and maturity by age twenty? Uh….how often does that happen in the real world?) Throw in some kinks, sexy innuendo in a MONOGAMOUS relationship, and our entire community is hooked. We wanted this to be true. We wanted lives to work out that well. The MM community’s desire for happy endings can be golden—we love happy endings!—or it can be shadow—we need picture-perfect happy endings, all the time.
Like Fox Mulder’s iconic poster proclaims in the television show, The X-Files, we want to believe. How strong that burning need consumes us can alter our perspectives and veer us into shadow.
Let’s examine this from another angle. Western culture has a youth-obsession shadow. I’m not sharing anything new. Given that shadow, would Thorny’s story have hooked us if his characters were forty-seven? If he’d discovered he was gender fluid at forty-five and bought a cute pair of pumps? No. When we see older gay couples holding hands or touching heads affectionately, we think, “Awww, cute!” But we don’t want to know about their sex lives. We want to know about young peoples’ sex lives. Thorny’s shadow magician played on that cultural shadow to present us a cute, fresh-faced youth. The entire story depended on youthful exploration. Our culture’s obsession helped ease us into buying this story because it was what we wanted to hear.
I hope these two examples illustrate how culture and communities can have “group shadow” that entangles our mutual desire for something to be true. But shadow manipulation also works when our own individual shadows get triggered.
Take my involvement, for example. I always thought that Thorny’s story sounded fake…too much like fiction. And yet, I believed. Why? Well, friends of mine believed. A ton of people I talked with in the real world knew—for a fact—that Thorny was a real person, so who was I to question it? One friend emailed me: “I did a little digging into Thorny’s past based on something revealed on the blog. It’s true. He’s real.” This person wasn’t trying to deceive me—she stumbled upon a clue she genuinely trusted was “proof” of Thorny’s existence. So, I went along with the fiction. My shadow is that I’m often gullible. My shadow is that I can be lazy and accept the truths of others without questioning. It was convenient to simply accept the story at face value, even though it did not ring true.
Is this shadow a dangerous quality in me? You bet. In our world, we’re debating some very serious issues right now: immigration of Syrian refugees, presidential candidates, global warming solutions, and more. Someone like me who takes stories at face value is dangerous. I contribute to mob mentality, especially if I act on my shadow beliefs without doing the research—or at least remaining skeptical and open to further proof. I need to be more vigilant. I need to listen to my gut when it says, “This sounds like it might not be true.”
Well, that’s what I’m taking from the Thorny issue.
How about you?
What will you learn?
If you harden your heart to genderfluid young people living their lives with triumphs and setbacks, you’re taking the wrong lesson from this adventure. If your heart was bruised by your faith in Thorny and Co., good! It means you have a heart open to loving strangers. Don’t squash that part of yourself because you got burned. Learn from this. Find a way to be big-hearted, yet still protect yourself. It can be done.
There is no cure for shadow. We all have a shadow unique to our upbringing and experiences (usually an uncomfortable parallel to our gifts), and we all acquire shadow through various group affiliations (gender, where born, race, profession, neighborhood, etc.). The great news is that when you observe shadow—bring it into the light and see the damage it does to your life and others—it’s easier to choose vulnerability. Looking at others in that shadow place, it’s easier to say, “I’ve felt that way, too.” Acknowledging shadow creates more room inside your heart.
If you’re frustrated by Thorny’s deception and trying to decide how to move through this, consider looking at Thorny’s shadow. Wonder about it. Compare it to your own shadow and the things you do when your needs aren’t being met. Maybe you would never do what she did. But can you relate? A little?
Your shadow archetypes can guide you to your golden self. Listening to your shadow lover bleat out its demands to GET MORE LOVE NOW might be how you start paying attention and fixing the things you can. Shadow can guide you to a greater part of yourself.
Maybe even guide you to your true king- or queenship.
About Edmond ManningEdmond Manning is the author of King Perry, King Mai, The Butterfly King andFilthy Acquisitions. He spends a great deal of time standing in front of the fridge with the door open, wondering why it’s not stocked with more luncheon meats and cheese.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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