What is “Normal?”

I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of Finding Normal: Sex, Love, and Taboo in Our Hyperconnected World by Alexa Tsoulis-Reay. This non-fiction book analyzes the concept of “Normal,” and how the Internet has helped people with stigmatized desires find community and get answers to their questions without the judgment that others in society often inherently have.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. It was a thoughtful analysis of the concept of normal and bias and what it means to have a supportive community. This analysis included positive and negative results of finding support for non-“normative” concepts. Having a concept of “normal” can sometimes result in people being closed-minded about things they simply do not understand, things that are not hurting other people, such as the first concept that Reay goes into great detail about: people who have open relationships and/or swingers. Reay looks at how people who needed such relationships prior to the internet struggled to find other people who understood them, and how the internet has helped all of them to find a community and engage in the relationship they need. I try to be an open-minded person, but of course, have my own biases, and not having had those particular desires myself, it was very interesting to read about their perspectives and felt a bit fairy-tale esque to read about how they were able to find acceptance through the internet.

However, sometimes, people engage in activity that is not considered “normal” for ethical reasons. Another taboo behavior that is discussed in the book is incest, which, if you are reading my blog, I will assume you agree from a biological and psychological perspective is just not okay. Reay writes about the concept of incestuous desires from a place of curiosity, but ultimately, the fact that there are parents who will act on these desires turns the community that such like-minded individuals have formed a bit darker. How, when you are looking at a parent-child relationship, can there not be a power dynamic at play? Children often want to please their parents, regardless of age, and this desire can be taken advantage of, even if the child sincerely believes he or she is a consenting adult.

There are also some grey areas, such as large age-gap relationships. There is the indisputable statutory rape age difference, for example, which is legally not allowed, since children cannot consent to sexual relationships with adults. But what about a 10-year age difference between a person in his/her/their sixties and his/her/their fifties? What about a 20-year age difference between a person in his/her/their sixties and his/her/their forties?

This blog post is providing just a taste of the thoughtful writing that Reay provides in this book, which includes multiple examples/interviews for each type of non-“normal” activity. If you are interested in the concept, and can read the information with an open mind, I strongly recommend picking up a copy.

My only gripe with this book is that the more taboo concepts are not as fully developed, and it feels like there is more room for analysis. Still, I am not certain that I could have written, or even read, more on those subjects. It is hard to spend time with concepts that are taboo and should remain that way. So this gripe is tiny, and purely from an analytical/editorial viewpoint in which I am trying to remain unbiased. Which basically means I was reading this book correctly, I think, since a lot of the point is to recognize that you have biases, and they may not all be fair, so once you recognize a bias, re-evaluate and figure out if you need to change your stance. I have this crazy theory that, like, if people were more intellectual and empathetic, and thought through how their behavior impacted other people, and tried to be more thoughtful and cool about what they went crazy about, the world might be a better place. As an American citizen, however, it is difficult for me ever seeing that happening, either, so… maybe just read the book and pretend?