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Monday, December 28, 2009

"Same Sex"

It is surely inherently patriarchal to pretend that the ways in which penises differ from one another and the ways in which vaginas differ from one another are so much less salient than the ways in which penises "in general" are different from vaginas "in general" that we will treat those differences of all things as the foundation of all civilization.

This is one of the reasons why I find it so patently absurd and annoying that queersex is so regularly described as or, worse, thought of as "same-sex."

Of course, homo means "same," just as hetero means "different" -- hence "homogeneous" as against "heterogeneous" -- so the same-sex terminology is just a straightforward translation of homo-sex. But my point is that it is actually deranging of the sense of what queerness often practically and imaginatively consists to imagine that its formations are based less on the eroticization of salient differences than are the formations of heterosexuality, so-called.

Honestly, you'd think that those who assume a more primordial narcissism or mimeticism prevails among queer folks than among straights, whoever they are supposed to be, had never heard of tops and bottoms, butches and femmes, ferocious "type"-tourisms articulated around race, class, morphology, and so on. I personally have had sex with more women (one) than I have had sex with blond haired people of either sex (zero, unless it was really dark or I was really drunk), for example. Is that homo-sex or hetero-sex, after all? Is there even a name for that (help me, Krafft-Ebing)? Have I signed onto the wrong gay agenda all these years?

As I say, I think the identification of queer-sex with same-sex functions to obliterate the substance of much if not most of that sex, but also to blunt our openness to ways in which the register of sexuality promisingly connects human beings to one another -- and I don't primarily mean sexually so much as in their shared differentiating aesthetic projects, via sex and otherwise, of assertive-narrative self-creation -- by positing some of them and so policing all of them as instead ineradicably "opposite."

It is even clearer that this insistent opposition at the heart of the heteronormative understanding of queerness as same-sex is even more obliterative of the substance of those queernesses -- bisexuality, transsexuality, intersexuality, to name the most obvious -- which seem to provoke sex-panics equally among both the heterosexuals and the homosexuals who cling to this patriarchal opposition in order to stabilize their respective sexualities more or less into scripts in which conventional couples couple conventionally the better to get on with the more serious business of business.

Desire is provoked by difference, whatever its objects. To want is precisely not to have, but also, crucially, there is a having of that wanting that leaves us more than wanting.

And indeed desire is often experienced first as a shattering difference within oneself that demands of the self that it become otherwise ("that's when I realized I was gay…" "oh my god, I don't hate her, I love her!").

This is one of the reasons why it is right to say of sex that it objects: sex is an objection through which we find our way to subjection (if we are lucky).

That "sex ob-jects" is the crucial discursive operation disavowed in the foregrounding of the dismissively reductive phrase "sex objects," in which we name the fear that we risk a dehumanizing objectification through our sexual relations. I believe that the risk disavowed through anti-sex discourses of a threatening universalizing sexual objectification is, more often than not, a phobic recoiling from the risk of sexual subjectification, the threat/promise of the sex in which we risk objecting to the selves we have been and thereupon embark upon a different selfhood.

The risk in the face of which generalized anti-sex retreats looks to be the risk of freedom itself, the freedom without which it makes no sense to bemoan a loss of subjecthood in the first place. None of this, I hasten to add, should be taken as a trivialization of the violence of rape or harassment or exploitation, which seem to me rarely to be about sex, proper, so much as about control and its pathologies, and hardly seem to me to be the lens through which to think the sexual in general, however urgently they demand an accounting and accountability as well.

Far from a threatening site from which universalizing objectification in the mode of violations articulated by hierarchy spread, the sexual seems to me instead a promising site from which universalizing subjectification in the mode of affiliations articulated by differentiation spread.

Crucial to this formulation is the sense -- to take up too clumsily and quick Judith Butler's terms from Undoing Gender here -- that desire is a site in which we embrace our own undoing ("I have come undone in my desire for him") as the way in which we do ourselves, engage in the doings in which we are rendered as legible, capable, among other things gendered beings. To be undone by gendered desire is to do the gender we would have (in a performative account of gender, again to abbreviate brutally, it is in the reiterated doing of the conventions of gender that we substantiate for ourselves and for others the salience in the gender we then experience ourselves as having; the having is indispensably a function of an ongoing doing) and in having which we are legible as capacious, free beings.

That is to say, in doing our gender and in being undone by its desire we engage in the performative substantiation of ourselves as socially legible beings in the crucial register of sex-gender, and are read in the world as capable of bearing agency.

It is this ethical universality inhering in the sexual, this interminable affiliation in differentiation (directly correlated, I would say, to the constitutive tension of equity in diversity that articulates the scene of consent on which the whole democratic imaginary also uneasily rests, so the stakes here are really rather fraught) which would be circumscribed and domesticated by the gesture in which queersex is identified with the Same (in a way that is Other, and Other in a way that is always also less than) and straight sex with the Other (in a way that is always also less than).

1 comment:

Ernesto Lopez said...

Reading an article about the filmmaking duo Powell and Pressburger, “Bending the Arrow” by Andrew Moor, brought me to this apologetic concession in the text’s opening…

“It is difficult to think about ‘queerness’ without using established labels of sexual identity (‘gay’, ’bisexual’, ‘straight’), as Alexander Doty has noted. Hence my previous paragraph slips between the terms ‘gay’ and ‘queer’, although the latter term, with its anti-essentialist impulses, refutes the stable notion of the former – or any similarly fixed identity position, for that matter.”

The article went on, as they tend to do, and so did the reading…but in this instance there was a momentary arrest of thought as my eyes continued across the pages. A seductively placed ‘why’ came forward.

Why this difficulty, and how does it license the ‘slippage’ in the paragraph, and also the paragraphs that follow? There is a commonsensical obviousness that is made available by deploying prescribed sexual identities when attempting to produce a thinking of queerness; but why did this obviousness creep into my own mind and halt my acceptance of its deployment? It confronted me as being somewhat insidious, for better or worse, because under the auspice of ‘difficulty’ it excused the surface use of ‘gay’ in order to communicate ‘queer’ to a non-gay audience. And, as Moor interjected, this fails to do service to what ‘queer’ is and can be.

But how does one move forward? How does ‘queer’ arrive in thinking without delivery by way of the fixed turnings between sexual topicalities? The difficulty is hard to get past, but I feel it must be done. In a way Moor’s article succeeds and fails to bring a queer reading to the works of Powell and Pressburger (if you’re not familiar then I suggest that you become familiar). By locating homosexuality in their works, there is an assertion of the more commonsensical interpretation of the queer at play in their films. But it also does a great failing to the overall queerness of their works…for Powell and Pressburger their films are not queer because they have moments of homosexuality, but rather because they are queer in their very makeup, being sites of intersecting –ities and –isms, unrepentant in their ‘difficulty’ of being tied down to any one...yet somehow paradoxically being One.

Moor, quoting Butler, says as much… “Butler stresses that ‘queer’ is a ‘site of collective contestation’ that must interact with other languages of power – racism and misogyny – to maintain its political impetus.” It seems that there is a two-fold operation at work in the arrival of queerness through a discussion of sexual identity; on the one hand it opens the opportunity for a political moment of ‘queer’ dressed in the words of a specific sexuality. Yet, and Moor regretfully fails to fully see this, it also occultates the essentially grounded meaning of ‘queer’; which if it were to be fully disclosed to the space of commonsense would then revolutionize the latter discussion of sexuality in politics.

It would literally collapse the topos, because queer is not of the phallocratic order of Power, rather it belongs to the null of Seduction; it is a shame that queer only arrives after being vetted of its seductive force…washed clean by the categories acceptable to the language of power. If we merely accept this as difficult to communicate and rush into the baptized use of sexual identity in order to mobilize queerness in a political space, then we have failed to think the implications of our language and the ineffectiveness of the political project that is being brought forward in the name of queerness.

Or something like that…