this, that, and the Other

identity, alterity, and everything in between

Month: January, 2012

a Rant on Gender, Privilege, Floral Skinny Jeans, and Things

Gender, despite being constructed, permeates my whole being. I identify as a man. When I go to the store I am presented as, socialized as, received as, pressured into being, and communicate as a man. I use a men’s restroom. I speak as a man and people hear me as a man. Even when by myself and looking in the mirror I am confronted with the residues and traces of my masculinity—yes, gender is external, a social system that continues along with or without me, but it implicates me and I imply it. Although I do not believe there is anything biologically essential about how we as a society have presented and composed gender, there is something essential as regards my personhood—I am a man, and what I do and where I go and who is there engrafts, extends, or deflates this.

This means that all the privileges men have are mine with or without my consent. Masculinity extends beyond me and no matter how I personally treat women I reap its plunders of war—those plunders afforded by systemic pay inequality, assault, and rape (Susan Brownmiller called rapists men’s “shocktroopers”). Even if I volunteer as support for rape victims, a woman will be hesitant, nervous, or perhaps cross the street if I approach her late at night. I on the other hand wouldn’t feel nervous, certainly wouldn’t cross the street, and possibly be confused or perturbed by her behavior. But this is because I collect powers and privileges about myself simply by nature of my socialization and how I am presented.

Of course there are dissonances. When I walk into the grocery store wearing jewelry, a woman’s top, and tight floral skinny jeans, an obvious dissonance between the role-as-a-man I am supposed to be performing and the performance I am giving becomes obvious. This gap is traumatic for some people (often, but not always, other men). Whether they take offense at the audacity to question gender-roles and binaries or it reveals guilt they share at similar unacted upon desires, who knows, but people scapegoat the person who doesn’t fit. It calls things into question, puts words and structures in doubt.

There is a tension here. A tension between people thinking both, at the same time, that gender is wholly essential, entirely biologically given, and wholly accidental, not who they are. The presupposition is that I, by wearing floral skinny jeans et al, am acting out an unnatural desire, something outside the structure, against my nature, therefore not “human,” and yet that they are not “acting” a gender, that their gendered existence (clothing, voice, mannerisms, body, etc) is incidental to their personhood, their humanity. The thought emerges that they are a person beyond any institute (of gender), they are free, but yet anyone outside the gender binary is likewise “outside” the institute and therefore perverted, ecstatic, animal. Because they follow an implicit law, they would like to think they are free—while yet simultaneously accusing those who question it of being an outlaw.

I am no expert in the history of “Natural Law” or virtue ethics or St. Thomas Aquinas or anything, but I am inclined to think that this played no small part. Of course being male, white, and generally privileged seems “accidental” to someone who is white and male—one would have to admit his finitude and complicit participation in systems of power and abuse. And seeing as the history of Western thought is the thought of a white supremacist patriarchy (although a few other distinct lone voices have survived), well, it is unfortunately little surprise that white men are often entirely blind to their privilege. But it is quite clear that they thought being a woman was essential to a woman’s being—thus she was excluded from education, work, religious thought, and nearly all forms of public power. It makes sense, in a very evil way, that ideologies about gender and race and class would emerge alongside and in support of this power—whether they be religious or scientific ideologies (social Darwinism, eugenics, etc).

People with privilege (cis, white, male, upper-class, able, heterosexual, etc etc) are unaware of their privilege and take any questioning of the structures that supply them with this privilege as an insult to the very “natural” structure of things themselves. I include myself here too of course. No matter how many pairs of floral skinny jeans I own I am obviously endowed with privileges and power. I move about so often oblivious to my gender, race, class, et al, that for me too it takes “queer” figures outside my comfortable systems of power to shock me, traumatize me into seeing how deeply and essentially ideology and institutional privilege penetrates and constitutes my being. Gender is not biologically “essential” in some sort of ordained hand-of-god coming down and structuring my being sort of way, but it is essential to who I am: who I’ve been socialized as, how I present myself, and how I am expected to act.

It seems like a lot of people say they “get” that being sexist, racist, homophobic, ableist, et al is bad—while simultaneously being oblivious to the privileges these very relations provide. So let’s get one thing straight—my position as a subject is composed, at least in part, by the systems of power I am implicated in. I often do not “feel” male or white or middle-class because I exist in a milieu of ideologies that tell me not to question my position—that the only reason women receive less pay is because they are bad workers, that black men have a higher arrest rate because they are criminals, that the poor are lazy, and all that bullshit. I reap these benefits, even when I don’t want them, because questioning privilege and one’s positionality means acknowledging I participate in a gender, a race, a class. These institutions penetrate deeper into me than I can see and extend farther from me than I can grasp. BE AWARE OF YOUR PRIVILEGE.

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draft for a longer poem

it’s funny, last year I fell asleep at eleven

while everyone else welcomed the new year,

and—I thought to myself—that this must mean

something I said and you said you thought

this was funny and even though you didn’t

really mean it was funny I agreed; I told you about

my uncle then and how I like David Lynch and how

scared I am of open windows and you brought up

The Female Eunuch and I said something about

transphobia and we agreed but that was earlier

in the sun when we changed our shirts to sit in the

shade and things were so peaceful then in tank-

tops underneath the Californian sun which is

really the same sun everywhere for everyone

on this planet—god, I said, this planet, like that

really means anything anymore after everything

 

*                             *                             *

 

later,fog along the mirror ( and you whispered

something of a new year, twin peak dreamfuck

of him: you must take this he said, and maybe he

too will pass into night—forgotten all implication

and finally be free) but you know you can never

ever everever ever  forgive him no matter who

or what or how the pain, be it like stricture,like

painting by numbers of him on each and every

limb,like his love in spite of his love,like eyes

in the windows of your room,like father’s fist full

of him breathless to your chest,like yourself

remembering and forgetting and remembering

and so on and on until some touch or heat-of-breath

when you wake to see in so many ways unalike her

sadness deep inside this wakeless shithole of a night

 

*                             *                             *

 

“night emissions” are what they called it in the glory days

of 1970s Freudian mumbo jumbo America, this unconscious

selffucking was stranded somewhere on the wire tight

between shitting and pissing oneself, not quite as juvenile as

(or so they would say) female clitoral stimulation, but not quite

the anti-social pathology of full conscious solo male fucking

either—but that’s what I want to do with this night, in the heat

of it, just fuck it right out and fuck you right out and for once

and finally be fucked in two; of course, we could take this to mean

that semen is like nighttime, emitted from deep down inside

from some primordial sleeping granddaddy erection, and

every time dusk rolls around it’s cause some boy had a big

wet one, bringing down both the stars and moon on us all

 

*                             *                             *

 

of course the planet’s going to die someday you said

and of course type-1 diabetics will still have diabetes in

heaven and you said martyrs always wear their scars

like trophies in icons at the Getty so you didn’t see

why diabetics shouldn’t proudly display insertion site

scars and pumps alongside St. Bartholomew and his

heap of flayed flesh and we thought this was beautiful

and that maybe somewhere the world’s flesh might be

hung up to dry on some temple wall someday and the

people genuflect and wonder what a world we must’ve

been and what a death we suffered and what a beauty

it all was before heaven so wonderfully dispersed its grace

like so many tiny bombs and the world fell asleep in

angelic wonder and never woke up until the following

year sometime past midnight clear eyed and fresh and

ready to begin again as if for the first time in forever

A Personal Note to my Readers: on Lethargy

It’s one of those days where life seems to be a crisis. This is of course hyperbolic and I suppose what I really mean is life is a state of emergency, or at least that is what I would like to think, because emergency is related to emergence which sounds constructive and creative and nice—at least when alongside the word crisis and its connotation of mid-life crisis and Dante and missed opportunity. Dante of course was given to such feelings of crisis and in turn wrote a three-piece epic poem to a woman he never fucked and chances are was married anyway, but such is the Petrarchan tradition. There is an old box of Emergen-C in my cupboard and I can’t help but think that conceiving of my life as an emergency deludes me into thinking I’m being preventative, formulaic, pro-biotic. Emergency also sounds like urgency and I think—if only for a moment—my desire to be doing something with “my life” is synonymous with actually doing something with “my life.”

But it quickly occurs to me that this is illusory and someone somewhere is reading Sherwood Forest or a/s/l or any number of books of poems I *ought* to be reading. Of course I add them to my aptly titled Amazon wishlist “poesy” and congratulate myself for at some point in the near future reading them. First I must of course read the stack of books surrounding my bed and maybe trudge through Loba or more Heidegger and maybe workshop or read some poems publicly. Suddenly now this feels like a chore, a burden, a beast of burden, an animal, a cow, and I long for animal-urges which I connote with fucking probably because both the animal and fucking are misconstrued as aggressive. I realize now how fully I resonate with Dante—only I can’t write so well.

The correlation between animals and fucking and aggression is longstanding and I don’t really know where it begins but one imagines Adam and Eve and the snake played no small part. The Gospel of Eve was said to be declared heresy because the Gnostics who read it really liked oral sex. I wonder how differently Christianity and it’s relation to fucking and aggression would be if the Gospel of Eve was canonical. Between not including the Gospel of Eve or the Book of Judith we get a pretty clear picture of Protestant America’s view of women. When one thinks of non-human animal-sex and how rarely rape plays a role one should realize how its correlation with aggression is a gross misapplication and it’s really humans who are the aggressive ones.  Really we should equate the “animal” with consensuality, sensitivity, and wisdom. This is after all the traditional Buddhist depiction of the bull.

The bull is serene, powerful, and, to paraphrase the Tao Te Ching, keeps all its weapons hid. Of course it still has weapons. Somehow this seems related to America and masculinity and the correlation between men and bulls and women and the cow. Suffice it to say the ice cream brand Skinny Cow manages to be sizist, speciesist, and sexist which is no small feat. I keep a copy of the Tao Te Ching here at work which is where I am now as I type this. I leave it out in the open to be ironic. It makes a lot of claims about “the world” which is something I’ve been trying to refrain from cause, god, I mean, what the hell does that mean, but it’s the Tao so I guess it can get away with shit like that. Religion excuses a lot.

One of the excuses of religion within Protestantism is that masculinity includes aggression, fucking, and a strong work ethic. This may also contribute to my crisis and approach to fucking but who knows. Once I pass through the stage of work ethic, guilt, general horniness and such I tend to emerge into a stage of general lethargy. Perhaps that’s a better word for it: lethargic. I like how it sounds clinical. Also, it sounds like Lethe which aside from Styx is the only river in hell people seem to remember. It’s funny when they can only remember Styx though.

Like Dante too the lethargy usually is followed by climbing a mountain of both learning to respect the self combined with penance. This strikes me as paradoxical which would bother Dante but at any rate we both agree we feel better when at the top of the mountain. Few people make mention of the fact that Dante punishes fat people more than people who really really like sex who are the closest to heaven. Maybe this is why I doubt Paradiso and it’s my least favorite of Dante’s trilogy, but still, I appreciate Dante putting me at the top of the mountain at least. If I had written the Comedy I would’ve put him in limbo.

At any rate I am still making the low and slow climb, heavy robes of guilt upon my shoulders, and muttering crazy things underneath my breath. Inferno strikes me as the most productive phase of writing and contemplation but maybe this is because it’s the phase wherein I think I’m the shit. Purgatorio is humbler but unambitious. It’s a stage appropriate for January and for drinking oneself to sleep. It’s the cure for lethargy really.