this, that, and the Other

identity, alterity, and everything in between

Month: March, 2012

Intersection of Vegan and Queer Subjectivities: Some Thoughts

I rarely say I am vegan. If I attend a BBQ I choose to idly pass by the chicken and scoop up an extra heap of green beans and continue on my merry way. But people have a curious desire to know, to rank those who behave in ways unfamiliar. In this way there is something queer to veganism, something that by the resistances I encounter declares my position—a positing—a political stance. This is particularly curious given that veganism is itself an absence, a refusal of something, yet given the normativity of meat-consumption it stands out: ‘the nail that sticks out gets hammered down’ goes the proverb. This reminds me of Heidegger’s hammer somehow, the broken (unready-to-hand) hammer, the failure that gets read onto my being and in turn shapes and colors my being.

As the second-wave feminist mantra goes, “the personal is political.” What for me is a personal refusal of something is taken as (and therefore is) a political statement. People will ask why I did not pick up a kabob, why I took green beans, etc. And although these questions may be asked in earnest and a certain genuineness, they stem from a desire to take account of this statement, take account of me as a subject, to in fact give it a political shape. These statements and inquisitions themselves give birth to, flesh out the body of, my refusals as political.

Interestingly enough of course if I say I’m vegan for health reasons everyone is validated and secured in their position as a meat-eater—“well, it’s best for him and that’s fine, but it wouldn’t work for me.” But to be approached to give account of why I think it’s wrong to support the slaughtering of non-human animal life, to be asked to give the body—the meat if you will—of my personal practice is to ask for a politics of meat-eating. It is to ask, really, where I think they stand, on what ground I see their footing. And, they assume, they hope, that I will not say “over yonder with those who support the destruction of animal life.”

It is here that all the stock answers as to why someone’s not vegan or really really actually for reals cares about animals comes in. All of which boil down to trying to reposition me into the “over yonder of destruction” (usually by revealing the ‘hypocrisy’ of my stance) or reposition themselves as the wonderful kind compassionate person they truly really are (if only I could see how much they care about their cats)—both of which ignore the fundamental issue of whether or not giving money to corporations who profit off of breeding, abusing, and killing very real non-human animal life is good or bad or worthwhile. It defers the issue to teleology—how he or she or they use the animal—rather than an ontology of or ethics to the living, breathing animal. This is in part because, granted, it is an uncomfortable topic—especially when I am eating off a plate of green beans and she or he has chunks of a chicken’s leg in hand. But why ask the question in the first place then?

I think likewise this stems from people’s desire to ask about someone’s orientation—to take account of one’s (sexual) position. Derrida uses the nifty mouthful of a phrase carnophallogocentrism which I’m sure made him very popular at parties. Subjectivity, what constitutes the Western subject in particular, is a interpenetration of carno, that is meat—what they can consume/”handle”/receive; phallo, that is masculinity/virility—what they can fuck, and logo, that is reason—what they can speak of or argue for or justify.  It is this structure of subjectivity—of this is what you are doing and ought to be doing and everything you are doing is okay—really that people do not want to question.

So really why I think people want to take account of vegans and queer people (as well as persons of color and disability and size and many other things that are outside my own privileged white, able body experience) is that it affirms their position as politically and subjectively firm and solid. It re-inscribes their position as central just as eating meat re-inscribes these behaviors. While attending a church I was once told—when making mention about a particular problem I had with the liturgy—that we don’t change god’s will for ourselves, but our will to his [sic]. Eventually, by inscribing the liturgy on my being, by repetition, I would create and foster new desires—the right desires—and I would come to find theological justification for performing the liturgy.

There is a radical and terrible truth to this. These repetitions that form our sense of centrality, of sure-footedness, even form our desires, are learned practices. Granted, they are inscribed, they are external—I don’t mean to imply they are a simple choice on the behalf of the subject. I believe meat is very tasty to a very many people. I believe very many women are *only* attracted to men. None of this means though that meat-eating and heteronormativity are not also means of socially positioning the (meat-eating, heterosexual) subject into a place of centrality, stability, and comfort. It is this central position that vegan practice and queer existence destabilizes, or at least threatens to destabilize, by its political stance and practice.

To paraphrase Gloria Steinem, the problem isn’t so much of learning new practices, constructing new desires, but of unlearning. The problem is the way in which we constitute subjectivity through a series of bodily practices—meat-eating, (hetero)sexist privileging of the hetero-fuck, and the cultural weight of these symbols—and repeat these practices socially so as to seem natural, god-given, and transcendental. Where veganism and queer existence stand is to simultaneously reject these practices as well as proffer new ones. For veganism, a practice that has unlearned the rhetoric of “handling meat,” “taking it like a man,” “manning-up,” “doing the body a favor,” etc, posits a practice based on compassion and self-humility. Likewise queer existence rejects heteronormativity, heterosexism, sexual binaries, and embraces a practice of openness to people regardless of binaries (fe/male, hetero/homo-sexual, etc), based on mutuality and consent.

Of course veganism and queer existence are very distinct things and ‘choosing’ a vegan lifestyle is very different from the process of finding oneself in or identifying as being queer. However, in terms of the threat people can feel, the political awareness it poses, the way it hints at the constructedness of heteronormativity and meat-eating respectively, and a possibility for change, the two intersect in interesting and similar ways. To quote Teresa de Laurentis, “for what is finally at stake is not so much how ‘to make visible the invisible’ as how to produce the conditions of visibility for a new social subject.” A subject, let us hope, not centered on consumption, hate, and apathy, but compassion, love, and consent.

reflexivity or something like it

23 and already the bags under

my eyes sag. st. stephen’s

face was white when he died. they

called him a saint.

 

consolation is beyond these

lines. like this day

 

it is much too white. camper’s chart of faces

puts the white skull next to the gods

whose faces were marble. of course the color

had long washed off and what

wasn’t was erased. it

was called renovation. i will

 

refresh and refresh this

page again until i learn to see

myself from the internet’s point of view. yes, we have

been here before, already someone’s

 

definition of irony. tonight let’s consign

all our synthetics to the ocean, this

 

residue deeper to marrow, and finally be

honest, waking up inside someone’s idea

of a poem, we wouldn’t

care to read it either

even the stars fall from the wall

even the stars fall from the wall

 

 

the first moon of the first year doesn’t have

a name anymore.

 

you leant me margaret mead made me gay

which i started last night

under a new moon. we call the moon

new because of how it relates to the

sun. anne

 

hutchinson was called new even

while being accused of all the old heresies.

they called her a witch just like

they called midwives witches. the most

common thing midwives

were accused of was the desire to steal

men’s penises, and

 

they were drowned,

burned at the stake, or crushed under rock.

then and only then could obstetrics emerge

as a science,

that is, a male-only medical profession, with

likewise

the instruments of the male medicinal

imagination, the forceps, which would scoop

the child out, piece by piece if necessary,

while the mother, tied or chained,

lay down, making for easier

 

reach and less strain on the doctor,

who assured the woman that pain was her

natural and allotted curse in life. i read

 

about that the other day and it made

me think of you and those

things you said about

motherhood. i thought

a lot about my

mother and the things

that happened to her when she was

young, how

 

they really happened to me too, at least

in a way. when you

finally met her it was sad

and i was guilty cause how typical,

i mean, me a man, and you, and my mother,

and i don’t

really know why but i cried

 

when i drove home.

after, i couldn’t forgive

anyone about anything for weeks

 

*                             *                             *

 

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 it

probably did too and even though you

didn’t really mean it did, i agreed. i told

you

 

about my uncle then and how i like

twin peaks 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. 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. this planet. like that really

means anything anymore after

everything

 

*                             *                             *

 

you told me over the phone

you went to a conference where

they wore shirts

that said esther

newton made me gay. that’s

pretty funny.

esther

 

talks a lot about camp and in mother camp she

says something about

coping or transforming the

suffering of others’ fear into a state of irony

or something. i never was very good

 

at that. when i was 6 my dad said chicken

and i asked is that the kind

of chicken you eat or the kind that

flies. the tao

 

says something

about no place for the horn

to enter. no penetration. it would be pretty camp

to be candy

 

darling for halloween

i think, but seeing as i wear a lot of women’s

clothing these

days and what with my identity issues and

fucked

up sexuality,

going as warhol is probably pretty camp

too. i miss you too. i used

 

to be the cop who got shot

when my brothers played

cops and robbers. i hate

 

writing i miss you.

no risk

in the writing. no self staring back in

the

risk of writing. no

crisis of

language. no sainthood or eternality of the

soul or bullshit and

no risk of

bullshit. chickens

 

can’t even fly.

i hate

myself writing like this

 

*                             *                             *

 

i reallymiss how you sucked

my nipples. some

people say the

male nipple is useless. fuck

them and their

teleological bullshit. it was that sort of thinking

that led to clitoridectomies on “hysteric”

women with “erotic tendencies.” if

the 18th century

male bourgeoisie really took themselves

seriously

they’d never stop castrating

themselves. at least they’d

still have

 

nipples. i’d like

 

to think somewhere

there’s a picture of the little

christ child suckling away

at the tit of joseph. i’d like to think

 

it’d be easy to ask

someone to suck my nipples

 

*                             *                             *

 

later, you whispered something of a

new year (you must take this he once

said, and

 

maybe he too

will pass into night. forgotten

 

all implication and finally

be free) but

 

what could i say. for years he

visited me in the dead of night with

sad sad eyes like

 

the eyes of the american

night kerouac loved so much, and

 

i would dream about

those eyes and how they floated in

the bathroom

 

window, even though we lived on a

second-floor,

and how, even from an early age, i

 

wondered anyone got up so high, and

what it was about me and about

 

knowing, about fucking and all the

usual suspects

buried deep down inside. and,

 

here with you, and tonight, i just

really wish I knew

 

*                             *                             *

 

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

 

*                             *                             *

 

in beginners, ewan

mcgregor

summarizes his fetish with spray

painting public property as historical

consciousness. mike mills

directed beginners

and also has a fetish with spray painting

 

public property. this says something

about the

artist and art and what it is to have an

audience and

shit like that. anyway i think

 

that’s what this is. historical

consciousness. you once told me

anthropology wasn’t creative and i

felt really sorry for you then, because

the truth is poetry is just like

ethnography but

with less research. when

 

you said you were

supposed to spend a year

doing research outside of

your own culture i missed you. i mean.

to take the lid

off the thing is beautiful

and liberation is all

we have left, but resonance is

enclosure. also

preservation, health. to uncover is to expose

or enculture, to invite bacteria

and all sort of life. to be

open to the possibility

of life. to bend your ass

bare to the sky. to risk

being fucked

in the fucking. sometimes

 

i admit i don’t know the difference but

 

it was sad when you

left and i got that line from the

poetics of space stuck in my head, how the world

would be a better place if pots

and lids

always stayed together

and i wanted you back

 

*                             *                             *

 

we’re supposed to be

making love. damn that patronizing

sexedup alvie singer.

 

there are some things you can’t

swallow without

gagging. i was

 

annie then, wanting to

be fucked into nothing. you were

nico or jack kerouac maybe,

always ahead of

some careening. we made love

 

the night you

left. it was beautiful in a way. the

semen pooled

onto my chest

in the night. the coolness

 

there. the discharge. the sense of

self

found in the rubbing and

in the loss. you can

never really lose everything

 

you said. when our

broad shoulders touched

and your hands

were on mine

and you

told me about the iliac

crest, it

was the world that

was guilty. when i

couldn’t, the towel

swallowed your cum

 

*                             *                             *

 

maybe

you had to have

something or someone to forgive

unconditionally.

maybe you forgive lovepoems

 

too even though

you have

such a hard time with

people who say the word love like

it has

definite contours.

some people can’t

imagine

 

love spilling out

of itself. that’s

why god killed

onan. such a god lacks the imagination

to love without shame. moses

could only see god’s ass

who was so

afraid that moses would catch

him in

the buff and laugh

at the shame of it. i was kicked

by a bunch of

boys in the balls once in p.e.

and the teacher laughed. i

was obese which

meant i was sick which meant

it was funny to kick me

in the balls. i never

 

really got

the logic but the point is i imagine that’s

how god felt surrounded by

moses and with his

ass sticking out like that i feel

bad for him but

then again

what with the whole creator of everything

bit i kinda expect a little more out

of god

 

*                             *                             *

 

sadeyed lady of the lowlands

came on the other day and i

thought of how we never

listened to blonde on blonde while we

fucked

 

and how germaine

greer said the sadeyed lady and

the girl from north country were

eunuchs but

what does she know about dylan and the

beauty of the soul. when

orson welles

says he’s not a magician but an actor playing

the part of a magician he means

artifice is the only

magic this side of heaven.

you said

 

you weren’t really liberated

until you tasted your own menstrual

blood. well,

germaine, i don’t have menstrual blood okay

the best i can do is taste my

semen which is hardly the same thing. but

 

it’s been getting

sweeter lately. god, even i’m a

 

man. a piece of shit playing

the part of a man. sometimes even

an actor playing shit playing  the part of a

man. i’m

trying to tell you i’m sorry. i’m

 

trying to put this somewhere

 

*                             *                             *

 

the planet’s going to finally die someday

and of course type-1 diabetics will

 

still have diabetes in heaven and

martyrs always wear their scars like

trophies in

icons at the getty so you didn’t

see why diabetics shouldn’t proudly display

 

insertionsite scars and pumps

alongside st bartholomew and his heap of

flayedflesh. 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

 

*                             *                             *

 

you held me tightly there.

you fucked me

like a man fucks. ground me

down to a pulp of myself.

i wore a

 

love conquers hate

shirt for days. loving

oneself is like being

blind but not like the flower girl

in city lights with her christ imagery

and madonna silence. there’s

something so canned when

chaplin’s mouth gapes open

as wide as his eyes

and those sounds pour out

in a

proper english. but

 

how can you not cry watching the great

dictator

and even laugh when

he fucks the world he blew. you

know anything really

can save this world

except killing it.

 

when you visited

i missed you

and when you left

i missed you. even in kyoto

i long for kyoto goes a hass

translation of basho.

i guess there

is always something lost. even the

 

nightmares

of my uncle and the shit

he did and the night and the fear

of it and all of everything

burns out after awhile. and you get

left with something

tallow

i am much too large

for this day. it sags and pulls

in all the wrong places. i’d shave my head

for this day. yesterday my breast

burned but it was beautiful, clean, young

and tender. you are the body rendered

in these lines. the marble and the marrow. instead i’ll shave

my left thigh. tomorrow

the right. the day after a calf.

imagine my

right thigh tomorrow. imagine my calves on friday.

remember this breast but yesterday

and try to love me.

Queer Poetry and the Aesthetics of Failure

I am just finishing up a rather long poem/collection-of-poems. I feel really exposed with these poems but not so much because I am naked or vulnerably honest or “in” them in any unusual way but rather because they are incomplete—rather a meditation on incompleteness. In this way I feel it’s my most queer work. Just as the social powers that be project an image of incompleteness onto the queer family (as “lacking” mother or father, fulfillment, etc) so too I feel these poems as an embracing of incompleteness or failure. Which is why it has been SO HARD to edit for me. It’s like editing a giant premature ejaculation.

Premature. That’s really what I hope these poems to be—when I finally upload them—like the giant patriarchal heterosexual capitalist fuck but de-centered. Elided. In other words TOTALLY NOT the giant patriarchal heterosexual capitalist fuck at all. Premature. Incomplete. Queer. Failure. But it’s this sort of “failure” that needs voicing—narratives which not only deconstruct the supposed completeness of say the hetero-monogamous family unit but that revel in the “incompleteness” of queer sexual and asexual lives and narratives. The problem isn’t “prematurity” but a projected hegemonic “maturity”—the complete, grand, heterosexual, patriarchal fuck.

By writing narratives of (sexual) failure or incompleteness this not only radicalizes these narratives by occupying and commandeering public discourse on (sexual) normativity but also in turn liberates the oppression the oppressors have built about themselves. Queer narratives “queer” heterosexuality. Anyone who is attracted to diverse gender expressions knows the shit that you get when dating someone society deems as “appropriate”—if a queer man and woman end up in say a marriage-relationship they are constructed as “appropriate,” that is their individuality is appropriated towards the furtherance of a compulsory heterosexuality. Society defines not just queer lives as “other,” but also straightens queer lives into sameness. Sadly the queer community can even join in the shaming of such a couple as a “betrayal,” i.e., a failure of being “queer” according to this or that community’s definition of queerness.

This of course misses the entire beauty of queering shit up. It’s all about allowing people to equally make their own decisions and express their own desires without massive systemic compulsion. There is no way to “fail” properly. That’s why it’s failure. And that’s really the uncomfortability with this/these poem(s). It’s like naming my closet, the contours of hetero-hegemony, and yet stepping out of those contours by naming them as incomplete—and being okay with that. I hope when I finally upload it, it proves to be as much of a failure as I think it is.

you are naked

you are naked

 

as a matter of course. even

your anchorage is a

levitation. below, the foothold,

 

a metonymy, something the world

spit up. everything

you hold is an implication really, a

 

line, some condensation on an edge

of the real. did i fail

to mention it’s raining. sometimes

 

it hits so hard it’s the rain

that’s penitent. the

trees were so wet then we wrung

 

them out right onto the carpet. we

dug our feet

deep inside. the coolness.

 

the bits of it sticking to lip

and tongue.

when you wrapped around

 

from behind and held tight till

I was blue, the

window burst, and with your ears

 

falling to the ground, I couldn’t help

but cry till you

whispered stop stop please it’s

 

february the blossoms are in

bloom your palms

are much too cold for this