this, that, and the Other

identity, alterity, and everything in between

Category: Essay

Some Disheveled Notes on OKCupid

Facebook from a certain perspective could be reduced to a sort of neoliberal bourgeois tool for producing the perfect consumer. It provides, creates, and sustains a limited space to define yourself by what you consume (movies, books, TV shows, and so on) while directing you into a milieu of advertisements both explicit (along sidebars) and implicit (groups, likes, etc). Even one’s FB friends structurally function as a means of redirecting one to other pages and groups and products.

While FB catapults us into these questions of the self, the other, and it’s relation to text, capital, and the social, OKCupid, as its name already signifies, uses language of desire, sexuality, and maturity. We are told we are entering a space where we can OK, on an individual level, our preferred specimen of desire. Playing the part of Cupid is like taking a shortcut, a childish impishness, cutting a corner—the adult world of seduction—and B lining it straight to the metaphorical release of self-security that can only be found in the orgasm of the other. The few who specify not wanting sex or a relationship merely seek to confirm what OKCupid is really about. Let no one fool you, OKCupid is about sexual desire, however neat, romantic, or dirty you like it.

Like your Facebook profile, the OKCupid profile includes various headings that seek to define “you” by consumption—movies, TV shows, books, etc. It also, however, includes a Self-Summary, What [you’re] doing with [your] life, what [you’re] really good at, and so on.  These are of course typical dating clichés that have “correct” answers. You exist within a Foucauldian regime of truth, a sphere of acceptable subjects to be, answers or accounts to give. The profile is consumed with investigating, revealing, representing “the truth” of the individual. Still, this is a certain openness—though a regime nonetheless, a broad-ish regime—not allowed by Facebook.

For instance my profile includes some answers where I attempt—and probably fail quite miserably—at upsetting the implied hegemony my answers are meant to reinforce and, co-extensively, produce “me.” Under “The first things people usually notice about me” I write,

my effeminate gait.

my words about which I gather.

my shame and fear and insecurity.

my shame and fear about people noticing my insecurity.

my incapacity to market myself.

positive thought: I guess I have a sense of style, an intellect, a maneuvering. who doesn’t strategize to find a way.

my broad shoulders and deep set eyes.

the way my body topples trying to identify itself with these words.

Okay I know I’m a pretentious ass and blah blah. Yet to answer the question according to its own guidelines is a sort of pretention too (whether or not my poem “succeeds” at addressing this is of course up for debate). It requires a siphoning of the self, a reduction to prescript and correct answers, a “knowable” or “genuine” self that I am meant to sacrifice my insincere, unknowable sel-f/-ves to. It’s like a perverse sacramentality—I must reduce my unknowable mystic erotic loveliness to a profane and knowable breadiness. I am not opaque to myself let alone others and I’ll be damned if you make me cover up my excesses and failures and seepage to a discourse that pretends people are all narratively complete, wrapped up in neat lil bows.

Which is I guess all I have to say about that. Cause really OKCupid is precisely like contemporary depictions of Cupid—something of an overweight adult with a Peter Pan complex. OKCupid refuses to assume “adult” ways of approaching sexual desire (typical dating structures, meeting up, bar hopping, etc), while yet providing a certain regime where only an “adult” self is OK’d—a secure, marketable, stable, employed, and so on self. I guess we see a space for the possibility of childishness, (in)sincerity, queerness, fragility, play, while yet all the old trappings of who counts and succeeds as a mature, civil subject. OKCupid has got a lotta shit that needs queering up, but at least there’s something like a space where it can begin.

Towards a Drag Christianity

Garbo ‘got in drag’ whenever she took some heavy glamour part, whenever she melted in or out of a man’s arms, whenever she simply let that heavenly-flexed neck… bear the weight of her thrown-back head… How resplendent seems the art of acting! It is all impersonation, whether the sex underneath is true or not.—Parker Tyler, “The Garbo Image” quoted in Esther Newton, Mother Camp

Over the past few days I have been asked a number of times what “kind of christian” I am. This is a curious phrase—the demand for a label, the religious truth of the subject, that will reveal itself by confession. Suffice to say my answer has taken a few forms depending on context but which has consisted of intentionally tense phrases like “secular/materialist christian,” “believing atheist,” or “reformed neo-pagan.” These titles of course are intentionally camp-y. They exemplify how “I” try to do the whole christian thing: as drag.

Drag—as espoused by Esther Newton, Judith Butler, and others—presents us with a duel confrontation. On the one hand, it presents us with an exterior woman who is *really* a man, and yet also presents us an exterior man who is *really* a woman. Drag, as pastiche, reveals simultaneously the absurdities of interior/exterior, male/female, essence/accident, and subject/object binaries. In Gender Trouble Butler notoriously shows how drag functions as a subversive act to reveal the constructedness of gender. Drag, for Butler, just as much as any engendered position, is a strategy, a posture which both situates the subject as well as produces the subject. The difference between a “man in drag” and a “woman” is precisely the normalized and compulsory practices which sanction and produce the woman as natural. Thus drag works as a means of not only subverting naturalized socially sanctioned positions but co-extensively produces a new position.

The key thing is this happens only by taking up the very languages and practices of the social. Butler is highly skeptical of any discourse which appeals to an origin *before* a parasitic or extrinsic power that corrupts some pure essence (like some feminisms which appeal to a matriarchal/matrilineal pre-patriarchy). Like Derrida, Butler finds no “before the Law”—any origin is produced retroactively by the Law’s conditions and prohibitions. If all we have are the terms of the Law, how do we escape (the “we” it produces)? Just because we only have the terms of the Law doesn’t mean we can’t use those terms in new and creative ways to undermine the very systems of power and oppression that the Law implements itself. This is, in short, how Gender Trouble seeks to show performatively subversive acts, like drag, can re-distribute power-relations and normative constructions of engendered subjectivity, opening up new possibilities of relation.

Likewise, asking questions about what christianity was “before the Law” (I think here of questions concerning a historical Adam and Eve, historical resurrection, literal second coming and resurrection, fulfillment of prophecy, eschatological literalism, etc)  are nonsensical and irrelevant regarding what christianity *does* and what type of christian subject it produces. Likewise, alternative positions which attempt to circumnavigate christian discourse (I’m looking at you new atheism) often uncritically accept and replicate the terms and cultural practices of christianity. I think a large problem with this is the tacit assumption that christianity is a system of beliefs—something subjects choose—rather than a historical object that conditions, positions, distributes, etc, its subjects. If we assume the latter though then we can see how christianity, as a structuring and organizing and productive machine itself needs subversion and critique.

Now subversive acts that reveal the artificiality of christian belief or practice needn’t happen by someone who identifies *as* christian, but merely by positioning oneself as a speaking christian subject (just as the “man in drag” accepts given gender categories). It is by speaking from this position, by using components of the discourse, its objects of construction, that one reveals christianity’s composition. Just as drag shows the artificiality of interior/exterior through its performance, so acts of drag christianity disrupt this very notion of an inside/outside of “a” christian community (saved/damned, orthodox/heretic, sacred/secular etc). Instances of drag christianity include textual manipulations (William Blake), liturgical subversions (HIV-positive men lying down in protest within notoriously homophobic churches), cultural parody (Life of Brian jumps to mind), among other options. The point isn’t whether an individual subject is within or without the christian discourse/practice but how these various ordering of bodies are rearranged to reveal new possible (and hopefully less oppressive) relations by questioning that very relationship. Just as the “man in drag” accepts the terms of normative gender relations and compulsory heterosexuality in order to reveal the discourse’s contingency, so too drag christianity accepts doctrines and practices in order to invent new practices and recodify its subjects.

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.

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.

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.

“The Female Eunuch” and Constructing Masculinity

I’ve recently been reading Germaine Greer’s feminist classic The Female Eunuch. Although spanning a diverse assortment of ideas and thoughts, the premise of the text is male-domination projects a sexless role onto women, causing girls at a young age to reject their own sexuality, and thus socializing all women as “eunuchs.” In case you’re wondering, yes, this book is steeped in 1970s American Freudian analysis.

Greer makes the assumption, as Freud seems to have, that castration is in any form essentially a shameful act—both on a literal and metaphoric level. This reading of Freud presumes that the phallus is a positive good, that power is inherent, essential, energetic, and that “healthy” men act upon it. Of course Greer argues that men don’t always use it positively in a moral sense, but that having power and “phallic” confidence is nevertheless a psychologically and morally healthy thing.

The problem with this is two-fold. One, it presupposes that anyone with a penis who has it removed is “shameful.” Here Greer lumps in eunuchs (who have a complicated history), castrati, sterile men, and I-shit-you-not trans women and homosexual men (so eloquently referred to as “f*ggots”). Conflating all these very different experiences as one and the same is so obviously offensive, historically errant, and so riddled with homophobia and transphobia I don’t even know where to begin. It further conflates all these diverse phenomena with the socially constructed “feminine ideal,” which is yet again another very separate issue.

Yes, Greer’s critique about phallogocentric psychoanalytic thinking shirking the vagina to a metaphysical absence and clitoral stimulation as adolescent are well made. But one gets the impression that Greer is arguing for two separate nodes of power—the phallus and “cunt” [sic]—rather than confronting the power abuses women have suffered under patriarchal thinking and practice. In other words, rather than critiquing male privilege and how it affects both women and men negatively, she merely projects a vision of a positive female sexuality like men have. And herein lies the contradictory nature of her work. Greer attempts an American masculinity without castrating it, and proposes a phallic-power-positive sexuality for women without patriarchy.

And the second problem I see here is a mirror reflection: she presupposes anyone with power who wants it removed is likewise “shameful.” Greer seems to assume that people have and use power rather than that people are had and used by power-structures. Perhaps Lacan can be of help here. Lacan’s reading of castration was that the moment of castration, rather than removing power or worth or value, reveals an absence that was there all along—the castrated person in question was in fact a “eunuch” already. To translate Lacan into Greer-talk—everyone is already a “eunuch,” sexless, weak, and it is our relationship and social-structures that implicate us with a gender and power. This is perhaps why Greer is so hostile towards trans women throughout the text—because trans issues reveal countless ways in which gender and power are not inherent biologically but inherited socially. Greer cannot seem to imagine someone revoking power, privilege, or a phallus for that matter.

Greer really then is arguing, in my opinion, the wrong thing. Masculinity is an implication, an inference, an accusation given how power relations are and have been mapped out historically. It’s an ideological machine that is created by and in order to fuel the status quo of patriarchal power-relations. Likewise femininity is such an ideological machine too. Neither of these are inherent or biologically essential as Greer herself works out throughout her text. But neither is power inherent. We are all weak and powerless and “sexless” but it is our situation—historically, socially, et al—that implicates us with a gender and power-relations.

If men have seemed to exude more “confidence,” “surety,” “ability,” and “energy” than women it is not neutral, but equally wrapped up in men’s history of dominating, demeaning, abusing, and raping women. As Susan Brownmiller notoriously said, male rapists are the “shock troopers” for all men, creating the power and privilege all men share, whether they want it or not. Perhaps a more positive masculinity would be one with more doubt, one that doesn’t have such “confidence.” After all, it is this “confidence” which has led men to declare the superiority of his race, nation, and religion, over others—and his body over that of women—and his privilege and power have given him ample opportunity to.

Deconstructing patriarchy is not just about a new womanhood, but a new manhood: one that is less sure, less phallic, and just maybe “sexless.” The premise that the “feminine ideal”—lumping in trans women, gay men, and sterile men along the way—is a metaphysical absence and therefore bad is nothing more than shaming and scapegoating victims of patriarchal oppression. Victim-blaming and calling people castrates like it’s the dirtiest word on the playground seems like a poor solution to overcoming gender-violence. I’m inclined rather to think the solution lies in embracing castration—grabbing patriarchy by the balls, and cutting the phallus of oppression right off.

A few words on Occupy Wall Street

The Occupy Wall Street movement has, at times, been painted as an incoherent, unstable, and a ‘mob-like’ movement. Social movements are, after all, easy to dismiss when it seems like just a bunch of deluded people running amuck. Others have lamented how unclear the political goals of such a movement are, what sort of clear point this movement is trying to make. Yet others have denounced the lack of revolutionary gusto (violence?) involved in these protests. Some have complained about the inescapability that we ultimately just have a bunch of people being exploited by a few complaining to those few to hurry up and stop it already. Some have even pulled the few knows best, that’s why they’re the few card.

What I find irritating about these critiques is that they are fucking old. Seriously. Really, really old. If you think for one moment that these are not the very same critiques levied against the Civil Rights movement (sit-ins, March on Washington, Chicano movement, etc.), Women’s Suffrage, Gay Liberation (pride marches, Stonewall ‘Riots’) and more, than you have another thing coming. Gay Liberation didn’t exactly have a particular proposition or bill that the whole of the movement was behind—namely because no such bill or action existed. This is what we mean by oppression, by exploitation, by silencing. These various movements weren’t about voicing complaints within the systems in place, but rather about establishing that the voice they had wasn’t represented at all, that they were being systematically silenced. Peaceful protesting is precisely that—PEACEFUL PROTESTING–NOT a revolution—and for all those in the blogosphere thinking that’s the only way to get things done, wake up and smell the history of countless peaceful social movements.

Granted, Occupy is not exactly a Civil Rights movement like the aforementioned. Totally, I admit this. But I think the same general urge to have a voice, to give voice to things unsaid, the desire to create a condition that things can be said in, is the same. This is what protest is—not the actual political activation itself. Systems are not yet in place for this to happen. Just as deciding, “no, it’s okay to have a space where people can be open about their orientation” doesn’t exactly enact any policy or legal advances in and of itself, it creates the condition for this political discussion to happen (see Stonewall ‘Riots’). Occupy Wallstreet is currently ‘successful’ precisely in that all these silly people critiquing it are critiquing it.

Does this ‘success’ mean everything is fine and dandy though? Of course not. The task before us, to right inequality, seems impossible. But you know what, The March on Washington and other such protests seemed impossible too—when able white men have all the power, why in the world would they decide to give it up? Because those being abused by that power want them to? Pshhh. But you know what amazing, miraculous thing happened? People talked. They critiqued. They discussed. And sooner or later the old generation of asshole bigots died and younger (hopefully) less bigoted people and activists and peaceful protesters took their place. But this only only only ever happens if these concerns get voiced. No exec or owner or principal of some business is going to even consider being ‘fair’ to his or her workers and consumers and such until people are fucking pissed about inequality.

How does a group of people who are oppressed by other people complain to those people and in so doing gain liberation? What steps have to be taken? What policies should be proposed? What programs should be axed? I haven’t the foggiest. But you know what, it happens. It’s amazing. Perhaps I am shot through with peaceful ideological fluffiness but I have this crazy belief that if enough people voice their concerns long enough and loud enough, things can change. People can change. And this doesn’t mean we aren’t left with shit to clean up—racism and sexism and homophobia and transphobia and so many other –phobias and –isms are alive and well today it makes me sick. We are still slogging through this shit day by day. Occupy is doing a similar thing with the great inequality throughout the U.S. of America–it’s trying to get things underway and get people talking. Trying to hold those in power responsible (geewhiz almost like it’s a democracy or something!). So, it’s time to be aware that inequality in the States is terrible right now. It’s time to realize how it affects people. Time to finally start changing things.

Towards a Constructive Penance: On Accountability, Guilt, and Power

I find it interesting that evangelical Christians still practice confession. Confession is, of course, a Roman Catholic practice that developed early in the medieval era and was codified as sacrament at the Lateran Council in 1215. Sure, the formation has changed, certainly it is unlikely an evangelical would use the phrase “the Sacrament of Penance,” but the idea of a small group, accountability group, pastoral counseling, etc., still abounds. I find this word ‘accountability’ particularly telling in terms of how it differs and yet is in complete alignment with the medieval practice. By contrast, penance could (and often did) take the form of inquisition and torture (consensual or otherwise), and if we were to take a look at medieval doctrines of the body, ecclesiology, and sexuality I think we would see why this was. The contemporary evangelical church shies away from such a direct denial of the body—although American consumerist Christianity (and I include myself in that label) definitely has its fair share of body-shaming and hatred. Also there is skepticism as regards church hierarchy, i.e. confessing to someone in particular. We don’t like the idea and, perhaps justifiably so, of someone with that sort of absolute knowledge.

However, I still think the comparison is ripe with similarities. For instance, although no vertical hierarchy, there is still sort of a lateral hierarchy (if this makes sense)—although there is no longer a direct person who must know, i.e. a priest (although pastoral counseling can look remarkably similar to this), there is a community itself which is in possession of knowledge, and it is still essential for the person confessing to confess to this community. In other words, rather than punish the individual for erring, the individual is condemned rather to feelings of inadequacy and guilt for keeping secrets. These communities are founded upon knowledge of the other, ‘accountability,’ rather than punishment. What is fascinating is how this takes the language of ‘truth.’ The implication is that there is some defining ‘truth’ of the individual, typically sexual but not exclusively, that is hidden or unseen and one should be open with the community and the community should know (the language is typically that of ‘brokenness,’ i.e. the image of the church as hospital, you must confess in order to be healed). In order to be ‘authentic’ or ‘real’ one cannot ‘hide’ one’s ‘brokenness’ from the community. Thus one reveals the ‘truth’ to the community, the ‘hidden’ side that no one sees ‘except God.’ This invocation of ‘God knows’ is a roundabout way of saying that the community of believers, i.e. those who ‘have’ the Spirit and who Christ ‘lives in’, already *really* knows. God knows. That’s what matters. So confess it to us and be ‘real,’ ‘authentic,’ ‘broken.’ That’s what ‘counts’ (thus ‘accountability). There is something (sexually) perverse at your core, God knows it, we know it, now tell us.

One has to wonder if this is much different than inquisition. Sure. It’s nowhere near as violent, obviously, and it is certainly not my intention to trivialize the horrors of the Inquisition. But in terms of power and knowledge—a community with the power of who you *really* are, with the power to control where you are (within the community), the injunction to reveal this to the community—there is something inquisitional about ‘accountability.’ By being in a community it is implied there is a part withdrawn, not entirely present to the community (the personal/sexual life), this is bad, and the community demands it of you (all in the name of ‘accountability,’ to take account for yourself).

This is particularly clear in men’s groups where discussion/confession of things like pornography and masturbation is ripe. The language used in such things, at least in my limited experience, fails to take the form of why these things are wrong (systemically), how to correct them (systemically), or any such thing. They take this language of accountability—confessing one has not given ‘everything’ to God (i.e. the community of believers), that they are ‘still holding on to things in their heart,’ etc. What these men tend to confess is their own finitude or withdrawal from the community rather than fruitful discussion over how to or even if we should overcome these issues. I have yet to ever here a sex-positive approach from a Christian as regards say pornography or even masturbation in such a context. The tacit assumption is these are things the church tells you not to do, but we all know you do them, so tell us you do already. Further, the ultimate confession is not that this person has objectified women, been unable to accept their own body, had sadistic fantasies even or what have you, but rather confessing how long it has gone on without telling anyone, how selfish this was of them, how bad it is to keep secrets, how they haven’t sacrificed everything to Jesus/the Church, in short, how they haven’t revealed all, haven’t been honest, broken, authentic.

I don’t mean this to be a bitter ‘all-confession-is-stupid-why-don’t-you-read-some-Foucault-or-queer-theory-already’ post. I mean this to be an urge towards a positive construction of penance—not one founded on guilt, of not revealing everything to the all-seeing-eye of the Church, but one grounded on lively conversation on how to overcome these real issues rather than use them as vehicles for pity and scapegoating. Men’s groups are so often scapegoats for not dealing with the issues they are supposedly attempting to correct. They so often devolve into self-pity, guilt, and lack of urgency to do anything constructive—meaning women are being exploited at the expense not only of these men’s sexual pleasure, but also for their self-pity and guilt as well. These are real people suffering who can’t afford the luxury of your feelings of guilt and pity. This is a call to have things like ‘accountability’ and Men’s groups to actually constructively deal with these issues—whether that be picketing, joining MCSR, teaching yes-means-yes at schools, boycotting products with sexist advertisements, or simply working for more female representation in the structure of their local church. It’s time for the contemporary American evangelical church to stop feeling sorry for itself and, who knows, start showing some sense of charity and justice.

Yes, In Fact, Your Ridiculously Sexist Ad Means You’re Sexist

For a long time I drove by a billboard of this advertisement everyday on my way to work. It seems to me to embody so much of what is wrong with advertisement and its relation to the distribution and reinforcement of social prejudice. If you don’t get how offensive this advertisement is, let me break it down somewhat for you: You are necessarily a male. All men necessarily like women. You also probably like to stare at women (just like you’re staring at the woman on this sign!). Our beer is just like the beautiful women you stare at—sexy, thin, able, white, heterosexual—the perfect object(-to-be-consumed). I personally feel no shame in holding the advertisers fully responsible for promoting these detrimental ideologies (sexism, homophobia, ablism, et al).

People often excuse such things given that it’s an advertisement merely ‘presenting’ a ‘situation’. This ad in particular further defers its prejudice by couching the advertisement in a faux-50s era nostalgia. This is the intentional shock of shows like Mad Men—by presenting sexism as blatantly as possible in the context of the ‘innocent’ 50s, it upsets a lot of the preconceptions we have of the 50s, nostalgia, and representation. But, unlike hopefully Mad Men (although things like this make me doubt), advertisements such as these are meant to simulate, create really, some lifestyle or situation for you as a viewer via a product.

Advertisements like these function as an extension of the Western gaze—film, TV, billboard, etc. all present some visual content in which the viewer is intended to penetrate, visually ‘enter’ (TV ads or whatehaveyou that feature a blank screen and just audio typically are there to entice the gaze all the more). The advertisement is created as a simulation with no original, the simulation itself is genetic. This man and this woman never had the hypothetical date that is implied. The extension of your gaze into the situation as a simulation of a hypothetical-date is itself the advertisement. It’s not copying anything. Not representing some genesis. The simulation is the thing.

Given that the advertisement is this simulation, it is responsible for its simulating. I know that sounds silly and redundant. My point is this—this ad is responsible for the heterosexism it’s simulating. Yes. I get we live in a heteronormative culture. I get that we live in a culture that has an ablist history of preferring sight to the other senses as both more objective and more sensual (Western conceptions of beauty and sexuality are frequently equitable to voyeurism—we Westerners are obsessed with the sense which distances us from our desires). I get that we live in a culture that thinks of the gaze itself as ‘male’ and the object of desire as ‘female.’ But given there is no ‘bottom’ phenomenon, no genesis, no origin(-al) the advertisement is ‘presenting,’ given that its presentation itself is the phenomenon, it is fully responsible for these sorts of ideologies it ‘represents.’ Because it isn’t ‘representing’ them—it is them.

Hold Onto Your Butts: on Bumper-Sticker Beliefs

Today I got stuck behind a car driving through Huntington Beach. On the back was a bumper sticker which read, “Hold onto your butts: keep our beaches and streets clean” featuring a picture of a cigarette butt. Nothing special. The irony, however, was that the driver was in fact smoking a cigarette and proceeded to throw the butt out the window. You know. Onto the street. At the beach.

This stresses to me something fundamental about belief. That is, belief is external, caught between and around and in front of us. It is out there in the world—we are in it, not autonomous possessors of it. This is not meant to completely undermine agency, just to say that oftentimes our so-called personal beliefs and convictions, say the soiling of streets with cigarette butts, goes against, not just our actions (i.e. hypocrisy), but active, external beliefs. This person (assuming the car was hirs and blah blah) had contradictory beliefs, both external convictions, one, that beaches and streets should be clean, and another, that s/he would like to smoke wherever s/he felt like. A lot of people’s reaction to global warming takes on this same contradictory-belief/disavowal quality (“Oh, of course I know global warming is really happening and terrible, but just one [insert environmental abuse here] isn’t going to break the camel’s back…”).

Basically, I’m trying to say that belief is caught up all around us. This includes us of course, like I said, I’m not trying to undermine agency. Who knows. Maybe a lot of good came from that bumper sticker. But nonetheless there was a pronouncement of a so-called “inner” belief (although of course this is wrapped up in external ideologies and mythologies about Nature, a certain health ideal, smoker shaming, etc etc) which, given its internality is presumed to be the person’s “authentic” self, counteracted by an “external” belief (“well, fuck it, I want a cigarette”), which is either viewed as a deeper self (“they’re a hypocrite!”) or  ideological (“look at how the media/corporations/et al have sapped away their agency!!! Aren’t we super great to in no way be influenced by ideology like those heathenz lolz!!1!”). Neither of these options fully satisfies me though.

I think of belief as an aggregate that, although including agents, is also external to myself. If you haven’t read Andy Clark and David Chambers’ fabulous essay on the extended mind, you should. In it, they argue to show the spreading of epistemic credit—that is that the mind is active externally in the objects it thinks “through.” So, for example, when writing a poem, myself, the pencil, and the pad all form an aggregate. I think “through” these things. Likewise with a laptop or even in regards to memory (the Otto and Inga example in the essay).

This is why I am so unsatisfied with most of the responses to the London riots. Either, the poor are demonized and blamed, the “they have revealed their true selves” rhetoric, or, on the opposing side, the rich and systemic forms of ideological and class oppression are to blame. Or, as Philip Blond seems to think, a bizarre form of both (he seems to think ideology is to blame, the destruction of “the individual” and blah blah, but yet somehow he wants to hold “individuals” wholly responsible… or am I reading this wrong?). None of these satisfy me wholly. People are caught up in beliefs, in systems, in ideologies. A person never fully bears the brunt of the belief in its entirety as an agent nor is the belief ever fully outside of the person. The agent is outside of the reach, withdrawn from the belief in some ways (like the smoking in the car with the bumper sticker, not wholly captivated by the belief, or rather, captivated in counteractive ways) and likewise the belief is outside the reach of the individual, they do not realize it in its entirety. No person involved in the London riots bears neither “the criminal” (a la demonization) nor “the oppressed poor” (a la ideological approach—which, for clarification, I do think is much less bigoted and far more insightful than the demonization approach) stereotype fully nor can anyone person be held fully responsible for the systemic beliefs involved therein (whether or not there is legal responsibility or what-have-you is not my concern here).

This is why I’ve decided to stop attending the church I was previously going to. I fully support equality for the LGBTQ community. It is also, unfortunately, hard to find the kind of church I would like to attend that doesn’t go directly against (in terms of verbal and/or financial support) LGBTQ issues and policy. I was attending such a church, and, well, I felt that I was within a system of belief I did not want to be—I was supporting an institute which propagated a certain belief, put me in a belief aggregate, that I did not want to be in. So it was time to leave. It was like smoking in the “hold onto your butts” car (perhaps a cliché is in order: “pulling a ‘hold onto your butts’ ” perhaps?). Despite the fact I didn’t “believe” the policing and hate, it was being believed for me—I was still within a system of belief acting on the world. What I would like to have thought of as a deep-seated, authentic belief was nothing more than a bumper-sticker belief on the engine of a gas-guzzling, beach-littering machine of a counteracting belief. Suffice to say, our beliefs are inherited, interconnected, disavowed, repressed, out-there, and mesh-y things. Mesh-y indeed.