this, that, and the Other

identity, alterity, and everything in between

Category: Gender

an anecdotal review of a film i saw on a weekday once

It begins at a mall with my father and youngest brother. It is interesting where we begin, or rather where we find ourselves beginning to speak. And it’s a mall, across the street from yet another mall, and it’s my father who says it’s a fun movie which I doubt, and it’s my younger brother who tells me I probably won’t like it. We pay. We watch previews and advertisements respectively which, given their ordering, I am assured are discrete things. Welles was obsessed with the camera as an eye. As a view and an ordering of things. Cinema is an answer. Maybe the questions are always asked after the fact, but what you walk into a film asking seems salient at any rate. And when walking in, and yes, paying, paying to be let in, and see The Avengers, one asks questions or presumes them.

The ultimate feeling one gets before the giant vision of a screen of men is an comforting finitude.  There is a woman somewhere in the film who thrives on the insecurities of less heroic men. Some have made mention that this is a radical statement about the subjectivity of being a woman or maybe it’s a radical statement about the movie industry or maybe it’s an ironic critique of the sidelining of women or how sexuality is always a failure. Maybe we are all black widows to the corporate America we are led to believe S.H.I.E.L.D. fails to be. Tony Stark succeeds and we know this because he is an all American heterosexual white male hero—a category the slightly flaccid Rogers reminds Stark he fails at. Supposedly the ending of the film disproves Rogers because Captain America fails to have wings or a jetpack or anything really other than nationalistic virtue and a proclivity for sticking around. Tony Stark due to presumably not going public or by dipping into the company pocketbook bravely teaches us that only CEO’s can enter the void of the universe. This is what the film means by vengeance.

On more than one occasion the film whispered to me I was Banner who is perpetually avenging himself against himself which gives him definite contours of self-reflexivity. Banner is something of a William Burroughs without conviction. Perhaps the most relatable in his awkwardness, which is yet another failure, but also most complicit in his passivity, Ruffalo plays a sort of Kubrick Joker or Alex or whatever Tom Cruise’s titular male porn star character in Eyes Wide Shut was called. This is perhaps why Mark Ruffalo makes so many romantic comedies. In both his romantic comedies and The Avengers, Ruffalo’s nudity plays a prominent role.

Stark wants you to think the Hulk is the real Banner or that Banner is some alter not-Hulk, meaning the dissonance or resistance to capital is a sort of negative narcissism. To be angry is to succumb. Unless of course you smash which is something sadly Banner never quite does to Stark or S.H.I.E.L.D. but who knows what will happen in the next movie or two. For now he dares not destroy our big American submarine-boat-helicopter, but of course we do with our imaginations, if not for justice ,at least for the spectacle of justice. And this is why they chose Loki as the protagonist of the film—an honestly corrupt fellow with nude paradoxical limbs rendered seamlessly explicit.

And here we have these various men who bring with them worlds, both literal and metaphorically literal, and politics and ideologies and general mythos to bear on our protagonist’s oedipal problems. We are led to like this or that particular instantiation according to plot and whim.  These moments of dissonance, world scraping world, seem the most pleasant—who doesn’t love the frottage of a Captain America and Iron Man after all? Of course we know the phallus of corporate America will win out in the end, the flaccidity of post-WWII America having become an overstated albeit nostalgic fact.

I must tell you at some point in the center of the film I left to use the bathroom and I don’t think I missed too much or rather I experienced something other people in the theater probably didn’t get to. There is a fight near the end and some extra stuff if you stick around through the credits which, as an exercise, is meant to lead us to believe is not part of the film. When I saw Thor eating a sandwich it was the closest I came to sympathy with any character throughout the film. Oh and someone died near the beginning which was sad because he was being paid by the government to make guns.

We left shortly thereafter and argued about this and that about the film but really we were talking about each other and how afraid and guilty we all are. If we could truly love each other I bet I would’ve liked the movie a lot more. If I had to remake the movie I think I’d cast Jack Kerouac as Captain America, Esther Newton as Tony Stark, GWF Hegel as Thor, Teddy Roosevelt as Hawkeye, Bjork as Black Widow, Loki played alternately by Michel Foucault and VI Lenin, Leonard Cohen as Bruce Banner, and Nina Simone as the Hulk. Of course Samuel L. Jackson would reprise his role.

We would film on location at the edge of the universe and the earth respectively and I imagine we’d shoot on an iPhone. I’d then project it on my breast, film it with my webcam, and upload it in segments to youtube. Naturally, I’d sue any theater or distributor who dared play it for copyright infringement (and maybe something about distributing pornography as well). No one would die though and we’d open with everyone eating sandwiches and end with a shot of Charlie Chaplin as a marine alternatively crying and trying on outfits but sort of smiling in between. If you stuck around until the very end you’d get to see a special little scene where we show you the names of all the people who worked on the film.

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There are No Good Men, No Not One

I’ve been having a fun little back and forth with a friend’s post over at the The Evangelical Outpost. You can find the whole of the post as well as my comments here. The gist of the article, which you should really read if you want more than my bad summation, is that it’s offensive to refer to men as boys or to treat them like boys. If a man is guilty of boyish behavior, one should treat him like a man, that is, address the responsibilities he is failing at, rather than resort to inaccurate name calling. My last comment summed up my position I thought pretty well, so just for the hell of it I thought I’d repost it here:
After some basic criticisms of this idea of a “man” and why I think self-identified “boys” or “bois” should be called what they want to be called (cause it’s nice), Nathan (the author) responded,

Whatever semantic labels you prefer, the fact is that people gain responsibilities as they age and sometimes they shirk those. I hope that in talking to people who turn away from responsibility we can show them that they do not have any semantic hiding places that will save them from what they are doing.

To which I wrote as follows [edited for spelling and grammatical error],

Yeah. I’m pretty sure I get the broader point about responsibility. And I agree about semantic cubbies and hiding places. But also semantics shapes the cubbies. It’s the mountains to the valley–complete with snowy peaks and potential landslides. It’s important to periodically stroll through and maybe close down an unsafe road or two.

It’s this correlation between being adult, masculine, strong, and virile with responsibility that I guess I was trying to push back against. Of course we give children responsibilities and we should be forgiving towards adults. If it’s a question of responsibility, all fine and dandy, but children have taught me a lot about responsibility and adults have at times been disappointingly repressed, irresponsible, and narcissistic. It’s not so much how to balance these two (adult/responsible with child/irresponsible) but more unlearning the ways we’ve been taught to privilege adults and trivialize children.

It seems like the source of frustration for you was this category “boy” and how it was implying you weren’t fit for or outside of certain responsibilities. I agree with you–it’s trivializing and dismissive. Yet it’s not just trivializing and dismissive to you, but to boys and children in general, while also assuming adults are way more secure and essential than they are. Just as the male who dismisses someone as a “boy” positions himself as a firm and solid “man,” so too joining in with calling all boys irresponsible positions you and I and all males into a comfortable category of “man.” It becomes this very sort of semantic hiding place–a means of coping by bullying those we’d like to think weaker and smaller than ourselves. It buttresses our own insecurities with a safe semantic and social shell, shirking responsibility of ourselves while scapegoating others.

So I guess my problem is a binary that’s so neat it pretends boys, and children in general, are irresponsible and men/adults are responsible. Like childhood is some bit of ash we must pass through to really, truly, finally be born. But children were born and are people and no less real. We give children responsibilities according to what they can and can’t do just like we do for adults. We expect them to follow through just as much. They have voices and stories worth telling and it’s nothing shy of narcissism to turn a deaf ear, thinking ourselves to have come much farther then they. After all, the kingdom belongs to such as these–a kingdom where there is no “man” or “woman.” I’d like to think St. Paul wasn’t just thinking about gender or birth-sex but birth, growth, maturity, aging, and dying. Ultimately, I think The City of God might be a little less “mature” and “civil” than we think, and just a bit more like Neverland.

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.

VIDEO SURPRISE

SO. I made a video. I hope you like it. I read some old poems and a new poem and chat too much but I was feeling chatty. I also started talking too soon. ENJOY.

BTDUBBS: I realize I said something weird about tallow coming from milk fat WHEN WE ALL KNOW it’s rendered beef fat. MY BAD. It also was and still is in some places used in feed. So like, cows are eating cow fat. Gross, I know.

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.

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.

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.

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.

“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.