this, that, and the Other

identity, alterity, and everything in between

Category: Orientation

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.

Updates and “advice for a new you”

Hello one and all. Sorry for being mildly absent (aren’t we all?), but I am in the process of some serious editing before sending off poems to journals and magazines and the like. Also in the process of looking for an apartment among other things. Other things include: stressful conversations, money issues, mild car issues, coming out as queer/fluid/bisexual/WHATEVER/Just-josh to the fam, birthdays, weddings, and other things that actually seem like excuses now that I type them all out. Anyway one of the poems I am editing I thought I would share with you, the reading world. I wrote it in the midst of all the above mentioned things while also reading some Heather Christle, Judith Butler, Julia Serano, Suzanne Buffam, Ish Klein, among others. So I give it to you from this context and wash my hands of this context. Cheers and love.

advice for a new you

 

you were sorry

in a personal way. a

description of things like settling

rain, a description of umbrellas. don’t

tell me about the sky or the origin

of things. the light is what we

left behind. backdrop to

shadow. tomorrow the glorious will

come, spend its night, whisper

of dawn and the kingdom

that is in your breast. you have half

of everything already, the

rest: alarm. to find that inner

beauty they tell you about,

first bury yourself, wait

three days, then

make new friends

 

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.

even the stars fall from the wall

even the stars fall from the wall

 

 

the first moon of the first year doesn’t have

a name anymore.

 

you leant me margaret mead made me gay

which i started last night

under a new moon. we call the moon

new because of how it relates to the

sun. anne

 

hutchinson was called new even

while being accused of all the old heresies.

they called her a witch just like

they called midwives witches. the most

common thing midwives

were accused of was the desire to steal

men’s penises, and

 

they were drowned,

burned at the stake, or crushed under rock.

then and only then could obstetrics emerge

as a science,

that is, a male-only medical profession, with

likewise

the instruments of the male medicinal

imagination, the forceps, which would scoop

the child out, piece by piece if necessary,

while the mother, tied or chained,

lay down, making for easier

 

reach and less strain on the doctor,

who assured the woman that pain was her

natural and allotted curse in life. i read

 

about that the other day and it made

me think of you and those

things you said about

motherhood. i thought

a lot about my

mother and the things

that happened to her when she was

young, how

 

they really happened to me too, at least

in a way. when you

finally met her it was sad

and i was guilty cause how typical,

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

and i don’t

really know why but i cried

 

when i drove home.

after, i couldn’t forgive

anyone about anything for weeks

 

*                             *                             *

 

last year

i fell asleep at eleven while everyone

else welcomed the new year. and,

 

i thought to

myself, that this must mean

something i said and you said you

thought it

probably did too and even though you

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

you

 

about my uncle then and how i like

twin peaks and how scared i am of open

windows

and you brought up the female

eunuch and i said something about

transphobia and

 

we agreed but that was earlier

in the sun when we changed

our shirts to sit

in the shade. things were so

peaceful then in tank-tops underneath the

californian

sun which is really

the same sun everywhere for

everyone on this

planet. god. this planet. like that really

means anything anymore after

everything

 

*                             *                             *

 

you told me over the phone

you went to a conference where

they wore shirts

that said esther

newton made me gay. that’s

pretty funny.

esther

 

talks a lot about camp and in mother camp she

says something about

coping or transforming the

suffering of others’ fear into a state of irony

or something. i never was very good

 

at that. when i was 6 my dad said chicken

and i asked is that the kind

of chicken you eat or the kind that

flies. the tao

 

says something

about no place for the horn

to enter. no penetration. it would be pretty camp

to be candy

 

darling for halloween

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

clothing these

days and what with my identity issues and

fucked

up sexuality,

going as warhol is probably pretty camp

too. i miss you too. i used

 

to be the cop who got shot

when my brothers played

cops and robbers. i hate

 

writing i miss you.

no risk

in the writing. no self staring back in

the

risk of writing. no

crisis of

language. no sainthood or eternality of the

soul or bullshit and

no risk of

bullshit. chickens

 

can’t even fly.

i hate

myself writing like this

 

*                             *                             *

 

i reallymiss how you sucked

my nipples. some

people say the

male nipple is useless. fuck

them and their

teleological bullshit. it was that sort of thinking

that led to clitoridectomies on “hysteric”

women with “erotic tendencies.” if

the 18th century

male bourgeoisie really took themselves

seriously

they’d never stop castrating

themselves. at least they’d

still have

 

nipples. i’d like

 

to think somewhere

there’s a picture of the little

christ child suckling away

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

 

it’d be easy to ask

someone to suck my nipples

 

*                             *                             *

 

later, you whispered something of a

new year (you must take this he once

said, and

 

maybe he too

will pass into night. forgotten

 

all implication and finally

be free) but

 

what could i say. for years he

visited me in the dead of night with

sad sad eyes like

 

the eyes of the american

night kerouac loved so much, and

 

i would dream about

those eyes and how they floated in

the bathroom

 

window, even though we lived on a

second-floor,

and how, even from an early age, i

 

wondered anyone got up so high, and

what it was about me and about

 

knowing, about fucking and all the

usual suspects

buried deep down inside. and,

 

here with you, and tonight, i just

really wish I knew

 

*                             *                             *

 

night emissions are what

they called it in

the glory days of 1970s freudian mumbo jumbo

america. this unconscious selffucking was

stranded somewhere on the

wire tight

between shitting and pissing oneself, not

quite as

 

juvenile as (or so they would

say) female clitoral

stimulation, but not quite the anti-social

pathology

of full conscious solo male fucking either. but

that’s what i want to do with this

night, in the heat of it, just fuck

it right out and fuck you

right out

and for once and finally be fucked in

two. of

 

course, we could take this to

mean that semen is like nighttime, emitted

from deep down inside

from some primordial sleeping granddaddy

erection, and every time dusk rolls

around it’s cause some

boy had a big wet one, bringing down both

the stars and moon on us all

 

*                             *                             *

 

in beginners, ewan

mcgregor

summarizes his fetish with spray

painting public property as historical

consciousness. mike mills

directed beginners

and also has a fetish with spray painting

 

public property. this says something

about the

artist and art and what it is to have an

audience and

shit like that. anyway i think

 

that’s what this is. historical

consciousness. you once told me

anthropology wasn’t creative and i

felt really sorry for you then, because

the truth is poetry is just like

ethnography but

with less research. when

 

you said you were

supposed to spend a year

doing research outside of

your own culture i missed you. i mean.

to take the lid

off the thing is beautiful

and liberation is all

we have left, but resonance is

enclosure. also

preservation, health. to uncover is to expose

or enculture, to invite bacteria

and all sort of life. to be

open to the possibility

of life. to bend your ass

bare to the sky. to risk

being fucked

in the fucking. sometimes

 

i admit i don’t know the difference but

 

it was sad when you

left and i got that line from the

poetics of space stuck in my head, how the world

would be a better place if pots

and lids

always stayed together

and i wanted you back

 

*                             *                             *

 

we’re supposed to be

making love. damn that patronizing

sexedup alvie singer.

 

there are some things you can’t

swallow without

gagging. i was

 

annie then, wanting to

be fucked into nothing. you were

nico or jack kerouac maybe,

always ahead of

some careening. we made love

 

the night you

left. it was beautiful in a way. the

semen pooled

onto my chest

in the night. the coolness

 

there. the discharge. the sense of

self

found in the rubbing and

in the loss. you can

never really lose everything

 

you said. when our

broad shoulders touched

and your hands

were on mine

and you

told me about the iliac

crest, it

was the world that

was guilty. when i

couldn’t, the towel

swallowed your cum

 

*                             *                             *

 

maybe

you had to have

something or someone to forgive

unconditionally.

maybe you forgive lovepoems

 

too even though

you have

such a hard time with

people who say the word love like

it has

definite contours.

some people can’t

imagine

 

love spilling out

of itself. that’s

why god killed

onan. such a god lacks the imagination

to love without shame. moses

could only see god’s ass

who was so

afraid that moses would catch

him in

the buff and laugh

at the shame of it. i was kicked

by a bunch of

boys in the balls once in p.e.

and the teacher laughed. i

was obese which

meant i was sick which meant

it was funny to kick me

in the balls. i never

 

really got

the logic but the point is i imagine that’s

how god felt surrounded by

moses and with his

ass sticking out like that i feel

bad for him but

then again

what with the whole creator of everything

bit i kinda expect a little more out

of god

 

*                             *                             *

 

sadeyed lady of the lowlands

came on the other day and i

thought of how we never

listened to blonde on blonde while we

fucked

 

and how germaine

greer said the sadeyed lady and

the girl from north country were

eunuchs but

what does she know about dylan and the

beauty of the soul. when

orson welles

says he’s not a magician but an actor playing

the part of a magician he means

artifice is the only

magic this side of heaven.

you said

 

you weren’t really liberated

until you tasted your own menstrual

blood. well,

germaine, i don’t have menstrual blood okay

the best i can do is taste my

semen which is hardly the same thing. but

 

it’s been getting

sweeter lately. god, even i’m a

 

man. a piece of shit playing

the part of a man. sometimes even

an actor playing shit playing  the part of a

man. i’m

trying to tell you i’m sorry. i’m

 

trying to put this somewhere

 

*                             *                             *

 

the planet’s going to finally die someday

and of course type-1 diabetics will

 

still have diabetes in heaven and

martyrs always wear their scars like

trophies in

icons at the getty so you didn’t

see why diabetics shouldn’t proudly display

 

insertionsite scars and pumps

alongside st bartholomew and his heap of

flayedflesh. and we thought

this was beautiful, and that maybe

somewhere

the world’s flesh might be hung up to dry on

 

some temple wall someday and the

people genuflect and wonder what a world

we must’ve been and what a

death we suffered and what a beauty it all was

before heaven

so wonderfully dispersed its grace like

 

so many tiny bombs and the world fell

asleep in angelic wonder

and never woke up until the following year

sometime past midnight, clear-eyed and

 

fresh and ready

to begin again

as if for the first time in forever

 

*                             *                             *

 

you held me tightly there.

you fucked me

like a man fucks. ground me

down to a pulp of myself.

i wore a

 

love conquers hate

shirt for days. loving

oneself is like being

blind but not like the flower girl

in city lights with her christ imagery

and madonna silence. there’s

something so canned when

chaplin’s mouth gapes open

as wide as his eyes

and those sounds pour out

in a

proper english. but

 

how can you not cry watching the great

dictator

and even laugh when

he fucks the world he blew. you

know anything really

can save this world

except killing it.

 

when you visited

i missed you

and when you left

i missed you. even in kyoto

i long for kyoto goes a hass

translation of basho.

i guess there

is always something lost. even the

 

nightmares

of my uncle and the shit

he did and the night and the fear

of it and all of everything

burns out after awhile. and you get

left with something

tallow

i am much too large

for this day. it sags and pulls

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

for this day. yesterday my breast

burned but it was beautiful, clean, young

and tender. you are the body rendered

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

my left thigh. tomorrow

the right. the day after a calf.

imagine my

right thigh tomorrow. imagine my calves on friday.

remember this breast but yesterday

and try to love me.

Queer Poetry and the Aesthetics of Failure

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

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

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

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

“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.

On the Soul

I bet Plato wrote so much

about the soul because

some greekboy (as boys

oftentimes do) tore into that

flesh with his fresh, young body,

tore that soul in Plato right out.

I imagine he spent the rest of

his life trying to put that wounded

soul back into a body, as he grew

cynical with age, certain in himself

that his body was a prison, and his

soul detached, a thing of pure beauty.

Doubt, Sacred Objects, & Religious Orientation

Over the past few days I have been having what for me is a fruitful discussion on what ‘religion’ is (although it seems to be mostly geared towards Judeo-Christianity and religions of ‘the book’) over on my Google+. I’ve had a few insights into my own thinking by having to articulate them so I thought it would be worthwhile to share a few excerpts here and get other people’s thoughts and advice.

It begins with the question of orthodoxy, religious certainty, and ‘sacred’ objects:

I personally consider myself a Christian and think the Bible is not inerrant. I attend mass. I consider myself religious. I am certainly not alone in this conviction as many of my friends and acquaintances are in the same boat. I am a Christian in so far as the Bible is a sacred object of study for me, as is Christ, the Eucharist, blah blah. However, these objects are consistently called into question, doubted, and critiqued–this almost seems a precondition to religious belief to me. Of course I doubt god’s existence, question what that existence is. This is my religious belief.

In other words, I agree that there is a difference between an examined/questioned belief and an unexamined one–it is unexamined beliefs, the ones that reveal themselves to us in events and catastrophes (the person who considers hirself fair and charitable until in a context with another that reveals racism, sexism, transphobia, etc), that are rightly fundamentalist convictions. Beliefs deep in us, in others we trust, and in our systems of thought, culture, and politic are “fundamentals”–not the convictions of people who consistently examine, question, deconstruct, scrap, re-construct, etc, these beliefs.

This moved into a discussion over how religion and philosophy are similar and differ, me arguing that philosophy too has historically had ‘sacred’ objects and revered ‘saints’ as well as its host of ‘heretics’ and philosophic ‘profanity,’ i.e. an ‘orthodoxy.’ Which lead to clarifying that,

not all religions preserve such a[n eternal, sure, and certain] sense of orthodoxy, and the ones that think they do (which aren’t terribly many–certain Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox strands of Christianity jump first to mind, but not all RC or EO persons would affirm this at that) fall into countless and obvious contradictions for thinking this way. It seems silly to lump all other religious convictions and expressions in the same boat. Tradition, even in an RC context means precisely that, traditio, to hand down, which is to say to take something from another place and time into another place and time. Even the staunchest of religious dogmatics think that these principles take different forms and are to be questioned and applied differently according to context. Sometimes they are outright done away with.

But as the history of say Christianity shows, even this dogmatism is a minority. Just look at the Reformation. Or the Anglican church. Or the Quakers. Or the Mennonites and on down the line. These are constant perpetual revisions, contradictions, of one particular instantiations of one particular religion–all throwing out heaps of dogmatisms, even what dogmatics fundamentally is, along the way. This isn’t identical to the history of philosophy, of course, but it is to say these things are pretty related and interconnected both in a structural sense and a historic sense.

And lastly then expounding on what doubt of orthodoxy looks like and what this implies about say a theology of god:

As regards doubt, using the language of orientation again, one can pray to a god one doubts exist–this is what a religious orientation is to me. It’s called a risk. I suppose, given how you use the term then, I am agnostic in that gnosis (some sort of ‘special’ revelation) is suspended–but I am oriented towards some*thing*–it may be a fiction, but fictions are certainly things. So what is in question is not whether or not this thing I pray to called god exists or not but what kind of existence it has and the implications of this. I am oriented towards it as an object. It’s almost like a sexual orientation. I am ‘oriented’ towards an ‘orient’ (an other, something unknown, something withdrawn, something in-reserve) by an insatiable erotic attraction . This involves the risk of the thing possibly being revealed to be substantive, a fraud, dead, horrific (Bergman’s spider-god), childish, feminine, masculine, etc. It involves the risk of realizing my desire exceeds me. That I don’t really want what I think I want. Just because this risk exists doesn’t mean I’m suddenly not a theist–just because I do not know with 100% certainty what way or shape a god would look or sound or act like doesn’t mean I can’t orient, pray, revere, and worship one.

Any thoughts?