Jacques Lacan reminds us, that in sex, each individual is to a large extent on their own, if I can put it that way. Naturally, the other’s body has to be mediated, but at the end of the day, the pleasure will be always your pleasure. Sex separates, doesn’t unite. The fact you are naked and pressing against the other is an image, an imaginary representation. What is real is that pleasure takes you a long way away, very far from the other. What is real is narcissistic, what binds is imaginary. So there is no such thing as a sexual relationship, concludes Lacan. His proposition shocked people since at the time everybody was talking about nothing else but “sexual relationships”. If there is no sexual relationship in sexuality, love is what fills the absence of a sexual relationship.
Lacan doesn’t say that love is a disguise for sexual relationships; he says that sexual relationships don’t exist, that love is what comes to replace that non-relationship. That’s much more interesting. This idea leads him to say that in love the other tries to approach “the being of the other”. In love the individual goes beyond himself, beyond the narcissistic. In sex, you are really in a relationship with yourself via the mediation of the other. The other helps you to discover the reality of pleasure. In love, on the contrary the mediation of the other is enough in itself. Such is the nature of the amorous encounter: you go to take on the other, to make him or her exist with you, as he or she is. It is a much more profound conception of love than the entirely banal view that love is no more than an imaginary canvas painted over the reality of sex.
What is Redemptive Masculinity? It is a particular ideal often discussed as the reason men should embrace feminism. It is a way of pointing out how men suffer under patriarchy by being forced to stick to rigid ideas of masculinity that are violent, unemotional, and restrictive to a fully flourishing life. Redemptive Masculinity does not posit that men suffer equally from structural inequality or material harm under patriarchy, but that it is a valuable outcome for men to be able to embrace their “feminine” sides without fear of suffering violence. In short, masculinity can be “redeemed” from its distorted form under patriarchy by incorporating the “feminine,” constructed as emotional and nurturing. Now, to be clear I don’t think men can’t be feminists or work for women’s equity. I follow Donna Haraway in thinking that there is no totalizeable feminism, there is nothing “natural” about being a women, and there are multiple standpoints from which feminist politics can arise. However, I do think there are a couple insidious elements to Redemptive Masculinity that need to be questioned.
First, despite the forced stoicism of traditional masculinity, there is nothing “unemotional” about patriarchal masculinity; if anything it is driven by excessive emotions. Underneath the veneer of patriarchal masculinity lurks both fear and rage. Fear at the loss of control, at being unequal, at losing status, and most importantly fear of losing power - whether structurally or in the most microscopic of power relations. For power is indubitably linked to pleasure, to the experience of pleasure and the fear of its being diminished. Afraid of this loss of power/pleasure patriarchal masculinity reacts with rage and violence, expressing man’s desire to exercise his control, a control society has often promised him. Zizek’s idea that at the heart of racism is the thought that the Other has stolen my jouissance seems pertinent here. Under patriarchy men will fear that women have access to a pleasure that is denied to them, to their jouissance, and will lash out if they think that fear has been proven true. Kate Zambreno’s book Heroines is interesting in this regard, as she shows how the male modernists were as “hysterical” as the wives they claimed were crazy and abused. Their emotions, of paranoia and fear, were socially sanctioned and thus these men were not overly emotional but Great Artists. Patriarchal masculinity then does not suffer from being “unemotional” but from an excess of negative emotions that are socially sanctioned for the maintenance of women’s inequality.
This leads me to the other aspect of Redemptive Masculinity, that the emotions men need to incorporate from women are their “caring” ones. However, such thinking buys into one of the key myths of patriarchy concerning women. It confirms that women are the “emotional” ones in society, possessing something men need to possess as well. Structurally this is the inverse of the dominant logic of patriarchy, that women possess a jouissance men lack. Redemptive Masculinity then does nothing to breakdown societal stereotypes of sexual difference but only flips them. Men go from seeing being emotionless as a virtue to a lack, while women’s “emotional” nature goes from being denigrated to valued, something men require access to as well. Women are still seen as the possessors of all that is good (their jouissance, their virginity) and that men must acquire. Despite the best intentions of forming more tolerant, open men Redemptive Masculinity does not breakdown the essential connections between sexual difference, desire, and potential violence.
Recognizing this, what are the roots for a socially viable masculinity? I find the work of Leo Bersani useful here. In “Is the Rectum a Grave?” he argues that there is an essential link between misogyny and homophobia - a fear of the radical passivity of the woman/gay man. The way out of this fear is to embrace radical passivity itself, to be open to being “penetrated” by others and willing to form radical socialities with them. In his later work in Forms of Being and Intimacies Bersani has expanded this question into how to recognize correspondences between the self and the world. Moving away from the question of the difference of the Other Bersani asks how a person can recognize the sameness of their selves in the world. Radical passivity then gives way to forging non-violent correspondences in the world that will allow for both socially viable communities and sexual pleasure. I see this as a possible, though surely not the only, starting point for rethinking masculinities outside of patriarchal sexual difference, where it is not a question of the fear/desire of the Other’s jouissance but of a particular correspondence between “men,” however determined. This would by necessity be a masculinity aware of patriachal violence and histories of sexual control, while still allowing for particular pleasures of activity AND passivity for the subject. The other potential upside is that motivation for men to work alongside women for social justice is not predicated on the idea that this is the only way for men to gain something they lack, but instead they can be motivated by a correspondence they see between themselves and other women - a correspondence that springs from the mutual enmeshment of men, women, and others in communities that should be embraced instead of rejected.
At first I cannot even have a sheet on me,
anything at all is painful, a plate of
iron laid down on my nerves, I lie there in the
air as if flying rapidly without moving, and
slowly I cool off—hot,
warm, cool, cold, icy, till the
skin all over my body is ice
except at those points our bodies touch like
blooms of fire. Around the door
loose in its frame, and around the transom, the
light from the hall burns in straight lines and
casts up narrow beams on the ceiling, a
figure throwing up its arms for joy.
In the mirror, the angles of the room are calm, it is the
hour when you can see that the angle itself is blessed,
and the dark globes of the chandelier,
suspended in the mirror, are motionless—I can
feel my ovaries deep in my body, I
gaze at the silvery bulbs, maybe I am
looking at my ovaries, it is
clear everything I look at is real
and good. We have come to the end of questions,
you run your palm, warm, large,
dry, back along my face over and
over, over and over, like God
putting the finishing touches on, before
sending me down to be born.
how long how
hard how good
he will have to fuck me
for i to hear him?
A vibrator powered by bees, one stings your clitoris as you orgasm. You bite down on a capsule of honey you’d hidden under your tongue.
Arabic calligraphy for a tattoo in my Inbox. Drinking gin with lemonade and watermelon. Falling asleep to rain, waking up to rain. Dream that I am at the bottom of the ocean, then flung violently by a wave into the sky. After the wave another wave, of broken glass and ring pulls and plastic fragments, shells. Dredged up debris arching out of the ocean like a polluted rainbow to find my naked skin. Debris sticks to my body like magnets, until I am concreted into a mask. A body that stiffens and sinks. Whales always rescue me in my dreams. Sometimes I am on a boat and the ocean is a storm or a tsunami and whales swim up underneath the boat until the boat breaks up. Then I am in the water, swimming with them. In other dreams I hear a song I can’t translate and an old woman is tattooing my chin and lips black with a bone chisel. When I wake up I think if I live to be her age, I will get this tattoo. I am always armoured with lipstick. Nude lips don’t know how to lie. I lie with silence. The second dream I had last night was about rape, and the dream after that, and the dream after that. I seek out the thumb of a new master. I am prepared to beg: make my body forget, how does a body ever forget. His opposite is a good man I’m afraid to touch. The ruin I’ll bring him in my fingertips and mouth that itches like a vein remembering heroin. Drowning because it’s the only time I feel like I’m not drowning. Drowning open mouthed, my body rained in. I haven’t forgotten how to swim, I just want to stop.
This isn’t a diary entry because of everything I leave out. This isn’t a poem or a sex tape. The only evidence is my raw knees, bitten by concrete. The first time I’ve had vanilla sex in a long time. Does it still count as vanilla sex if it’s in a car park and both lovers are exhibitionists? Returning to the first place he ever had me, when he couldn’t wait until he got me home. He has asked me to help him with intimacy before, to get over his fear of being touched with any kind of tenderness. We had never gotten this far.
He touched me gently, shyly, his hands moving across my back and ass and breasts. He has broken skin before, but last night his mouth on my breasts made teeth an afterthought. He kissed me gently, then hungrily, captured my lip in his teeth. I cupped his chin and his face in my hands. He kissed me like he wanted me to fall in love with him, he kissed me for a very long time. Later when he was still in my mouth he said, I can’t wait, and turned me over to slide my knickers down my thighs and hike up my skirt, entering me, the hugeness of him leaving me gasping. Then he asked me to get on my back and he was inside me again, his lips finding mine, not breaking the kiss. He didn’t break eye contact while he fucked me. He would go to touch me shyly, like he wanted to stroke my skin, and rest his large hands gently on me instead. For the first time as my lover, there was nothing rough about the way he fucked me. Everything felt different and new and sweet.
After he came in my mouth, his heart struggling to pump blood and oxygen through his 6”10 frame, his breathing shallow, he smiled at me. My hand touched his stomach in reassurance. We talked for a long time afterwards, sitting together, knees touching. I realised his red eyes probably meant he’d been crying before I got there. Last night there was less of the animal in him and more of the scared boy. Everything we spoke about is too sad to repeat here, sadder than The Smiths songs playing on the speaker of his phone while we talked. All suicides the same tragic cliche. I hope that being with me, talking, touching, brought him some kind of comfort. He joked about a tooth he’d chipped and the iPhone screen he’d cracked and he said, I am done fixing broken things. I remember when I once said, I am done fixing broken men, but the way he touched me without me asking, without fear, reminded me again there is something in him to protect and to save. We wrapped our arms around each other to hug goodbye, he said he hoped I’d sleep well. My small hand found his large hand, my pinky stroking his palm. He didn’t flinch. I stood on my tiptoes to kiss him good night.
She sits with one hand poised against her head, the
other turning an old ring to the light
for hours our talk has beaten
like rain against the screens
a sense of August and heat-lightning
I get up, go to make tea, come back
we look at each other
then she says (and this is what I live through
over and over)—she says: I do not know
if sex is an illusion
I do not know
who I was when I did those things
or who I said I was
or whether I willed to feel
what I had read about
or who in fact was there with me
or whether I knew, even then
that there was doubt about these things -
Resistance is located in past forms of power in the subject’s history.
Move away from the idea of the subject composed as a list of properties toward that of a subject composed of a series of events. This gives the subject the ability for resistance in the pathway of the event of the subject’s life. Put another way subjection is not the result of listing or confessing ideas about ourselves/experiences in order to produce Truth, but of circling back upon the event of our experiences and ideas of ourselves as another event in the process of (re)creating truths about ourselves i.e. making sense of ourselves and experiences. Resistence comes from (re)experiencing past forms of power from our lives and using truths we have amassed in the interim to resist or redirect the flow of power. Not being defined by, but rather using our mistakes for example. In order to use first we must own. If only for a short time. To produce truths of our self in a moment.
Allow confession to operate within and create an Ars Erotica that explodes the master/subject dynamic of the private encounter as lesson regulated by the experienced male (and male experience) and embraces a language of the female who talks about her self and her sexuality and her practice and her experience wholly outside the mastery or Truth of the male. This is why women who talk about themselves or their sexuality or sexual experiences on the internet and elsewhere are either narcissists or oversharers or hysterics or sluts. Because if the man is no longer in control of the lesson, no longer the master teacher, then he will stop at nothing to subordinate the confessing woman—the woman confessing outside the circuit of Truth—to him or his experience or his understanding of the how things really are.
Who is the partner to which these (re)confessions are directed? Resisting confessing to a known partner with the power to “forgive, console, and direct.” Embracing confessing to a yet unseen partner of a future event.
Considering the confession as a pleasure. Techniques of producing pleasure that resist the idea of one master and pupil. Reconfigure Ars Erotica as the production of affect(s) rather than a mastered/masterful body. Confession as joy. The power a body has to connect with other bodies. A positive (productive) encounter is a feeling of an increase in power in the body such that each of the bodies is able to go out and repeat the process.
Even though a “great archive” of pleasure is being assembled through the practice of confession the archive is fluid, it contracts and breathes continually as people engage the archive through practice, as they encounter and produce affects, as they have more and more “joyful” encounters through the process of (re)confession.
Cyndi Lauper Fearless a cappella
I don’t know why I’ve never posted this version before because I listen to it all the time.
He is testing me in the same way I test people. Are they enough, are they strong enough for this? I am never enough for anyone that I want to love me. Or maybe I am too much. I want to bite and kick and scream at him. He says, you should get angry, don’t forgive me, why aren’t you angry. I want to soothe his body with the warm palms of my hands like I would a child. He is young and beautiful and his body is powerful but he is so vulnerable. He makes me want to protect him from darkness and hurt. I want him to use that darkness and ruin me as much as he can. When he is light hearted, when he smiles, it’s almost a shock. The nicest of surprises and then I’m not sure which side of him I like more.
He says, we should be very careful, I might go too far, I want to see you bleed, I want to see you cry, I might go too far. The boundaries I enforce are for his sake, not mine.
For someone I’m not in love with, I’ve already written too many poems about him. I gave up another man because he wouldn’t give me (the bratty sub) what I wanted. He didn’t pass. I have no tests for affection, happiness, intimacy, love or tenderness. I have spent too long with those needs as planets transiting around my body, until they are pulled away to another woman or I can no longer see them in the sky. I will love to come and the longer it doesn’t, the more I turn to masochism. I am more afraid to tell you all this, exposed, than I am afraid of any sort of physical pain. I am afraid to say out loud how lonely it is without love. I used to think it would be so simple. If you want to be tender with me, apply in writing. I’m starving.
He tells me what to wear and how to pose and my eyes burn the edges of his photographs. Since childhood I have been so self reliant that sometimes it is a relief to be told what to do. I’ll never let anyone tell me how to think. I want to tell you, I am often happy. I live up to the Joy in my name. I make my friends laugh. I bring light and love to the world. I nurture. I could make you very happy. I am just worn out lately.
A friend tells me, we need our poets. I cry. I want the friends who offer comfort and love to know that I am here, still breathing gratefully. I have retreated to the quiet.
Psychologically, I am already on my knees. I need to be annihilated with sex. I need the distraction of mistakes, but strangely, with him I feel none of the dread I have with past mistakes. Submission is the only way I have found to be physically and spiritually free. I create my own gods, but only the ones I can bare to see destroyed. He takes my instruction, he learns from what I tell him about how we can harness the dark. I have lived and survived worse and he helps me soothe some of it. I don’t belong to him and he doesn’t belong to me, but as much as I try to stay away I can’t give him up yet. I wait to fail a test, I wait for him to push me away like he does to everyone else.
We are broken mirrors to each other. My body is the tuning fork of his desire. He doesn’t make me happy, but he takes away enough of my fear that my body is an empty slate for happiness again.
Soon, in the time it takes you to have a change of heart about me, reader, I will write that it’s over.
He tastes sweet. In an explicit message, he observes, “it was like you needed it to live” and I want to reply, this is how I am born and born again.
This is the only time I’ll ever explain a poem to you.