Friday, June 15, 2007

Notes on Andro-(ab)normativism



'While it is indisputably true that sexuality is always being politicised, the way in which having sex politicises is highly problematical. Right wing politics can, for instance, emerge quite easily from a sentimentalising of the armed forces or of blue collar workers, a sentimentalising which can itself prolong and sublimate a marked sexual preference for sailors and telephone linemen'

From Leo Bersani's Is the Rectum a Grave?, which I was recently sent by Dominic. The section of this essay in which various transgressive and/or utopian spaces are listed and found wanting spurred thoughts of Fassbinder's Fox and his Friends, in which a naif lottery winner enters the bathhouse world cited here, and finds that class, even (or especially here) came before sexuality. Which brings us to the inability or unwillingness of queer theorists to think about collectivity, with reference to this and this.



In conversation k-p has talked about the existence of a 'relationship normativity' rather than the heteronormativity that Edelman was using as an over-ridden hobby horse. Bersani writes precisely that it is 'the degeneration of the sexual into a relationship that condemns sexuality to becoming a struggle for power': and the two options presented by queer theory at the Edelman conference were the relationship or one-bedroom apartment serial promiscuity, surely two sides of the same coin. The notion that here inactivity or indeterminacy would be more genuinely anti-normative - Mark has mentioned Morrissey here. Some of the most interesting, and dare I say it truthful lyrics on sex can be found in his work: the seediness and desperation of 'Handsome Devil' or the languid doubt of 'Stretch out and Wait'. There is what Bersani calls, in reference to Dworkin, the desire for 'The Criminalisation of Sex Itself Until it has been Reinvented', and it seems to be this that motivated Morrissey's particular stance, rather than mere puritanism or disgust. The question, and one which Bersani doesn't quite answer, in preference for an obliterative jouissance, is what this reinvention would look like - and this why a new Sexpol is needed to think this out.



Another point not quite touched on: how this all relates to dress, and to style, given that the apparently transgressively privileged androabnormative is currently as sartorially conservative as anywhere else. Having been incorrectly identified as gay and subsequently subjected to verbal abuse and/or been knocked about a fair few times, I've never really enjoyed the irony that one's adversary would blend into a Soho crowd much easier than I would - and this is where the limiting of queerness to sexual activity is so tragic. Said pummelling/shouting was perhaps not because I looked like I might well have slept with men, but because I looked effete or effeminate, which was unnerving - queer, if you will.



Which brings us to one of the reasons why I've always preferred Bowie to Ferry: (save for the records being overwhelmingly better after 1972) partly because Ferry's suave mannishness was so much less interesting than how alien Bowie was. Not as in the early 70s Ziggy period when the alien was constantly flagged up, but from 75-80, where the lack of ostensible 'look ma, no eyebrowws' brought out the queerness of his body, gestures and expressions. What made Velvet Goldmine so fascinating (and, once you get past Ewan Macgregor's appaling performance so underrated - cf Mark Sinker) was its restablishing these links between queerness and glamour, a line which neccessarily sidesteps machismo, transgression and the merely parodic.

23 Comments:

Anonymous dejan said...

ok so if you're not gay, are you at least bi-curious?

4:44 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"...this is where the limiting of queerness to sexual activity is so tragic."

Hello there. I quite enjoy reading your blog but I have to say, I find statements such as that quoted above a bit uncomfortable-making. As a full on, card-carrying sodomite I have been made uneasy on more than one occasion by putatively heteroboys carrying on about how "queer" they are. There's something that smacks of sexual colonialism to this, straights redefining queerness to suit their own purposes and allow them one more avenue to the center of things.

Just a thought...

4:59 pm  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

Sure, point taken. But 1) this is quite explicitly how 'queerness' was defined in the early works of Queer Theory (eg Gender Trouble, etc) - not as a synonym for 'I enjoy sexual practices A and B with X and Y' but as a wider definition of the gender-aberrant, and it seems to me to be reneging on this promise; and 2) naturally I don't want to be too Brett Anderson 'bisexual man who hasn't had a homosexual experience' here, as that is clearly rather eww - my point was, though, that you certainly don't have to be a 'card carrying sodomite' to be queerbashed.

5:32 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fair enough! I just find this argument often gets taken to troubling lengths. And while early Queer Theorists may indeed have liberated queerness from homosexuality, I always thought that was a pretty idea in principle, not so pretty in practice. I guess what I find fascinating is that everything gets coopted, every expression of deviance gets normalized, etc. Being a bit swishy/effeminite but basically straight just isn't as threatening as homosex (really, did I just type the word "homosex?") and oh, I really don't know what my point is. Actually, yeah. I do. I don't 100% buy into Queer Theory notions and I am, sadly, old-fashioned enough to think that queers are queers. I am as uncomfortable, for instance, with straight queer theorists as I am with Patti Smith claiming to be a "Rock'n'Roll Nigger." Er, no Patti. No.
And having said all that I find just the thought of what Edelman has to say about barebacking films quite appalling in so many, many, many ways.

9:39 pm  
Blogger it said...

Being a bit swishy/effeminite but basically straight just isn't as threatening as homosex

Men! Men! 'Queer' cannot either be being into anal sex or looking like you might be - as much as both of these things might get you beaten up, which they do - you overlook the ubiquity of both having anal sex (the majority of 'heterosexual' women) and er, getting shit for being 'sexual' - the shouts in the street, the harassment at work, etc. It's not a question of who is it worse for, but how none of us are special.

1:13 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are quite right, special has nothing to do with it. Just different. I just find it a little weird when self-identified straight boys nontheless call themselves queer...On the one hand I applaud it and the attendant deliberate rejection of all things heteronormative or what have you. On the other, I wonder if widening the boundaries of what we casually call queer doesn't necessarily involve a muting of the specific experience that gave rise to the term in the first place. I don't know but queer theory aside (a discipline responsible for some of the most dire dreck imaginable), I think the questions are worth posing--and I'm certainly not doing so in an aggressive way. At least I hope not.

3:36 am  
Blogger queen emily said...

are you opposing heteronormativity as a concept to genderqueerness? I think that's problematic. Are you not too familiar with much queer theory, besides the big names like Butler or Warner?

Because while a lot of queer theory has specifically reduced it to only the sexual, there has still been a lot of work on genderqueerness, and specifically how heteronormativity is secured through gender norms (and vice versa). I mean, transgender queer theory is just growing astronomically, mostly on the transmasculine continuum (Judith Halberstam etc).

4:20 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll admit to being very, very rusty on queer theory, esp. more recent developments, which doesn't bother me in the slightest. I now regret even commenting in the first place because I think conversations tend to die when they get as precious as this--genderqueerness? Transmasculine continuum? But I did finally realize what was bothering me about the original post: "Having been incorrectly identified as gay and subsequently subjected to verbal abuse and/or been knocked about a fair few times...." If gay/straight/whatever has nothing to do with it, why bother pointing out your heterosexuality? I wouldn't think it was a case of "Oh don't worry lads, I'm still straight as you." But it does point to a certain hidden flaw in queer theory--it sounds quite lovely and challenging but really, in the end we're all quite quick to define ourselves as "card-carrying sodomites" or straights. We're none of us that complicated.

And I love, by the by, your positive comments about Velvet Goldmine, a vastly under-appreciated film. Who could fail to fall hopelessly in lust with Jonathan Rhys-Meyers. Or at least just his lips, which were my favorite character in the film.

12:54 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry Queen Emily, I didn't mean to sound quite so mocking in my comment above--tho I do kind of think genderqueerness is funny. What I should have said was that I expected this conversation to follow this path and I know that I'm not at all capable of carrying on a debate using the terms, etc of queer theory. I should probably do some further, more contemporary reading on the subject as I haven't even gone there since late last century!

1:05 pm  
Blogger queen emily said...

>>>But it does point to a certain hidden flaw in queer theory--it sounds quite lovely and challenging but really, in the end we're all quite quick to define ourselves as "card-carrying sodomites" or straights.

And no-one is ever bisexual, or has a changing, contradictory or partial identity. Or suffers discrimination because their gender not sexuality is the cause of their being identified as queer. Precious? Whatever.

4:01 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry princess, but you have now officially bored me. And sorry I'm not as up on the latest transgenderfuckism theory as you are. I clearly have no part in any conversation about gender or sexuality or whatnot until I read all the literature, take all the courses, and adopt a smugly patronizing tone. I was up for a friendly discussion but you, clearly, weren't. That was fun! Neat!

4:16 pm  
Blogger Dominic said...

I think it's intrinsic to the queer truth procedure that extra letters should be added every now and then to the LGB...T...Q... banner. Although the Q does rather subsume all the others - or does it? After all, the label does conserve its previous determinations...

What next, I wonder?

4:24 pm  
Blogger queen emily said...

And you weren't in any way patronising? Uh huh. A gay man making sneery remarks about transpeople is just that *much* more interesting.

4:27 pm  
Blogger queen emily said...

I (for intersex) is being added more frequently now Dominic.. Some intersex activists don't really like it, others do see themselves in allegiance with queer and particularly trans* activism.

4:29 pm  
Anonymous dejan said...

And no-one is ever bisexual, or has a changing, contradictory or partial identity.

Hi everyone, connecting to the related discussion on Antigram, it seems like noone is noticing that this changing contradictory or partial identity is such in relation to a certain structure - the Oedipal one - as described by psychoanalysis - in that gay bisexual transgender all defines itself vis-a-vis the presence, or absence, of the Phallus.

This is easily demonstrable by a sexual adventure through the LBGTB world, where one will quickly notice that bisexuals sleep with TG girls because they have a dick - unlike women, and even top gay men (who are supposed to have a masculine identification) emphasize the big dick in their list of sexual preferences.

Another illustrative example is the dynamics of anal sex, where the receptive partner, who is supposed to be on the female side of the sexuation graph, has to masturbate in order to accomplish orgasm. Where queer theory imagines an autonomous anal sexuality (and I just read Bersani proposing some kind of collective Kama Sutra orgastic experience with the erasure of self-borders, based in anal sex), there really is none.

I would like some more concrete evidence for the fact that the theory of the Phallic order is incomplete, please.

6:22 pm  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

Dejan, you're evidently unaware of the prostate gland..?

I did finally realize what was bothering me about the original post: "Having been incorrectly identified as gay and subsequently subjected to verbal abuse and/or been knocked about a fair few times...." If gay/straight/whatever has nothing to do with it, why bother pointing out your heterosexuality? I wouldn't think it was a case of "Oh don't worry lads, I'm still straight as you." But it does point to a certain hidden flaw in queer theory--it sounds quite lovely and challenging but really, in the end we're all quite quick to define ourselves as "card-carrying sodomites" or straights. We're none of us that complicated.

Anon, I don't really see your point here: I've been given black eyes for looking gay, and it was rhetorically useful for my purposes here to point out that I haven't slept with men, despite this. Now, this really isn't the same as any 'white negro/rock&roll nigger' syndrome, as I don't dress like any of the 'actually' gay men I know (or any in eg Old Compton St) who tend to resemble PRECISELY the same buff, short-haired, macho chaps who I have got said slapping-around from. Race and sexuality are not exact correlatives.

12:26 am  
Anonymous dejan said...

Dejan, you're evidently unaware of the prostate gland..?

See that's where the science fiction begins. The prostate gland is excitable, but in a limited fashion. You can't come from being penetrated anally. But anyway that physiological point, is not really the point; also, orgasm is not the point of sex; the point is that the penetree's queer ''identity'' or ''position'' in this situation isn't autonomous and independent of the Phallic equation, and queer theory aspires to dismantle precisely this Lacanian law. The penetree, though he has a cock, identifies himself here by the presence/absence of the Phallus.

4:02 am  
Blogger stephen said...

Owen, please go to a bathhouse or a cruising area and see how interested people are in your class background.
You are naked, you probably barely speak. Your class is not evident.

Besides, working class mainstream gay people massively perform selected components of higher class behaviour.

Where class comes into casual sex is via attacks on it's public expression by society. Society which has reabsorbed a portion of the homosexual population; the straight-gays of soho you refer to, those who are economically acceptable. The remaining gays, unwilling or unable to out-perform their class, are defined as outsiders, 'difficult cases', confused, queer-not-gay because of their poverty: free public space for sex is eroded and commercial spaces replace it. The commercial spaces reject people who cannot define with a boolean sexuality, who cannot visually conform, who are not white english speakers, who 'look dodgy', who are political or culturally active.
the remaining free (as in freedom and cost-free) sex spaces are pushed to poorer and poorer areas, queers are excluded from the safety of russell square and sent to get killed on clapham common. While their higher class acting brothers pay through the nose to snort coke in the friendly society.

I mean to say, there is class activity within gay societies but that it's applied via a collaboration with the mechanisms of society and capitalism, rather than in a bathhouse where sex is independent from society. It's certainly rarely expressed in the literal terms of Fox and his Friends, although the film is an extremely accurate metaphor. It's also interesting to me that the un-queering and de-culturing of gayness is so commensurate with the monetisation of gayness.

8:35 pm  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

Excellent points, ta. The Pink Pauper/Pink Paper dichotomy had, stupidly, not occured to me...

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