Thinking through trauma.
( Trigger Warning: discusses BDSM and Survivor Identity.)
As a survivor, queer, artist and feminist I have recently been thinking through the way in which trauma is repeated. How does ones sexual life create a generative relationship to traumatic history? Does trauma get repeated through relationship models?
My therapist quoted this to me;
” We all develop models of relationships, and we are always employing them. When a friend keeps going back to an abusive husband, we think in exasperation, “she’ll never learn” On the contrary, she is merely renacting what she has learned all too well.” ( 151 Allen, Coping with Trauma: A guide to self understanding”
My initial response to this quote, was intense and knee jerk. I got angry and said that sounds a lot like victim blaming. But after some time I have since gotten curious about my desires for certain types of relationships, partners, and play.
How does BDSM culture create a generative site for healing? How do we talk to new partners about BDSM as a generative practice and process for self-healing and sexual play?
In Judith Halberstam’s newest book The Queer Art of Failure they talk about Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher’s in order to speak to cutting and masochism as a site of desire, agency and resistance.
“Cutting is a feminist aesthetic proper to the project of female unbecoming. As Erika Kohut walks along the streets of vienna at the end of The Piano Teacher she drips blood onto the sidewalk. The cut she has made in her shoulder, which repeats a number of other cuts she has applied to her own skin and genitalia at other times, represents her attempt to remake herself as something other than a repository for her mother, her country, and her class, but it also crafts a version of woman that is messy, bloody, porous, violent and self loathing, a version that mimics a kind of fascist ethos of womanhood by transferring the terms of Nazi misogyny to the female body in literal and terrifying ways. Erika’s masochism turns her loathing for her mother, and her Austrianness back onto herself… masochism is an underused way of considering the relationship between self and other, self and technology, self and power in queer feminism.” ( Halberstam, 135 )
When I think about my attraction to certain relationships, and various s/m sexual play I find Halberstam’s use of “shadow feminism” as it relates to power incredibly productive:
“While the libido tends to ward off the death drive through a “will to power,” a desire for mastery, and an externalization of erotic energy, sometimes libidinal energies are givin over to destablization, unbecoming and unraveling. This is what Leo Bersani refers to as “self shattering,” a shadowy sexual impluse that most people would rather deny or sublimate. If taken seriously, unbecoming may have its political equivalent in an anarchic refusal of coherence and proscriptive forms of agency.” ( Halberstam, 136)
Recently, I disclosed my identity as a survivor to a new partner. ( This can be scary but also a really empowering opportunity to create boundaries that help make sex feel safer.) This conversation was not met in a way that was respectful. I told her that on two previous occasions she slapped me without my consent. I said its okay now, but don’t ever do it again without asking. She seemed surprised and defensive. “oh maybe i misread the situation.” Later when I said i think bdsm sex could be a productive or healing process she said “that sounds dangerous”
Why is it dangerous for a survivor to think about bdsm as a site of productive healing or even radical mastery? Why do i feel a stigma of shame? Our patriarchal, homophobic, and sex-phobic culture does not know how to understand queer-survivor identities alongside radical sex-positive and feminist agency. Why is this? How can we hold shame accountable?
Obviously, when these boundaries and conversations are not met with compassion and respect there is a moment where radical agency of “self shattering” turns against me and into shame. I want communication about boundaries and experiences to be a site of powerful agency. However, after this negative experience, i feel more literally shattered by the process of unbecoming. However, the opportunity is here to think about the erotics of a generative energy for safe disclosures that do not tether communication but instead open up the powerful erotics of unbecoming.
family priviledge: Or how to be conscious of the various affects experienced by your queer/trans friends during the holiday. So you’re a homo, you have a lovely family, who appreciates you, does not oppress you for your gender expression and respects and honours your sexuality. awesome! Unfortunately, Not everyone is as fortunate. Families are triggering, holidays are triggering, and trying to take care of ourselves during these times can be especially challenging.
Many queers do not have what i am referring to as ‘positive family privilege’ during these holidays, in fact, this time of year can be the worst for some of us. Coming out as queer or trans may have had incredibly devestating affects on your ability to experience and belong to a family.
All i ask of my friends who enjoy the privilege of having families who do not trigger, invalidate, or oppress them is to be conscious of your fellow homo’s who do not have that same privilege. How much space are you taking up when you talk/spread your privleged joy? (This is not to say that i am not happy you have a nice family where you’re able to enjoy the holidays - i just want you to think about how this may affect your less fortunate friends ) How can you be a conscious and caring friend during these difficult times? How can we celebrate the holidays in our own queer-non-normative and radically different ways? How can we challenge the heteronormative and homonormative pressures during this vulnerable time of year?
Discussing homo-nationalism and queer nationality as it relates to the power and privileges of normative-white-heterocentric ideologies highlight how feelings of national belonging are more often then not tied up with narratives of assimilation and depoliticization of publics. I believe we can understand the normalizing apparatus as an increasing measures of neo-liberal representations of identity, nationality and subjectivity. For example, We see this currently happening with the the “Post Mo” or post homo manifesto that claims a "Beyond Gay" identity politics that came out in Toronto’s new weekly magazine Grid this past summer.
Jasbir Puar reminds us that through this normativizing apparatus the war on terror has rehabilitated some— clearly not all or most—lesbians, gays, and queers1 to US national citizenship within a spatial-temporal domain I am invoking as ‘homo-nationalism’, short for ‘homonormative nationalism’. Homonormativity has been theorized by Lisa Duggan as a ‘new neo-liberal sexual politics’ that hinges upon ‘the possibility of a demobilized gay constituency and a privatized, depoliticized gay culture anchored in domesticity and consumption’ (Duggan, 2002, p. 179).
Responses like this came out from radical Toronto Queers in a revolutionary and inspirational way that used what Micheal Warner talks about in regards to “queer nations tactics of invention appropriate for gay politics both grassroots and mass mediated forms of counter cultural resistance” ( 148 ) which essentially “uses an anti-assimilationalist narrative about an anti-assimilationalist movement.” (148 )
Using Duggan’s theory of homonormativity helps to foster an idealized notion of queer identity and contradictions around community inclusion and self-representation. For example, the politics of homonormativity includes a delusion around queer liberation that has convoluted identity politics in favor of consumer rights. Community inclusion is a site of queer privilege that becomes a “citational practice” ( Bulter, 109) that involves buying into an ideal gender presentation which could be understood as “an imaginary practice of identification [that] must itself be understood as a double movement.” This duality invests in a set of symbolic laws, for me those ‘laws’ include a cultural currency that forces me to buy into an ideal of what a queer female body should look like.
Feeling national or feeling apart of a marginalized community such as (LGBTQ) amounts to a complex relationship to local and national practices of (self) representing a queer aesthetic. This interpellation process engenders a kind of fear and awareness around the violence of assimilation and the power of gender presentation.
I am able to fit into a heterosexist ideology that favors my white, able-bodied, normative-weight and feminine gender presentation. The interprellation of reading queers, their gender and experiences is a complex and dangerous conceptual logic. Belonging and inclusion within queer culture is established by sharing the same conceptual and linguistic codes that create a popular queer aesthetic. When popular aesthetics are mobilized in a politically apathetic way and the rise of “beyond gay” ideologies fosters identity politics around shame, I find myself generally concerned for the possibility of a radical queer democratic counter-public that works to transform oppressive norms around public sexual discourse and enable strategic and inspirational activism.
In my previous work around queer identity and trauma I have discussed the way time, memory and subjectivity informs queer sexuality and trauma subject positions. Here i would like to reflect upon the subculture of lesbian art and its desire to create space for the erotics of community.
Ann Cvetkovich discusses affect and cultural production as reciperorical sites for creative responses and individualist approaches to trauma: ”I want to think about trauma as apart of the affective language that describes life under capitalism. I’m interested im how shock and injury are made socially meaningful, paradigmatic even, within cultural experience. I want to focus on how traumatic events refract outwards to produce all kinds of affective responses and not just clinical symptoms.” ( Cvetkovich, 19 )
Through Cvetkovich’s theoretical lens of the everyday affective life of trauma, I want to expand my analysis of queer-trauma to discusses the public cultures that are created around traumatic events. How does trauma and queer sexuality intersect to create creative, constructive and engaging public cultures? What kinds of creative renderings speak to contemporary queer-trauma cultures?
This past weekend I went to FAG ( The feminist Art Gallery ) owned and operated by two artists, queers and feminists, for the opening of Community Action Center ( CAC ) by A.K Burns and A.L Steiner. I wonder if there is an opportunity to explore the affective sub-culture of erotic-lesbiancentric art as it relates to trauma as a “social and cultural discourse” Cvetkovich, 18 )
To contextualize CAC here is an excerpt from Artnet:
"CAC seethes with the hidden iconography of the lesbian-feminist underground. It’s visible in the cut-and-paste zine esthetic of the exhibition booklet, the onscreen cameo by poet and cult figure Eileen Myles, and the lovingly selected soundtrack, which ranges from neo-New York bands MEN and Light Asylum to all-girl Brit group Electrelane. In a statement, the artists describe the piece as “a small archive of an intergenerational community built on collaboration, friendship, sex and art.”
I believe this small archive of community collaboration is fundamental to the affect of trauma, ( with a small t ) as it relates to creative public cultures and feelings such as friendship, sex and art.
Sara Ahmed discuss how ” emotions work as a form of capital: affect does not reside positively as a sign or commodity, but it is produced only as an effect of its circulation.” ( Ahmed, 120 ) I would like to propose that Steiner and Burns’ film project CAC is a response to patriarchy, homonormativity and “the discreet lost spaces of homosocial configuration.” ( Burns and Steiner, 2011 ) I believe this reclamation of erotic space speaks up against the marginalization of queers and the hegemony of gay porn culture in a way that uses the reactive and creative site of trauma cultures to speak to the agency within the cultural “realness of homo-grown lesbian sexuality” (Burns and Steiner 2011)