I’m so happy we found each other. In my mind, developing a queer identity requires walking a circuitous path: certain objects or figures seem to speak one’s queer feelings and offer comfort, but in a mysterious language that defies clear articulation. Self-understanding is like a trail of breadcrumbs: secret desires, strange emotions, moments of initiation and deep wordless knowing. For some queer kids, messy feelings cluster around same-sex desire, while for me and many others they manifested more in a keenly felt, taboo cross-gender affinity, which ripened into a potent urge to subvert and betray the male sex and its privileges. Mine was a childhood of intense girl-identification: socializing almost exclusively with the fairer sex, as well as being mistaken for a member of it; dressing in drag and dancing like Madonna; inventing female alter-egos—mine was named “Lisa,” probably after my beloved Lisa Simpson, and she loved to wear bracelets—and identifying with the TV girl-heroes I spent way too much time indoors with—Punky Brewster, Darlene Conner, Wednesday Addams, even good old Velma from Scooby-Doo.
With Logan MacDonald, “Lezbros for Lezbos” in C Magazine 114 “Men” (Summer 2012). Artist project with photos, poster and text.
It’s wonderful that people who feel uncomfortable with the gender they were assigned at birth are gaining strength and visibility. But, it’s just as important that young people, girls and boys and genderqueers alike, can have as many examples as possible of men and women who don’t conform to gender stereotypes. I like to think I’m doing my part for that by living as an aggressive, competitive, logical, and strong butch woman.
( 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?