Desire and Identity

I think the widely held belief in the “naturalness” of sex is biologistic.

That is to say it is not only unfounded but also intrinsically reactionary in that it denies cultural and historical variability and thus rules out the possibility of social change.

On the other hand, I find the objectivist claim – of, for example, some poststructuralist writing – that subjects ( and therefore sexualities ) are somehow entirely constituted by “society” equally false, even absurd. There is something rationalistic, a contempt for nature in such objectivism that I particularly dislike.

Indeed: Sexuality is a culturally, historically specific construction. But it emerges from the interplay of social forces with the dynamic of our nature.

“Our nature”: what human beings need to feel good – besides air, drink, food and shelter – is: rest; relaxation; affection; touch; movement; sensory stimulation; excitement; ecstasy…

These are the forces, the stuff our sexualities are constructed from in our childhood – to be later continually stabilised by our interactions within the dominant social structure.

Sexuality is neither a purely natural, nor a unitary and discrete phenomenon.

Not unitary but a combination of different elements, divergent strivings.
Not discrete but with fluid boundaries to other states, emotions, practices.

I think contact improvisation and sexuality share some of the same ground, fulfil some common needs.

To me, contact improvisation has the potential to destabilise, modify, subvert conventional sexuality. The potential to indirectly challenge compulsory heterosexuality; monogamous fixation; genitocentric desire; the fear of intimacy.

In this sense, contact improvisation can be a type of sexual politics.

I have found the categories of pro-sex and anti-sex a hindrance to imagining a radical sexual politics.

They miss what is in my eyes essential: to question the notion of “sex” as a natural given.Which is the precondition for any attempt to redefine sensual human relationships beyond class, race and gender dichotomies.

Desire is intrinsically political. No oppressive society works only by brute force, by instilling fear, but very decisively by teaching the oppressed to love their oppression, to admire their oppressors.

For example, racist oppression is stabilized by deeply held feelings of inferiority instilled in those stigmatized by racism.

We cannot challenge domination if we do not challenge reactionary structures of desire in ourselves, in our relationships, our aesthetics.

But how to achieve this?

Even while I argue for the politicization of emotional life, I am aware that personal change doesn’t work the same way as “large-scale” political struggle. Even though I want to emphasize that it is a foolish and dangerous idea to want to feel good about everything you are, self-hatred won’t get us anywhere.

Indeed, we all lack self-esteem, we all have self-hatred. Indeed, we need to learn to love and accept ourselves.

It would be to fall prey to a rationalistic misunderstanding of the self to turn personal change into a question of “will” and “determination”. It also will not do to simply reject those parts of ourselves that we don’t want to have. It is necessary to acknowledge their existence, however politically incorrect they may be.

This is not to say one should remain unmoved by the suffering and the anger of the victims of such sentiments – i.e. racist phantasies, the objectification of pornographic desire etc.

If you have made someone feel bad, it is simply human to feel bad about it. But I believe that for true personal change to occur, we must at times suspend judgement.

I also believe that it is possible, and necessary, to suspend judgement, not censor yourself, stop hating yourself, on one level, while, on another level, at the same time, staying aware of one’s status as oppressor and priviledged person, the suffering one is responsible for and the justified anger of those one has hurt.

I believe it is essential to hold the tension between these poles of personal change and political awareness.

It is also essential to hold the tension between a pragmatics of personal change and a utopia of liberation.

That is to say that even though my political goal may be not the modification, but the abolition of the concept of race and the practices of racialisation, not some “separate-but-equal” of the sexes but indeed the abolition of the idea and practice of gender, where I live now I am a white man and there is no escape from it.

All I can do under the given circumstances is to merely modify the identities I am stuck with, to try and subvert their boundaries to some degree.

But to me it makes a vital difference in everyday life whether someone keeps the utopian vision alive, learns to live with the tension between what is possible and what we would desire, or collapses this tension and settles into what is to me resignation, or even cynical affirmation of the status quo.

We are shaped by and are part of a sexist, racist, imperialist… society. And the more priviledged groups (whites, men, straights…) you belong to, the more aspects of your identity are not something to feel good about.

It’s a different story if you’ve been made to feel bad about your blackness or your femaleness, for example, because “black”, “female” are subordinate terms in this society. But while I accept and support the effort of oppressed groups to revalue their derogated qualities, I believe that if the process of emancipation stops there, all you get is a kind of narrowminded pride, and you never move beyond the system that made you black, white, man, woman in the first place, not even in your dreams.

In part, my body is shaped by my history, and is fully social. But to another part I am made according to nature’s patterns and my physical being is more and other than the social categories white, masculine…

I feel good about my basic human nature, my basic needs and capacities for pleasure and contact. I also feel good about what I’ve learned, what I’ve become.

What I have become of course includes a certain type of masculinity, a certain sense of being white etc. But I feel it would be to give these categories too much hold over me to explicitly and positively identify with them. The fruitlessness of self-denial notwithstanding, I feel no need whatsoever for a positive sense of masculinity, let alone feeling positive about my whiteness – or my Germanness, for that matter.