Let’s talk about sex.
“Let’s talk about sex baby,
Let’s talk about you and me,
Let’s talk about all the good things and
the bad things that can be:
Let’s talk about—“
-Salt n’ Peppa
(As remembered from the one time they played it on the last day of school when I was in fourth grade; as well as all the times I’ve listened to it since.)
I was a virgin until I was twenty-four and never really dated much anyway. But my friends have been asking me for sex advice since before it was sex advice so, maybe we’ll say I have something of an intuition or at least advanced appreciation for communication that is honest, clear, objective, thoughtful. Did I mention I’m a poet?
I didn’t come out as queer until I was thirty and I’ve been thinking about this for the past two years, as I’ve become (we’ll say) actively polyamorous. Without going into detail yet, I’ll also say that I’ve also grown familiar with the BDSM aka kink aka fetish community.
It’s funny that at the same time I was re-defining my own identity and my own desires, media was producing the same contact. Fifty Shades of Grey and, I’ll explain this, Criminal Minds, have become these two highly popular representations of both bondage, sado-masochism, domination, and submission; like the long history of pop culture that precedes it, it shows us a grotesque mix of fad-science that have existed since Henrietta Lacks and Anarcha before her.
Getting involved in my local sex positive and queer communities made me realize something I’ve always known but moreso now as a self-identified queer AF post-academic femme with a disability; there’s a lot the so-called vanilla world could learn from these people. Just as I mentioned in our Oi! Spaceman episode on Chasing Amy; when you’re a “minority, of a minority, of a minority,” you get a special point of view. Maybe that’s why that one girl trusted me in high school to know whether or not you could get AIDS from giving a guy a blowjob*, I didn’t judge her for the question but I was kind of astonished she didn’t know. (*My mistake was saying “Duh,” instead of just “yes.”) Then again, by Junior year I had already learned how to make an appointment for Planned Parenthood and get permission from my mom to use the car, even though I thankfully didn’t have to go through with that one.
There is a basic level of communication that sometimes we forget. I’m not saying that the Kink community at large is perfect, in fact I’d say quite the opposite; it’s as representative as any other group. However, there is the respect and language for both consent and the natural power exchange of any given relationship. Whether or not that language is used accurately, honestly, or genuinely is up to any given situation but the basic ideas are already bleeding over into our popular culture. Why only pay attention to the sadistic dominant serial killers? Why not pay attention to the little bit of sadistic dominant deep inside you? ;3
Queer the way you think about it. I identify as Queer (notice the capital letter) because I got here via academic Queer Theory. The easiest thing to quote off-hand for my big ah-ha moment was when I really understood for the first time what Judith Butler meant when she said that everyone is dressed in “drag.” If you recognize that the idea of gender, that includes acknowledging what we consider gender appropriate is a societal construct and therefore an intersectional issue that can be seen across an infinite spectrum all influence by, you guessed it, the patriarchy. To be more accurate, the kyriarchy. Can I just ask you to Google that one? Now go back to the beginning of this paragraph and read that first sentence again.
The past two years of my life I’ve been running the Queer test on things. As I always do, I have to take time to process and reflect and do that whole poet thing. What I’ve come to realize is that I keep coming back to my own personal questions of why. Why did it take me so long to feel comfortable coming out to myself, let alone the community, as queer? Why did it take so long for me to feel like it was something I was “ready” to do.
It started with realizing how much fear I had been living in. Replaying the times in my life where I felt I had identified someone safe enough to talk to, only to feel sexualized or judged in ways I could contextualize as bi-phobia and an internalized reaction to bi-erasure in the communities I did feel safe in: geek communities. RE: you should listen to Daniel and I talk about Chasing Amy, that’s a pretty good way to give a name and a face to “representation matters” in my childhood that I didn’t know was quite so overpowering.
So, why Queer: I’m a poet and it was the first word that allowed me to discuss the world as a metaphor. When I applied it to my life, things that frustrated me suddenly had a language. Identities aren’t for others to understand you, sometimes they’re learning to understand yourself. So communicating this idea that all binaries are false binaries into other areas of my life meant more questions.
I don’t believe in gender but I do believe in sexism. Gender is a construct. Academically we take that into all aspects of performativity, interaction, social structure but in reality, the power exchange inherent in the belief in gender creates discomfort. I want to make people uncomfortable. For a people pleaser, it’s confusing.
I’ve spent the past few weeks laid low with the realities of living with chronic invisible illness and binging on Criminal Minds. This is where we come back to the main topic. I love pop culture, I have watched and read incredibly popular content that I found to be incredibly interesting albeit not necessarily in a literary way. So when I say I was binging on Criminal Minds it is because I knew I was going to ignore the more commonplace everyday examples of ableism, transphobia, and essentially science fiction/horror genre rules; it’s escapism. Then I came to season eight, not ::fibromyalgia visibility moment:: the mere fact that I can remember and refer to a specific season should show that this was something that I noticed repeatedly.
Every episode played on themes of monogamy, family building, and therefore reinforcing gender roles. In every episode, the power exchange inherent in feeling the need to conform to the rules of “masculinity” and “femininity” were what eventually lead the unsub. to crack and have their “this is why I’m a serial killer and you’re not,” moment. In every episode, I watched stories that exploited the daily power exchange between co-workers versus family and healthy versus unhealthy behaviors and gives its own form of judgment in the form of quoting something emotionally relevant at the beginning and end of the show. Formally, the structure is perfect for television. It also reinforces an ongoing narrative of the dangers of existing outside of binary settings.
In real life, I can laugh at this or cringe or find it fascinating because in real life, I know how much work it takes to let go of these ideas. In real life, I can also choose to then go watch my queer AF cartoons and Mad Max: Fury Road and look at art online in which I do feel empowered and represented.
Within the realms of gender and what we consider masculine are all the ideals of toxic masculinity. What does that mean in western culture? Masculine is men is power is strength and so automatically in a binary setting Femininity all things considered feminine, is women and soft and weak.
Kink and GSM communities were the first place where I could recognize that Queer to me now meant queering my thought process. The kink community is a smaller subset of the general population but it does give an easy way to have these discussions. People assume what an ideal “Dominant” is and that can be laden with gendered expectations and just the same with an ideal “submissive.” Queer your kink and suddenly the language of kink can support the lexicon missing and still being established.
This is when I heard people refer to Master/slave relationships. While the language isn’t for me, it’s there I first heard this dynamic referred to as power exchange. Suddenly my binary broke. I know that I’m a team player in my relationships. I talk and communicate a lot and I expect that returned. The relationship between a Dominant and submissive is about negotiating boundaries and expectations so that one person takes the majority of the given situation’s power while the other is allowed to let go of the power they hold.This is the definition of trust and consent.
Which is how I get back to Criminal Minds, Season 8, where every murderer is a sexual-sadist. Every murderer has been emasculated, if a woman, transformed through loss; every murderer is presented as being broken by gender rules. This might be an exaggeration but it’s not an exaggeration of how gender roles are presented as binary in mainstream culture. Instead of looking for healthy ways to express these “deviations” from the “norm,” it’s far more popular to focus on the freak show element of the serial killer.
So while Criminal Minds is hugely popular, we also get a book like 50 Shades of Grey; while supposedly being a BDSM romance it is largely considered to be more representative of abusive relationships than anything romantic. Again, we outline the rules of consent based on what is seen as normal but dependent on the story and who we see as being the one who loses control i.e. agency and therefore somehow tied to the power exchange presented through the heteronormative gender roles and amatonormative relationship goals.
I’m not saying the show is inherently bad, I’m sure others can argue that, though I’m not sure I’d defend the book with the same confidence (admittedly, I never read it… the quotes from it? More than enough.)
Sex is a part of life and is often used as a metaphor between genders of a power exchange that is “normal” if within the realms of the socially acceptable. Sex is tied to control, American rape culture and toxic masculinity show us examples on the daily. It’s also often morally deterministic in these settings, supporting the one romance and one sex partner for life story that so few of us actually fit within. It’s also linked to any other intersectional topic one could examine.
So when I watch Criminal Minds and I can tell by the genre it’s meant to be horror, that I’m not supposed to sympathize but can see how the camera is sexualizing the victim and that the narrative is exploiting the fact that it does. I forget which theorists ::fibro fog visibility moment:: but I read an essay once by a couple that spoke about a person’s ability to distinguish between television reality and living room reality. Even though we know it’s fiction we still believe it, the reality of the television sex shapes what we think of sex. Both in absence and inclusion.
To say that I want to write about sex and especially sex that is representative of gender and sexual minorities. I tend to think of a professor I had in undergrad who was fond of saying that at the end of the day everything is about “sex and death,” and if it isn’t, why is it worth talking about? I’d like to talk to him today and ask if sex and death demands we talk about everything in between. The way we “sex and death,” is life or, at the very least, a representation of it. Representation matters because sex matters and sex matters because it’s a part of life. Life should not be taboo.Share on Twitter Share on Facebook