Tuesday, September 29, 2009

a different kind of intimacy

Again: I guess I'll never be able to solve that relationship of fascination-distaste I have with Karen Finley's work. Yet (or thus?) I find myself returning to her writings over and over again, discovering beautiful, moving moments that redeem it all and reinforce what I have written here apropos another artist I deeply admire.

Indeed, even though I usually dislike putting people & things into little boxes or categories, there is for me a clear-cut distinction between porn - or occasional, no-strings-attached sex between strangers, for that matter - and the sense of an actual lived and shared experience, with all the intense emotional and sexual bonds created within it.

The body does know the difference between that which inhabits it, however fleetingly, however precariously, in the dark, or in the half-light, and that which is just inconsequential, self-gratifying froth.


The lights are out, but we make our way with touch, something velvet and maroon, like bedroom slippers. I take your arm and glide your skin against my thigh. I light the candle of lemon magnolia, and we pass the cedar closet where the towels are kept. Outside is a lake. Our eyes are used to the darkness and a faint new moon, we only met yesterday and still managed to get here. We find the bathroom, it is a room with only a tub, and the hot water still works. You are behind me and you hold my gingham skirt. I left my white cotton panties at the beach. I turn on the water and let the rust wash out and make the water as hot as possible. I pull your linen shirt off of you and your pants down and I run my hands across your chest. In a bottle are sage green salts and I put them in the water. In my skirt are petals of summer roses and orange peel, which I add to your bath. I help you into the water and let you sit and I get on my knees and use the lavender soap. I lather and massage your back and skin. I make a lather and wash your thighs and feet and toes and neck and fingers. I come down to your cock and I massage and let it grow. I keep doing it as I kiss you all wet, as you lay back, and I have your balls in my other hand, holding tight and firm, and the smoothness of your skin - I want to eat you. I push firmly on your cock so it is straight up against your firm belly. I need to touch you now like no other time and I hold the top of your cock and move fast and then slow, so very slow, so very slow, I keep doing it, for you don't want me to stop, and I never will.

Karen Finley, A Different Kind of Intimacy: The Collected Writings of Karen Finley (New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 2000), p. 331.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

no truth, only smiles...

Sweet Billy Pilgrim - Truth Only Smiles
@ Tim Elsenburg (Copyright Control)

Out here amongst the spit and hiss
Of dreams all black and pistol whipped
They crawl towards the morning with a sigh

With easy grace and needy hands
They murdered love's sweet circumstance
And calmly fashioned flawless alibis

Tell me we're leaving all this far behind us
Tell me the lights still flicker when we kiss
No doubts or denials
No truth, only smiles

On his eyes the pennies hide
The bruises of a sleepless night
As light comes crashing in from high above
He tries to speak of pain and loss
But on his lips her finger falls
When putting things in order ain't enough

...to greet me when I get home
Darkness pricks me
Something's wrong
Please say something
Take me away

Source: http://www.sweetbillypilgrim.com/lyrics/truth_only_smiles.html

Saturday, September 26, 2009

stars spill out of paper cups...

Another song that means (how I see) the world - and much more. So much more.

Sweet Billy Pilgrim - Stars Spill Out of Cups
© Tim Elsenburg (Copyright Control)

When beauty falls it finds me here
In summer’s bright and dusty smear
It breaks my heart like photographs

The air is thick with needful things
Alive with final reckonings
And shaken trees drop memories

Fortune fits me like a hat
It spins off like an acrobat
Despite the bliss
It comes to this

And it all falls down around us
To have but not to hold
And it slips a little more each day
Til it slips away

A shallow breath begat the lie
With hands to rule the heart’s desires
We’ll come to know the letting go

When beauty falls it fills me up
And stars spill out of paper cups
A better guess than happiness

And when you go – go with grace
Try to take it with you
You can’t take it with you

Source: http://www.sweetbillypilgrim.com/lyrics/stars_spill_out_of_cups.html

un-labelling (4)

The gaps in our knowledge about the specific links between gender and desire raise a broader and even more perplexing question: If you are someone who responds to the person and not his or her gender, then where does your gender fit in? In other words, does fluidity in sexual desire extend to fluidity in gender identity?

Gender identity is defined as an individual's internal psychological experience of being male or female, regardless of how masculine or feminine he or she might appear to other people. The association between sexual orientation and gender identity is a complex and controversial one. [...] Individuals whose gender identities are discordant with their biological sex - that is, women who feel that they are really male, or men who feel that they are really female - are transexuals, not homosexuals. In recent years, the broader term "transgender" has been increasingly used to denote the total spectrum of individuals who experience their gender identity as somewhat fluid, or who experience various degrees of discordance between their gender identities and their physical bodies. [...]

[Fluidity - with respect to both gender and sexuality - raises a dilemma] for all people, female, male, and otherwise. Namely, how do you live a noncategorical life in a rigidly categorical world? [...] No matter how much you might resist putting your identity and your desires into neat and tidy boxes, society still wants you to do so. It is more acceptable to be a man trapped in the body of a woman [or vice-versa!] than to be neither male nor female, neither gay nor straight. [...] [People] who challenge those categories every time they step outside the front door, pay a dear price for their insistence on a different path and a different truth. But they would have it no other way.

Lisa M. Diamond, Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women's Love and Desire (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 2008), pp. 193; 201. [my emphases]

un-labelling (3)

Another possibility [for rethinking sexual orientation in light of person-based attractions] is not a fourth form of sexual orientation but rather an independent characteristic that all individuals possess, in greater or less degrees. To understand how this might work, consider sex drive as an analogy. Among heterosexual and lesbian/gay/bisexual individuals, there are those with strong sex drives and those with weaker sex drives. Having a stong or weak sex drive is not a separate type of orientation; nor does it reveal anything about a person's orientation - it is simply an additional source of variation among people.

Perhaps the capacity for person-based attractions operates in the same way. In other words, maybe there are different types of heterosexual, bisexual, and lesbian/gay individuals - some for whom gender is extremely important, and some for whom it is not. So, for example, a lesbian woman [...] might generally be attracted only to women, but her person-based attractions might periodically trigger attractions to men. Other lesbians might not possess such a capacity, in which case even their closest, most wonderful male friends would do nothing for them sexually. [...]

We can imagine the same distinction among heterosexual women. For [heterosexual] women [with a tendency to form person-based attractions], the development of a robust emotional bond to a female friend can spark unexpected feelings of physical desire that are specific to that friend. Other heterosexual women might never have such an experience, no matter how deep their same-sex friendships.

Lisa M. Diamond, Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women's Love and Desire (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 2008), pp. 188-89.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

"a desperate desire to capture the passionate things of life"...

Just read the phrase in passing, but all of a sudden it struck a deep chord, reminding me how every so often life forces seemingly small but momentous decisions upon you.

It must be the old survival instinct or som'such which resurfaces unexpectedly and tells you that to maintain your inner strength & balance, your will to live passionately, to avoid unnecessary suffering & fatal mistakes, to seek pleasure above all things, you must - sometimes against your most ingrained tendencies and desires - forsake those who hinder or block out the "passionate things of life". An inner imperative I listen and respond to more and more. Increased self-knowledge, perhaps?... (I dare not say "wisdom", though)

Not easy at first, to tackle the painful sense of loss & regret at how-good-it-might-have-been-if, if only..., but life goes on and always finds new ways of surprising you. "I can't go on - I will go on"... And I always do, against all odds & disappointments. Always.

There you are.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

un-labelling (2)

How can we rethink sexual orientation in light of person-based attractions? I can imagine two possibilities. One is that the capacity for person-based attractions might actually be an independent form of sexual orientation. In other words, whereas the present categories of heterosexual, lesbian/gay, and bisexual presume that gender is important to everyone, and that the key differences simply concern which gender a person desires, perhaps there is a fourth category of individuals for whom gender is irrelevant.

Such individuals would necessarily possess the capacity for attractions to either gender, though this does not necessarily mean that they would think of themselves as bisexual. Rather, like some of the women in my study, they might adopt alternative labels such as "queer," a term that is increasingly used to signify a form of sexuality that resists rigid categorization. As one woman noted, "I used to identify as bisexual, and I wasn't sure whether or not I wanted to be with men or women. Now I feel like my sexuality is more fluid, and I call myself queer because it includes all genders. It's a better term; it pretty much conveys the fact that I'm not attracted to a man or a woman based on their gender, but who they are."

Many women with person-based attractions reported that this was a longstanding pattern for them, which often first manifested itself in early adolescence as a persistent ambiguity between love and friendship. Their experiences support the notion of a gender-neutral orientation. As one women noted, "I have a really blurry line between friendship and crushes - I always tend to like people and not distinguish whether I like them as a friend or more than a friend." [...] Many people develop passionate attachments to childhood friends that appear to disregard gender. As we grow older, we typically come to distinguish between liking somebody "as a friend" and liking that person as a potential lover. Perhaps part of the uniqueness of having person-based attractions is not just that you are insensitive to gender as a basis for attraction, but also that you have more fluid boundaries between love and friendship.

This raises the inevitable question of how the rest of us come to acquire and internalize such distinctions. [...] How do we begin to draw boundaries around certain types of emotional intimacy? Developmental timing may play a role. [...] Many researchers have argued that not until late adolescence do we fully integrate a sense of gender into our sexual desires. As John Gagnon argued, "It is quite clear that during the ages of 12 to 17 the gender aspects of the 'who' in the sexual scripts that are being formed are not fixed. . . A deeper complication is that it is not obvious whether it is the gender aspects of the 'who' that have provoked the nascent desire or even if the desire is linked to a 'who' at all." Perhaps, then, an orientation toward person-based attractions represents a deeper form of gender-neutrality, in which our sexual scripts remain fundamentally open with regard to the sex of the person to whom we are attracted.

Lisa M. Diamond, Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women's Love and Desire (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 2008), pp. 186-88. [my emphases]

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Why I am all at sea again...

Some songs are so powerful that they just say everything, everything (without saying too much), about certain states of mind, certain moods, certains moments in life - and spare us the agony of trying to find the right, impossible words.

Sweet Billy Pilgrim
- Future Perfect Tense
© Tim Elsenburg (Copyright Control)

Friend – rouse yourself
Cause the tide has carried me away
There are fraying and knotted ropes for me to blame
But we know better
Why I am all at sea again

So much for California
So long to everything

Friend – as the mercury blooms
So cold inside my chest
Tell my kin of a noble death upon the waves
Beyond all salvage
Barely worth the life and limb

So much for California
I lost my way again

Like an empty promise
A sail becomes a shroud
And the sky is falling down

Monday, September 21, 2009

un-labelling (1)

A most interesting book that offers a radically new understanding of female sexuality, by proposing to break the stalemate in which feminism as well as gay, lesbian & queer studies are still locked, and to go beyond the old dichotomies informing them: essentialism versus social constructionism, nature versus culture, straight versus gay...

In view of my w(e)ariness concerning certain (sch)isms, rigid categories & labels recently vented here, I couldn't agree more with Diamond's argument that, for some women - and for some men, I should add! - love and desire are not rigidly heterosexual or homosexual [or perhaps not even bisexual] but fluid, changing as [they] move through the stages of life, various social groups, and, most important, different love relationships. She raises thus key questions about the role of gender in structuring our basic experiences of desire, by showing that very often our sexual attractions are person-based - linked to personality, emotional qualities, etc. - and not necessarily gender-related. This is to say that some people can respond erotically to anyone with a desirable personality or with whom they have a strong personal connection, regardless of that person's gender: they typically describe themselves as being attracted to "the person, not the gender". Hence this "gender-free" eroticism challenges, or even undermines, the very distinction between "same-sex" and "other-sex" attractions which is still at the basis of conventional models of sexuality.

Hum, promising indeed... An appetizer (more to follow soon, if/when time allows...):

[Prevailing] assumptions hold that an individual's sexual predisposition for the same sex or the other sex is an early-developing and stable trait that has a consistent effect on that person's attractions, fantasies, and romantic feelings over the lifespan. What few people realize, however, is that these assumptions are based primarily on men's experiences because most research on sexual orientation has been conducted on men. Although this model of sexual orientation describes men fairly accurately, it does not always apply so well to women.

Historically, women who deviate from this model by reporting shifts in their sexuality over time - heterosexual women falling in love with female friends, lesbian women periodically dating men - were presumed few in number and exceptional in nature. In other words, they were just inconvenient noise cluttering up the real data on sexual orientation. Yet as research on female sexuality has increased over the years, these "exceptional" cases now appear to be more common than previously thought. In short, the current conventional wisdom about the nature and development of sexual orientation provides an incomplete picture of women's experiences. Researchers now openly acknowledge that despite significant advances in the science of sexuality over the past twenty years, "female sexual orientation is, for the time being, poorly understood."

This situation is now changing. As scientists have begun investigating female and male sexual orientation as distinct phenomena instead of two sides of the same coin, consensus is gradually building on why women appear so different from men. Specifically, we have found that one of the fundamental, defining features of female sexual orientation is its fluidity. We are now on the brink of a revolutionary understanding of female sexuality that has profound scientific and social implications.

Sexual fluidity, quite simply, means situation-dependent flexibility in women's sexual responsiveness. This flexibility makes it possible for some women to experience desires for either men or women under certain circumstances, regardless of their overall sexual orientation. In other words, though women - like men - appear to be born with distinct sexual orientations, these orientations do not provide the last word on their sexual attractions and experiences.

Lisa M. Diamond, Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women's Love and Desire (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 2008), pp. 2-3.

que sera, sera...

Echigo-Tsumari, Niigata
August-September 2009

Enchanted (and enchanting) forests, amazing art, new (& old) friends, stimulating conversations & ideas, new projects in the pipeline, hundreds of photographs, travelling & walking incessantly... These past few weeks have been almost too good to be true. But if my head is in the clouds, as always, the feet are firmly on the ground and there are bound to be hard times ahead, with a new full-time job and plenty of uncharted territory to explore & mark out... Can hardly wait to get started, though. After all, it's just another form of "walking the line", isn't it?...

[Cher] lecteur, mon semblable, mon frère!, please bear with me if I'm not as prolific as usual in the next few weeks or so...

Aomori, Bense Wetlands
September 2009

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

nosce te ipsum...

Weary of all these -isms popping out everywhere - essentialisms, constructionisms, feminisms, lesbianisms, whatever - I wonder if they don't just constitute extreme and more sophisticated versions of that most tragic tendency of ours. The simplifying, psychologically comforting tendency to be fixated on abstractions, concepts, images, genders, sexual orientations, identities, stereotypes - instead of dealing with real, unique, imperfect persons, a much more difficult enterprise, for sure.

Unwittingly compelled by narcissistic desires and lacks, we chase abstract ideas of 'masculinity' or 'femininity', and neglect the concrete realities in front of our eyes, realities that hardly ever conform to our expectations and ideals. In fact, more often than not they confound these expectations and ideals, and seem thus so much scarier and baffling in their unpredictability, in their uncontainability under familiar categories. And hence we go on chasing shadows that forever elude us, representing ourselves - to ourselves and to others - as 'happy', 'contented', 'comfortable', 'balanced', 'well adjusted', etc., etc. And life slips by... So fast, so tragically fast.

Monday, September 7, 2009

a(n) (un)familiar story...

... that most certainly does not explain everything, but it does explain a lot. I, for one, have never for a moment believed in "gay-brain" spurious theories - nor in the "homosexuality-as-choice" advocated by Christian rightists, for that matter.
There may be other causes, of course, but as far as this particular issue is concerned, certain mothers can indeed be fatal to their sons.

A sensitive boy is born into a family of jocks. He is shy and dreamy from the start. His father is uncomfortable with him, and his brothers are harsh and impatient. But he is his mother's special favorite, almost from the moment he is born. He and she are more alike. Repelled by male roughhousing, he is drawn to his mother's and sisters' quietness and delicacy. He becomes his mother's confidant against her prosaic husband, a half-eroticized relationship that may last a lifetime and block the son from adult contacts with women.

He is fascinated by his mother's rituals of the boudoir, her hypnotic focus on the mirror as she applies magic unguents from vials of vivid colour, like paints and palette. He loves her closet, not because he covets her clothes but because they are made of gourgeous, sensuous fabrics, patterns, and hues denied men in this post-aristocratic age. Later, he feels like an outsider in the schoolyard. There is no male bonding; he tries to join in but never fully merges with the group. Masculinity is something beautiful but "out there"; it is not in him, and he knows he is feigning it. He longs for approval from the other boys, and his nascent sexual energies begin to flow in that direction, pursuing what he cannot have. He will always be hungry for and awed by the masculine, even if and when, through bodybuilding and the leather scene, he adopts its accoutrements.

Thus homosexuality, in my view, is an adaptation, not an inborn trait. When they claim they are gay "as far back as I can remember," gay men are remembering their isolation and alienation, their differentness, which is a function of their special gifts. Such protestations are of little value in any case, since it is unlikely that much can be recalled before age three, when sexual orientation may be already fixed. Heaven help the American boy born with a talent for ballet. In this culture, he is mocked and hounded and never wins the respect of masculine men. Yet this desperation deepens his artistic insight and expressiveness. Thus gay men create civilization by fulfilling the pattern of Coleridge's prophesying, ostracized poet, dancing alone with "flashing eyes" and "floating hair."

Other patterns of homosexual ethiology certainly exist, including one of hatred toward and revulsion from women. But that ambivalence may already be built into the story I have sketched, since the mother who turns away from her dull spouse to make a subliminally incestuous marriage with her sensitive son may be suffocating the boy and stunting his development.

Camille Paglia, 'No Law in the Arena: A Pagan Theory of Sexuality', in Vamps & Tramps: New Essays (London: Viking, 1995), pp. 75-76.

jumping to conclusions (2)

Often on a trip, I seem to be alive in a hallucinatory vision of difference, the highly colored unreality of foreigness, where I am vividly aware (as in most dreams) that I don't belong; yet I am floating, an idle anonymous visitor among busy people, an utter stranger. When you're strange, as the song goes, no one remembers your name.

Travel can induce such a distinct and nameless feeling of strangeness and disconnection in me that I feel insubstantial, like a puff of smoke, merely a ghost, a creepy revenant from the underworld, unobserved and watchful among real people, wandering, listening while remaining unseen. Being invisible - the usual condition of the older traveler - is much more useful than being obvious. You see more, you are not interrupted, you are ignored. Such a traveler isn't in a hurry, which is why you might mistake him for a bum. Hating schedules, depending on chance encounters, I am attracted by travel's slow tempo.

Ghosts have all the time in the world, another pleasure of long-distance aimlessness. And this ghostliness, I was to find, was also an effect of the journey I had chosen, returning to places I had known many years ago. It is almost impossible to return to an early scene in your traveling life and not feel like a specter. And many places I saw were themselves sad and spectral, others big and hectic, while I was the haunting presence, the eavesdropping shadow on the east train.

Paul Theroux, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star (NY: Houghton Mifflin, 2008), p. 2.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

jumping to conclusions (1)

On the eve of another trip, the first of a series planned for this month, I find myself re-reading Theroux - and agreeing with him all the way:

You think of travelers as bold, but our guilty secret is that travel is one of the laziest ways on earth of passing the time. Travel is not merely the business of being bone-idle, but also an elaborate bumming evasion, allowing us to call attention to ourselves with our conspicuous absence while we intrude upon other people's privacy - being actively offensive as fugitive freeloaders. The traveler is the greediest kind of romantic voyeur, and in some well-hidden part of the mythomania bordering on the pathological. This is why a traveler's worst nightmare is not the secret police or the witch doctors or malaria, but rather the prospect of meeting another traveler.

Most writing about travel takes the form of jumping to conclusions, and so most travel books are superfluous, the thinnest, most transparent monologuing. Little better than a license to bore, travel writing is the lowest form of literary self-indulgence: dishonest complaining, creative mendacity, pointless heroics, and chronic posturing, much of it distorted with Muncheausen syndrome.

Of course, it's much harder to stay at home and be polite to people and face things, but where's the book in that? . . .

Paul Theroux, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star (NY: Houghton Mifflin, 2008), p. 1.