The Precarious Politics of Desire
I’ve been reading these recent conversations about “the privilege of being desired” bop around Tumblr these past few days. The conversation was a bit hard to follow because it was happening in all different directions (which is simultaneously really cool and hard to navigate). It made me think a lot about how normative ideas about beauty and desire trickle down into radical spaces. I am queer, trans, white and fat and I find that even in the political spaces and ‘communities’ that surround my life there is a definite erasure and rejection of disabled bodies, fat bodies, non-white bodies and a pretty intense privileging of masculinities - just to scrape the surface.
The thing we need to remember here is that both “beauty” and “desire” are loaded guns. For those of us who live our lives on the colonized lands of North America, we learn much of what we know about beauty and desire from mainstream media. The media sends us messages that tell us all about what bodies are desirable and socially acceptable, how we should love and fuck each other and how we should appropriately perform our masculinity or femininity. People, bodies and practices that fall outside of these norms are marginalized, made invisible and ridiculed.
The politics of desire are failing us because they have been colonized, and are channeled into capitalist practices of consumption. Media promotes normative ideas about beauty and desire to sell us products that keep the capitalist system intact. Fat bodies, disabled bodies and racialized bodies do not sell products as effectively as white, skinny and seemingly stable bodies and therefore those bodies often fall outside of normative visual economies of desire and beauty. Yeah that’s right, this shit is being sold to us.
Mainstream discourses on desire exist at all levels of society and are deeply embedded in consumerism, racism and sexism (or capitalism, white supremacy & patriarchy). We learn about beauty and desire at school and in the media (television/internet/advertisements on the street) and we internalize those values. Sometimes we (or our friends and family) regurgitate these norms to hurt or have power over people and sometimes we create new norms or find that our desires don’t match up the way they are supposed to. Mass media shapes our lived experience and understanding of the world in deep and complicated ways. I can definitely say that I have been thoroughly infused with the values of capitalism, patriarchy and white supremacy and my queer politics are about always resisting that, and making room for all bodies. Because I am queer, norms about beauty and desire play out in my life and politics in different ways than they might for a straight white (cis) dude, but these normative values permeate the best of minds, and none of us are unscathed - not even you!
Norms of beauty and desire are reformulated and reproduced in radical spaces. No matter what we do, commodified and colonized ideas about beauty and desire permeate everything and even follow us into our cherished radical communities (be them geographical or digital like tumblr). The key here for me is to think critically about how these processes occur. One of the most important things anyone has ever told me was that “dominance and power function by remaining invisible”. Our ability to think critically about the forces that shape our lives and to then speak out and imagine against them are vital to transforming pervasive and damaging notions of beauty and desirability that are clearly hurting ignore so many of us.
We need to be accountable for the ways that we consume beauty and understand desire. We create counter-norms about beauty and desire in the body positive and queer spaces here on Tumblr. Still, these spaces exclude many voices, bodies, aesthetics and often reinforce the norm. These digital spaces create a visual environment that leaves so many experiences and bodies out of the equation. I do not know how we can combat this, but I hope that we continue to think critically and have non-linear conversations with ourselves and each other about beauty and desire. If we start talking about this maybe we can start to disentangle desire from the cold, dead hands of white supremacy, capitalism and patriarchy and reconfigure it in ways that create room for more bodies to be adored and appreciated on their own terms and in ways that feel affirming.
I want to leave you with seriously fucking relevant quote that sets my heart on fire:
“As the (generational) effects of global capitalism, genocide, violence, oppression and trauma settle into our bodies, we must build new understandings of bodies and gender that can reflect our histories and our resiliency, not our oppressor or our self-shame and loathing. We must shift from a politic of desirability and beauty to a politic of ugly and magnificence. That moves us closer to bodies and movements that disrupt, dismantle, disturb. Bodies and movements ready to throw down and create a different way for all of us, not just some of us” - Mia Mingus (Moving Toward the Ugly: A Politic Beyond Desirability)
Desire and beauty have failed me and cannot accurately capture how or who I fuck, how or who I desire or how I want to be desired. If you need me, I’ll be exploding desire in the revolutionary possibilities of ugly.
This is for all of you to take in, consider, and keep considering. Can a community truly include everyone—from norm to counter-norm and everything in between?
A politic of ugly and magnificence is very appealing… because it’s different, and interesting, and has room for everyone. I do believe there’s beauty in everyone. I have to. But there’s ugliness, too. Beauty soothes, ugliness grabs us, shakes us up, and makes us realize we’re alive.
It’s not all Wonder Woman mixers and mermaids up in this blog; sometimes there’s serious fuckin’ business.
Anti-Female Masturbation Crusade: That’s What the World Needs!
*rant* (Inspired by this article about a “ministry” devoted to stopping female masturbation)
Raised in Kansas, I’m no stranger to anti-sex religious groups. It usually goes like this: the girls are told that because the boys can’t help themselves, they, as females, are responsible for being the gatekeepers, for not being “stumbling blocks” that bring boys into sin. You know, because teenage boys need A LOT of help finding material that makes them think about sex.
And the boys? They’re told, of course, that they shouldn’t have sex, but also that they shouldn’t masturbate. Because that’s healthy, right, offering no source of release for raging adolescent hormones. (For reals, I knew guys in high school who sat around with their all-male bible study groups each week talking about how damn difficult it was not to masturbate.)
The message to girls is dressed up as female empowerment—-YOU get to control THE SEX (or, preferably, the lack thereof)—-but it sets girls up for failure and for the feeling that they are somehow responsible for other people’s sexual choices. The real message is “You are responsible for keeping boys from even thinking about sex, and when the boys (inevitably) fail, it will be, at least partially, your fault.”
And it usually comes wrapped up in assumptions (broadcasted to the group, natch) that girls are less sexual than boys are, so they don’t have to try quite as hard to not think about or want sex. And of course—-OF COURSE!—-they don’t want to touch themselves. Penises? Those are irresistible, even to their owners, and it is NOT EASY to be a boy who doesn’t stroke his own wookie. But lady parts? Who would want to touch those?! Certainly not the girls who have them. No way.
But, you know, just in case a few Christian young women get the idea that maybe they should push their own buttons, THEY MUST BE STOPPED. Oh, and they must be told they are DIRTY. Because they didn’t get enough of that back when you were telling them it’s their fault that teenage boys masturbate.
Oh, and did I mention that Dirty Girls Ministries is based in my hometown of Lenexa, KS? Jesus, I’ve never been prouder.
Was really hoping something called “Dirty Girls Ministries” would be…fun? Why would someone trying to get “clean” (whatever they believe clean means) join something called dirty? BAD group name!
According to the Utne Reader article: When you peel back the layers, the core of her crusade is against sexual thought—even within marriage—unless those thoughts are about your husband while you are engaging in intercourse with him.
Also, most of the women joining the ministries are teenagers and preteens. Who, while learning that sexual desire is bad, are also learning that homosexuality is bad, and basically anything fun ever is bad bad bad. Breaks my heart.
For a religion that’s allegedly founded on love…its believers spend an awful lot of time teaching us how to hate our god-given bodies and our natural desires. I know some folks pride themselves on being overburdened with guilt but…really?