Monday, July 26, 2004

a few years ago I served time in grad school.  after finishing what seemed a life sentence of hard labor I find myself thinking of a seminal text I used for an intro to critical theory, and a later illustration on how humanity is defined often by those who live on its margins. 

my subject was Queer Theory and the book was Gender Trouble by Judith Butler (Routledge 1999).  Butler's investigations on the societal constructs of human gender was an eye-opener.  but I chose to present Queer Theory to the class because our varied sexualities are the essences of our common human being.  and quite frankly I despise any sort of classifications we place on any group of persons.  for I think persons are both individual and plural at the same time.  there are groups of writers but those groups are composed of single individuals, each possessed of unique talents and abilities.  one may be "queer" simply by not accepting the stifling binary systems we must endure in our daily lives. 

so I wrote my paper and presented it to the class.  I must have done a pretty good job since one of my classmates at the next meeting took me aside and produced a photograph.  it was a picture of a middle-aged couple, a man in drag, and a woman.  my classmate told me it was her parents.  her father got out of the closet only a few years previous, though I don't quite recall her saying her father was gay, but he certainly was a cross-dresser.  at any rate, after the initial shock caused by her father's confession to his wife they stayed married and have become best friends.  best friends is something his daughter emphasized to me because before he came out he was bitter, angry and hurtful.  her father, she told me, became a new man and is so much happier, and after a bit of hesitation his daughter has learned that love is love after all whatever its manifestations.

to point out our ways of thinking about sex and gender is often hateful is to be terribly obvious.  one is neither this nor the other.  I recall a prof. telling me that there had been studies of the writings of men and women to find if women use grammar, syntax, sentence structure differently.  what a waste of time.  writing is either/or and both at the same time.  sexuality is often aligned with the evils of our worlds.  but why, I ask, since we are creatures made of and through our sexual urges.

several years ago I read an essay by Sallie Tisdale in Harper's where she openly spoke of her love of pornography.  and yes, she meant the stuff bought and sold at "adult bookstores," though I've wondered why we call such material "adult" but those who like the stuff are deemed "puerile."  later she expanded her essay and published Talk Dirty To Me: An Intimate Philosphy of Sex (Doubleday 1994), and it was one of the most liberating and refreshing works on pornography, and our stifled attitudes toward sex and sexuality, I have read.  where Butler's book is far-reaching in political and philosphical explications, Tisdale's ruminations are open and candid about one writer's life and thoughts on sex, sexuality and images of sexuality.

I find writers' attitudes toward porn a little odd.  I have in mind an interview with an Irish poet in a recent issue of Verse.  the poet in question claimed he wanted to capture a bit of the expressive qualities found in porn: coldness and distance, but he made great pains to assure the interviewer that he was not the least interested in pornography at all.  well, I guess, but I recall another quite dissimilar attitude by the writer Samuel Delany in a glossy gay mag that lamented the disneyifaction of Times Square, how the porn theaters were being shuttered.  I delighted when Delany said something along the lines of, now where will I go to get off? 

a writer would think taboos have long been broken when Ginsberg wrote of being fucked in the ass by bikers and screaming with joy.  perhaps I have it wrong and poets are indeed writing of sex, I enjoyed Jeff Clark's first book, The Little Door Slides Back, partly because it seemed written with a quiet love of S/M, in language not explicit, but open.  experimental writing needs more of that.  it needs greater amplitude and combustion.  a poem cannot compete with images of attractive men and women.  it does not need to, since grammar is what makes our very DNA.  the poet's desire is enacted by language, and made stronger for it, since no subject, or lack of subject, is deemed untouchable.  self-censorship is worse sometimes than governmental and societal forms of negation.  to change your life you must change your language, and that change comes with risk, for there is always someone ready to stop you.