A not-man, standing alone in a forest, where no one can hear them, freely.
Psychoanalysts assume there is a preoedipal relation of the child to the mother, a presocial relation which in spite of its importance for humankind does not emerge from history.
This is not to say that humans, as animals prior to any development of culture, did not engage in behaviors now recognized as “sex”, but rather their discursive meaning and all the material practices constituting them are historically produced. In the same manner, humans have always acted and created, but it is only in capitalist development, in the processes that alienated and proletarianized us, that this becomes secured as “labor.” What drives us towards having sex, in the here and now, is something determined by the flows of power and economic structures that produce us as “women,” “men,” “trans,” “straight,” etc. If thousands of years ago there was a pre-gendered mode of pleasure, embodiment, and usage of genitalia, it is irretrievably lost to us. The radical contact that lesbian feminists such as Janice Raymond hoped for is endlessly absent. There is no presence of another’s Self, no opportunity for the truly intersubjective. Only an endless field of touch, affect, craving, survival, and power relations, produced and mediated by our material conditions.
**only** an endless field of touch…
thanks, c.e., for writing this. here
-A text from Dad.
—Musing on conditional love after skyping Eve about it
Cell 16: Usually what passes for sexual need is actually desire to be stroked, desire for recognition or love, desire to conquer, humiliate or wield power, or desire to communicate.
Me: If sex is belabored and overdetermined by the pain and weight of gender, then it won’t help us seek the resolution of these heady or personal desires. I keep having this question then of what sex IS supposed to do for me or anyone, any not-man out there. I’m getting mired in these old words that are saying that sex is too fraught for anyone to do it successfully. Dworkin’s impossible, necessary request: the 24 hour truce, a day without rape. It’s true that there are things we want from the sex encounter that can be sourced elsewhere but isn’t there some totalizing awesomeness of sex-as-not-communication? Not in a backalley brute exchange but in a place where active and passive flow crudely together?
From “On Celibacy” by Dana Densmore in No More Fun and Games Issue 2 by Cell 16, October 1968:
Until we accept it completely, until we say “I control my own body and I don’t need any insolent male with an overbearing presumptuous prick to come and clean out my pipes” they will always have over us the devastating threat of withdrawing their sexual attentions and worse, the threat of our ceasing even to be sexually attractive.
And that devastating rejection is absolutely inevitable. If you are serious and men realize it they will cease being attracted to you.
If you don’t play the game, the role, you are not a woman and they will NOT be attracted. You will be sexless and worse, unnatural and threatening.
You will be feared and despised and viciously maligned, all by men you know perfectly well you could charm utterly and wrap around your finger just by falling into the female role, even by men who have worshipped you in the past.
How is that possible? Obviously, because they never were worshipping you. That’s the bitter truth, and you’d better catch on now.
I – STARTING
A story we are told:
You are on the brink of sexual freedom; it is here and at your
disposal. It is asked only that you find it or make it. If before
we were ugly, we may be beautiful now—still, you must make
yourself natural, whole, and good. You were traumatized but
you may recover, simply possess yourself. This is work to be
done but it is a good work. Work on your shame, perhaps
even fight those who shame you, and it follows that you will
be free. At the end of it you will be whole and you will have 16 C.E. UNDOING SEX: AGAINST SEXUAL OPTIMISM 17
reclaimed your natural pleasure. The right of man is to fuck and to
orgasm. Feel free with your body to do these things because they are
good. The feminists and the sexual liberationists knew this and this
is why their movement is over. Cosmo and Oprah know this now and
therefore everyone knows it. Sex is good and pleasure is powerful,
and it is this proposition that will save us from our pain.
Michel Foucault repeats this tale in its barest bones: “someday, sex
will be good again.”1
Yet for all that such optimism may aspire to,
it exists seamlessly with the brutal realities of gendered life. Rape
goes on unabated; the lives of so many remain consumed in domestic
and reproductive labor. It is not that optimism is simply ineffective,
that it has been appropriated and de-fanged by a system of repression and may thus be saved, but rather that it exists alongside shame
and silence, each playing their part in a broader production of sex
and gender. If it was once radical and marginal to assert an essential,
or simply available, goodness to sex, it is now central, institutional.
Far from the domain of some radical set, it is at once an ideology
of patriarchy and of the majority of its opponents, a disparate, heterogeneous collection of discourses united in common aim. It is the
optimism that insistently, cruelly returns us to the work of fucking.
This optimism is what I position myself against. Its history demands
explanation, and I long to imagine a politic that emerges after having
abandoned attachment to sex entirely. To be positionally “against
sex” would be to oversimplify; rather I experience sex as an impasse
in the manner of Berlant, “dedramatizing the performance of critical
and political judgment so as to slow down the encounter with the
objects of knowledge that are really scenes we can barely get our
That is, sex here is not as an enemy to be polemically
confronted, but an overwhelming relation demanding examination,
where the pain and weight of gender are more immediate. My
project: to long for the good and feel its absence, picking apart,
1 Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality (New York: Pantheon Books,
2 Lauren Berlant, “Starved,” South Atlantic Quarterly, 106(3), 433-444.
historicizing, drowning in the weight of phenomena, “tripping on
content” as Chris Kraus puts it.3
So then to clarify: I do not set out to reject an entire wave of feminism. Under the banner of “sex positivity,” even sexual optimism, are
gestures that would be absurd to reject—the historicizing of sexuality, demystifying sexuality, giving information surrounding STDs
and contraception to women and queers, disrupting reactionary
forms of shame. What is necessary is far from a sectarian return to
“second wave” theorists, but rather tracing the thread that gave rise
to our present situation—the ways in which sex has been exalted, its
relationship to senses of the Self, and the ideologies of the whole
and natural. Sex positivity as a supposedly coherent social movement would be only a paper tiger; rather, the object of this essay is to
disrupt the attachment to sex as it has lived in feminism and popular
imagination, and it is a relation that lives well beyond the past 30
years of “sex positive feminism.”
The cover for Cell 16’s No More Fun and Games! Issue 1. 1968.
Includes “Slavery,” “What is to be Done?,” “Asexuality,” “On Celibacy,” “On Female Enslavement…and Men’s Stake in It,” “Our Place in the Universe,” “Should Girls Say Yes to Boys Who Say No?,” “Dress to Go Human In,” “Women and the Radical Movement,” “The Girls Who Say Yes!,” “The Psychological Castration of the Female.” And others.
Sisterhood is blooming / Springtime will never be the same
from Sinister Wisdom journal #72