Orientation, Identity, Kink, Practice

It’s hard to talk about sex. It’s even harder to talk about the penumbra of stuff that is kinda sex but also kinda its own thing.

Where does a sexual preference become a kink? An identity? An orientation?

I’ve been searching for words to talk about myself, and realising that every term is the result of some political battle of the past or the present. Reclaimed slurs, claims for legal or social status, attempts to join a coalition or escape association with another group.

The result is that we have a language twisting around the contours of past disagreements. Take “sexual orientation”. The term was a weapon of the 80s, pushing against the medicalisation and criminalisation of homosexuality. In that context, it was valuable to present being gay as something innate and stable – which captures the experience of some people, but certainly not all.

The innateness, embedded in the word ‘orientation’, became a key part of the fight for GLBT rights. You can’t punish somebody for being ‘born this way’, and so ‘orientation’ is written into all kinds of anti-discrimination laws and policies.

But…what if I’m not born that way? What if I’m just, as the doctors would say, a ‘man who has sex with men’? Can I claim the same protections?

This problem becomes more acute when we widen the perspective to look at BDSM or polyamory. There are kinksters who consider themselves ‘submissive’ in the same innate, essential, inescapable way that somebody else could consider herself ‘lesbian’. There are others who find bondage a pleasant pastime, but one they could abandon without losing an essential part of themselves. So we end up with claims that kink or polyamory is a sexual orientation.

Either side of that binary feels a bit off, to me. I couldn’t make a convincing argument either that kink is an orientation, or that it isn’t. The framing just doesn’t fit. And the reason it doesn’t fit is that it’s conflating the type of a thing with the legitimacy of the thing with the innateness of a thing.

I didn’t discover my bisexuality until my early 20s. I could imagine a world in which I never made that discovery, loved only women, yet still had a fulfiling life.

Kink has been part of me since childhood, and it’s hard to imagine myself without it.

You could say I’m an obligate kinkster, and an opportunist bisexual. But I don’t want a world in which that distinction has any bearing on the legitimacy or acceptance of one over the other.

It’s helped me to realise that the terminology is an artefact of politics. Whether we count claim kink as an orientation is merely a tactical question, and has no meaning outside of a specific political context. Wondering what is an orientation does little to help me understand myself or the people around me, so I can safely stop doing it.

Shorts 2

Some more notes from my weekly short film sessions

Next Floor

Rich gluttons wreak devastation on the world around them. Visually effective, but pretty heavy-handed

Brick Novax’s Diary

Animation about a over-the-top All-American hero/villain. A parody of the macho guns-and-girls action genre, except that it falls in love with its own hero. Even the entertaining parts leave a sour taste.

The Duel at Blood Creek

A formal duel, with its elaborate rituals, is always teetering on the edge of bathos. This pushes it over, and then keeps going. Unlike Brick Novax’s Diary, manages to keep a tone of affectionate ridicule. Slightly let down by the ending

The Intimacy of Anger

Agnes Callard describes ‘the uncanny intimacy of anger

though you can’t stand to be near me, it is also true that no one could be closer to you than me. I have infiltrated the patterns of your thought; I have my fingers on your heartstrings; I have even been put in charge of your sense perception: you see traces of me everywhere you look. You complain about me to anyone who will listen, and when no one will listen you shout at a mental effigy of me. I’ve colonized your fantasy life. Holding me responsible involves an embrace, albeit an adversarial one.

Now I’m an Angry Young Man in recovery, the rage equivalent of a dry alcoholic. So this paragraph sets me quivering, and calls out one of the great temptations of anger. Anger pulls your entire consciousness into its service, with every fact or sensation falling into its gravitational pull. Thoughts are twisted and reshaped into forms they would never achieve in a rational mind. It is the dark counterpart of love, and having everything remind you of your beloved.

At one of Helena’s ii salons, we got into a conversation about the positive aspects of anger. In particular, how it can be a tool for self-knowledge. If something makes me angry, it is because it is important to me in some way. When the anger is out of proportion to the overt cause, it might point me to something I did not know I cared about.

It might be resentment that somebody is able to do something I have been blocked from or failed at. It might be disappointed hope or trust. It might be one of the injustices which go unchallenged in the world.

And often, once I have traced the meaning of the anger, the sensation itself starts to feel disproportionate, even risible. Understanding might not destroy anger, but it does let me laugh at it.

Age and Recklessness

People rarely become more reckless as they get older. Isn’t that weird?

The older you are, the fewer years of life you are utting on the line when you do something risky. Once you are in your nineties you have, almost literally, nothing to lose. So why not go for it?

Not in the real world: a teenager will always take more risks than her grandparents. At least it looks like that to me; a quick google didn’t find me much data.

And I have encountered exceptions. There are older activists who put themselves in the front line if oritests. They figure the police will either spare them, or attack them and look bad doing so. But we notice these cases precisely because they go against our expectations.

Hormones, I suppose, have a lot to answer for. Plus, not every risk is dicing with death. Sometimes it means dicing with falling over, which is more of a deal with senior-citizen bones.

And physical risks often come with other physical activities, which are less fun when your body is falling apart. You might give up off-piste skiing without being more scared of a fatal accident, just because it is less fun with arthritis.

Why am I interested, anyway? It’s because I clearly have some false intuitiions about ageing. Right now I imagine my risk tolerance will only increase as I get older. The actually-existing elderly disagree. So either I am destined for an atypical retirement, or I’m fundamentally wrong about how my future will feel.

Eartha Kitt

Until this week, I had never heard of Eartha Kitt. Now I have, it’s hard to imagine how I could have missed such an un-ignorable personality.

In case you are in the same state of innocence as I was, here’s a song to get you started. Remember this is a mixed-race woman performing for mid-century Middle America:

There is a lot of Kitt in here. The clawing matches her years as a stage performer, but also foreshadows her stint as Catwoman 15 years later. And yet she is also very clearly the lazy rich girl playing at being bad.

Kitt came from just about the most deprived background you could imagine. Beyond pure talent, it is her supreme confidence that pulled her out and catapulted her into international stardom.

That and hard work. Years of gruelling stage performances, night after night, interspersed with recording and travel and television and film. I’m exhausted just looking at it

Above all, I love her take-no-prisoners attitude to the world. It caused her most trouble in 1968, when she was invited to the White House for a discussion of crime. She made the entirely reasonable point that young men had less incentive to behave when they were being “snatched off to be shot in Vietnam”. The First Lady was horrified, and Kitt’s American career stalled for the next decade. But she never backed down, and throughout her life was active in support of civil and LGBT rights

More on Eartha Kitt:

  • Vice runs through her biography in more detail
  • Seymour Hersh writes about the CIA file on her

Sleepwalking into Brexit

This https://ukandeu.ac.uk/brexit-witness-archive/philip-hammond/ shows up how much the British government were winging their way through Brexit. Theresa May was mainly concerned about immigration rather than economics:

she will have seen this through the prism of immigration and security. For her, the economy would have been very much a secondary thing. She didn’t really have a deep interest in how the economy worked. Of course, she wanted a successful economy, because she understood that GDP growth underpinned everything else. But, as to the mechanics of it and what the implications were, that wouldn’t have been her primary focus at all at that time.

And when she announced her support for a hard Brexit, it was without consulting the Chancellor or having any idea of the economic implications:

I was completely stunned by the speech that she made at the Conservative Party Conference in October 2016. I hadn’t seen the relevant part of it in advance. I’d had no input to the speech. Nick Timothy kept me completely away from it. I did see some text on the economy the day before, but I had no idea that she was going to describe Brexit in th\e hardest possible terms.

I was absolutely horrified by what I was hearing. All I remember thinking was, ‘There will be a television camera that will be on your face. If you move a muscle, it will be the story on the front page of every newspaper tomorrow.’

[via https://davidallengreen.com/2021/02/how-theresa-may-casually-decided-that-brexit-meant-the-united-kingdom-would-leave-the-single-market-and-customs-union-the-fascinating-and-revealing-interview-with-philip-hammond/]

Harold Wilson’s Paranoia

In discussions about Trump’s sanity, I’ve felt the need to bring up the immortal words of Harold Wilson, speaking to a pair of journalists shortly after he stepped down as Prime Minister:

I see myself as the big fat spider in the corner of the room. Sometimes I speak when I’m asleep. You should both listen. Occasionally when we meet I might tell you to go the Charing Cross Road and kick a blind man. That blind man may tell you something.

In other words: power attracts strange people and makes them even stranger.