Fifth Issue: 12.11.12
‘RETURNING, WE HEAR THE LARKS’
Contents Edinburgh – Laurie Lewis ‘The Whole In-Between’ – Nick March ‘Something Tragic to the Blues: Aspects of Tragic Art in the Art of the Blues’ – James Mcknight ‘By The Morning Post’ – Evie Cassandra Ioannidi Indonesia 2011 – Charlotte Ball ‘Memory’ – Calypso Blaj ‘Ignoring Things’ – Anonymous ‘O Cervantian Don’ – Will Burgess Numb: A Novella in Installments (Part Three) – Poppy Damon BW1 & BW2 – R.H. ‘Hold Away’ – Anonymous ‘Transgender Theory in the British Context’ – William Simmons (Harvard) ‘Urns’ – James Mcknight Photograph – Alice Fiennes ‘For Press-men!’ – James Browning Contributors are students, graduates or fellows of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge unless otherwise stated.
THIS ISSUE IS DEDICATED TO ALL THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN AFFLICTED BY WAR. Front cover design (‘Returning, We Hear The Larks’) by Nathaniel Samson. Back cover design by Laurie Lewis. © Notes (Oxford & Cambridge). All works are © the individual author.
Deadline for next issue: Friday 23rd November.
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The Whole In-Between If you consider the raw idea of ‘kissing’ – the naked notion; it doesn’t amount to too much. Sharing a kiss: it’s polar opposites. Nick March
Something Tragic to the Blues: Aspects of Tragic Art in the Art of Blues “In everyday language, the word ‘tragedy’ means something like ‘very sad’. We speak of the tragic car crash of the young woman at the busy crossraods, just as ancient Greeks used the same epithet for a drama about the slaying of a king at a similar place. Indeed, it may well turn out that ‘very sad’ is also about the best we can do when it comes to the more exalted realm of tragic art.” - Terry Eagleton, from Sweet Violence; this short paragraph begins the book.
Eagleton spends much of his book wondering whether there can be any more definite meaning for this term, ‘tragic’, in life and in art than simply ‘very sad’. He travels through the assessments of others, from Aristotle to Hegel, to Lacan, Camus, Allen and beyond. And though some assessments are debunked more harshly than others, all are done away with and dismissed to some extent, including his original suggestion. For of course there is more to tragedy as an art form, and the tragic as an aesthetic quality, than something that is simply ‘very sad’. This is where tragic theorists seeking an inclusive definition have thrown about ideas of an ‘uplifting’ quality, ‘seriousness’ and gravity of character, providence and predetermination forming a ‘meaningful pattern’, ‘eternal justice’ and ‘unity’ of the soul found through the slings and arrows of catastrophe.1 Yet for all their attempts at inclusion, or even at establishing a water-tight theory through exclusion,2 it seems impossible to come across a definitive theory of tragedy and the tragic that does not advertently or inadvertently skip over whole swathes of art which have a tragic quality to them. I certainly have come across no one theory which sums up the ‘essence’ of what is tragic in all things that could carry such a title. Nor, it seems, have scholars such as Eagleton, who are a good deal better read than me, if their forests of footnotes are anything to go by. In my inexperience, I feel it could be safer and more intellectually honest instead to consider that ‘the tragic’ is something we know when we see: a quality shared by many different things, for many different reasons, but a quality we recognise throughout its permutations. It is more a matter of Wittgenstein’s ‘family resemblances’ – overlapping features – than some essence that breathes tragedy into diverse art works. As with the idea of ‘the beautiful’ we
Eagleton elaborates on each of these standpoints and more. But when it comes to the brief parade of ideas of the tragic that I run through here, I am thinking of Paul Allen, Pierre Corneille or Chaucer or Aristotle, Dorothea Krook, and Hegel respectively. 2 See for example Paul Ricoeur’s conception that “it is by grasping the essence [of tragedy] in the Greek phenomenon that we can understand all other tragedy as analogous to Greek tragedy” in The Symbolism of Evil, 1969.
recognise when there is something of ‘the tragic’ in an art work, and again, as with beauty, this idea is anything but objective, quantifiable, reducible. Peter De Bolla has recently delivered the last of a series of lectures at Cambridge on ‘The Aesthetic Object’. In these lectures he has argued that, to consider how a certain aesthetic idea or response works, we must always begin with the object that caused the response: the painting, the poem, the novel; the genre or movement or tradition of plays within a certain shortlived period of Mediterranean history. Perhaps a little can be learned from this process about how we might examine the idea of ‘the tragic’: not examining works through an idea, and jostling till the two fit, but examining qualities and ideas through works or bodies of work, and pondering how or if they fit at all. This is to be something of a rough-edged essay, perhaps asking questions it does not answer. I would like to use it as a space to think in, about how we might look at a type of non-Greek nondramatic artwork that I have thought of as ‘tragic’ in some way, and ponder what tragic features it has. The sort of artwork I would like to discuss is Blues Music, the art, its origins and elements, mostly as described by LeRoi Jones, AKA Amiri Baraka in his book, Blues People: Negro Music in White America.3 When Baraka talks of the origins of Blues, he discusses them as something made of broken things. In the chapter, ‘African Slaves/American Slaves: Their Music’, of his book, he discusses the gradual shift of Blues’ predecessor, the West African and, later, African-American work song, ‘shout’ or ‘field holler’, away from a displaced African form of art towards a form of art sprung uniquely from conditions in America. Non-African language entirely supplanted the West African, and yet the “accent and the syntactical construction of certain West Indian dialects” remained. Alongside quality of speech, if not language, African musicality remained in “polyphonic or contrapuntal rhythmic effects” and a non-diatonic scalar system that would later develop into characteristic ‘blueing’ of notes. So, in the secular music of early African-Americans, disallowed motifs such as mother tongues and musical instruments broke apart and reformed with new factors into new forms such as sixteen bar ‘ballits’ and Americanised ‘hollers’. Among American slaves, utter abjection caused the destruction of many elements of an art, that were pieced together into new art. The same is also true of the breaking apart of West African religion and religious music, and its recreation as AfroChristianity and its Spirituals. It’s this pattern that was repeated over and over before what is recognisable as ‘Classic Blues’ resulted: the Emancipation and Reconstruction of the South, Baraka supposes, broke apart the music of African-American slaves before chaotically reconstructing it also. The result was a new form of ‘shout’, emphasising individuality, coming from new chances for relative freedom, solitude, leisure, although ‘shabby’ and ‘barren’ by the “standards of the average American white man”. “Each man had his own way of shouting—his own life to sing about.” Not only could such music be sung as a way of expressing the self, rather than the collective, “Early blues developed as a music to be sung for pleasure”. And so, once again, a new kind of music formed and fractured before becoming the more universal phenomenon Baraka terms ‘Classic Blues’. This later form is what I will largely talk about in this essay. This is the idea Baraka posits throughout his book: that the relationship between the forcibly imported African or African American and America or Americanness goes through a variety of changes throughout history, and that “these changes are most graphic in his music”. And this idea is interesting enough in itself, particularly when compared with the idea that Attic tragedy can be
I am aware that Baraka has at various points in his life been a controvertial figure, and as such his academic pedigree may still be viewed as controvertial also. His book Blues People, however, remains authoritative, and a more full survey of Blues as sociological and artistic phenomenon than exists elsewhere, at least to my knowledge.
seen as expressing a certain culture at a certain time also, with its focus on the democracy of the agon, or its promotion of the ‘middle way’ and of democratic compromise. While we are discussing such basic analogies, it might also be interesting to consider that Blues and Attic Tragedy are both strange hybrids born out of both a particular kind of ecstatic religious devotion, and a more secular representation of a people’s current state. One might look at the tradition in Classic Blues of men writing music for female singers and female perspectives, such as the partnership of Porter Grainger and Bessie Smith on the song ‘Put it Right Here or Keep it Out There’. One might compare this with the many women who have by now given their titles to Greek dramas, allowing writers such as Sophocles or Euripides to work through difficult social and moral issues. Such ideas could be taken further, but I believe they would tell us little about what is tragic in either art form, and would instead say little more groundbreaking than this: each culture’s art expresses it. It would also be easy enough to consider the lyrics of certain Classic or later Blues songs, and mine them for similarity to what critics such as Ricoeur might call “the Greek phenomenon”. There is, for example, a distinct trajectory in Bessie Smith and Jimmy Cox’s ‘Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out’  that could be characterised as ‘high to low’: Once I lived the life of a millionare, Spending my money, I didn’t care. I carried my friends out for a good time, Buying bootleg liquor, champagne and wine. Then I began to fall so low. I didn’t have a friend and no place to go. etc.
Such a trajectory could even be noticed in the circumstances that originated Blues: the transformation of West Africans to African slaves in America, though this particular set of circumsances should seem in some way monumentally tragic even without analogy to the Classics. One could even write a self-indulgent sort of essay on images of self-mutilation and blinding in the face of anagnoresis – something about the expiation of realisation through blindness, perhaps – comparing the Greeks’ Oedipus and Ellington Jordan and Etta James’s later  Blues song ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’: “I would rather go blind / Than to see you walk away from me”. The same sort of essay could be written on the profusion of revenge songs in Blues, and as in Greek, Senecan, or Renaissance Revenge Tragedy, such songs often have a note of the singer losing something they value in the process of revenge. Such songs as Lightnin’ Hopkins’ ‘Bring Me My Shotgun’ , are not celebrant in their attitude to revenge but mournful, emphasising a quality of inevitability or of ‘what must be done’. But again, this would be insertion of “the Greek phenomenon” into Blues, rather than discussing what in the Blues is tragic in its own right. This is a more difficult question, and one that might be more enlightening to ask, if not to answer. For me, there is something tragic in the narrative of Blues’s origins. Not only in the tragedy of slavery itself, but perhaps something beyond ‘very sad’, that has more to do with the structure of tragic art: the idea that Blues is a way of making art that is in turn made from broken pieces of a people, a culture, a place no longer home. And that it is a way of making a new home, a new art, also. That seems to have something of Nietzsche’s Tragic to it: an Apollonian pursuit or art form, brought about through the ravages of the Dionysian. Tragedy expresses something being broken, destroyed, and creates something from it. Such is the case with the origins of Blues, but perhaps it might also be the case with the archetypal Blues song. They deal in the Dionysian: passions which cannot be stilled,
and can and will destroy those who possess them, whether in Lightnin’ Hopkins’ vengeful lament, or Lil’ Green’s ‘Knockin’ Myself Out’ , as it deals with gradual self-destruction through substance abuse, faced with overwhelming grief: I'm gonna blow this jive, it's a sin and a shame But it's the only thing that ease my heart about my man When I knock myself out. Lord, when I kill myself I just knock myself smack out gradually by degrees.
And yet from this Dionysian chaos, a beautiful form of art is created: what could be called the Apollonian, out of the Dionysian. Indeed, the tension between these two factors can also be seen in Blues songs as composition and as performance, from their origins to the era of Classic Blues: beginning as an expression of experience, labour or lamentation or rejoicing, developing from a strongly improvisational West African tradition of song – songs that act in some way – to a more artefact-based kind of art-making, in which particular songs and particular rules and formalities were developed and observed. Again, however, this might smack too much of inserting theory into tragic art. Perhaps the most that one can say about aspects of the tragic in Blues is that they both deal not only with Eagleton’s idea of the ‘very sad’, but also with universal feelings: things that carried over and remained in song or verse, throughout the permutations that music bore, on the way to becoming Blues, and throughout the journey from West Africa to something more American. As Baraka himself acknowledges, in his chapter ‘Slave and Post-Slave’: Blues as a verse form has as much social reference as any poetry, except for the strict lyric, and that also is found in blues. Love, sex, tragedy in interpersonal relationships, death, travel, loneliness, etc., are all social phenomena. And perhaps these are the things which actually create a poetry, as things or ideas.
By The Morning Post I’m doing quite well, Not too many things considered, Though the tea here is much too Weak for my liking. But the weather’s pretty dry, If you don’t count the rain, Still my mind keeps Steaming up As some strange kind of Consequence. I can imagine you sitting With the net curtains drawn Discarding tea leaves Like lovers With an almost post-orgasmic Tranquillity. I wonder if you laugh At the same pitch you used to When you recalled how we’d use gauze To repair our broken hearts. These days I’m more tired Than perhaps you remember, But that can probably be attributed To this feral atmosphere. Or else it’s the music -It seems they’ve really lost their touchIt’s nothing like the clear, Chaotic work one used to hear. On a quite different note (If you’ll excuse the pun) I still rather miss you, though I’m Sunburnt by the spotlights. It’s almost death by enthusiasm, Like children playing with Defiled horrors. So the thing is, my dearest, That I don’t think I’ll make it Back home by September This year either, But I’m sure that you’ll get this In time for August. Evie Cassandra Ioannidi
Memory When you align the two together it’s not difficult to see how they might fit, and that’s the problem. There are more than two. I take a jagged piece in one hand and try and push it down onto another but the mosaic spills out against me and I’m dazed by the colours I don’t even know I created. Who knew there could be so many? Everyday I’m matching and every second I’m failing; the cracked pieces are morphing in front of me and dancing outside of my grasp, tempting me to follow their glossy ether only for me to stumble on the jagged ends. I can’t win because I’m chasing myself. The sharp breeze collides with my cornea and forces up the tears that fall and lighten the shades once again. I’m falling under the weight of my own creation and I just wish I could file it into a fairway that channels out of our bitter atmosphere. You and me, all separate, all neat, with our marker pens and tax collections. But whenever I’m not focussed, and whenever I am, it rises up and assumes a new form to tease me once again. And when it’s finished, it waltzes out before tipping me a half-smile from the doorway and gently closing the lock. We know I don’t have the keys to prize it open, so instead I stay here and pray you’ll return to renew my grief and free me once more. That’s the hardest thing. The dependency feeds on me but it also tightens around my ankles, forcing me to face the multi-coloured patterns and crack their faces with the pressure of my heel. Yet every step creates something else and I can’t go back. I don’t want to go back. I’m moving across and adding to the timeline of my actions hoping that somewhere you’re keeping a record. We’re each battling with our small glittering tiles, piecing, forcing, refashioning, and until I know any better that’s where I’ll still be. So when I finally see in monochrome, you’ll know where to find me. Calypso Blaj
Ignoring Things There are things you teach yourself: ignore. Like the melancholy, long withdrawing roar Of a flushed toilet in the middle of the night. Like the texture of Valerie’s welsh-cakes mouth-encrusting love-bakes, That fix you in a glutinous bind Gums wrapped, teeth slimed Tongue cotton-wooled but grazing For the occasional raisin. So you put them in the biscuit tin That holds the eternal note of sadness in. Along with the other things. The puddles on swings Discovered too late. That date… Reader, I carried him, Home from the bar A tequila too far.
I run to the window Sweet is the night air When I ignore everything about this place And, turning back towards your face Meet a blank and separated gaze That opens out onto days and days Of less and less to say. Anonymous
‘O Cervantian Don’ O Cervantian don, Bearer of that robust blossom of ignorance That, besieged, still knows no death, But delights in its own essence. It has conquered the world. It has conquered history. It has conquered love. Striding through that halcyon vale, Carved by your mind from the ontological plain. Beyond the walls of understanding: That were built by both sides of the divide To quarantine your simple mind From doubt and fear. United, let us protect you from corruption. Let us shield you from the noise. Let us defend what can never be ours. Let us absorb the barrage that lays siege To you, the embodiment of an ideal. For if all is chaos and blood and confusion, Let us fight for nothing else. But innocence.
Numb A Novella in Installments. Part Three. Toby was just about two months old in the photo. My son. I was holding him. I looked afraid. I looked up to gaze into the hall mirror. The same man. Similar expression. But with that guilt. The guilt of anyone raised in a British Christian household. A guilt I couldn’t shake. That night I dreamt a horrible dream. A resurfacing of all the images I had tried to block out for so long. Water dripping everywhere. Filling my old house. Seeping from every crack and cranny, and drenching the carpets. Inescapable. Carol’s face. Mary clutching at me. Thomas and Toby playing. A lipstick stain on Carol’s teeth. My wet clothes. My shoes so large next to Toby’s. I let out an audible gasp as I awoke. People do that when they dream of being trapped underwater, hold their breath. It is the battle between your conscious and unconscious self to the death. Your unconscious pulling you back to somewhere you don’t want to return to. When I did get up and out of bed I found Mum had left a note. She was sorry; she was with Carol and the kids. I ripped up the paper and took an aspirin. It was raining; Tom-Tom the labradoodle with his absurd face was sitting outside looking at me mournfully. I looked around for a while for my shoes and realised I’d left them outside. They were soaked through. In a déjàvu moment my mind flashed back to the image from my past that had been conjured up in my dream. Why is it that the mind can torture the soul? You can block certain things out. Cheat and have two families but when you will your mind to lock something up for your own protection, when you beg it to keep just one memory away, it’s there waiting, ready to consume you. I replayed Carol’s answer-machine. Hit the photo albums like a drug. Memorabilia and nostalgia straight to my plasma. Before I knew it Mum was back. Arms around me. Kettle. Comfort. Biscuits. It was like I was four again. She was thirty-something. *** A few nights later, I headed out to meet Beccy. I had three missed calls from Anna but ignored them. We sat down while the pasta boiled. Beccy was drinking red already and had the red wine lips of a booze hound. She was wearing makeup. Maybe she had been before but I hadn’t noticed. We played Boggle, ate dinner. That’s when she started acting strangely. I assumed she was a little drunk again and was starting to think she had a problem. Or perhaps it was just me? People needed to be wasted to spend any significant period of time in my company. We sat on the sofa. ‘Isaac, don’t take this the wrong way, but do you have many friends? You’ve never really mentioned anyone-’ ‘My wife and I... we broke up and-’ ‘Ah they took her side...your friends’ I mean. Bastards!’ It was nice hearing her exclaim like that about all of Carol’s friends. Those who blamed me even more than she did deep down. I could just picture them sitting around eating nibbles. My name would come up, and one of the ‘hubbies’ would receive a reprimanding squeeze on the knee or a kick to the shin for enquiring how I was. There would be the clatter of cutlery and cool words spoken before lights out and backs turned. The years of giving two shits about these people and I go through what I did and not one of them can see things from my point of view. The
hours I spent pretending I cared about Denis’ foot infection or Sandra’s mother’s Alzheimer’s, wasted. I was happy to lose the records, and the microwave but people, if nothing else, filled time and created the bluff of a life well spent. A chill ran down my spine at the thought of my funeral. Anna and Mum and maybe Beccy, blank-faced and pale as my body was lowered into the soil. For the sake of not ignoring a now fairly tipsy Beccy, I told myself that there was no point worrying about the guestlist to my funeral just yet, due to the fact that I would not be attending. I ignored the fact that humans are prone to picturing their own funeral to evaluate the success and degree of fulfilment achieved in their lives. ‘Do you want to watch a film? I bought Oceans 11 and Step Brothers. Take your pick!’ She looked intently at me. Right into my eyes which this time made me uncomfortable so I looked away and took a sip of wine. ‘I think we should talk Isaac.’ Oh God. ‘Anna came to see me.’ ‘Anna?’ ‘Yeah, I think it was about us. I mean she mentioned you. I guess what I’m trying to say is – ’ She’s on to me! She knows I’m her brother. ‘I know Isaac. Well at least I’ve guessed.’ I felt violently ill. The spaghetti was making its presence in my system known and I certainly regretted having seconds and thirds. Why would Anna do this without telling me? Was she furious that I’d been seeing Beccy in secret? Had she assumed I’d told her and it just slipped out? This must explain all the missed calls... ‘Listen Beccy – ’ On the upside she seemed relatively calm. She’d sat through dinner. Maybe she was OK with it all. She held her finger to my lips, lent forward and kissed me. I pulled away and leaped up. We looked at each other. She looked confused. I couldn’t figure out why she’d kiss me on the mouth if Anna had told her that I was her brother? What kind of sick fuck was Beccy? Then the doorbell went. Beccy walked upstairs and called down: ‘You can get that.’ I said nothing. On auto-pilot I opened the door. It was Anna. ‘Anna?’ ‘Hi Isaac.’ She walked in past me into the front room. ‘Is Beccy here?’ ‘Well yeah....’ She waited. ‘She’s gone to the toilet.’ I was actually happy to see Anna, she was the perfect distraction from the events unfolding. She sat on the sofa. ‘Look Isaac: I decided I needed to come clean with Beccy. I called you a bazillion times but you didn’t pick up. So I came round here.’ She paused then and looked around at the dim lighting and glasses of wine, then seemed to brush it off and turned back to me.
‘She said she assumed I was here about you. She told me you guys had been hanging out. I quickly realised you’d been befriending the family without telling them who we are.’ She said this really rather loudly and I shushed her in case Beccy heard. Anna stared at me. ‘I decided to talk to you first so I left and have been trying to contact you ever since. Eventually, I figured you’d be here. To be honest I think I understand. I mean I want to hear it from your mouth, but I get that you wanted to get to know Dad. That you were scared we’d never have some of our questions answered if we came clean. But I think more than ever we have to now. It’s not right to mislead her like this. You should have just talked to me! I’m here for you.’ ‘The thing is Anna, what you said to Beccy must have confused her.’ ‘Confused her?’ ‘Well you see tonight I came over and she was acting... strangely. I thought you’d told her I was her brother...’ ‘But I didn’t!’ ‘Right. Yeah. Well I didn’t know that and well –’ ‘Spit it out for Christ’s sake Isaac.’ I didn’t say anything but I glanced at the wine and dim lighting which as Anna had been speaking had added up to the horrible evidence which had left me with only one conclusion, congealing in my mind. Making me feel ill. Anna seemed to understand and a disgusted look appeared on her face. Just at that moment Beccy called out. I don’t know what she said. But it was enough that Anna’s jaw dropped. She leapt up and raced upstairs. I ran after her desperately trying to stop her as I saw what was about to happen with seemingly no power to stop it. Anna raced into the room the voice had come from. And there was Beccy. My unwitting sister in nothing but a black lacy number sprawled on the bed. When Anna burst in, Beccy, embarrassed, leapt under the covers. Anna gaped and stared in an outraged and almost mournful manner. Beccy squirmed, pulling the covers around herself. ‘Anna?’ I just stood helplessly in the doorway. ‘Just what the fuck is going on here?’ Beccy smiled and pulled her hair behind her ear. She looked suddenly very young. She laughed nervously. ‘Well nothing yet Anna. We were just about to –’ I cut in then: ‘No, no we weren’t!’ Beccy looked hurt. ‘We did kiss, Isaac.’ Anna sat on the bed as if her knees had buckled. Her hand covered her mouth and tears filled her eyes. ‘You kissed Isaac.’ It wasn’t a question; it was a statement. ‘No we didn’t. Listen, Beccy you kissed me. I didn’t want to –’ Anna shook her head and her head flicked towards me. ‘You sick fuck. I can’t believe you would – what the fuck is wrong with you!’ Beccy looked straight over Anna’s head into my eyes.
‘What’s she talking about Isaac? Are you married? Is that what’s going on?’ Anna laughed a teary hysterical laugh. ‘Yeah go on Isaac, fucking explain.’ I walked further into the room and coughed and cupped my hands making a clapping sound. I was still on auto-pilot. Numb to the horrors around me. ‘Well, Beccy I was married but we’re not together anymore, you know that. The reason Anna is upset is... Our father fought in the Falklands. But we were estranged because...well... he had a second family. One that our mother found out about. However Anna and I wanted to lie this all to peace.’ I stared at Beccy. She surely could fill in the rest. Surely. Don’t make me say it. But she just sat there in the duvet. Frozen. ‘So we went to our father’s funeral. And we met you and we couldn’t tell you the truth because we didn’t want to hurt you and your family. But I wanted to get to know you and we bumped into each other at the supermarket and the lie snow-balled. I never meant to lead you on.’ Beccy crawled further under the covers gripped the blanket and letting out a cry like a person much younger than she was. ‘I’m your brother.’ I said it almost to myself. Not sure if she could hear. Anna was staring and quietly crying, as Beccy moaned in horror. ‘Dad, my dad? Had a second family? I can’t believe I’m hearing this. I – does mum know? You’re my brother and you Anna, you’re my sister. I’m going to throw up.’ She moved to the edge of the bed and gagged a little. Anna and I stood still for a moment, before we heard Beccy actually throw up. I still stand by the fact that she’d had the majority of a bottle of cheap red to herself and that was largely what contributed. Or else in some ways vomiting was an overreaction because (let me state again) we had not engaged in any sexual activity. Anna got up and tried to help her but Beccy flinched away. you could do this?’ ‘Beccy, I’m sorry! I didn’t think that you thought we – I thought we were friends.’ I mumbled. Not helping. She just cried and gagged a little more. And then Anna was yelling but I couldn’t hear. She was on mute. But her mouth was moving and her arms were flaying. And all I could think about was the fact that 15 minutes ago Beccy and I were going to watch Oceans 11 and now everything had changed and would never be the same again. The taste of tragedy was familiar. I don’t remember if I was physically pushed out or whether I left of my own accord but next thing I knew I was walking home. I came to the front gate and saw Carol’s car. The door opened and my little girl was standing there. But everything was still on mute. I saw her mouth mime ‘Daddy’ and she smiled and came towards me and I picked her up and swung her round. Then Thomas came out and I bobbed down and squeezed them both. I cried then and suddenly I could hear and it was a familiar voice saying: ‘Isaac’. I looked up and wiped my face and smiled. ‘Hi Carol.’ It was my ex-wife. Poppy Damon
Hold Away You’re filth, absolute filth – shame and degradation!, thought Michael Undercut, leaning in. I know you’re disgusting; I know of the minute soggy globules of chocolate stalactiting in the unseen recesses of your teeth; I know of the germs and bacteria with which your mouth is foamed to the roof. You’re only human. But I’m going to kiss you anyway – I’m going to mingle my filth with your filth. Because you’re pretty – and to love (say the poets) is to share the slimes of moist surfaces and make them abundant. And so, Michael had his first kiss – at the unflowered age of fourteen. It was sloppy and overbrimmed the sink of his mouth, irrigating his cheek to the east, bumfluff to the north. She drew back with an uncanny smile, and wiped her mouth. Then they began to take liberties, the females. This one, Kitty, on Michael’s sacrifice of a crisp or two, didn’t wait to be given a crisp – but plunged her hand to the bag, letting the dead skin of her palms flake off and shower on a dozen innocent chunklets. The next one, Tabatha (what a name!, thought Michael) drunk his Coke from the same can. After numerous transgressions and the consequent arguments our hero had engineered to loosen himself from their hold, he was eighteen – deflowered and undone. She’s gorgeous! She’s the woman the Pre-Raphaelites were too intimidated to paint!, said Michael to Brother Thomas, in his first term at university. Ah! Softling beginnings!, said Brother Thomas. She had invited him to her room one evening – for, while the others were engaging in the blood and milk rituals of arrival, she was a glum plum. She expressed her sorrows in the lucid terms and unaccented speech that were her natural birthright (Emma St. OswaldRothwell), with a gaze springing from beneath her eye-lids that would confront you sphere-on, yet still appear to be looking down, looking down on Michael Undercut, straight from the streets (Ts elided), the streets outside an only12kayear school in London. Who probably (he thought she thought) smoked a lot of cannabis. Londoners. I guess it all started when this... bitch!... at school said she couldn’t see my ankles for my thighfat was dripping the way down my legs. The blow to confidence that gives a young girl is just… Michael listened, his vision trickling down her little princessnose, the snowplane of her pale deflated cheeks, her long blonde hair squatting on her shoulders like an alert emperor, there but watching, there but silent. But you look wonderful. You’re so sweet! Michael let out a twitch as if she had told him to go fuck his mother. He continued to listen to her stories, stories about the great men in her life: father, ex-boyfriend, former teacher, uncle, brother, the Lord Jesus Christ. My bedrock! All the while, he was at a chair by the window, and she was there, on her bed. After finishing up a narrative of her travels in Spain (for I know four languages, but it’s no big deal) (Michael spoke six, and was silent), and all the friendly male companions to be
found there, who knew gentlemanlihood (not like here!), she said: Well, I’ve got to be getting on. It’s getting pretty late. They both stood up. Expectant of the customary hug that often occurs between man and man or man and woman or woman and woman, he saw there was none forthcoming. Michael went back and inspected himself in the mirror – spots, none; rashes, none; stains or spills or messes of blood-splatter, none. He smelt himself under the T-shirt – shea butter and ginger. Why am I, who do so desire to touch and be touched, filth? Have I not known my fair share of squelch-maidens? said Brother Thomas. I’ve been at this damned university since before your mother mixed up her pill with a Tic-Tac and, lo! you were born! Have I not drunk milk straight from the cow? Have I not bitten the cherry straight from the cake, and left the rest under the radiator to bubble? You have, Brother, replied Michael. What’s happened to you? You who so loathed the naked art, who would rather have had a woman blush in eternity than suck the redness from her skin, though it taste of wine. You who compared making love to a synthesis between pounding the glutinous chunks of ketchup out of the bottle, and unblocking a toilet! I know what’s happened to you – for I have seen everything in these stone-shadowed halls. I have seen saris from the East come here to experience what they call “liberation”, and have even engaged in acts which can only be described as “free love”. I have seen men on Wednesday nights come back looking like they’ve vomited their own hair, with drunkmotional girls dangling off their arms like suspended spiders, who don’t know whether to cling on or give up the ghost. I have heard symphonies of moans and bedsqueaks, and even the odd solo. The walls are paper – and read sadder than the numbers of any tragedy. I myself have contributed a fair share of the writing. What is it then, O my Knower, my Oracle, and my friend? She’ll fuck you inside out. She, without you touching her, but with her touching you, she’ll get somewhere inside, she’ll occupy those cloven meatfolds in your brain, and will never stop doing her work. But, as long as she is so pious, her skin is so pure, (yes, I have seen her walk around with her milk-skin, with her almost indiscernable field of arm-hair, her face lubed up like she’s just been crying) and she wants you, there, non-stop, to pelt you with her words, her stories and her lies, to have you say “there, there darling – you’re amazing and I care about you ever so much”, she’ll be one of those mistakes any real man in his life makes the fault of caring for. What they call ‘the untouchable’: noli tangere. So I’m in love? Yes. Oh, I love! Alas, I love, though I do die therefor! OK. (No, you’re not, you porkweasel. You cannot love something you do not know, and you cannot know something you cannot touch.) She burst into tears in Starbucks – at the sight of a young child weeping and clinging to his mother for his father was late arriving, and fearing the worst. Michael didn’t notice it at first – she’d gotten up so swiftly and dug her chin into her chest so that she was inconspicuous, and ran into the hallway where the toilets were. No, I shouldn’t, it’s not my place, she might
resent me for trying to be her knight-in-arms – he debated to himself. After a few seconds delay he got up and followed her. She was standing before the man-in-wheelchair sign, tenting face in hands. It’s not the child – it’s other things that are going on, she said. There was a man coming through, hurrying to pinch a loaf in the gents’, charged on by the urging of his innards. Come in, said Emma St. Oswald-Rothwell, leading Michael into the disabled toilets. There, she began a speech of her troubles, of mother and father, of anxiety (for, a year on, they were now in their second year), of self-doubt. She stood chinadoll-still, leaning against the sink – he stood opposite her, leaning against the door. I just don’t feel like there’s anything I can do. I feel completely hopeless. And with that, another tear gently trickled down her eye, her princessnose, and cut a path like water on snow as it descended her cheeks. (I just don’t feel like there’s anything I can do. I feel completely hopeless, his then-bestfriend had said, back when Michael was both seventeen. As soon as a glimmer of tear appeared in her eye, Michael moved forward, leant in, and gave her a warm hug, which – though silent – said everything necessary.) Michael now was motionless. There was an instinct, as all animals and decent people have instincts, to comfort and do the right thing in the given situation. But I can’t, thought Michael. I mustn’t betray anything and – above all – I musn’t touch her. She cannot be touched; she hasn’t given herself for me to touch. She wants speech – though he felt the nowcommon literal feeling of his heart being shred apart in two, down the split in the cloven meatorgan. (Cliches are only clichés when they’re shit. This one isn’t shit: heartbreak, when felt correctly, is a physiological phenomenon, Brother Thomas had said). Seeing somebody he was genuinely in love with cry, and about which he could do nothing, was something he was not allowed to put into words. “Breaking”, “killing” and “tearing” were neutralized by overuse. He at that point let out an imperceptible mouse-squeal from the very bottom of his larynx. Emma St. Oswald-Rothwell noticed the pause but nonetheless felt satisfied with Michael’s gift, his generous donation of time and attention. I hope we know each other for a very long time. Thank you so much, Michael. Oh, it’s – no problem. As she moved for the door, he felt her hand brush up against his – for a nano-second, and then the door was opened and then they moved on. Mouse-squeal. That patch of flesh, for a few hours, where others just deposited bacteria and flakes of dead skin, felt to him sheathed with some clean, pure satin. It was nearing graduation. When you go, how am I to spend the rest of my years?, said Brother Thomas. With nothing to do to make the dust of this room into a playground, and then masturbate over my memories. I’ll come visit, replied Michael. It was only a few minutes ago you were an freshly unblossoming little fresher, autumneyed and expectant. Now I have seen your hair-line go into low-tide, and a galaxy of flesh appear on your coronet. What of you now? I don’t know.
And what of the girl? Is she going to open her legs to the West End as she has been doing for the last three years to this small town? She’s giving up acting; I think she’s going into the City. Fire and brimstone! I haven’t seen much of her recently. She’s engaged. If I had a drink in my mouth, I’d spit it out! What, engaged? Is she so pious? It seems like it. She’s going to work for five or so years, then settle down. And enter the trade of fishwivery I suppose! I have seen her walking around; she still has that air of purity, yet the contours of her face are now sharper, her hips are beefier, and seems like she’s ready to lay an egg and call herself ‘mother’. She’d make for an excellent trophy wife. I still love her, Brother Thomas. Ha! You cultivate a few pubes on your chest, call yourself ‘man’, think, since it is presently, that your prime trouble is woman – and think that’s the long and short of it – ad aeternum! There are greater loves than the one that festers between your thighs – the love of a friend, of worldly gain, of comfort. Only these – to which all others are supplements. I get that physiological pang whenever I see her; whenever she sees me, I feel like my skin’s filth, and wrapped with cobwebs and spider-shit. But then again, said the unlistening Brother Thomas. If there’s one thing humans are good at doing – it’s turning supplements into substitutes. Look at the girl, who probably once said “ain’t no man gon’ get me down!” – and now, the City, where females are forced to wear black to make them solemn and serious, and the fiancé, who leaves his deposit in her and then galavant about town. No cock is going to erect a steak-wall between me and my ambition, they think – if I do love, it won’t stop me from aiming towards my pride and joy! But then again, if there’s one thing humans are good at doing – it’s turning supplements into substitutes. “My sun, my moon, my all!”, she says in bed one night, with an iron-clad chastity belt biting onto her mons pubis, fantasizing about the architecture of love – a surban house, sproutlets and their award-winning courgette, page three of the local paper… I will tell you this now – it will all end in awkward diminuendo. It will all end in supermarket whisky. It will all end in a peace which burns to the fishy spleen of regret. They will have nothing to show but two obese shadowmarks on two separate beds; nothing to show but the spunklets of adultery; nothing to show but the phlegm and catheters of the much-desired, much-sacrificed-for happily ever after. World’s best mum mug – and there an end. They both paused for a few seconds, Brother Thomas taking a sip of whisky. How do I stop the medical damage to that thing that’s beneath my sternum?, asked Michael. Dignity, my boy!, replied Brother Thomas. What you poshtwats forget is that two fifths of the world are Indian and Chinese. Bang in another billion or so, and sixty percent of the rest, and add the souls who do not have the NHS, and you’ve got a swarm of people shaped like you, who have brains and skulls and sterna, but who after millenia are still figuring out how to stay alive. They are constantly faced with the unappropriable – Death, the Law, the Gaze of a God so pure they cannot touch Him. But they collect stamps. They sing. They arrange deities on their tattered and eczema’d windowsills to fend things off. They get drunk at the same time every week, with the same people, and put their genitals in the same things – until they stagnate inside the
same bearer of the same thing – or until they die. Humanity’s eternal and heroic act of resistance: creatures spinning castles from their bowels! I wish it were that easy. Do you ever think of her, late at night or when scrubbing yourself in the shower? Silence. Sometimes. Do you ever think of her, upon all fours, drooling, melting her chicken soup breath all over your pillowcase, epileptic at the knees and with that small brown eyelet you see as you look down – quivering like a streetwalker in January? No! Why not? Because she’s – perfect. She’s scum. All humans are scum, and when you look back you’ll realize she’s that untouchable weave of fungal hairs that makes the pinnacle of scum. She’s filthy and degradable – and you had better start imagining this. Or what? Or there’ll be nothing left of you. It was a summer evening, calm and with a life-giving breeze rubbing its ears against Michael’s balcony, shaking off its dirt into cheap gin. Hi, said Michael, having telephoned Emma St. Oswald-Rothwell. Hi. How are you doing? I’m fine. Haven’t spoken much recently. No… Sorry Michael, I’m just a bit tired. I can’t really hold a conversation at the moment. OK that’s fine. Shall I check back tomorrow? Sure. She hung up. A minute later Michael’s phone rang. Michael? said Emma. Hello again! I’d appreciate it if we didn’t make contact with each other. …Why? Bad memories – of that whole time, you know. Your voice just reminds me of the way I used to be. “I hope we know each other for a very long time.” Yes… but – I don’t think you ever really knew me. And it’s too late to change it. Michael hung up. That was that. Walk on, he thought to himself. Walk on and fare like Jesus. Noli me tangere. The limbs of Brother Thomas were creaky after the car journey, and – I’ll be bound, he said to himself – they might indeed uproot and snap into shards. There’s a whore’s chance
in heaven that I’m taking the stairs – Brother Thomas took the lift, rising up a few floors and clicking his back into position when he reached the top. You beauty!, he heard somebody exclaim when the doors were open. His voice – the sweet archive of voice! Of his voice! Brother Thomas moved towards the door, slightly ajar, and in the slit of light he saw Michael, standing in the corner of a perfectly arranged living room, with quaint African sculptures on the windowsill, a paintbrush in his hand, staring lovingly at the canvas before him, teasingly stroking the edges. You darling, you absolute darling!, he now whispered. Knock knock. Am I interrupting? Brother Thomas! – and with that, Michael rushed spring-steppedly to the door, lunging for the handle and embracing his old friend. How are you old boy? I am an old boy. The bricks I lay are dust, but at least I still hold on to the diseases of my youth. Can I get you anything – a whisky-rum-gin? A whisky-rum-gin sounds perfect. What’s this you’re sporting? Brother Thomas inspected Michael’s beard, a dark tissue of coils and gauzes which now looked to be a second face. Are you a fan?, replied Michael, moving towards the kitchenette as Brother Thomas sat on his sofa-bed. I’m just too busy all the time, I never think to shave. But now when I see myself, I think it’s rather distinguished. It’s been but a year, and yet you’ve found distinction in keratin growth! Alumnus Maximus! What, may I ask, have you been busy with? I can formally introduce her to you, if you like; she’s just over there, in that corner. Oh my! Brother Thomas gazed at the wonderful painting of a large fish flapping its wet cheeks on board a wooden deck, looking sullen in the face, but mischievous in the body, nonchalantly kissing the air with its meatlips. She’s gorgeous isn’t she? I’ve been working on her for almost three months now. Only just finished her off. She certainly is something! Brother Thomas spent the evening in Michael’s apartment, listening to Sidney Bechet and eating microwaveable cottage pie (Michael had no oven, and no money). The conversation inevitably turned to women, and particularly Emma St Oswald-Rothwell. Michael didn’t know where she was nor what she was doing, and immediately spat out the name as soon as it poured into his ears. He did not think of her any more. And of other women? asked Brother Thomas. Michael did not know nor want to know – Michael who so loathed the naked art and would never again let a woman share his packet of crisps for fear of her leaving scum to soak beneath his pores. Not any woman, especially not Emma St Oswald-Rothwell. He was perfectly happy to tend to his paintings; Brother Thomas let Michael bring out the others from the cupboard later in the evening, one painting was of a haddock, another of a cod, one was a swordfish and there were some preliminary sketches of another in the works, a whale. But, Brother Thomas, I shall see how it goes. A whale may be too vast an undertaking. I’m very happy for you my boy; you seem to be on top of the world.
Oh indeed I am. I’ve never thought such happiness was even imaginable, let alone possible! It was getting late. Brother Thomas thanked Michael for the meal, and the touching hospitality, and wore a gentle smile through the hallway and down the elevator. As soon as he reached his car, he turned back, eyeing Michael’s window which let through a dim orange light from the edges of the curtains. Brother Thomas whispered to himself: Ah, my boy. Most excellent knave, thou art reflowered! Anonymous
Transgender Theory in the British Context It is very easy to assume that the issue of homophobia, broadly defined as discrimination or hatred of queer4 individuals, has little foothold in Western nations, leading to an undue focus on more dangerous nations in the Global South. However, the fact is that the legacy of homophobia is still strongly felt in modern Britain, though it may be more covert than in years past. Indeed, “developed nations are not immune to the forces of homophobia,” a fact that is made more complicated when one looks at cross-cultural interactions in countries with high immigrant populations like England.5 Roehr mentions a particularly poignant anecdote in which an Indian immigrant to England states that he would still not choose to be gay even after immigration. Still, after the repeal of Section 28 of the Local Government Act of 1988 in 2003, a piece of legislation that precluded government involvement in queer affairs so as to prevent the “promotion” of a deviant lifestyle, there is a new “public discourse on queer history [that] is becoming more prominent in the UK.”6 Government attempts to provide support for queer individuals became most visible in the form of LGBT History Months and exhibits in national libraries, though both were met with vitriolic criticism from individuals who feared a nebulous gay agenda and a perversion of history.7 It is clear, then, that this is as much a Western problem as it is in the rest of the world, that is perhaps exacerbated by Western notions of feminist and queer theories. As Mills notes the public understanding of queer culture is a very problematic one, often based on attempts to create a unified queer front or history, a tactic that has also pervaded American understandings of the subject and has
4 I use the term “queer” here to refer to the broad range of “sexualities” that exist within and beyond the reductive terms “LGBTQ” and “homosexual.” The former portends to encompass all identities, while the latter carries enormous historical and conceptual baggage of medicalization and patriarchal, heteronormative binaries. If either of these terms is used, it is in the original text, which does not imply my acceptance of their usage; rather, it is important to understand the particular connotations inherent in each contextual instance of their employment. 5 Roehr, Bob. "The Invisible Epidemic." British Medical Journal (29 November 2008). http://www.jstor.org.ezpprod1.hul.harvard.edu/stable/20511444. 1263. 6 Mills, Robert. "Queer is Here? Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Histories and Public Culture." History Workshop Journal 62, (2006): 253. 254. Accessed through Oxford University Press Online. 7 Doughty, Steve. "Lessons in Gay History for Pupils Aged Seven." The Daily Mail, 4 January 2006, sec. News. http://global.factiva.com.ezpprod1.hul.harvard.edu/redir/default.aspx?P=sa&an=DAIM000020060104e2140001i&cat=a&ep=ASE. Accessed through Factiva.
consistently marginalized the multiplicity of voices that exist under the term queer.8 Of special importance is the transgender experience, a topic that has yet to receive full inclusion in academic and public discourses on gender and sexuality. This is undoubtedly a result of attempts to form a unified narrative that effaces nuance for the sake of ease. There is a lack of conceptual work being done on the intersections of and disparities between queer and transgender theories, as the former claims in many ways to speak for the latter, despite a long history of debates, misunderstandings, and intersections. Beginning with a very brief overview of the climate for transgendered individuals in Britain, this paper examines the need for a new sensibility of sexuality and gender that is not tacitly based in binaries that inhibit the formation of a truly inclusive discourse. British legislation adopts a stance that lacks nuance and remains entrenched in normative values, which certainly calls for a more careful look at the issues that affect transgendered individuals. As the British government takes an increasingly visible role in the negotiation of issues of gender and sexuality, legislators have attempted to match the pace of progress with laws that promote progressive ideals at the surface level. The Gender Recognition Act of 2004 is cited by lawmakers as a significant step forward for transgendered individuals in Britain, though there are several key problems that may preclude it from being as groundbreaking as originally intended.9 It is problematic at the very outset: (1) A person of either gender who is aged at least 18 may make an application for a gender recognition certificate on the basis of— (a) living in the other gender, or (b) having changed gender under the law of a country or territory outside the United Kingdom.10
Though it is certainly a step forward, this legislation reinforces a gender binary, and thus the patriarchal urge to dichotomize human relationships in an effort to preserve hegemonic masculinity and heteronormativity.11 Indeed, the central tenet of this legislation is governmental recognition of trans status by “living in the other gender,” a decidedly fraught statement that is as difficult to define as it is reductive. This reproduces the possibility of only two genders, as defined by legislative bodies, that correspond to biological sex, which, in turn, eliminates the possibility of subversive identities. Queerness is in direct opposition to this system because it questions the primacy of heteronormative relations, thereby calling into question the very notion of gender itself. For if gender is so forcefully entrenched in a normative system, queerness unseats both gender and sexuality as terms by existing outside of the binary of male and female, masculine and feminine.12 This law, therefore, does not
Mills 255-6 Mills 256 10 Her Majesty’s Government of the United Kingdom, Gender Recognition Act 2004. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2004/7/crossheading/applications-for-gender-recognition-certificate. Section 1. 11 For a further discussion, see Butler, Judith. "Variations on Sex and Gender: Beauvoir, Wittig, and Foucault." In Feminism as Critique: Essays on the Politics of Gender in Late-Capitalist Societies. Edited by Benhabib, Seyla and Drucilla Cornell, 128. Cambridge and Oxford: Polity Press/Basil Blackwell, 1987; and Wittig, Monique. The Straight Mind and Other Essays. Boston: Beacon Press, 1992. 12 See previous note 9
acknowledge the truly revolutionary capabilities of queerness and its relationship to longstanding, yet malleable, values. The stipulations that clarify what constitutes acceptable evidence for being transgendered are equally worrisome: (a) has or has had gender dysphoria, (b) has lived in the acquired gender throughout the period of two years ending with the date on which the application is made, (c) intends to continue to live in the acquired gender until death, and (d) complies with the requirements imposed by and under section 3.13
All this is compounded by an odd stipulation that married individuals will receive an “interim gender recognition certificate,” which separates those who choose civil partnership and those who do not.14 Though the reasons for this are unclear, it could point to a larger uncertainty about the legitimacy of queer relationships that are more complicated than purely same-sex ones. The proof required within this law is also worth mentioning: (1) An application under section 1(1)(a) must include either— (a) a report made by a registered medical practitioner practising in the field of gender dysphoria and a report made by another registered medical practitioner (who may, but need not, practise in that field), or (b) a report made by a [F1 registered psychologist] practising in that field and a report made by a registered medical practitioner (who may, but need not, practise in that field).15
The experience of gender and sexuality must therefore be mediated by a professional whose goal becomes deciding the necessity of gender reassignment based upon poorly-defined criteria. Assignment is an appropriate term here, as it seems that gender is contingent upon government intervention and approval. Following Foucault, this heavy-handed approach to trans individuals is indicative of a larger process of constant definition and regulation of the self through the other, that is, the heterosexual through the gender-queer.16 In subjecting “alternative” sexualities to a process of what Foucault might call confession, society at large can demarcate those who fit the standard and those who do not, a tradition that finds its roots most visibly in the AIDS crisis. Looking for a diagnosable source of trans sensibilities is itself a project of normativity, for it implies a separation of one group of individuals based upon clearly visible marks of otherness. This is not a solely conceptual point. As Hird points out, medical designation of intersex and transgendered individuals is both
HMG, Section 2. Ibid. 15 HMG, Section 3 16 Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality: Volume 1, An Introduction. Translated by Hurley, Robert. Vintage Books Edition ed. New York: Vintage Books, 1990. 14
constitutive of and informed by cultural codes, meaning that the two are not divisible when discussing the production of meaning regarding those who do not fit gender norms.17 What is at stake here is more than an individual process of gender transformation; the institution of marriage comes into question as the queer comes to the fore. This section is saturated in the rhetoric of medicalization, which is part of a tradition that originated in the 19th century as a means of affirming the heterosexual, the normal, and the patriarchal.18 It represents the urge to situate transgendered life within a time period or a mental slippage without recognition of the larger politics that shape modern understandings of gender and sexuality, which results ultimately in a return to the past rather than the future. Most egregious is the point that government recognition is contingent upon intent to remain in a “second” gender until death. This locks individuals into gendered, or, more specifically, sexed, choices for the duration of life, thereby cementing the emphasis on the acquisition and regulation of clearly discernable genders that are both stable and visible. Legislation thus ties the sexed body to life itself, as if one life can only contain multiple expressions of gender if there is a decision to live exclusively within that gender category, be it male or female, without room for a variety of gendered and sexed choices. Identification, concretization, and pathologizing become the primary roles of the State even as it attempts to grant greater freedom to individuals in one of the most important arenas of lived experience. For the sake of argumentation, I have utilized leaders in queer theory to explain queer life in relation to society; however, this in itself is a mistake, and the emergence of a growing body of trans literature clarifies the situation and provides a clearer way forward for the reconfiguration of Western society in a way that is cognizant of, but not limited by, gender and sexuality. The tendency to subsume trans interests under queer theory is not a suitable methodology, though it is popularly perceived to be the same, often to the detriment of trans issues.19 Even carefully formulated definitions of transgender, like that advanced by Mills, falls short of the mark, “…transgender identification, defined by a powerful desire for a particular gendered selfhood that may be queerly at odds with one’s sex, has been a powerful force for much of human history.”20 The issue of desire alone is beguilingly complicated. One could make the point, as Judith Butler does, that queer desire is itself nonexistent because of its exclusion from dominant psychoanalytic modes, which necessitates a more precise understanding of what is meant by the term.21 Moreover, the “particularity” of a “gendered selfhood” implies a singular expression based in a sexed body rather than a range of interpretations and understandings of socially situated manifestations of gender and sexuality, if those terms are even deemed acceptable to use. In considering transgender theory, gender and sexuality, even in their broadest, most inclusive meanings become antiquated terms that ultimately fail to provide the necessary vocabulary for the description of the gender-queer model. Gayle Salamon makes the point that current Western understandings of queerness, especially with respect to the foundational writings of Luce Irigaray, are not as subversive as they seem. She asks, “What would it look like if the divide of sexual difference were not fixed in the place it
Hird, Myra. "Considerations for a Psychoanalytic Theory of Gender Identity and Sexual Desire: The Case of Intersex." Signs 28, no. 4 (2003): 1067-1092. http://www.jstor.org.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/stable/3175845. 18 For a further discussion, see Foucault cited above 19 Mills 256 20 Ibid. 21 Butler, Judith. “Melancholy Gender – Refused Identification.” Psychoanalytic Dialogues 5, Symposium on Sexuality/Sexualities, no. 2 (1995).
now occupies, marked as the boundary between “male” and “female”?”22 Returning to Irigaray briefly, as well as the psychoanalytic tradition with which she contends, the feminine is an unspeakable phenomenon, for it exists solely as the signifying force for the masculine, phallic signifier, thereby connecting the masculine to the feminine by defining each in an oscillating process of self-definition through the Other.23 As a result, Salamon points out, “the body is already installed at the exact moment and precise place at which I find myself; this other who is not me delineates my own boundary,” a boundary very much centered on a physical manifestation of masculine and feminine; the latter is unable to “extend into her own skin without feeling the press of the masculine on the other side of it.”24 The feminine therefore cannot be spoken, since it cannot be articulated separately from a masculine creative force. Irigaray therefore advocates for a feminine reclamation of the right to signify, an act that she positions as a distinctly bodily occurrence. In erecting a discourse in which one gender defines the other, there is once again the reification of a boundary that cannot be passed, resulting in a wall of semantics that disallows sexual permeability and produces a problem of articulation that rejects the fundamental existence of femininity. In fact, this assertion could be seen not in opposition to queer theory, but rather as a supplement to it that has been latent in the literature since Eve Sedgewick.25 The two are not collapsible, however, especially with regard to government involvement and policy in an increasingly queer England. There is therefore a need for a new understanding of this boundary between male and female so as to support the emergence of a trans identity: “Place becomes not the shared and selfidentical space of sameness, but, more generatively and more radically, the place where I confront the otherness of the other without annihilating or cancelling that difference or replicating the other in my own image.”26 The masculine and the feminine are thus linked in an uncertain cycle of creation and destruction, always defining each other while never losing sight of the multifarious and undefined possibilities that exist between and among them. The boundary that exists between the self and other thus becomes a productive ground for the mixture of the personal and the political, that is, the deeply felt sense of a sexed or gendered body and those codes that bring it into existence. This formulation walks the essential line between queer and trans theories. While queer theory could be seen to advocate for the transcendence of gender categories, transgenderism represents the simultaneous appreciation of the lived experience of gender without the constraints placed upon it. Indeed, those constraints can produce meaningful discourse rather than sexual relegation. What results is a body that is capable not only of differentiation between sexed bodies but also genders and sexualities, which points to a process of self-definition that negotiates the divide between masculine and feminine, as well as all that lies in between. Indeed, the union of a trans man and a gay man, for instance, represents sexed bodies acting not as separate gendered individuals, but rather as a living illustration of the capability to appreciate and move beyond those boundaries. Put succinctly, “these pairings can help us conceive of sexual difference without requiring that one sex be quarantined away from another. The trans body can also help us understand the traversal of sexual boundaries not as an unrepresentable breach but as a negotiation of difference.”27 Throughout the process of
22 Salamon, Gayle. Assuming a Body: Transgender and Rhetorics of Materiality. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2010. 133. 23 Irigaray, Luce. The Sex Which is Not One. Translated by Porter, Catherine. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1985. 24 Salamon 136-7 25 Prosser, Jay. "Judith Butler: Queer Feminism, Transgender, and the Transubstantiation of Sex." In The Transgender Studies Reader. Edited by Stryker, Susan and Stephen Whittle. NYC: Routledge, 2006. Accessed through ESCOhost. 26 Salamon 140 27 Ibid. 143
negotiation, social codes, enacted within and throughout the sexed body, are questioned at the most fundamental level. How the application of theory might look in practice is a difficult question, but there are clues as to an effective way forward with practical and theoretical concerns in mind. The implementation of strategies by the British government to include transgendered individuals might do more harm than good. In affirming a dichotomous view of gender, British legislation has the capability of actually perpetuating the restriction of relationships to a normative standard, and in so doing eliminate queerness as an option altogether. Programming that might be helpful in combating this tendency would feature an inclusive use of the term queer without effacing the unique perspective of different sexualities and modes of gender expression, especially as legislators consider youth development and education. Above all, there must be a realization of the autonomy of queer individual reforms. There can be no empowerment, no prescriptive ideologies meant to improve the conditions for trans individuals in a unidirectional manner, as queer individuals are as themselves inscribed in the production of discourses of gender and sexuality. It could be said that: Scholars influenced by Michel Foucault need to say more about how care of the self emerges intersubjectively, and how it can be a set of practices that includes an understanding of responsibility and ethical commitment to embodied others. Furthermore, Foucault's work is devoid of programmatic political theory for a number of reasons, but there is a need for careful articulation of political projects that challenge docility and make creative, joyful living more possible.28
The fact remains that society is based upon networks of individuals and a variety of livelihoods that are at inherently interconnected by sexually mapped bodies inscribed within social mores. In understanding the contradictions inherent in this phenomenon, rather than reverting to a twogender system, people of all identities can find meaningful and self-directed lives based upon tenets they hold dear. William Simmons
Urns Pray-smoke to ope this window of sky bearded by winnowing rain-driven white on the white window stretches above-reach smoke prays upward for unwept limbs fire-wed. James Mcknight
28 Heyes, Cressida. Self-Transformations: Foucault, Ethics, and Normalized Bodies. London: Oxford Scholarship Online, 2007.
For Press-men! The Catalan adventurer, Jaibo BuĂąuel, is to traverse el desierto del Sahara unaccompanied upon his horse! Pilar Ursula, his long-suffering mother, tells her neighbours, and the adventurous press-men 'I haven't slept a wink the last twenty years. I used to be roses as a hungry young lover.' (Turned lemons with the sleepless nights.) Virgins of Marrakesh! BuĂąuel the Catalan remains unwed! Steal your mothers' crimson silks; Spread satin on your virgin bed.