‘Much of the S M world in France had long been furtive, sombre, professionalised, the province of a ‘rough trade’. Take a trip to the docks at Le Harvre and be beaten black and blue. Nothing could be further from the wide-open, almost giddy social whirl of the leather scene in SanFrancisco’.
James Miller The Passion of Michel Foucault.
This passage from Miller’s controversial biography of Foucault really stood out for me. I couldn’t help but ‘take a trip’ in my mind myself, to the docks at Le Havre to be ‘beaten black and blue’ by the Rough Trade. It suddenly seemed very appealing, even in 2010, in comparison to the ‘almost giddy social whirl’ of the contemporary S and M scenes in London and the UK. But to think of that contrast back in the mid-70s when Foucault first discovered a social S and M scene, in Sanfrancisco, it must have blown his mind. Well it did. As did some LSD he took somewhere in the desert.
There is something about how Miller writes that ‘eroticises’ his descriptions of Foucault’s own sexuality/sex life, the little that is documented, recorded about it. He makes more of the accounts than I think actually exists. In particular Miller’s approach to Foucault’s interest in S and M has a pornographic air that I notice in the writings of anti-pornography campaigners. I think Miller thinks Foucault was quite the degenerate pervert. Which says more about Miller than it does about Foucault, and possibly, even more still about me.
But now we live in a world where anyone can get ‘beaten black and blue’ in a club or at home as part of the general social whirl of contemporary ‘sex in the public sphere’. Gay men can’t distinguish themselves from straight people by demonstrating a more ‘risque’ attitude to sex, not really. Many gay people want to be ‘straight’ and to have the right to get married and shop at IKEA for cheap furniture, anyway.
The thing is, Michel, Roland, Colette, that the regulation of sexuality will always produce ‘undesirables’. Apart from the obvious whores and paedophiles, I am not quite sure who the undesirables are in our culture. sometimes I think I am one in the eyes of respectable society. But it’s not because I stand naked on the dockside being whipped within an inch of my life by a sturdy young sailor as the tide comes in and crashes over the breakwater, and we are drenched and freezing, and I can hardly breathe. No. I think I am considered undesirable by respectable society because I draw attention to the ‘trouble’ with respectability when it comes to sex. To how it is laden with power and assumptions and moral judgements on those who fall outside of its narrow perameters. Because actually, still in this postmodern, permissive society, a lot of ways of living and being, and having or not having sex are still considered perverted.
In some ways none of us are homos anymore, but we all have the potential to be, if we don’t keep in line, if we don’t tow the line, if we don’t do sex how it is supposed to be done.
And I am finding that it is frightfully easy to be labelled an undesirable. All I have to do is tell the truth.