Posts Tagged ‘identity’


These are some of the words that feature in the background of the ‘Une’ cosmetics website.

What this company is selling is more than a make-up range, made with ‘natural’ products that is kind to the environment. This company is selling a version of the self. THE version of the self that dominates our culture, the version of the self that is vital to keep the post-modern world spinning.

This of course is the neo-liberal individual: autonomous, self-actualising, Self-sufficient, self-regarding, narcissistic.

Whilst much has been written on this development in modern capitalism of the importance of the individual, economically and socially, the narcissistic nature of that individual has not been addressed so carefully. Why does this self-actualising individual also have to be so…vain?

Why is it via cosmetics adverts, fashion spreads and sportswear lines that the contemporary self is being sold?

Mark Simpson has attempted to answer this question. His ‘metrosexual’ model of masculinity(and femininity) is all about the narcissistic individual.

‘Narcissism is outside of tradition’ writes Simpson, ‘It’s literally self-referential. So narcissism is both a product of and a helpmeet to rapid change – producing ‘individuals’ in identical loft apartments. Heterosexuality, as a system of sexual division of labour and loving rather than cross sex attraction, is a strongly conservative force. In fact, it literally makes a fetish of its conservatism. Corporate capitalism doesn’t like tradition because tradition doesn’t like change. Whereas all us individuals in loft apartments require lots of gadgets and accessories and gym membership.

Narcissism, the original eroticism, is both pre and post sexuality. Pre because autoeroticism and one-ness with the mother are, in Freudian terms, the origins of sexuality. Post because narcissism is in a sense undifferentiated – it’s not about The Other. Or sexual difference. As I said elsewhere, metrosexuality isn’t about flip flops or facials, or men becoming ‘girly’ or ‘gay’, but about men becoming everything. To themselves’.

But as can be seen in the advertisements for cosmetics such as this, and in the gyms and the shopping malls, in the characters on our TV screens and in our own mirrors, the most chilling characteristic of these narcissistic, ‘unique’ individuals, is that they are all so utterly similar. (look at the neutral tones of the  products showcased on this advert-the blankness of the model’s expression-making the ‘look’ easy to emulate)

The fact is that contemporary consumer capitalism has appropriated and dissolved-maybe even destroyed-the one thing that radicals have tried to use to resist its alluring powers: difference. And when it comes to sexuality this is a problem.All those gays, all those ‘transgender’ people, all those queers, dykes, butches, homos, who as sert their right to be ‘different’ to the norm, could actually just be buying into that consumer capitalist model of the unique, narcissistic, homogenous individual.

Michel Foucault was ahead of his time, aware of this self-absorption of the contemporary sexual ‘dissident’ always concerned with his or her identity:

‘If identity becomes the problem of sexual existence, and if people think they have to ‘uncover’ their ‘own identity’ and that their own identity has to become the law, the principle, the code of their existence; if the perennial question they ask is ‘Does this thing conform to my identity?’ then, I think, they will turn back to a kind of ethics very close to the old heterosexual virility. If we are asked to relate to the question of identity, it has to be an identity to our unique selves. But the relationships we have to have with ourselves are not ones of identity, rather they must be relationships of differentiation, of creation, of innovation. To be the same is really boring.’

So if we really want to change the world what is there left for us to do? Maybe we have to start focussing on what we have in common as human beings, rather than how uniquely individual we all are. Maybe we have to stop asking ‘who am I?’ but rather other questions like ‘what needs to be done?’ ‘why is the world how it is?’ ‘How can I contribute?’  ‘What can I say? What can I make? Maybe we have to resist the calls from self-help books, adverts and our own, over-developed psyches to always look inwards, and start looking outwards.  Sounds quaint doesn’t it? But I think it is our only hope.

I just found out about  Fuck Yeah Menswear

via an article in Slate

I don’t think this makes me ‘on point’, but it means I have at least some tiny comprehension of who, or what is.

Go look. It is hilarious and terrifying at the same time.

My conclusion is: women’s fashion has died, along with Carrie Bradshaw and The Sex in The City Franchise.

And when I say died, of course I mean ‘has been murdered’. And we all know who the killer is don’t we?

Yes, he is better looking than us, better dressed, and more knowledgeable about clothes, style, language, music, showbiz, everything really. We may as well all just go round in sack cloths and ashes. Or kill ourselves. Whichever is less shameful.

Here is the kind of thing the modern metro man might be talking about, if he would ever stoop to talk to us:

‘Late last night I had a vision.

A world with no blogs.

No Tumblr.

No Twitter.

Not even fucking elbow patches.

It was horrible.

In a world without swag how does one stunt?

How does one stunt in a world without swag?

A cycle perpetuated by clearance racks at Kohl’s.

The finest men of my generation.

Those known for the crispyest kits.

Those known for the sickest fits.

Those known for tweeting the most ridonkulous sample sales.

Those known for taking pictures of themselves in public restrooms.

Those known for reblogging the steeziest street skeezers.

My heroes.

My brethren.

My bros.

Were suddenly different.

An entire generation lost in space.

And time…’

You see what I mean? All that and he even knows Ginsberg.

Where is my .38 I am out of here. has linked to this post. I don’t know whether to be flattered, or scared…

“The intellectual was rejected and persecuted at the precise moment when the facts became incontrovertible, when it was forbidden to say that the emperor had no clothes. ”
Michel Foucault
‘Gay people are not sexually interested in straights…The subtext to a lot of homophobic thinking is the idea that gays will try to get straight people into bed at the first opportunity, or that gays are looking to “convert” straights. Freud called this concept schwanzangst; the U.S. Army calls it Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.’
   –  OK Cupid
I am too tired and hacked off to explain properly. But the whole thing the shadow that is hanging over this ‘It gets better’ , ‘growth in gay suicides’ , ‘gay teens need help’, ‘gays are persecuted by society’…. the word that describes what is going on is:                                                                                                                                                                                                                
And when you pathologise you make it likely that the people you are pathologising are the ones who are going to suffer in social and mental health terms. I had a friend who was a very unhappy teenager. He held on and ‘toughed it out’ till he was 25, when he finally killed himself. He wasn’t ‘gay’. He had another label stuck on him like an unwanted Star of David: ‘schizophrenic‘. And once he had that label I don’t think he had much chance of finding a way to be ‘well’. You can’t be ‘cured’ of schizophrenia just as you can’t be ‘cured’ of being ‘gay’. 
But you can reject the terminology. Not just you. Not just the individual who is labelled. We. We can reject how people are pathologised in society by labelling them according to certain characteristics and behaviours that they display at any given time.
My friend wasn’t a schizophrenic to me. He was my friend, a freckled faced wild-eyed boy, an adventurer, a fantasist, a painter, a poet, a dickhead, a lover of Bob Dylan, a joker, a worrier, a tightrope walker, a drinker of  cheap cider, and briefly, tortuously a man.
Nobody is ‘gay’ to me. Nobody is ‘straight’. Nobody is ‘schizophrenic’.  It’s ok. We will still exist without those titles. I do. Or, as Gore Vidal put it more poetically, via the voice of myra Breckinridge:
…I am right, for it is demonstrably true that desire can take as many shapes as there are containers. Yet what one pours into those containers is always the same inchoate human passion, entirely lacking in definition until what holds it shapes it. So let us break the world’s pots, and allow the stuff of desire to flow and intermingle in one great viscous sea…’
(Myra’s wisdom found in Mark Simpson’s It’s A Queer World)
Post Script: It Gets Weirder: I think i found myself agreeing with the words of a right-wing Republican and homophobe… Not ALL the words obviously.

It’s a mid-week evening in January, in a northern middle-class home. The Sainsbury’s Sauvignon is magically appearing from the fridge, finding our open mouths so effortlessly. We stand around admiring the newly-converted designer (yet rustic) kitchen. Tonight,conversation is easy, relaxed. We know each other well enough not to have to make too much of an effort. There is no need to impress with our sparkling wit or our in-depth knowledge of what the guardian says about the latest Cohen brothers film (it’s not a patch on Fargo though is it?).

The wine, the familiarity, the mid-week slackening off of social etiquette, its all pointing to one thing: an inarticulate, loud debate about something we barely know anything about.What’s the topic going to be tonight?

‘Sex changes- they do my head in’ someone splutters. Sex changes it is then. Oh how we all agree. They are wrong. from a feminist point of view-gender is not biological is it darling? It’s all about social construction. You can’t surgically remove years of upbringing! They are wrong. From an economic point of view. Its only in the affluent west anyone can afford a sex change, and the medical companies are making a fast buck out of peoples misery. In Thailand Ladyboys just hack their bits off with a stanley knife. I know, darling its awful. And why are there more men having them than women? Well, pipes up Audrey. Women might have more possibilities for being ‘male’ or acting out ‘male roles’ and staying female than men do the other way round. A valid point I have to admit. But I need more wine. Encouraged by the vague nodding around her, Audrey continues:

‘I mean, butch lesbians can use strap-ons and be like men that way can’t they?’

For the first time all night it goes quiet. The easy boozy lazy flow of the patter is stopped in its tracks. Audrey turns to me for support. It doesn’t come.

‘Feminine women use strap-ons too’ I suggest, a little bit tentatively. Then I look down at my feet.

‘Feminist women?’blasts audrey. Now she is confused.

‘No,’ I gently retort, ‘feminine women’. ( Feminine women like me? I feel something unfamiliar stir inside me. )

‘Well I wouldn’t know about that’. And there it is. On her sauvignon-flushed faux-naive face. That expression. One that would look just right on a daily-mail-reading, homosexual-hating-princess-diana-loving-not-in-my-back-yard-bore. The one that says ‘I am not going to think about that because it rocks my nice little safe world where normal people do normal things and other people are weird and evil’.

‘ I do’ , I say, more forceful now,’I’ve done some research’.

Audrey stares at me as if I am a freak stranger that has been parachuted into her lovely new kitchen to cause an upset and spoil the feng shui. She opens her mouth but decides not to say anything. The sauvignon is falling in loud torrents into her emptied glass. The conversation is being swiftly moved on to something…else. Something that doesn’t spill onto the newly-laid parquet floor and make an unsightly mess.

I’ve never worn a strap-on before Audrey. I will now. Just for you.

I promised to put my Dan Savage Is Annoying campaign into context. Thankfully, other people out there think Dan Savage Is Annoying too, and probably have much more reason to than I do. So if I haven’t completely lost you already, I highly recommend you read the following post. It criticises the It Gets Better youtube video project, which Savage set up after the media highlighted recent suicides in America by ‘gay’ teenage boys and young men. The project involves  ‘queer’ people  recording video messages for young people who may be feeling distressed and who could be being bullied over their sexuality/gender identities. The message being, ‘it gets better’. 

This is just one example I found of a few similar criticisms of the It Gets Better Project:

I don’t have much to add to that critique. Except for some snide remarks about Mr Savage’s need to tell us all about how he met his partner at a gay club where there was a drag queen working the cloakroom and his no… I just won’t go there. Quiet Riot Girl Is Annoying Herself.

There was one youtube video submitted for the project criticising it along similar lines to the above post, saying Dan Savage is a ‘rich white man’ so of course it gets better. But the person who submitted it took it down, and made another, more positive video, after pressure from others involved, who said it might ‘hurt’ vulnerable young people. Basically the youtube  project suggests support for queer youth has to stay ‘on message’ and ‘upbeat’. Dissent and diversity does not seem to be encouraged. This is borne out by the vast numbers of videos being uploaded by white university-educated gay men, in comparison to those from women, transgender people, and working class people, and people from diverse ethnic backgrounds.

You may notice my trademark use of ‘ ‘ inverted commas, round the terms ‘gay’ and ‘queer’ in particular. This is my main criticism of It Gets Better. Many many young people are confused and isolated for many reasons. Their identity becomes bound up in sexuality and gender during adolescence, well, even earlier than that. And this can be very challenging. But to lump all that confusion, isolation, and yes, sometimes cruelty and bullying, together as affecting ‘gay’ or ‘queer’ young people, is misguided and misleading in my view. Associating teenage angst and alienation with a ‘deviant’ sexual identity, and expecting those teenagers to hold onto that sexual identity for the rest of their lives, I think, is just as much a problem as things like homophobia and bullying. Some ‘queer’ kids are so keen to avoid getting stuck with that deviant identity that they are the ones that act in a homophobic bullying way. Some people don’t experience same sex desire until adulthood. Some people sail through high school as a ‘normal’ ‘popular’ kid and then have a really shit time later on, partly because of who they happen to fall in love with*

*Raises Hand.

So to the sentiment of ‘it gets better’ I still ask  ‘what does? and for whom?’ Not to be negative about people with diverse sexual experiences and identities,  and not to make such a song and dance about ‘privilege’. But to be open-minded about life, love and young people’s sense of who they are, and who they might be. And to resist this ever-encroaching culture of homogenity, whereby if someone who seems to have influence in liberal, socially-aware circles does something, the consensus has to be that it must be A Good Thing. Because it is campaigning against Bad Things.

 I will leave you with a quote from Goodbye To Berlin by Christopher Isherwood:

‘We are all queer in the end’.

Ah, machismo. It is such a pretty word, for such an ugly thing. Imagine it, spoken softly in a lilting Italian brogue, with a sigh, by a devestatingly beautiful, pensive woman. Look at her sat, frowning on the steps of her villa, surrounded by the most picturesque countryside in the world, pondering the sadness of her life. Consider all the men that have come and gone through her body, that have looked in her eyes and not seen her, that have fucked her, over and over and over, but never fucked her, not really. That have drunk all her wine, talked and talked and talked at her, sometimes rasing their hands to her perfect porcelain face. And then fucked off into the Tuscan night. Ah, machismo mi amore.

I have been seduced by macho men before. Not the stereotypical ones, the giveaways with builders bums and stella burps. The ones that call me ‘darlin’ and shout about ‘that bitch’ the wife. And not the suave ones either, the ones that know how to make their moves on women, that wear thick silver watches and talk about business in loud voices. Who spend their evenings on the prowl looking for whores. Or worse. They are too obvious. But I have been seduced all the same.

And I never realise till it is too late.

Once he said it was like ‘fucking a corpse’.

Once or more than once, the ego of a man nearly toppled me over flat onto my face.

Once, once when his foot was in my back and I was on the floor, that’s when I got it, finally.

Once, once I was sucking his cock and he was calling me his whore and for a moment I didn’t know if it was real or a game.

Once, or more than once, a man has looked at me with such contempt that I have wanted  to kill him.

Once, sat in my parents’ living room, the policeman taking the statement asked, ‘how do you spell misogyny?’

Once, or more than once, a man has groped me right in the cunt, hard. And laughed.

Once, the room went black. I had to go to hospital.

And I never realise till it is too late.

So maybe I have turned to gay men as a way of escaping machismo. Especially those aesthetic, philosophical, sensitive gay types.   Think of a gay intellectual and what kind of picture springs to mind? Even now, knowing what I know, I imagine  a beautiful, slightly effete man, tall and svelte, well dressed, a relaxed but fragile air. I think of Isherwood, strolling round Berlin, or E.M. Forster sat in his study. Or Foucault, gesticulating frantically that electric wildness lighting up his eyes. (Though sometimes I can’t help but imagine someone like this) There are some beautiful, bright, sensitive queer thinkers, still, hiding in the shadows. But there are also macho fags. You don’t think of gay men as macho do you, not even the big, butch, hunks of manlove. Especially not them really, for butch is nearly always drag, or an over-compensation for a lack. Macho fags exist. I have felt their hatred.

Academia is full of machismo (and, in some corridors, gay men). The peer review process is a form of  macho posturing, the cockerels, the bulls  in the ring, fighting for glory. Have you ever been to an academic conference? It’s not unlike a boxing match. But without the sex and violence, just the stale smell of alcohol, tired cliches and heavyweight egos, fighting it out in front of a dozing crowd. Deleuze calls his appropriation and interpretation of other philosophers’ work ‘buggery: enculage’. He fucks his heroes up the arse. Just to make a point, to overpower them. Poor Derrida, Poor Baudrillard, they don’t look like they want to be taken from behind so mercilessly by this young upstart. He’s sat there in his ivory tower, waving his French, rhizomatic gay cock in our faces.

And I never realise till it is too late.

That bastard, that fucker who buggered my boy and his friends, he was an academic and an intellectual. He wouldn’t let anyone call him ‘fag’ (or turn him into one, you know how). He didn’t identify as gay. But he made sure he was surrounded by young, handsome, adoring acolytes, that he could impress with his archaeology of knowledge, as he dug and dug and plundered their arses for his pleasure and his power.

I used to look up to Mr Fuck Theory. He is another gay man of letters. Why do I always fall for them? An American college lecturer, he uses a blog to deconstruct philosophy with a wave of his magic wand, producing post-modern aphorisms on sex and gender: a Foucault for the internet generation. History of Sexuality, Dude. I couldn’t get enough. But he was just one more macho fag, waving his cock around, ‘philosophising with a hammer’ as he calls it, hammering home the metaphor. He took every opportunity to remind everyone he was a ‘top’, and he didn’t enjoy being challenged by a little woman.  He likes to fuck theory, you see, not to get fucked intellectually (is it, according to these gay thinkers, physiologically impossible to be a bottom (or a girl) and to have a brain?). It’s his way of dominating, a form of control.

And I never realise till it is too late.

Men have always had trouble accepting homosexuality, especially their own. The  historical perception was that men who buggered other men were free from accusations of being homosexual, whilst those who got buggered were branded as queer, homo, fags. This macho myth is shown to persist, not just among many straight people, but also in ‘other places’, such as within Latino culture  or the Balkan States as depicted in Suck My Nation . But here in the New Gay World where gay men are free to be who they are, to drink in their own bars, to shop at Waitrose, to get hitched, they are all supposed to be equal, no matter whose ass is getting pounded.  But I have a hunch that the hierarchical gendered dichotomy between top and bottom, fucker and sucker, Man and Bitch, is also still alive and well, even in the condos of Canal Street, the bistros of Williamsburgh, the Oyster stalls of Borough Market. Some of my Gay brothers are starting to look worryingly straight round the edges.

We all play power games in sex. Everyone needs something to push against. Sexual inequality is as inevitable and reassuring as Newton’s Third Law.  But standing here, facing forwards, my back to the wall, I want to take these fuckers on. (Are you with me, bitches?) I don’t like these hard men who, no matter how ‘gay’ they may admit to being,  think, deep down, even when their dick is in your mouth,or you are bending over like a good piece of fuckmeat,  that the worst thing a person could be in this world is a cock sucker, an arse-giver, or, even worse than that, a woman.  They are the macho fags of this world.

And I never realise till it is too late.

I am the matador, brandishing the red rag to the bull, and then trying to duck at the last minute; I am the nail that thinks it will be the one clever enough to avoid the hammer’s blow; I am that senorita, sitting, sighing on the steps of her villa.  Ah, machismo, mi amore. I want you dead.

Today, my constant companion, friendly Ghost and bete noir, The Guardian, published this Survey by the ONS.

It makes the shocking statement that the number of people who are, or who identify as gay has plummeted in the UK, to the tiny figure of 1. 5% of the population. Isn’t that a bit queer?

I can’t be bothered to analyse the data.  I did like this finding though:

‘The latest detailed figures show that gay people are much more likely to be in managerial or professional occupations – 49% compared with 30% for straight workers – and better educated, with 38% holding a degree’

which suggests to me that being ‘gay’ could just be another way of being ‘middle class’ and ‘respectable’

I am with Steve Zeeland, and his assertion that ‘sexual identity is a joke’. But I do find it funny, that in a culture where traditional tropes of ‘gayness’ seem to saturate every aspect of our cosmopolitan, latte sipping, condo-owning, Laboutins wearing, air-kissing, slash-fic loving, male-objectifying lives, that the numbers of people apparently actually admitting to being gay has apparently dwindled. Maybe being gay just isn’t risque enough any more, so even the gays don’t want anything to do with the label. Sebastian Horsley said we lie to two people in our lives, our partner and the police. I would add ‘survey researchers’ to that list, especially when it comes to identifying our sexualities.

I also discovered a new category of ‘pervert’ today: girlfags I am not quite sure what a girlfag is, though there is something quite appealing about the concept. I think girlfags are girls who love boys to be girls like their boys, or something. It covers a range of people who identify as women, but also who identify an attraction to and an interest in taking on ‘masculine identities’, including sometimes big phallic strap-ons, and fucking gay and queer men. Well I can identify with that. But to make this into yet another sexuality typology, and in doing so, to stereotype gay men as ‘feminine’ and to end up with an entry in the manual of psychiatry, I give girlfags a big fat FAIL.

Much more valuable, is this poem I read today Diary of a motel receptionist It speaks to me more than any survey or categorisation of people can, about loneliness, alienation, our search for belonging and human connection.

It reminded me of this film, Show Me Love by Lukas Moodysson, about two girls caught in that terrifying country called adolescence, in the Swedish suburbs, who find something they recognise in each other. I related so much to this film I was still sobbing visibly and audibly as I left the cinema, to the slight embarrassment of my polite, uptight, British cinema-going-latte-sipping-condo-owning compatriots.

I also disvovered that today is bisexual pride day. That just made me laugh. Especially as the colour to celebrate bisexuality is purple. I don’t know. The purple pound just doesn’t have the same ring to it as the big, Phallic Pink Pound does it? Bless.

The combination and collision of these findings, brought home to me something sobering. That no matter how ‘liberal’ we may be about sexuality, how ‘proud’ of who we are, how valiant we are in fighting for our ‘rights’ to be accepted as equals with our straight, hetero, respectable brothers and sisters. There is a function for our difference. It serves to show us to be lacking in some way, to be deviant, sick, to underline and emphasise and solidify the ‘normality’ and ‘health’ of everyone else. For me, there is nothing to be proud of, or ashamed of there. And nothing to want to hold onto, either, in a kind of ‘victim’ status. The pathologising of sexuality actually affects us all, however normal we are perceived to be, however many institutions we are allowed to join, or banners we can fly.

My Big Gay Heart will always be breaking. I think that’s what gay hearts do. But it won’t be fooled.