This is a double post, for today and tomorrow, and it isn’t porn, sorry. I’ve been needing to write something like this down for a while now, and recent events have spurred me. It is, to some extent, a metawriting topic, but really more of an essay on ethics, I suppose. I’ve hesitated in posting this to some extent, but no one else is saying what I feel needs to be said, so here it is. Today and tomorrow, I’ll also be working through my backlog of asks, so if you’d like to engage with me over this, you’re more than welcome to do so. I imagine some people will consider my view to be controversial, and that is fine–it is also a view that is continuing to evolve, and maybe it will spur conversations more productive than the ones currently dominating the discourse.
For a while now, I have been trying to put together something to say about Tank, but it has been difficult. I didn’t know him personally. We conversed a few times over the years, but nothing of substance–I had more of a relationship to the idea of him, than to the person, which is the sort of relationship a lot of us had to him, I think. But the things I want to say for Tank are also things that I long to say for others–because there is a moral question I have struggled with for years in my writing, about the boundaries between fantasy and reality, about bodies, and pleasure, and death, and ruin, and I feel like I can finally begin to speak it in a way that makes some sort of sense. Of those concepts, it is ruin that I feel is most important, and I want to use the word in a precise way–I don’t know it if is the best word, but it is the word that feels most accurate to me. So, when I say that someone ruins their body, purposely, what I mean is this–that person has modified or used their body is such a way that it undercuts the integrity of that body in pursuit of some other goal–for aesthetics, for pleasure, for sensation, for whatever the reason might be. There are many, many forms that ruination can take. Gaining is a form of ruination. I would also consider smoking, drinking, and drug use a kind of ruination. Not all forms of ruination are necessarily extreme either–tattoos and piercings are ruination–converting skin from being solely a barrier into an aesthetic piece of art, but not particularly damaging in their minor forms. Tank ruined his body with silicone, and in so doing, he converted parts of his body and augmented them beyond their biological functions and gave them other purposes, for the purpose of pleasure I would say–both his own, and for the pleasure of others. In so doing, whether he knew the risks or not, he undermined his body to such an extent that it killed him. In the wake of this, I have been asking myself, what do you say about someone who choose pleasure over the integrity of their body? What do we say over the graves of those who have died in pursuit of a body that both brings them immense satisfaction, and also kills them in the process?
Writing this is difficult, because I have many feelings, and many opinions, but the topic is murky, and personal. Still, I feel I need to write down some of this, because much of what people have written about Tank hasn’t really been about Tank at all. Much of it has been written about the dangers of silicone (and in no way am I contesting that silicone injection is very dangerous), and much, much more has been written about Dylan, which I think is…both frustrating, and to some extent disrespectful. This question is larger than silicone, and it is much, much larger than Dylan, who I wish I didn’t even have to address in this, because doing so feels so trite. Dylan is, in my opinion, incredibly narcissistic and abusive, but he is not capable of the sorts of feats I generally include in my stories, as some people have been accusing him. I don’t think he is capable of mind control, or brainwashing. He is, without any doubt, a manipulative, serial abuser, but he is not some grand puppetmaster. Giving him that much power only serves to make him even more larger than life than he already is–but I think the real reason people want to talk about Dylan’s abuse, and avoid talking about Tank’s desires is because, to some extent, it absolves Tank of the responsibility of what he did to his body. It is easier to look at what happened to Tank and understand it as murder or manslaughter, than to look at it and see suicide. But Tank wanted this–I firmly believe that. Let me be clear, Tank did not want to die, and he did not want to be in an abusive relationship, but he did desire what he did to his body, and I do not think there is anything wrong with him for wanting it. He wanted this body, and he sought out this body, and he warped his body to match the image of his desires, and in so doing, he undermined the ability of his body to sustain itself, and he died because of it. I will not be bringing Dylan up again in this eulogy, because this should not about Dylan–this is about Tank, and it is about us. Perhaps I am wrong, though. Perhaps Tank was manipulated, and he regretted his choices, in the end. Even if that is so, there are enough people out there that do desire this, that this eulogy is also for them. This eulogy is, in some ways, also for me, and for all of us queers in the world.
At the center of this question of ruination is the nature of our bodies, and our relation to them. This is a question that has been central to western philosophy since Descartes, and one way of framing the two sides of the debate is as an argument over whether the body is a vessel for something else which I am (a soul, a mind, etc.), or whether the body I inhabit is all that I am, that it constitutes my very identity as a physical entity (a brain, a collection of physical drives). To the first, bodies are considered to be, well, unimportant. The key parts of identity, the things that comprise us, are all mental–the body is merely a necessary thing to keep that mind alive and preserved. Longevity and bodily integrity, then, are the most vital role a body can play–if, that is, the mind is the only thing about us that matters for our identity–but while I thought along these lines for quite some time, I am beginning to have doubts, and many of those doubts were planted by observing people like Tank.
If the body really is only a vessel, and it is the mind that really counts, then why do so many people go to such lengths to modify it, when they feel that the body they have doesn’t suit their self-conception? If everything that we are is kept up in the mind anyway, then shouldn’t the form and appearance of our body not particularly matter, so long as it is capable of sustaining us? But people do feel emotions toward their bodies and the bodies of others: they resent them, they covet them, they idolize them, they change them, and they desire some sorts of bodies for themselves and not others. Perhaps it is our minds that matter most, but it would seem that all of us desire some sort of synchronicity with our embodied forms, that the internal, mental vision of ourselves ought to be matched by our outward, external form. But this goes beyond just desire, I believe. We are all beings of the world, we collect all of our experiences from it. A mind without a body is a mind with no connection to the world. A mind with no body cannot be a person at all, not as we understand persons to be.
But what of those of us who are unhappy with our bodies, who feel that their present nature is not synchronous with our minds? Those of us who want more from our bodies, who want our bodies to present a certain way, and function a certain way, and feel certain sensations that it can’t do on it’s own? What if we desire these more than we desire to preserve the integrity of the body itself? Here, I think, is where some of us begin to feel queasy. There seems to be a social imperative to preserve the integrity of our bodies, so that we might live and persist as long as possible. But is there any real, inherent value in a long life, as opposed to a short one? To ask the question more pointedly, is a long life lived unhappily inherently more valuable and moral than a short, thrilling one?
The question can’t be answered literally, of course. I don’t think lives can be measured against one another in any sort of quantifiable way. I don’t know how to judge Tank’s life–and honestly, the only one who could answer the question for Tank is no longer with us to ask. From the posts I am seeing, other people seem to have no such hesitation about passing judgement, and largely, what I see are people who feel that, if they were able to ask Tank about whether his life as he lived it was worth living, he would have said no. Perhaps he would have. But I want to withhold judgement here on Tank specifically, and push off in a more general direction–instead, I want to ask if a life spent avoiding ruin can ever be a life well lived. Or stronger still, whether a life spent avoiding ruin is even possible, because I sense something deeper in play here, some nightmarish offspring of assimilation and alienation, a sibling of self-loathing and fear. I think Tank terrifies us. I think, in the wake of his death, we attack others and we assign blame for his death because giving him agency over his fate, accepting that he could somehow have wanted this enough even though it killed him is something deeply threatening to us.
Ruin, I would suggest, is unavoidable. Ruination is the wage of experience. Perhaps if we locked the body away in a sealed chamber, ensured no harm could ever come of it, provided for its every need and gave it no excess, we could diminish ruin to such an extent that life is extended as much as possible, but such a life would be dull, uninteresting, and hardly lived at all. Existing in the world, in a world which is fundamentally hazardous to our bodies, invites ruin at every moment. There is nothing we can do to avoid it, if we want to live at all. But I don’t think we consider all of living to be ruin, even if it causes us harm. Even something as simple as feeling the sun on my body is ruinous after all, damaging my skin and inviting cancer all for the sake of a sensation. Excessive tanning is just as hazardous as many other activities we might do to ourselves, and yet, when someone dies of skin cancer, we don’t clammer for the banning of such activities. (Well, perhaps some of us do, but no one has succeeded yet in rendering them illegal.) On the other hand, tattoos and piercings are a relatively safe procedure, certainly safer than tanning, and yet, in some parts of society, both are seen as great taboo worthy of restriction and regulation (less so now than in the past, of course, but I know plenty of people who are very mindful of covering their skin in the workplace, for the sake of propriety, and who remove or hide their more…extreme piercings as a form of social censoring.) Not all ruination is considered equal–there is a vast social framework that we exist within every day, that judges our behaviors and actions, raising up some ruinous behaviors as virtuous, and more innocuous ones as sinful. I would say that this could be seen as another axis of ruination–social ruin, as opposed to the more objective physical ruin. I would also say, that one of the most socially ruinous behaviors one can commit, in the current state of society, is queerness.
Queerness presents a fundamental challenge to heteronormative, patriarchal society. It challenges the very foundations of what a body is, and what a body ought to be used for. Queer behavior, especially queer sex, has, to the heteronormative framework, no use beyond base pleasure–given that the heteronormative patriarchal use for sex is procreation (and lurking behind that, the pleasure and satisfaction of men’s power, over women). Notice here that I am talking about queer behaviors, not queer identities. Queer identity is static, and because it is static, is can be rendered harmless. It is queer behavior that is at issue here, the twisting of the body away from heteronormative standards and using it for queer pleasure is so threatening because it challenges the assumed superiority and innateness of the heteronormative structure. If people can, and do, use their bodies beyond the limits of the heteronormative imagination, testing the possibilities of liberation in so doing, the entire structure is undermined. Queer action, then, is heterosocial ruin, and so it can never be tolerated–it must be eliminated, or controlled.
So they kill us. When they cannot kill us, they banish us to the edges, and render us taboo. When those taboos lose their power, they assimilate us, they create queer identities, and give us hetero-coded behaviors to control us–gay marriage, gay adoption–and in so doing uses us as best it can to further its own ends. Many of us say that this is enough, that this is freedom, but it isn’t. For those it cannot assimilate, it shames and humiliates them, and drives them towards a perpetual state of near death. For those who defy it, it declares them ruinous, a hazard, and quarantines and punishes them as it sees necessary to preserve itself, first and foremost. This entire cycle ought to be resisted. It ought to be challenged, and undermined, and it is exhausting, and terrifying, and still it must be done, always, because our bodies are our own, and our desires are a multitude, and every body contains within it so much potential, that to grind it away slowly in a miserable half-life seems such a waste, to me. There is no safety in assimilation. This society will ruin us all, one way or another. It will drain our stamina in exhausting jobs, converting our strength into surplus economic value none of us will ever touch. It will crush our bodies and our will in the relentless pursuit of power, profit, and cruelty that this society relies upon to sustain itself, and those in power who control it.
It takes bravery to live a life like Tank’s. It takes more bravery than I have, than many of us have. I wish, oh how I wish things could have been different, could have been safer, that we could foster a society that sees a body as more than simply something to keep alive for the sake of its economic value. I long for a society that sees bodies for the canvases they can become, if we are brave enough to try. I long for a society that doesn’t shrink away from diversity, and the strange, and the insane. I wish Tank had grown in a world that would have been able to keep him and preserve him in all the beauty he was, but he grew in ours, instead. All this world could do, was watch, rapt, as he did everything he could in pursuit of his desires, even though it killed him…and now we stand here, looking at one another, alone and afraid, and wondering about all those thoughts we have, wondering if we have to choose between assimilation and normalcy, and near death like this or near death like that. I see so many of us, the gainers, the modders, the genderfucked, the smokers, the toilets, the barebackers, the furries, the bug chasers, the punching bags, the juicers, the eunuchs–I watch us all long so much for a liberated world, for a way to attain a body which could satisfy us, that could provide us the pleasure we all so desire, but instead, we labor at the margins, working against ourselves in secret, and in shame, committing taboo and sin, constantly wondering if we are broken. I see you all. You aren’t broken, none of you, and most of all, I wish you all the bravery in the world. It takes so much bravery, these days, and it can be difficult to find. I wish you bravery, and I will remember you all, and I hope, one day, things can be different. That we will find liberation from this, that we will have a world that embraces ruin, that understands the beauty it holds at its heart.