It may sound a bit ridiculous to some, but I have always found my writing in the MC/TF genre to be as much about politics and philosophy as it is about sex and the erotic. In many ways, this is because sex and the erotic can’t help but be political–the determination of what kinds of bodies are beautiful, what kinds of bodies are normal, what kinds of relationships and forms of intercourse are allowed, who gets to have power in relationships and in sexual acts–these are all political questions. The stories I write, then, contain within them their own political visions and imaginations. They are not idyllic visions. The outcomes are almost universally dystopic and horrific. At times, as I have mentioned off and on in various asks, I’ve found it difficult to try and square the fact that I find these horrors intensely erotic with my more sober politics of radical liberation. How can I argue for self-determination (for example) when my stories revolve around controlling the minds and bodies of others?
There are a few answers I’ve considered and rejected. One is to accept the fact that the erotic and an individual’s erotic fantasies simply cannot be grounded in any sort of political fact. After all, fantasies and politics exist on different planes–the former are necessarily impossible to bring forth in reality, while the latter is necessarily pragmatic and grounded in reality. However, I don’t feel this boundary viable. Politics and fantasies may exist in different realms, but they certainly do inform one another. Politics, after all, is the attempt to render our fantasies real, as best we can. Just because they don’t share a type with one another doesn’t mean that they aren’t related in other ways. A second defense I considered was that these stories, as horror stories, are meant to be terrible and shunned and avoided as satire. However, given the fact that they are also erotic the satire argument doesn’t feel sincere. In the thick of these fantasies, I generally want for these things to be happening; the satire claim is largely rational revisionism after shooting. I began to think that there was no reconciling these two ideas; that I’d have to accept at least some level of cognitive dissonance.
Along with this, I have always insisted on keeping a rather large divide between Wesley Bracken and my real name–while quite a few people in my real life know about the fiction I write, very few know *who* I am when I write it. It is, perhaps, a trivial barrier, but one I keep up regardless in order to protect my livelihood, but I’ve never been particularly happy about needing it. The secret has always felt as though it were driven largely by shame and a desire to keep these fantasies hidden within myself, as a way to keep them from emerging into my other life, but that felt deeply troubling in its own way. To me, part of a radical politics is about defeating and overcoming sexual shame. Shame is one of the key methods of social oppression–a system convincing the individual to oppress and internalize their desires against themselves.
These thoughts on politics and shame coincided with other thinking I’ve been doing on the nature of power exchange relationships. The more I have been on tumblr, the better I have understood what a real power exchange looks like. Contrary to what my writing might imply, I am a largely vanilla character in real life. The few times I ventured into anything remotely like BDSM in prior relationships I have learned were very contrary to safe power exchange–committed without communication or consent, without a safe word, without any sort of preparation of solid aftercare. I came to realize that fantasies can be brought forth into reality–even deeply unequal fantasies–without great harm being committed against either party. That in turn helped me feel better about my own fantasies, once I placed them in that context. I realized that much of the conflict I’d been feeling was the result of an internalized mainstream depiction of sadomasochism and other sexual deviance as something inherently immoral, shameful, the people who desire it broken and mentally faulty. I had bought into that idea, internalized it. After all, having a fantasy is one thing–a thought. A politics of that fantasy is a further step–an action based on that thought. Admitting to the thought is not at all the same as committing the action. Furthermore, there is a distinction to be made between a controlled instance of a fantasy committed with consent, and one forced on another without consent. My shame wasn’t worth it, and I decided to try and root it out as best I could.
One of those means of dispelling that shame has been an attempt to embrace what I might call the queer imagination. As queers outside mainstream sexuality, gender and relationships, we have largely been left to our own devices to decide what sorts of relationships and communities we craft. Make no mistake, crafting those communities have never been easy, because they have always been under constant attack from social authorities, but craft them we have. For queers, it was alright to be single or serially monogamous. It has been acceptable to participate in a triad, a quad, or a community of lovers, friends and found family. It has been ok to be committed and monogamous as well. All of these ways of living, by being equally ostracized, were all imagined and realized by queers outside of mainstream respectability. In a similar way, that imagination is responsible for pushing the boundaries of acceptable sex and intercourse. None of the fantasies I put down are new or unique–I still think most of my writing is less shocking than Marquis de Sade’s stories over three centuries ago. The queer imagination is one of the few spaces of liberation beyond the mainstream, beyond acceptability and respectability. It is, I have realized, the root of stories like “City of Bears”, which is at the core a radical re-imagining of what a society can look like–a society without women and children, without the certainty of physical and mental identity, without any sort of mainstream future. The queer imagination is perhaps our greatest weapon in liberation–without the ability to imagine and fantasize about alternative societies and politics, the status quo becomes inescapable. Perhaps the worst thing that can happen for any queer radical politics (to borrow rather cheekily from Alan Bloom’s mainstream culture war manifesto of the 90’s) is a closing of the queer imagination.
And so I pivot to Friday’s supreme court ruling in favor of nationwide same sex marriage. It is, of course, a positive step for queer rights, and yet, as I see the various celebrations unfolding across social networks, my mood moves from sweet, to bittersweet, to mostly bitter. On facebook, everyone is literally pinkwashing themselves with a rainbow overlay–people who I have never seen a single post from regarding queer rights are suddenly proud on my behalf. Now that we are a trend, now that we are on the right side of history, now that it isn’t 2004 with George W. Bush using us as a wedge issue, we can have their support. I see every corporate brand and logo suddenly displaying the six color rainbow flag (which, it bears mentioning, isn’t even the original rainbow flag–the original had eight colors, all with a particular meaning which have been all but forgotten in the modern queer movement) and by and large, it is companies with rather questionable political practices. Uber has a six lane rainbow highway, but is still trying to illegally classify its drivers as independent contractors. Levis has turned it’s logo into a rainbow, but never mind their sweatshops, abhorrent labor standards, and outsourcing. Everyone is celebrating, but the celebration is politically meaningless. Everyone wants to be the good ally, but no one seems to care about what being an ally means.
All of this stands in the shadow of pride month, as well. Sunday was the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, which were begun and fought by trans women of color. Those women fought the police because they could imagine an alternative to prosecution and tyranny by the police, because they could imagine a world where their lives weren’t regulated and criminalized by the state. Even before that was the Compton Cafeteria riot in San Francisco, fought for the same reasons. Queer liberation has always been and will always continue to be an act of the queer imagination–but there has also always been a queer mainstream interesting in silencing that imagination in the name of assimilation. Earlier this week Jennicet Gutiérrez, a trans latina activist, heckled Obama in a room full of LGBT activists, all of whom helped boo her from the room. The plight of undocumented trans women is apparently less pressing than respectability politics. This, of course, echos what occurred in San Francisco over 40 years ago, when Sylvia Rivera–also a latina trans activist, also fighting for trans liberation from prisons–fought her way to the stage, only to be similarly heckled during pride “"celebrations”“. Pride. I have been to various prides, and rarely see anything to be proud of. I see consumerism and pinkwashing and celebrations of false progress narratives, the same sorts of meaningless celebrations I have seen across social media these last few days. It seems we have forgotten who we should be celebrating, what exactly we should be proud of, and that any celebration without imagination is no celebration at all.
Marriage can never liberate us. Marriage is not about love; it is about legitimacy. I am a married queer, but I am not married because that marriage makes the relationship to my partner real or stronger–I am married for pragmatic protection. I am married so that we can have easy access to health care through employer coverage. I am married so that should something happen to one of us, we are able to make decisions on the other’s behalf without contest. I am married so we can share a more privileged tax status. I shouldn’t have to be married to gain access to these benefits–no one should have to. I have been married for five years, but I have been in love for seven, and my relationship in those two earlier years was never less important to me. Queers have been falling in love forever without marriage. Marriage is about control and regulation, not love. It is about the dulling and dimming of sexual and romantic imaginations. Friday’s decision was, and always will be, a fundamentally conservative victory–it will just take conservatives a few more years to figure that out. I find it amazing, in fact, that it is in the conservative imagination that queer fantasies have manifested as horrors! "All of our marriages have been cheapened!” they despair. Imagine! Why, what if we cheapened and de-valued marriage itself for everyone? What if we abolished the legitimacy of this coercive institution, instead of enshrining it further? “Polygamy is next!” they cry. Why not? Why shouldn’t we be able to recognize relationships with more than two people as valuable to society? Why not embrace triads and quads or larger communities of relationships? “How will we possibly procreate!” they moan. Indeed! What might happen if we dispel the cult of the child? What might happen if we stop breeding, and instead stem overpopulation, caring for those in the present rather than the hypothetical future?
What I see is a possible closing of the queer imagination. It is a closing that I see stemming from the horrors of HIV and AIDS through the 80’s and 90’s. I am young, born in 1988. I do not know what it was like to live through the Plague. My husband, who is twice my age, has told me his own stories of friends dying, of terror, of loneliness. I have read other accounts, and they make me weep, universally. I find I must come to the conclusion that AIDS succeeded where dominant mainstream culture couldn’t, by literally murdering queers with any sort of sexual or romantic imagination. Those who survived the plague often did so through abstinence, through fear and loathing, by closing off their desires and living in the closet. All I can do is mourn for everyone we lost, for an entire generation of imaginative queers decimated. For me personally, I can only talk about growing up in the aftermath. How my middle school health classes were full of fear-mongering and threats and lies about the disease and how it was spread. How, when I realized I was gay, my first feeling was one of terror, that I too might become little more than a plague body. That when I came out to my father, one of his comments to me was akin to: “You know you’ve chosen a difficult lifestyle. What if you get AIDS?” Looking back, I realize that all of this was working to stifle and shame any sort of queer imagination in myself, by associating anything outside of mainstream heterosexual coupling with sickness and death. This is the terrible foundation on which the gay marriage movement was built. It is a movement of fearful, unimaginative white cis queers knocking at the door of social hetero legitimacy, begging to be let in–that they’ll be good, boring, mainstream couples as long as they can be safe. That as long as they aren’t left out to die, they’ll behave. And now they have been let in. They’re in–myself included–but there are still so many people left out.
The HIV crisis isn’t anywhere near over for African Americans, who make up 44% of new infections, more than eight times the rate of whites overall, according to the CDC. Of all groups, the greatest at risk population are African American adolescents. This doesn’t even begin to touch on the questions of police brutality and right wing extremism and their threat to the black community. Our trans siblings are still being murdered and locked up at astronomical rates. No amount of marriage can protect them, no amount of marriage can protect any of us. Instead, we have given over control of our relationships to the very society which has shown at every turn to despise us, to hate us, to view as perverts, as walking corpses, as death. These are the people we are now asking to save us. This is the altar at which we have chosen to sacrifice our imaginations. We can do better than marriage; we can imagine more than marriage.