Advice for our Dear Readers
with your loving aunt
No friends? Too many friends? Too many limbs? Can’t get fuck? Convinced you can telepathically communicate with warrior saints? Send an email to email@example.com and you may receive a response at some point on this regular column from our lovely Aunt Enid.
so I’m a recently friendless gay 20something, and it’s hard for me to connect with people. I don’t carry myself well in conversation, and I often feel like I’m much too boring or shy for other people. casual sex makes me feel a bit better about myself but interacting with men on grindr is hell, and I’m many miles away from any gay clubs. is there any hope for someone like me?
Dear ethernet sellout,
Cruising culture in an isolated place can be bleak indeed. One can’t help but wonder if apps like Grindr have contributed to this, rendering cruising into an even more privately laborious affair, combining as it does the specular comparativism of the porno site with the super-egoic demand of contemporary app culture that would have you project yourself into that tiled matrix of anonymous bodies such that you are both customer and consumed (“everyone is a customer”).
The problem with this, of course, is that it’s alienating. Decades after the ravages of AIDS and the ongoing gentrification of gay communities that pornotopic interface has without much resistance at all expropriated the commons of the bathroom stall, the woods, the book store… and how convenient it is too! We can fix up our profiles with the exact specification of our needs and wants – where would you like to meet? what is your gender identity? Are you looking for something “right now” or merely trying to “network”? The dating app offers a new mediation of cruising’s mode of enjoyment.
The risks of relation remain, of course: one can still maintain some degree of anonymity, suck the cock attached to one of those myriad headless profile pictures, contract a sexually-transmitted disease, etc. The difference, however, lies in the work of using the interface that to a greater or lesser extent replaces the encounter itself. As you say yourself, it’s “hell.” Of course this is all familiar, thanks to Tinder et alia, to many heterosexuals today as well.
But the faggots were in some ways the test subjects in capital’s ongoing frankenstein-like project of re-stitching sexuality to enjoyment vis-a-vis socialized masturbation (that cheapest of labors). The market doesn’t much care about the objects of your desire themselves or the uses you make of them, only that they can be exchanged, and Grindr’s bazaar of bodies relegates the promise of mutual recognition and pleasure to the palm of your hand to such a degree that your actual hand could never hope to compete with.
As with most things, the grass always appears greener elsewhere. We sometimes like to talk about pre-internet cruising in prelapsarian terms, but it hardly seems necessary to point out the impotence of nostalgia when it comes to these matters. Capital takes up sexual relations as it finds them, and the fallenness of sexuality long precedes its most recent subsumption. The closeted queer used to find pleasure by other means – we all know that compulsory heterosexuality often walks hand in hand with compulsory homosociality – while the liberated faggot can eat their fish and sit on a dick too: the mainstream acceptance of pornography and marriage have brought us so much goddamned sexual liberation that they promise to liberate us from sexuality altogether. Make eye contact with a cutie at the bookstore? Why risk making a move when, if fate would have it, they’ll likely pop up on OK Cupid later on? The dating app, as Gustavo Dessal observes, “offers a zone where the actors involved are unable to make complaints or formal accusations if things don’t turn out as expected, especially as no-one has great illusions or puts great hopes there.” And so the stitching falls apart, the promise of relationality without risk, the curated sexual encounter fails to open up other forms of relation, of community altogether.
Guy Hocquenghem, a critic of the “the pick-up machine” of gay cruising culture and its relation to the inadequate sublimation within revolutionary gay political organizations noted such an impasse in the “prohibition of fraternal incest latent in homosexuality” in his book The Screwball Asses. Homosexuality is not by itself liberatory; it does not provide a distinct mode of desire that will free us from patriarchy, capitalism, or the Oedipus complex. But can sexual minorities actually come together as a political community grounded in such a prohibition? Can we have sexual politics without sex?
The Queer doesn’t exist and there is no “queer community,” as much as it is demanded of us to objectify our egos in readily marketable, identitarian terms. The “hope” of finding one, or of finding love, any less alienated than “the heterosexual community” is a dim one, carrying with it inevitable disappointment as long as we seek it along these lines, with the assumption that our homo-ness is constructive of an imagined community rather than a condemnation of the whole fucking system of patriarchal relations upon which our current regime of alienation was built upon.
But maybe you can meet sex and sublimation where it’s at, that is, by forming an insurrectionary, fervently homo communist cell dedicated to waging protracted war on capital and bring back sex into the political relation with slutting and class hatred. Our “queerness” does not by itself constitute a community, class, culture, or politics, but we can certainly reject the prohibition of sexuality from our politics and modes of comradery and vice versa on the basis of this “queerness.” Our desire cannot be reduced to an immutable and apolitical “preference,” but neither can our politics abandon desire.
Your Aunt Enid
messieurs les “philosophes” français ventriloqués,
for a multitude of reasons, the medical establishment has decreed that i am officially a sad person. i don’t dispute the charge, because i actually do feel very sad, all of the time. i do everything a depressed person is supposed to do to not feel sad: i take my pills diligently every day at the appointed hour, i cajole myself into exercise, i don’t spend too much time on the internet, and to the detriment of my personal brand i do things a well-adjusted person would do, walking around my city, spending time with friends, spending too much money on food and drinks i like.
but the sadness remains and continues to swallow me up, and i admit that there have been many, many times i have been tempted to just throw myself off my apartment building. i have attempted suicide twice now, albeit (obviously) unsuccessfully. i suppose what i am asking of you now is a fundamental question: why live?
for now, the only reasons that truly keep me going are that 1) i do not want to hurt the people who love me and 2) i have enough hubris within me to believe that i do have something worthwhile to contribute to my chosen profession. the former tires me, as i do not want to live for other people; at my absolute worst, the latter seems laughably insignificant in the face of my own suffering.
i am not at any real risk of suicide right now, but i am curious as to how you two might answer this question. i look forward to your insight!
Dear sad person,
The truth is that you have every right to be sad. I can probably list a number of answers to the question “why live?” but I doubt that’s really what you want. None of the reasons would be true anyway. Lacan once pointed out that human beings are not planets – we cannot say anything about them of much value if we treat them as if we can calculate their masses, their gravitation, their climate conditions.
You, a sad person, have been deemed sad. You have done all that you ought to do given this diagnosis: consumed your prescribed serotonin reuptake inhibitor, reduced your carbon emissions, positioned yourself in others’ social orbits. Perhaps, sometimes, it even works, at least just enough that you can rest assured that this routine isn’t doing nothing. We may not be planets but we’re still susceptible to gravity. And so, having diagnosed the problem and followed the steps to fix it, you rationalize and try to formulate answers to the question “why live?” You’re not supposed to feel like this, are you? It’s all very straight-forward, isn’t it? There must be some procedure to all this, a “best practice.”
The problem with deciding to live so as to avoid hurting those who love you is that nobody can actually do this. One must desire to live, and I’m afraid that guilt isn’t the greatest impetus for desire. The moralist inside our heads would like to suppose that imagining weeping mothers is enough to spring us back into some will to live, but we all kind of know that moralist is full of shit, and, besides, some of us having fucking terrible mothers anyway. No, this will not do. This isn’t “living for others,” it’s just masochism.
Is it “hubris” to suppose that your professional contributions can outweigh your subjective suffering? Frankly, I doubt it! Because the treatment of your sadness in medicalized terms serves to conceal an indictment: the SSRIs, the exercise, the palliative socializing and diagnosis of a “mood disorder” are all to shift the gaze away from the real meaninglessness of our attachment to the world, to the social bond itself. Your “sadness” (which, mind you, I’m not reading merely as sadness but as depression, which cannot be simply reduced to an emotion) is a condemnation, a dis-ordering. You do everything you’re supposed to do: and yet you’re still “sad.”
The problem with emotions (like sadness) is that, in addition to being quite transitory and fickle, they’re also very good liars, which is why they aren’t particularly useful on their own when understood as diagnostic categories or even symptoms. If you’re depressed, or, by extension, sad, I’m sure you’re quite justified in being so. Who am I to tell you to stop? To intervene with some Reason to live? The fact of your depression itself gives lie to anything I might tell you, that’s precisely what makes it so painful: but that’s also what makes it enabling, and why, in the discourse of psychoanalysis, it has at times held a somewhat privileged place.
Freud’s melancholic often blames themself for the faults of others, directing that aggression back onto their own ego because they cannot mourn the other. Life doesn’t want to be healed, and when faced with a loss or disappointment it can at times be easier to internalize that loss, to salt its own wounds. For Melanie Klein, this was the starting point for reparation, it represented the achievement of an affective state that enables the subject to be in the room with the real and learn, eventually, to mourn this loss of the other. Colette Soler notes that the “anti-depressive effect” of analysis lies in its indication of “what is beyond the depressive position:” beyond the realization of meaninglessness and loss, nothing less than speech itself.
Bringing symbolic meaning to real meaninglessness by coming to terms with how you stand in relation to others – how you are implicated in, damaged by, and damaging of others – can be the hardest thing in the world. But it’s also where we find our agency. I would venture to guess that there is some bit of meaning in your failure to end your life: living, it seems to me, is not so much a question of will but of necessity. The particularities of this happy failure is a conversation for you and your therapist, but I do wonder if there is something avoided or foreclosed when we ask, “why live?” rather than “what is a liveable life?” It is here where we move from morality to ethics, asking not why we ought live but how, because we know that the possibility for a liveable life is not a luxury or a benefit or a wage or a gift or a debt but a striving for recognition, a work in progress.
Your Aunt Enid
E. WITKIOWSKI is our lovely aunt, and yours too. Consult them at firstname.lastname@example.org.