Friday, October 26, 2012

On Performative Sexuality

Encouraged by mainstream porn narratives and in our culture overall, there is a demand for performative sexuality (or at least attraction), telling folks, and predominantly women, that their sexuality is only valuable as a display, that their sexuality is only valuable in as much as it relates to the wants of others/men.

I didn't watch/view porn until I was in my twenties And I was STILL deeply affected by the messages of performative sexuality. It's my suspicion that many American women never get to a point where they can untangle their sexuality from the now-subconscious mandates of performative sexuality.

As much good work as sex positive communities are often doing, it's not uncommon for unquestioned messages of performative sexuality to be expressed and encouraged as "radical" and "liberated". In BDSM communities women who exclusively have sex as a submissives are often endlessly congratulated & publicized regardless of the fact that the role they choose comes from a history of oppression. 

If powerplay is not practiced with an awareness of the historical and current oppressions it is invoking it is not radical. Period. It actually might come from a place of learned performative sexuality, it might come from a place of preference. But without a critical eye towards social context you can't know. I am NOT saying that folks without an education in hsitorical and systematic oppressions should be barred from BDSM. What I am saying is that the engagement, praise, and commentary of those who do understand the social & historical context for powerplay needs to be more nuanced & critical. In conversations about BDSM, bringing up historical & social contexts of oppression should be encouraged rather than just easily dismissed as "sex-negative" or "hating".

My basic beef about performative sexuality is not with those that practice it without knowing, my beef is with those who know about the context of oppression it comes from and aren't furthering the conversation. Sometimes even stopping that conversation because it's "not hot" or "uncool". Merely being an enlightened practitioner of performative/role-centered sex is not enough. It's self empowering (because you understand and are willing to dig deep into your preferences), but it doesn't educate or make space for the empowerment of others. Personal progress toward more enlightened sexuality is personalty liberating and empowering but it is not revolutionary. Learning about the complex nature of your orgasms/pleasure is good for you, but those orgasms/pleasure aren't revolutionary unless you choose to bring what you've learned about them to your community. 

By inviting & defending such criticisms I don't mean to Yuck anybody's sexual Yum. I don't disparage or look down on anybody who finds it pleasurable to be wanted or pursued. I find these things pleasurable sometimes. But if you see being wanted or pursued as your whole sexuality it makes the value of your sexuality wholly dependent on the validation others give/don't give to it. This is the risk of accepting your sexuality as merely performative (for others). 

Engaging in performative sexuality CAN be erotic and enjoyable, but we should never stop at just that! We and our sexualities are so much bigger than what others can perceive and validate. If I want a sexuality that relates with others' sexualities in sustainable & more safe ways, I first need to relate to my sexuality in sustainable, supportive, & lovingly critical ways. I try to do this and I think we all can!

For anyone (the book is geared toward women but is a great read for anyone!) who wants to join me in this I'd suggest reading Jaclyn Friedman's "What You Really Really Want." I think it's a great vehicle for women looking to define their sexuality as their own.

Also this:

"I'm not the one you want babe." because I am the person I choose to be not who you want me to be.

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