PART I – abstraction
why are sex and migration linked.
We are bodies living in a war zone. We are one body, the war zone is our body.
Bodies are dying. Everywhere. We might not know them, we might not know their bodies. But bodies are dying. They are our bodies.
The war zone is not bounded to Nation States or Caliphates. The war zone includes all of us and all of our bod(ies).
why are sex and migration linked.
why is the pleasurable act of having sex linked to the horrific act of a gun at our heads. There is a gun at all of our heads.
Why is the pleasurable act of sex linked to the horrific realities of starvation and dying.
I can feel your blood. The more we feel, the more warm blood we feel in this war zone we call our bodies.
Why are sex and migration are linked.
why the porn and not the rape crisis center.
Every time we practice sex, we have an opportunity to rethink the boundaries of our own body.
We have the chance to rethink the boundaries of our community, our nation, our ego. We have the chance to imaginatively enter the war zone, if we are not already tangibly there.
Every time we practice sex, we have the chance to call our cunt not our own, but ours and our partners. We have a chance to imagine our cock our clitoris or fingers our cunts not as bordered and limited by the seemingly visible indicators of our skin, but by the real pleasure experienced in our brain.
Our cunts migrate to cocks and our cocks to cunts. Our clitoris migrates to the fingers. Each set free, neither legal nor illegal. we make it so.
We have the chance to imagine the pleasure/pain of others whom we do not know. We have the chance to call your story not yours but ours.
Every time we practice sex, we have the opportunity to share and be shared by another human, to throw off the imagined identity of ownership to one partner or the imagined possession of another body.
We have the chance to imagine the body as world, the world as body, not possessing but being made by all of our stories, the memory of all of our memory. The accomplishments are ours—and the failures.
Every time we practice sex, we have the opportunity to reorder the set of assumptions that say where you and I end. You and I do not end; our cells do not know the end of me or you.
The terrain of the earth does not change at the instance of the geopolitical border; but gradually varies as the terrain of our skin does. We have the chance to know that the earth I was born on and into does not have physical border with the earth another body was born on and into.
Every time we practice sex, we have the chance to unify our bodies in imaginative play. We have the chance to see our bodies presented to us in the mirrored effect of unity with the other (the foreign body).
We have the chance to throw off the misconception of the foreign body, the other. Even that which is perceived as a cancer is still part of and produced by our body.
Every time we practice sex, we have the chance to experience our body as ours (ours as individual) and ours as ours-together as sexual partners. We need each other for this pleasure as we need each other for survival in and of the world.
Our body the earth our body the war zone, the caked desert.
Every time we practice sex, we have the opportunity to know the perceived Other. The thing we have Othered. The thing we have made so-called illegal.
Every time we practice sex, we have the opportunity to utilize language as a means of imagination, an imagination that outside of sex bleeds into the entire stance of our bodies in the world.
We—body of humanity—are living in a war zone of our own making. Who is responsible? We all are. If we are in the war zone together, we see bloody faces amongst us. We see guns at our foreheads. We must grab hold of them and we must grab hold of each other. Let their blood get on our hands and let their heads rest on our shoulders.
PART II – particularization
When I began working with asylum seekers in the United States around the age of 20, I cried almost every day at work as a means of coping with what I was seeing and hearing. I was looking into the eyes of young people who were telling me stories of seeing a gun at their father’s temple. I was speaking to people who had been raped by soldiers, who had witnessed the rape of their mothers. I could not get these images out of my head and they have never since left my understanding of reality. I could not see any act of violence depicted on television or in movies without thinking, I had already seen enough. Justified as an artistic expression or not, I couldn’t get away from the reality of the act. I never got over the experience of empathetically feeling the bloodshed and I hope I never will.
I also never stopped seeing and thinking about my relative balance of privilege. At that time, I was a student with a job. I was educated, had some financial and social support that I had created for myself and from my family; I spoke fluently the language of the country of my residency. All privileges. And what’s more, I had never witnessed anyone being executed before my eyes. I had never witnessed my parents being executed before my eyes. I hadn’t suffered from “that kind” of trauma.
While I think that it was and is important to recognize privilege, it also had some paralyzing effect. It took me a long time to understand how and why it was and is important for me to talk about my trauma—about rape and nonconsensual sex in the context of middleclass America. It was difficult to see how my own story was worth telling.
Hierarchical thinking about worth and power is continuously reproduced in the way we understand the world around us and ourselves within it. It relates to our understanding of privilege, feelings of agency or lack of agency and (dis)empowerment, and guides almost every interaction we have on a daily basis. Its not just personally formed or formed through longevity, it seems also to operate and fluctuate relative to trend and fad.
I’m talking about the kind of hierarchies that go unmarked, unchecked, just simply mimed throughout society on an integrated, ingrained basis.
There’s what we might call terrible violence, but there is also “thrillingly, provocatively, horribly bad violence” There is the allure and the fascinating with watching acts of violence, capturing them on film. We may condone the violence but we consume it with a fervor. Ultraviolence is “cooler” than just violence—the more awful, the more alluring; the more bloody and the more violent, the more real. “Everybody knows” that bloody horrifying rape by a stranger gets portrayed as “real” rape. Rapes that don’t look like that are “grey”; maybe they are so grey, they are “grape”. Hierarchized.
Most people on the street say, IS or ISIS is bad. Like really bad. If we get in a stranger’s car and have a two hour car ride ahead of us, we can bet that everyone will be agreeing that IS is really really bad, like worse than ever before. Like—not like the people in the car. Unless you get picked up by IS, in which case we will probably also agree that IS are the baddest of the bad. But if we disagree with this thesis, we are bound to be thought of, as least momentarily, as tantamount with IS.
I mention this not to make light of the violence inflicted by IS, but to point out that societally we build borders not only between good and bad but between bad and worse—perhaps to make us feel safer, less violent, less culpable, or maybe just to find common ground.
I suggest that this reflexive act needs to be examined closely.
I hierarchize all the time, even though I don’t intend to. I’ll just speak for myself; maybe there are some people who identify with me. I put stories in some kind of hierarchy: which stories are more important to tell, which have more impact. This is somehow because in that moment, I must not be able to see stories as linked and struggles as united and tied of up to one another. I’ve been socialized to think of things as more or less (did more people die or less?) and to think in terms of quantity and numbers (What’s the proof? Whose DNA? Which place? At what time?)—even for things that can’t be quantified and monetized.
I was recently at a feminist and queer conference where I was among a group of self-proclaimed anarcho-feminists of all genders. In one of the workshops, about 20 “causes” for which people had attended demos, were written on various pieces of paper and placed around the floor. We were asked to stand next to a few issues that mean the most to us. Since this was a group of people who didn’t like to think of things as “most important,” the papers were pretty quickly grouped together so that we illustrated a web of interrelated topics that were dear to us.
In a frenzy of connection, I watched fellow participants move most of the issues closer together. Except, that is, for the causes that related directly to sex—like queer porn, consent, and sex work. These remained literally ghettoized on the floor. I stood by them, just stunned that they hadn’t been moved to be part of the rest of the issues, wondering if I should hop between sex island and refugee rights over at the other side of the room. Was I alone in seeing these issues as important or linked? If I moved them closer to the rest of the issues, would anyone else understand why I had done so? Instead of moving them over, I stood by them and then pointed out verbally that they had been physically isolated. People nodded their heads, but I wondered if they really understood why sex was related to all those other issues. I don’t mean rape. I mean, sex, good sex.
After the exercise was over I spend the evening and subsequent days thinking about that experience and how it relates to my life’s work, my constant exploration of sex and engagement with sexuality as well as my explorations of violence and peace studies. I wondered, for myself, why is it, indeed, that having good sex is important in relation to getting rid of all this terribly horrible violence in the world? And even if “in my gut” I feel that it is, how could I explain it? I felt that on the one hand I held conviction, but that this conviction was buried under a layer of … insecurity? Sexism? Powerlessness? I couldn’t tell exactly why, but I felt suddenly torn apart—like my life’s questions weren’t valuable.
Since I was leading a workshop on queer porn, I had prepared discussion topics about why queer porn is fun feminist and revolutionary. But I realized that for many of the people at the conference, even if they could see queer porn as fun feminist and revolutionary, it still wasn’t entirely clear how that related to refugee rights or anti-capitalism or war. It felt more like—go and fight for a peaceful world and then after the demonstration, have a party with great queer consensual sex. Nothing wrong with that! There is the fun queer sex and then there is the activism. Yes, the same people may travel between the two, they might even be part of the same event, but I still wonder(ed) if the issues can be even more visibly linked together.
It was as though fun queer consensual sexual relations would be or were a result of empowerment and liberation; as a result of the time, pleasure and leisure won through eradication of structural violence. As opposed to enacting transformation through practicing sex, the good sex had to be future oriented, ie, after the transformation, after the liberation. But something seems to be missing from that line of thinking. More than missing, it might also lead to divisive feelings about the “relative importance” of practicing the unique sex that each of us want.
It is not that queer and feminist scholars, activists and others have not investigated sex within the context of violence, power, pleasure. Foucault emerges as one such scholar who has written about the pleasures of sex, and that pleasure as activist. To speak of pleasure at all within the context of sex is enough to say that it breaks the structure of family and heteronormativity. To practice sex for pleasure is irreverent to those bastions of social form.
It is clearly not true that no thinking has been done linking sex with violence. We’ve managed to speak about sex in many nuanced ways: rape as a tactic of war. Sex as power. We’ve seen how power has manifested itself in sexist, heteronormative, homophobic and transphobic language. We see that these languages of power are built into institutions that want to maintain domination, ie, the specific language, actions and function of the military.
It is furthermore not true that we don’t understand our gendered bodies in the context of international borders and institutions, our bodies as sites of labor, as sites of violence. Even our largest and most conservative institutions have integrated scholarly thinking about “women in development,” “women and labor” (though we might be slowly working to queer these institutions’ understanding of gender outside of the binary, for now, at least, we have made “progress”). We know that women (furthermore, all genders) are important and exceptional in social movements, that development affects gendered bodies in diverse ways. We know that interrogating gender and sex is important for the revolution. We know all this.
We see that certain kinds of sex, certain kinds of bodies, certain kinds of familial arrangements, have been criminalized at different times, at different places, under various regimes; perceived as enemy of the state, as threatening to national security, values, democracy. In these cases, so-called deviant sex or the performance of deviance within or on our bodies, as it is seen at least temporally in such contexts (as the border is temporally placed), is—at least in that context—especially activist, revolutionary, brave.
Having queer sex openly, walking on the street holding hands with someone of the same perceived sex, having sex parties, appearing gender queer or non gender binary, having open relationships, celebrating or talking about queer sex or love outside of heteronormativity —all of these things, when specifically regulated against, or performed within the context of a history of regulation—all of these things are clearly activist, revolutionary. And perhaps it is enough to be revolutionary in one country (say, Germany, full of sex parties, queer porn, and open sexuality) while people in Russia not far away are being imprisoned. Perhaps forward thinking ideas about solidarity will help us to understand that we can act in solidarity even if we do so without risk of criminalization. Perhaps we could simply say, it is a revolutionary act to practice liberation sex in spaces not currently regulated against, in an act of solidarity with places where it is regulated against. I would argue, yes, in a borderless imagination, this is absolutely an important and revolutionary act.
Still, why is it politically compelling to choose to practice sex, rather than engage with all the problematics of how power and violence emerge through sex? How do we make a claim to sex in the bold face of a blood, in the context of blood? When the blood is felt, from where comes our orgasm, what use is this wetness and how can we understand the important of sex further in a visceral way?
I felt myself thinking, as I listened to a young woman speak with passion about the violence currently happening in her home town in separatist Ukraine, I couldn’t help but feel or wonder not if queer porn wasn’t good and revolutionary, but if It was important enough. Like, important relative to this woman’s story. Is making queer porn important enough if you live in a war zone and are holding the bleeding body of a family member? Maybe queer porn is only an option, only relevant, for people who are privileged enough not to live in a war zone.
So I had to think about two things. One, why do or don’t we think inclusively about who lives within a war zone? And two, how does practicing the sex that each of us want—consensual sex between bodies of any sex or gender—actually help us to better navigate and understand the violent world that we live in?
The first question asks us to think about who lives within a war zone and who does not (which, is, I’d like to point out, an exercise of hierarchy, so I already would like to state that I find it problematic). And if some of us do not, why don’t we—and what are the implications of that? Which places have not eradicated direct violence (and which places have)? Which places have not eradicated structural violence (poverty, hunger, lack of infrastructure, lack of empowerment, and other things that can lead to direct violence) and which places have?
On some level it is perfectly reasonable to believe that some places are “peaceful”; in fact, we have borders to let us know where things are and where things are NOT. Those of us who don’t live directly inside communities or countries that are at war, directly or structurally, presumably live in peace. We can continue on “in peace”. We often function as if we do garner security from borders, either real or felt. We are indeed perfectly happy to believe that “we” do not live perpetually in a war zone unless we hear bullets or bombs outside our windows.
We live in a world that is divided by walls and borders, where to pass between many places one has to show documents of residency and identification with at least one Nation State. Many of us even have to register our exact city and street of residency. One has to gain permissions from “home” and “abroad” to travel and, generally speaking, the more money one has, the better. No country is worried about a rich person coming to their country. They might even want us to stay. But almost every country is worried about poor people coming. And even if we can save up the money to travel to that country, they might find every way to keep us out.
We might “know” this but some of us “know” this more “tangibly” than others—some of us who have tried to migrate and have had trouble getting papers or been denied. (And there is the hierarchizing again. As though knowing something for oneself makes it “more important” and “more real”.)
Hypocritically, sometimes we love to put up fences and sometimes we love to rip them down. American history from a certain perspective might say: Berlin Wall BAD. Mexican-American wall GOOD. Our Nations and corporations keep poor people out but also want the power of accessing poor people when we can for our own uses. We like to talk about globalization and what it manifests while we pick and choose how “globalized” globalization can be. Globalization of language—English for everyone! Globalization of businesses—IKEA in every world city! Globalization of information—share all our information voluntarily on the internet! And on it goes.
Regardless of what we feel about various aspects of globalization, it is clearly inconsistent. Inconsistent in the sense that some things are “global” and other things are not. Like, not all information is transparently accessible to all persons. Like, not everyone can move anywhere or work anywhere at any time. Like, structural and direct violence feeds each other, not contained by borders; rather interconnected beyond border, though nations not at State-declared war would like to believe they are not at war, not living in a war zone.
The border proves dynamic, wavering, changing. The smartphone held by one person in one community may be contributing to structural violence in a community quite far away. The structural violence may be contributing to direct violence in that or nearby communities. Sections of those communities who feel threatened, either by structural or direct violence and may cross borders, with or without permission, to “more peaceful” places, integrating and intermingling in with citizens who think their streets to be peaceful.
If our world were really globalized, it would be borderless and transparent. An “issue” would not be relatively more important to us because of its proximity to our selves or what we consider to be our “community”. Our world would be “alive to us”—the good and the tragic. War zones would be “our war zones.” In this vision, or rather, this imaginative vision, we would all live in a war zone until war were over.
Yet, I know. We can’t all see blood on the streets, in front of our faces. I know that we can’t all feel it or think of it as our own blood. This keeps many of us from taking action or feeling that there are ways to take action.
We may know that we are already always faced with violence (in truth I believe it forms our understanding of humanity, it touches our humanity, it touches us, even when we don’t perceive it)—whether we see it or not. But how do we feel the urgency of living in a war zone; when we cannot see it? How do we enact struggle when we cannot see blood flowing around us?
I ask this because while I problematize the theoretical action of creating and sustaining borders of difference, I nevertheless hold equally important our visceral, lived, every day experiences of the world that challenge how we would theoretically navigate through it.
I’ve been thinking therefore a lot about imaginative envisioning, or what I like to call “practicing aliveness,” which asks us to have the experience of “seeing”–not through technology (though it may aide us in the short term) but through our own imaginations.
This, for me, is where the practice of sex comes in. In our practice of sex, we open large possibilities for imaginative play and for negotiating power.
I’ll speak first of imaginative play. I am not suggesting that everyone has the same kind of sex, so I here I will talk about my own experiences with sex and about possibilities of sexual play rather than speculate on what sex is or is not for other people.
Practicing aliveness or imaginative envisioning often necessitates choosing different words or frames of language to facilitate new patterns of relating to each other. In our sexual play space, we have the possibility of taking on these new words—and we often do. Sometimes we simply call this “talking dirty” but I believe that this new language is far more powerful and valuable than “talking dirty” may signify for us. Using new words to refer to another person’s body calls them into subjectivity that they may not realize they can embody. It empowers another person. And by putting a new word between my own lips, I am taking the first large step in the direction of understanding that other person differently.
When I call my girlfriend’s cunt a cock or her cock a pussy, our language calls this other identity into aliveness (for her and for me). A regular practice of simply mixing up the gendered language we use to understand our genitalia (generally, as binary, as differentiated) actually works to undermine old ways of seeing. It begins to reorganize categories we have come to assume as solid, ie borders we have come to understand as unwavering. This is not so different from temporarily owning the identity of someone we have othered, a person we have physically or metaphorically placed across the border: je suis Charlie as is My cunt is a cock.
What’s more, when we concentrate on feeling the exchange of sex rather than on one part of the act, ie being penetrated or penetrating, we begin to break down a very fundamental assumption about the binary nature of intercourse as passive and active. We can begin to think of it as a cooperative act, a dynamic act of re-creation of the body, dynamic becoming body, a body that is neither one of the partners’ or sexual participants’ bodies on their own. We can think of Our Cock and Our Cunt experiencing pleasure. When we concentrate and enjoy the fluidity of sharing body parts between us rather than dwell in visual terms of what we believe to be our own body’s boundary, we begin together in one small way to live in an imaginative world outside of borders. Every time we practice sex, we have the chance to live in that borderless world.
Take to begin with, our very own bodies, or the bodies of flesh that we think of as “our own”. We can see that our bodies are places that we regard as mostly the same within its own organism—there is nothing so foreign within our own bodies that we fight against it (except in rare cases of immune disease). As the flesh unites us, contains us, it is difficult to view our elbow as all that different from our cunt. Even in the noticed differences between these parts, it is not a difference so great that causes most persons to cut one or the other off, ie, to recognize it as dangerous. We negotiate and facilitate difference within our own bodies all the time. The elbow is no more different from the cunt than the armpit is different from the hair on my head.
As Judith Butler writes in Frames of War, “If we accept the insight that our very survival depends not on the policing of a boundary—the strategy of a certain sovereign in relation to its territory—but on recognizing how we are bound up with others, then this leads us to reconsider the way in which we conceptualize the body in the field of politics. We have to consider whether the body is rightly defined as a bounded kind of entity. What makes a body discrete is not an established morphology as if we could identify certain bodily shapes or forms as paradigmatically human. In fact, I am not at all sure we can identify a human form, nor do I think we need to. This view has implications for rethinking gender, disability, and racialization, to name a few of the social processes that depend upon the reproduction of bodily norms.”
We have the possibility to see that the borders within our own bodies represent borders not dissimilar to other borders represented in our world, ie, between nations. We have the possibility see that we are one body with many parts working together, parts that are different, but connected. Our bodies are metaphors for the whole body of the world. If we can understand and forgive and be in our own bodies we can begin to understand that, as a head would not cut off its own hands, there is no sense in violence on the body of humanity.
When we are inside our bodies and having sex with “another body” or bodies, our cells understand no difference between self and other. When we have sex we have the possibility to understand that these bodies come together and engender the possibility of combining, not just as active and passive but as new body, a multigendered polymorphous creature of our new making. This is a dynamic process of re-creating form and active, constant, becoming.
“The boundary of who I am is the boundary of the body, but the boundary of the body never fully belongs to me,” writes Butler.
I want to emphasize that “practicing sex” is wholly inclusive—every time and in every way that we practice sex is a potential moment for enlightened understanding of ourselves and relations of power. This doesn’t mean that every sexual encounter would be a good one. But it does mean that a negative sexual encounter still has the possibility of finding healing and learning from further, positive sexual encounters with other partners and in other ways.
Furthermore, I want to point out that consensual porn and other forms of sex work, the same as casual sex and committed long term sex, all give us opportunities to interrogate borders. I hope that we see these kinds of sexual play not as differentiated from each other (as bordered) but as similarly different opportunities for interrogating perceived borders between bodies and between our understanding of what bodies are comprised of.
Because of our diverse experiences of sexual play, specifically with bodies that we would not always choose according to our personal proclivity, sex workers have great knowledge about sexual relations and power, and this knowledge needs to be venerated, respected, and sought after. Whores are teachers, and when we whores are given respect and honor in society, we are called, we call ourselves, into an empowered subjectivity from which everyone can benefit.
When we fuck, when we cum, the locus of our orgasm is in our brains. Penetrating or being penetrated, rubbed or rubbing, touching deeply or the promise of touching, the anticipation of touch—all can and do cause the brain to reach climax.
When we play in sex, we can imagine and envision that our bodies look very different than they are; we can imagine that we are the other person, that our body is multiple. We can imagine a mental positioning that is useful for relations outside of sexual play.
Aside from sexual and imaginative play with our bodies, sex is a place for negotiating power relations. Sexual engagement, like any engagement between sentient beings, is about practicing and playing with the exercise of power. Sex is a thing that many of us practice very often in our lives, either alone or with partners. It is a thing, like eating, that many of us physically crave. Many of us—I would venture, a majority of us, find sex at least once in our lives, and many of us, find it many times in our lives, sometimes every single day. But to find sexual partners with whom to enjoy positive experience of sex, we have to negotiate the power dynamics of working with another human being and the presumed or assumed boundaries between us and what we believe or think we know about those boundaries and borders. So to really get to good sex, we have to try to interrogate those borders. Not only do we have to start to understand something more about our selves, what our bodies are like, but we also have to understand and negotiate the struggle of using our bodies as sites of power, negotiation and experimentation.
Negotiating power through sex helps us to understand how to negotiate power in a variety of other daily experiences. We have the possibility to change reality every time we encounter any person in any way, in sexual play or when we enter a room. Let’s imagine entering a room full of people we don’t know equally well. Instead of instantly viewing the room in hierarchy, either from the perspective of entitlement to power or lack of entitlement to power—whether it is based around gender, sex, abilism, age, education, class, gossip and history, or a sense that someone has a “right” to speak more than any other—if we begin to interrogate directly this sense of power, rather than putting up borders of differentiation, we offer something very powerful. We walk into a room with the following intention: we who sit here are all more similar to each other than different. We have the possibility to share stories rather than differentiate our stories. We have the capability to find allegiance and alliance rather than difference.
Negotiating these dynamics of power are important in understanding how to be in the world and applicable to how we interact with bodies in the world, how we conduct our own bodies in the world, and how much we believe and feel the aliveness of other bodies. Feeling this aliveness, like feeling our own sense of earning to be alive, helps us survive and helps us to help others to survive.
For years I have asked myself—why is it important to continue to practice sex?—without always knowing the answer to this question. I don’t mean, why do I want to get off or have the pleasure of orgasm? I mean, why is sexual exploration and play with other bodies actually fundamentally important to the world? Whether it be through long term committed relationships, casual sex, consensual play or paid consensual play—it seems increasingly clear that this practice strengthens our ability to feel the aliveness of others and question our own sense of power.
I know that when we cross a border, I mean for example a physical border made of barbed wire and cement, we are confronted by a physical person in-the-flesh asking for a physical piece of paper. And when we don’t have the right paper, or when we have no paper at all, we are literally and truly turned back. We are reminded of the “realness” of our limitations. It is tangible. We have to enter struggle to cross the border; we have to submit ourselves to the realm of the illegal, to the criminal. This, too, is a realm we might not have seen ourselves part of, another border to cross.
I imagine this to be similar when someone says, you a girl. You have a cunt. The cunt is a receptor. These borders feel very real and create real world consequences. But when we decide to cross the perceived borders of gender, we decide to enter the realm of the criminal, the deviant, the other. There is no going back from that. Once we are there, we realize the absurdity of criminalizing, of defining deviance, of Othering.
It is important to continue practicing sex and to go deeply into sexual play so that we continue to jog our language and our bodies into consciousness that undermines ideas of self and other. When we flip our language around and use our imaginations actively to understand our selves and others in new ways, we are able to see personal possibilities for transformation. This has far reaching implications.
As a body of humanity, the relative terribleness of violence is not important. What is important is that the body of humanity is experiencing violence.
We have the possibility to take that violence to task, but only if we believe it belongs to our body and should be eradicated from our body. How do we feel this body of humanity in both a visceral and a metaphysical way? We can only do this on a larger level if we challenge ourselves to see the world in new ways at localized places. Sex offers us this possibility.