Paul Preciado: Politics of desire beyond woman and man

With women’s day on the horizon and the international call for a global feminist strike to mark the 8th of March, we share a text in translation by Paul Preciado that pushes at the limits of feminist thought and practice.

If we are in solidarity with the strike call, we also believe that the strike must strive to move beyond the limits of a single day protest, of making demands upon capitalist States that are necessarily patriarchal (instead of striving for greater autonomous mutual aid and self-defense), of striking as feminists and then falling into the traps of gender affirming rights claims, of substituting law for desire.

Preciado’s work forces us to rethink the limits of feminism, carrying us towards a radically queer, anti-capitalist politics.

Letter from a trans man to the old sexual regime

Paul B. Preciado (Liberation 16/01/2018)

Ladies and gentlemen, and others

In the midst of the crossfire around policies of sexual harassment, I would like to speak as a smuggler between two worlds, that of “men” and that of “women” (these two worlds that might very well not exist but that some try to keep separate by a kind of gender Berlin wall), to give you news from the position of “found object” or rather “lost subject” during the crossing.

I do not speak here as a man who belongs to the ruling class, of those who are assigned the masculine gender at birth, and who have been educated as members of the governing class, of those to whom we concede the right or rather of those who demand (and this is an interesting key to analysis) that they exercise male sovereignty. I do not speak as a woman either, since I voluntarily and intentionally abandoned this form of political and social incarnation. I express myself here as a trans man. Also, I do not claim, in any way, to represent any collective whatsoever. I do not speak nor can I speak as a heterosexual, nor as a homosexual, although I know and live both positions, since when someone is trans, these categories become obsolete. I speak as a defector of gender, as a fugitive of sexuality, as a dissident (sometimes awkward, since lacking pre-established codes) of the regime of sexual difference. As an self-guinea-pig of the sexual politics who experiences, still yet to be thematised, life on either side of the wall and who, by dint of daily passing, begins to get fed up, gentlemen and ladies, of the recalcitrant rigidity of the codes and desires that the hetero-patriarchal regime imposes. Let me tell you, from the other side of the wall, that the thing is much worse than my experience as a lesbian woman had allowed me to imagine. Since I have begun to live as-if-I-was-a-man in the world of men (conscious of embodying a political fiction), I have been able to verify that the dominant class (male and heterosexual) will not abandon its privileges because we send out a lot of tweets or let go of a few screams. Since the upheavals of the sexual and anti-colonial revolution of the past century, heterosexual patriarchs have embarked on a counter-reform project – now joined by “female” voices who wish to continue to be “annoyed-disturbed”. It will be the Thousand Year War – the longest war, knowing that it affects the reproductive politics and processes through which a human body is constituted as a sovereign subject. In fact, it will be the most important of wars, because what is at stake is neither the territory nor the city, but the body, pleasure and life.

What characterizes the position of men in our technopatriarchal and heterocentric societies is that male sovereignty is defined by the legitimate use of techniques of violence (against women, against children, against non-white men, against animals, against the planet as a whole). We could say, in reading Weber with Butler, that masculinity is to society what the state is to the nation: the holder and the legitimate user of violence. This violence is expressed socially in the form of domination, economically in the form of privilege, sexually in the form of aggression and rape. By contrast, women’s sovereignty is linked to the ability of women to beget. Women are sexually and socially subjugated. Only mothers are sovereign. Within this regime, masculinity is defined necropolitically (by the right of men to give death), while femininity is defined biopolitically (by the obligation of women to give life). One could say of necropolitical heterosexuality that it is something like the utopia of the eroticization of the coupling between Robocop and Alien, thinking that with a little luck, one of the two will take foot …

Heterosexuality is not only, as Wittig demonstrates, a regime of government: it is also a politics of desire. The specificity of this regime is that it is embodied as a process of seduction and romantic dependence between “free” sexual agents. The positions of Robocop and Alien are not chosen individually, and are not conscious. Necropolitical heterosexuality is a practice of government that is not imposed by those who govern (men) on the governed (women), but rather an epistemology fixing the definitions and the respective positions of men and women by means of internal regulation. This practice of government does not take the form of a law, but an unwritten norm, a transaction of gestures and codes having the effect of establishing in the practice of sexuality a division between what can and what cannot be done. This form of sexual servitude is based on an aesthetic of seduction, a stylisation of desire and a historically constructed and codified domination eroticising the difference of power and perpetuating it. This policy of desire is what keeps the old “sex-gender” regime alive, despite all the legal processes of women’s democratisation and empowerment. This heterosexual necropolitical regime is as degrading and destructive as vassalage and slavery were in the Enlightenment.
The process of denouncing and visualizing the violence we are experiencing is part of a sexual revolution, which is as unstoppable as it is slow and winding. Queer feminism has situated the epistemological transformation as a condition for the possibility of social change. It was a matter of questioning the binary epistemology and the naturalization of genders by asserting that there is an irreducible multiplicity of sexes, genders and sexualities. We understand today that libidinal transformation is as important as epistemological transformation: desire must be modified. We must learn to desire sexual freedom.

For years, queer culture has been a laboratory for inventing new aesthetics of dissident sexuality, confronting the techniques of subjectivation and the desires of hegemonic necropolitical heterosexuality. Many of us have long since abandoned the aesthetics of Robocop-Alien sexuality. We learned from butch-fem and BDSM cultures, with Joan Nestle, Pat Califia and Gayle Rubin, with Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens, with Guillaume Dustan and Virginie Despentes, that sexuality is a political theater in which desire, and not anatomy, writes the script. It is possible, within the theatrical fiction of sexuality, to desire to lick the soles of shoes, to want to be penetrated by each orifice, or to drive the lover into a wood as if he were a sexual prey. However, two differential elements separate the queer aesthetic from that of the hetero-normativity-making of the old regime: the consent and non-naturalisation of sexual positions; the equivalence of bodies and the redistribution of power.

As a trans-man, I un-identify myself from the dominant masculinity and its necropolitical definition. What is most urgent is not to defend what we are (men or women) but to reject it, to be un-identified with the political coercion that forces us to desire the norm and to reproduce it. Our political praxis is to disobey the norms of gender and sexuality. I’ve been a lesbian for the better part of my life, then trans for the last five years, I’m as far removed from your aesthetics of heterosexuality as a Buddhist monk levitating in Lhasa is from the Carrefour supermarket. Your aesthetic of the old sexual regime does not make me cum. It does not excite me to “annoy” anyone. It does not interest me to get out of my sexual misery by putting my hand in a woman’s ass on public transport. I do not feel any kind of desire for sex-erotic kitsch that you propose: guys who take advantage of their position of power to have a shot and touch ass. The grotesque and murderous aesthetic of necropolitical heterosexuality disgusts me; an aesthetic that re-naturalises sexual differences and places men in the position of the aggressor and women in that of the victim (painfully grateful or happily bothered).

If it is possible to affirm that in queer and trans culture we are fucking better and more often, it is partly because we have extracted sexuality from the reproductive domain, and especially because we have freed ourselves from gender domination. I’m not saying that queer and trans-feminist culture escapes all forms of violence. There is no sexuality without shadows. But it is not necessary that the shadow (inequality and violence) predominates and determines all sexuality.

Representatives of the old sexual regime, make do with your shadow and have fun with it, and let us bury our dead. Enjoy your aesthetic of domination, but do not try to make your style a law. And let us fuck with our own politics of desire, without man and without woman, without a penis and without a vagina, without an ax and without a rifle.

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