Thursday, May 14, 2009

Three Drunk (Fat) Women Peeing in the Alley (or: On Abjection)

After completing the last lecture notes I will draft for this semester I counted out the last of the silvery coins left in my laundry money box and headed out to Jewel to buy dinner. It is amazing how heavy $1.55 is in nickels, and how conspicuous that many coins are in the back left pocket of a pair of jeans. As I bounded down the back steps I jingled. Thus my conviction: assassins never have exact change.

I was fumbling with my headphones, untangling them with all my attention--in the dark--as I opened the back door, when I was greeted by "Hey Boo!" I looked up and there were three women, totally wasted, and morbidly obese, lined up against the opposing wall, squatting. They were peeing. "You know, you gatta go when you gatta go," One of them said and I must have looked so mortified that another was compelled to add, "Don't worry, we're fag hags." But, still, I was stunned and didn't move which is when the third woman said, "He don't even know what that means." The absurdity of that statement snapped me back from my masochistic amazement--really, I was staring at them the way one would a piece of particularly gruesome roadkill--and I quickly made my way out of the alley.

This, I assume, is what Kristeva would call a confrontation with "the powers of horror." And, indeed, aren't all "fag hags" something akin to the abject? There is always an obvious defect with these women--typically they are fat--though sometimes the "defect" is less noticeable and operates on a psychical, rather than physical register. These are women who will never get the attention or affections of a beautiful, desired man--unless he is gay. That is, Madonna is never, outside the confines of bad Hollywood movies, a fag hag. They are mock girlfriends, and imagine their gay friend to be something on the order of a boyfriend--only that the lack of sex renders the relationship more akin to marriage... Which is to say, the relationship itself is defective, "abject."

In an essay on Kristeva's work on abjection, Elizabeth Grosz writes, "The abject is the symptom of the object's failure to fill the subject or to define and anchor the subject." Quite literally, though not exhaustively, all erotogenic zones take the form of the rim (eyes, mouth, anus, vagina, penis, ears) and "Abjection results when the object does not adequately fill the rim." To proceed I ignore that abjection is also operative on the level of the psychical, that the hole (the Real) constitutive of the Lacanian barred subject is also being evoked, and that ideology (in Zizek's sense) is ultimately a defense (which inevitably fails) against the abject precisely because it dissolves and "demonstrates the impossibility of clear-cut borders, lines of demarcation, divisions between the clean and the unclean, the proper and the improper, order and disorder." The crucial point I wish to highlight for the purposes of this reflection is simply this: the objects failure to "fill the hole" of the subject results in abjection, which evokes disgust.

The fag hag will never fill the gay boy's hole despite the intimate attentions she pours on him, the affectionate shared moments of commiseration, and the highly sexualized rituals of shopping and dancing. Indeed, the relationship is something on the order of parasitic, as the latest "posh" monicker for these women--"fruit fly"--suggests: that which feasts on rotting goods. And isn't the gay boy, insofar as he is engaged (even enthralled) by this relationship, rotting? Kristeva is quick to note that one of three classes of the abject is spoiled food--curdled milk, rotting produce, ect.

Though, I should be clear: it is always already impossible--on the terms of Lacanian psychoanalytic theory--to "fill the hole," that desire, precisely because it operates phantastically, will never be satisfied (jouissance, therefore, is the occasion of the emergence of language). Kristeva's novel contribution to psychoanalytic theory is to radicalize Freud's theses in "Totem and Taboo," arguing--as Grosz glosses it--"The subject must disavow part of itself in order to gain a stable self, and this form of refusal marks whatever identity it acquires as provisional, and open to breakdown and instability" and that what must also be recognized is that these refusals are constitutive "specters" (my term) "hovering at the border of the subject's identity" which are implicit in all social interactions.

This just seems to add another troubling dimension to the fag-hag/gay-boy relationship. For Lacan desire is (following Hegel) always desire for the desire of the Other. But it is also desire for what others desire (Lacan following Kojeve on Hegel). Thus, in hysteria ("Dora," Freud, 1905) the analytic task is to ask not "why does the analysand desire this object?" but, "With whom is she identifying such that she desires this object?" This latter dimension of Lacanian desire, borrowed from Hegel, highlights the implicit desire for "recognition" implicit in all desire--desiring what others desire implies competition (a moment of confrontation that catalyses the master/slave dialectic), but the fag hag moves onto the plane of competition knowing she will fail to win recognition of her (sexual) claim to the gay boy. Conversely the gay boy "wins" in the competition for recognition of his desire for the fag-hag, but it is a pyrrhic victory since he does not actually desire her. That is, what both _desire_ is failure, a variation on Nietzsche's slavish priest's ascetic ressentiment, which is the opposite of desire "fueled" by phantasy: it is precisely the phantasy that the other _will_, because hypothetically he _can_, fill the (w)hole of the subject that (paradoxically) the "healthy" relationship is sustained. In the fag-hag/gay-boy dialectic it is the abject qua disgust--the repeated experience of a failure to "fill the hole"--that is desired, and not the surplus enjoyment of orgasmic jouissance--"Cum!"

Of course, it occurs to me that these women--each in turn calling me "boo" and couching their deed in terms of the natural (as if to say, "Hey, what you people do is gross, too, but it's 'natural'"), self-identifying as fag-hags, and then mocking me for not knowing what that means--sought to _de_-sexualize me, to render the visibility of their naked bodies invisible by making me a fag who "wouldn't see" (or wouldn't be attracted to look); in identifying me as gay, these girls sought to castrate me. The final girl's scorn over my purported ignorance of the meaning of "fag-hag" was a bizarre second attempt to "castrate" me--though, were I actually heterosexual, this ignorance would have had the direct opposite effect: it would have secured my masculinity and, rather than castrate me, reaffirmed the status of my signifying Phallus.

Perhaps this is, after all, what ultimately fuels the fag-hag/gay-boy dialectic: a desire to castrate, and a desire to be castrated; to sexualize a castrated (and constantly re-castrated) gay boy who will not harm and does not threaten, and to de-sexualize the homoerotic phallus by submitting to the castration of a sexualized fag-hag who will not arouse desire; to seek revenge against not being "given the Phallus," and to seek this revenge for being unable or unwilling to "give the phallus." This last dynamic especially highlights the very nature of abjection in the relationship: always already within the very fabric of the dialectic is the retching/wrenching undoing of subjectivity itself: affection, intimacy, sexualize rituals are enacted and displayed precisely to incite this flagellation.

Recall that for Lacan sexual difference is ordered by the Symbolic Law of the Father wherein "woman" is constituted precisely in the interplay of having v. being the phallus; though the man "is" the phallus, the woman "has" the phallus insofar as she is the voice of his desire, i.e., insofar as she speaks back to him his position as the phallus. In denying the fag-hag the opportunity to "have" the phallus the gay-boy withholds recognition of her in the symbolic order. Her revenge, then, is against this withholding, which she incites--a projection of culpability onto the gay boy, rather than a recognition of poor object choice (which, ironically, is not "poor" because the fag-hag does not _want_ to have the phallus, but envisions no alternative: a testament to the violence of phallogocentric compulsory heteronormativity). For the gay-boy, the ambivalent position of his relationship to his own homosexuality enlists the constant exposure of that very desire: the boy elicits affection, intimacy and sexualize interaction with the fag-hag to _confirm_ the desire he does not wish to confirm. The castration he endures at the hands of his fag-hag, then, is "just punishment" for looking at what don't wish to see, but already knows is there.--In a sense, this is the same phenomenon as going to see a horror film: the inevitable castrating scream of terror is elicited not when the killer unexpectedly strikes, but exactly when we _know_ he will.

That is, the fag-hag is the _farthest_ thing from a friend to the gay boy. The economy of their dialectic is colored by a circulation of revenge, frustration, and self-punishment. Rather than enable the phantastic economy of surplus enjoyment (jouir!) the dialectic circles around its own abjected carcass. To this end, I applaud Charlie's nightclub for its "fag-hag tax" (it is an addition $10 for women to enter the club). And though this homo/sexual-social space clearly discriminates against women, I would contend that this is not an instance of misogyny, but rather an affirmation of the capacity of men to, collectively and with one another, risk the failure of desire, rather than flee from this risk by erecting a dynamic that is precisely this failure, but in "diet" form.

Enough... I've long ago eaten my "dinner" (a can of store-brand butter-toffee peanuts) and it is now abundantly clear that I won't be going to bed, even though I really, really wanted to (which is why I stayed up typing this). Tomorrow it's my birthday. :-) (Thanks Mom!)

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