Book Forum

João Florêncio's Bareback Porn, Porous Masculinities, Queer Futures: The Ethics of Becoming-Pig (New York: Routledge, 2022)

in Journal of Bodies, Sexualities, and Masculinities
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Frank G. Karioris
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Ricky Varghese
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John Thomas
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Claire Rasmussen
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Christien Garcia
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Liz Rosenfeld
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Oliver Davis
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João Florêncio
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The Journal of Bodies, Sexualities, and Masculinities is thrilled and honored to present this expansive and profound Book Forum on João Florêncio's Bareback Porn, Porous Masculinities, Queer Futures: The Ethics of Becoming-Pig (2022) as part of the celebration of the release of the paperback edition of the book. It is truly a joy and privilege to be able to be a part of this event and to be able to share these responses that are, each in their own way, far beyond any expectation, elucidating not only the measure and success of the book, but charting out—as all good engagements must—entire worlds that are yet to be created, yet to be explored or terraformed, worlds beyond the imagination that are being brought to life in the fogged-up mirror as one breathes out, in the slide of water between fingers on uneven ground.

The Journal of Bodies, Sexualities, and Masculinities is thrilled and honored to present this expansive and profound Book Forum on João Florêncio's Bareback Porn, Porous Masculinities, Queer Futures: The Ethics of Becoming-Pig (2022) as part of the celebration of the release of the paperback edition of the book. It is truly a joy and privilege to be able to be a part of this event and to be able to share these responses that are, each in their own way, far beyond any expectation, elucidating not only the measure and success of the book, but charting out—as all good engagements must—entire worlds that are yet to be created, yet to be explored or terraformed, worlds beyond the imagination that are being brought to life in the fogged-up mirror as one breathes out, in the slide of water between fingers on uneven ground.

As I noted in the Introduction to our last book forum (for the most marvelous Danish Sheikh's recent collection Love and Reparation: A Theatrical Response to the Section 377 Litigation in India [2021], which, if you haven't checked out that forum or book, you absolutely must immediately!), we envision these forums as spaces of creation, dialogic, or communion—in all of their senses. Each author shares of themselves onto, into, within, under, and, of course, behind and in front of the text. In this, following some of what João has drawn for us, the format itself seeks to inhabit the practice or selfhood of such. Then, fulfillingly and joyously, João provides a response to the responses—a yawp to the howls, a breath to the breathing.

We are excited to be able to have two such amazing forums in a row. Further to that, we are already working on bringing more of these to the journal as the forum—as entity and genre—represents some of the best of what this journal hopes writing can do. It brings people into conversation with one another, and asks for more than passive listening or rote writing or thinking. It asks that each of us—as a collective grouping involved in each step of the process—step up fully ready to be a part of coming together in new and unimagined ways.

The book, along with all of João's work expanding the purview of the book and even the remit of what “academic scholarship” should do, is a hammer blow upon concrete, putting nails into the pavement to see how far it can break apart what really only ever amounted to rocks recast as solid and unsoiled. In this respect, this Book Forum hopes to serve as both a joyous and warm invitation to those who have not had the opportunity to read João's book to do so and, maybe more importantly, an opportunity to hand each of us readers a box of nails to strike further into thinking, theory, and ourselves. I want to thank each of the authors and especially João for their foundation work and the labor they have put into this forum. We hope that each of you will enjoy these pieces as much as we have, and that this will continue—as noted in the previous forum Introduction—to push us toward the building of a world yet-to-be.

What's Your Pleasure?

(Not Just the Title of a Jessie Ware Album)

Ricky Varghese

Psychoanalysis and fucking are uncanny bedfellows. It's no surprise that psychoanalysts, in a general sense, and psychoanalytic types, in a still broader sense, are simultaneously both obsessed with and suspicious of sex. Was it not Jacques Lacan who notoriously made the now-famous statement “[There] is no such thing as a sexual relationship”? Was it not Leo Bersani, in his field-defining essay “Is the Rectum a Grave?” who suggested that “[there] is a big secret about sex: most people don't like it”? After all, isn't psychoanalysis, in its heart of hearts, a study of desire, in all its sexualized and eroticized permutations? To belabor this fixation on sex still further, was it not Adam Phillips, a long-time collaborator and co-conspirator of Bersani's, who suggested that “psychoanalysis is about what two people can say to each other if they agree not to have sex”? As someone who is myself psychoanalytically inclined, I share in my predecessors’ double bind regarding sex—a keen interest concerning its meaning in our lives, or rather the meanings we, each one of us, imbue it with, and a profound skepticism—or perhaps, following the Freudian line, better to say “ambivalence”—regarding what exactly it may mean, if anything at all, and where pleasure or desire resides in it, whatever your definition of pleasure or desire may be.

Setting aside psychoanalysis for a moment, like many aspiring queer theorists who came before me, I arrived at the study of sex (and sexuality) primarily as a way to conceive of a response to the history, memory, and present of the AIDS crisis. In a manner of speaking, this study of sex was informed by a pervasive need to make sense of the losses that many of us incurred as a result of the crisis and, still further, to make sense of how many of us continued to fuck in the face of, or in spite of or despite, these losses. Soon, I realized that that loss couldn't simply be the only way to understand the many sexual lives of same-sex male desire. There had to be other coordinates to thinking (and having) sex. Sex between men had to become a thought experiment unto itself and had to be imagined otherwise, beyond the rubric of loss while at the same time working hard not to disavow the socio-historic significance of this utterly formative experience with loss. In a landscape where at least in the Global North HIV has become less of the death sentence it once was—though, to be sure, the stigma attached to it still feels just as deadly and alienating as it always has—and in a historical moment that may considerably fall under the banner of being “post-PrEP,” it feels all the more prescient to think (about) sex differently.

The study of bareback sex, for instance, and the proliferation of its representation in the realm of pornography became one such avenue to think sex differently. Tim Dean, as many of us know, set the stage for this with his now-canonical 2009 book Unlimited Intimacy: Reflections on the Subculture of Barebacking. Published through Routledge just over a decade after Dean's seminal work, João Florêncio's powerful account Bareback Porn, Porous Masculinities, Queer Futures: The Ethics of Becoming-Pig extends this act of thinking differently. The publisher's own description of the book is rather telling of the book's portentous intentions: “This is the first book to reflect on an increasingly visible new form of sexualised gay masculinity, and the first monograph to move debates on condomless sex amongst gay men beyond discourses of HIV and/or AIDS.” Both Dean and Florêncio concern themselves with the scene, or rather the subcultural space, of bareback sex. Both have attempted, in their own unique way, to push the conversation of same-sex male desire beyond the impossible-to-ignore juggernaut of HIV/AIDS discourse. Florêncio, in particular, is interested in the figure of the “pig” and the nature of pig sex. In his book, he examines “the birth of the ‘pig’ in the early twenty-first century as a sexual script shaped and taken up by gay men who engage in what could be seen as ‘extreme’ kinds of sexual behaviour that often involve multiple penetrations and exchanges of bodily fluids.” In the figure of the pig, he finds a Benjaminian-like angel of history, an opportunity to redeem sex, a sex that has been weighed down both psychically and metonymically by a history of loss. He asks astutely: “[How] can gay pigs help us frame our understandings of contemporary subjectivity, produced as they are at the intersections of twenty-first-century media, sexual practices, biomedical technologies, community formations, affects, and experiences of identity and belonging?” An incredibly admirable question posed and task undertaken to delineate the powerful valences that pig sex can bring to conversations regarding subject formation, the ethical dimensions attached to sexual practices, and the overall attempt to redeem sex as something with a rigorous set of political values—mediated by complex historical contours—that can be ascribed to it.

This, however, is where my psychoanalytic suspicion creeps in, perhaps not so surreptitiously. Why redeem sex at all in an ethico-political sense? Why give it any value or imbue it with any meaning beyond the profoundly subjective and intimately personal? This is not to say that sex is not political, or historical, that it is without meaning, or that it should be without meaning, or that categories such as sexual violence should not be rigorously fought against and, those such as consent be even more rigorously upheld. Asked rhetorically, and to add to the rich conversation that Florêncio has so evocatively initiated here, I wonder out loud: “What is it about sex that makes us want to get political about it? Is it a trauma response—a response to the accretion and sedimentation of our collective and individual guilt attached to HIV/AIDS, the losses it forced us to contend with, the burning stigma of it all—that makes us want our sex to have revolutionary, earth-shattering ethical and liberatory potential? What, or where, truly is pleasure, or even desire, in this constellation of radical intentions? Is there room here for the ephemeral and the subtle?”

Take barebacking, for instance. The meanings we attribute to it have been endlessly fascinating to me. Born out of necessity, the word has historical and temporal power. I have long held on to the belief that sex—or, to be specific, gay sex—changed with the advent of the AIDS crisis. AIDS, as a traumatic historical marker in the seemingly linear progression of time (which, in reality, is neither truly linear nor all that much progressive), forced us to reimagine sex as we knew it. Bareback sex emerged as a gesture imbued with both value judgments and radical possibilities attached to it. The explosion in its representation in pornography in the late 1990s and early 2000s only added to its value, both among practitioners and naysayers alike. But one has to ask: hasn't bareback sex always existed as just “simply” sex? Sex without condoms has always existed, both before and after the emergence of the AIDS crisis. Bareback sex, as a category unto itself, gave something that had always already existed a new set of meanings, gave sex a paradigmatic shift in how we both experienced it for ourselves and viewed it in its visual representation. Bareback sex began to be variously understood as “real,” “raw,” “intimate,” and even as an “extreme” kind of sex, compared to its safer, more prophylactic, and perhaps somewhat more puritanical counterpart.

I am particularly taken by this word that I just mentioned above—the word “extreme.” I am taken by it because it also appears in the aforementioned explanation Florêncio gives to the “the birth of the ‘pig’ … as a sexual script shaped and taken up by gay men who engage in what could be seen as ‘extreme’ kinds of sexual behaviour.” Surely, the pig as a socio-historical and political figure can have a quantitative value attached to him (“multiple penetrations”) and, as well, a qualitative value attached to him (“exchanges of bodily fluid”). Psychoanalytically speaking, however, just as I asked above, is not what we refer to as bareback sex simply just sex that has always already existed? What precisely is the real (or the psychoanalytic Real) measure of this word “extreme”? How do we measure it? Is it an experience? A psychic state? Aren't experiences and psychic states incredibly subjective and intimately personal? Or, is the “extreme” here depersonalized and desubjectivized, voided of humanity and “simply” a descriptor for an event, a sexual event? Or, perhaps, the “extreme” here is something that can't actually be rendered into language so easily, can't so easily be either quantified or qualified despite every attempt on our part to do so. Perhaps, the pig is a subject that is all too human, made up of flesh, blood, and guts, made up of both stardust and shit. Perhaps, the pig can't be contained by the seeming excess that is denoted by the word “extreme.” Perhaps, he simultaneously both tries to exceed all our redemptive, political expectations of him and, at the same time, fails to exceed any of it at all. Perhaps, the pig is both the angel of history and, at the same time, not.

In closing my comments here, I want to recount a poem that Florêncio's book reminded me of. Penned by queer Jewish American writer Sam Sax, the poem titled “Pig Bttm Looking For When” goes like this:

the street is wealthy & well lit.
his apartment belongs to him—
the lawn's sprawling architecture
has its history. the trees, their history.
he was a man in my phone,
then a man above me, then a man
asleep. he looks different now
he's gone. unpressed. expressionless.
i bet he's dreaming uncomplicated
dreams. wonder what kind of money
buys this ease, to sleep with a stranger
in your home. or do i now
somehow seem known to him
having opened like the back
of a picture frame. having came
& stayed.
what drove me to drive here?
to seizure & breed?
to become again dis ease's bride
beside an unconscious man.
a dozen like apartments
the same memory foam mattress
this is the most tender i've felt
toward him. how easy
i could end him. that's enough
to let him sleep.

Sax is a wordsmith who is known for his commitment toward exploring questions of memory, history, and the ephemeral as it appears in everyday queer life. Why Florêncio's book reminded me of this poem is precisely because of this word “extreme” that I spent some time mulling over here. Perhaps the word “extreme” cannot be articulated except as a contradiction unto itself. Perhaps the pig, or the pig bottom in Sax's poem and in Florêncio's account, can only be felt or known as a contradiction, found as an ephemeron at the nexus of both pleasure and desire, and the impossibility to fully satisfy either.

Response

John Thomas

I think the reason I've been asked to write this response is because I am a pig. Since late 2018, this identity has been made visible through my work as a gay porn actor performing the role of “super pig bottom” (according to London's piggiest party promoter, Suzie Kruger). In this pig-identity context, I was introduced to João as a potential subject for his documentary film designed to complement his research and for this fantastic book, Bareback Sex, Porous Masculinities, Queer Futures: The Ethics of Becoming-Pig. But the pig identity is something I have wrestled with—from before I even knew what a pig was—and this ongoing questioning of my own identity means that my reading of and response to João's book is a very personal one.

Like João, I grew up in the shadow of the AIDS crisis, and when I came out to my mum in 2004 (aged 16), one of her first responses was to warn me about the dangers of HIV. Another of her responses was to take part in the No Outsiders sexuality equality education research project (she was a primary school head teacher). Her participation (as one of the few heterosexual teachers) led to her meeting a greater range of LGBTQ+ people and to her realization that not all gay men were effete, camp, and “friendly”—she told me about the “scary gays” she met, with visible tattoos and piercings, and shared her wish that I not become like them. This was my first inkling that there were different types of gays—and this idea of the “good” and “bad” was reinforced as I began to explore sex in the early part of the twenty-first century: condoms and monogamy were good; bareback and promiscuity were bad—and typically so was the behavior of the “bad” gays living with HIV, who were often also visibly distinguishable by their tattoos (including bio-hazard tattoos), piercings, and other signifiers I associated with HIV/AIDS from literature, such as a gaunt look. It felt like there were also different sexual practices between the two groups—exchanges of piss and cum as well as acts such as fisting or orgies, and the wearing of leather and rubber all felt like they belonged to the “bad” gays. HIV status felt like a barrier (both ways) to sex and to relationships. As an HIV-negative person, there were times I was not welcome at certain sexual events, and as much as I didn't want to contract HIV, it also felt inevitable, as I wrestled between these diametrically opposite gay identities—I wanted to be both and neither. I contracted HIV in 2010 when I was 22 years old. In some ways, it felt like a punishment for the sexual liberation I had been exploring in London as a student; however, it also felt like I had now been given the key to access this exclusive club, which offered sexual benefits alongside an irreversible price. In the context of porousness, this was one time when I really felt myself pass through some invisible, sexual-cultural membrane. This was pre-PrEP and U = U. At this time, to be a pig felt indistinguishable from having HIV. Bareback sex was fetishized because of its correlation to HIV transmission. For my straight female friends at this time, their primary concern in having bareback sex was pregnancy, for which there were alternative contraceptives to using condoms. For them, bareback sex (and I use the “gay” term deliberately) was not a fetish; it was just that the risk was minimized by alternative medical developments.

Now, post-PrEp and U = U, bareback sex for gay men no longer carries the same elicit fetishizing or risk of HIV transmission it once did. This is a good thing. However, I have struggled not to laugh when an (undetectable) HIV-positive top asked me to beg for his “poz load”—the thing that had once been fetishized was now fully neutered, and so only seemed ridiculous—like begging a man with a vasectomy to impregnate you, it only highlights his limitations. With advances in medicine, it would appear that it is becoming easier for more gay men to be able to “become pigs” through sexual practices that are now safer, whereas to me by making these practices safer they are ceasing to be “piggy.” There was nothing “piggy” about exchanging semen before the AIDS crisis.

Anecdotally, I would also say that other more extreme sexual and fetish activity is, during my sexual lifetime, becoming more mainstream, more visible, and less taboo. To be a pervert, or a “true pig,” one has to push further and further into taboo behaviors, which can include rejecting medical advancements relating to HIV. For me, it's harder to understand João's writing about biopolitics; however, I think he is current in the triangulation of modern medicine with porn and sexual behaviors in locating the ethics of be(com)ing a pig. I'll come back to this idea of true pig vs. sanitized pig below.

As a porn actor, living with HIV, performing my “piggieness” on camera, I am aware that I am not only selling a jerk-off fantasy, but also—in the absence of adequate sex and relationship education—being used as an education to other gay men. Until reading João's book, it hadn't occurred to me that my films were also serving an archival responsibility as well in documenting the shifting sexual habits of my community. João has a particular focus on Treasure Island Media—which, in the context of his research, I understand—however, I feel it is limiting, and his analysis of a polarizing studio at times feels uncomfortably beholden to the cult of personality that surrounds Paul Morris. Many TIM scenes and films titillated me, and encouraged my piggy fantasies (Marco Cruise was for a long time an aspirational role model to me, precisely because of the scene João describes). TIM was one of many studios that sold porn as a fantasy career to me; and whilst I love my job, things do look very different on the inside. Porn is a fantasy, and even pseudo-documentary style porn, such as TIM, is as artificial as the soft-focus scenes of Bel Ami. I would also argue that, far from being archives of the sex our community is having, they are instead providing the inspiration for the kind of sex we will attempt to have. Liam Cole, a former UK director for TIM, said in a 2013 interview:

I understand that it is very exciting to see an orgasm on screen, but in real life it's not that important. If you had amazing sex for six hours and then fell asleep at the end, it's not like you would go away thinking that was a failure or a disappointment. I wish that wasn't so important and I don't really like having people pull out to show that they're cumming.1

In my experience, whilst in real life pig sex might consider itself to be about the exchange of fluids, the exchange of semen (in particular) is infrequently something that happens. Erections and gallons of cum are far easier to achieve on camera, with a little sleight of hand, then they are in real life.

I think something that is also missing from João's research is the rise of amateur porn, from X-Tube to Onlyfans and beyond. Particularly in the fisting community, there is a rise in people recording their fisting exploits—showing off how wide, deep, prolapsed, etc. they can become—in short video clips that can then be shared freely or on paid-for fan sites. Having participated in the Such FFun podcast, I'm aware of the growing unease that fisting has now become an extreme sport, in which one has to constantly push limits, on camera, for validation. This has quite dramatically changed what fisting looks like in private as well as in its documented form: most studio-produced fisting movies from earlier this century now look very tame when you compare them to the amateur videos of a number of infamous fisting personalities (such as Putxoxoxo, PunchB0y, and HungerFF).

Self-produced videos, or content, have also exploded because of the coronavirus pandemic. It is also the pandemic that prevented me from being in João's film two years ago. Reading the book, I felt very strongly that so much has changed in the past two years, that in some ways Joao's analysis is now already firmly historical. Critical porn analysis now must surely have to include the plethora of content-makers using sites like Onlyfans—and potentially, arguably, offering a better archive of the “real” pig sex that is happening globally.

There've been frequent comparisons between the AIDS and COVID pandemics. For me, in terms of pig ethics, it is fascinating to see how pigs have responded, ethically or not, to the wider health crisis around them. I spent 2020 and 2021 in London, and for many gay men drug-fueled sex parties did not stop. If anything, furlough money, and with no other activities apart from staying indoors, made chemsex parties and chill outs become the perfect social activity, in which any sense of day or time dissipated. This also links to the idea of the “good” and the “bad” gay; however, at this point the pig is now extracted from this moral binary. Whilst pigs were historically seen to have no regard for public health in relation to HIV, it wasn't necessary to be a pig to have no regard for public health in relation to COVID. Indeed, social media became a frenzied place to judge one another, highlighted by accounts such as @GaysOverCovid. In reading João's book, I could find correlations between recent and historical events and behaviors.

This idea of hospitality then, and porosity, is what finally really excited me. In reading about HIV and porn, I felt both seen and at times deeply uncomfortable. Knowing, from my conversations with João about the film, that he was keen to counter negative attitudes toward chemsex (for example), I do feel like there's a tendency to brush off some of the problems that exist within pig sex culture and to ignore where these behaviors might come from. I know what hurt and trauma I have experienced in my own journey, and what further pain and trauma I have inflicted upon myself in pursuit of becoming a pig. Through my conversations and interactions with friends, I know I am not alone in this, and ultimately when I think of a pig, a true pig, my vision is not of a person who is necessarily happy, and certainly not of a person who is in good health. This vision of a pig—drawn from my experiences pre-PrEP, for example, is different from the sanitized pigs that exist, take their medications, maybe better express their limits, and are conscientious toward others. However, even in writing this I feel like I am just spiraling down a complex filing system looking for the correct label to put on someone—and I'm not into that.

I have wrestled with my own identity—am I a “good boy,” or am I a “pig”? Can I be both? But I now recognize this as an unhelpful and arbitrary moral binary (that I've inherited from a religious childhood). It is only very recently that I have reached the place of identity I am now: when João asked me to make the film in 2020, I was a pig. As I write this response to his book in 2021, I think I am post-pig. I am uninterested in labels. I am a person with a body, and I can do all kinds of things, limited not by society's expectations but by my body's limitations, which can shift, stretch, envelop, absorb, excrete, and shed until it eventually returns to the earth. I'm sure people might look at the sex I have and say “he's a pig,” but I don't think I am. I think instead that's a label used to help people itemize one another and put us in different boxes. Maybe, through being a pig, I have become porous enough to pass beyond that. I've also recently been fortunate enough to leave the United Kingdom with just a suitcase and the desire to pass across border after border (as many sex workers have done before me).

It's early days, but already, for all the fear of not having a home, I feel elated. It is also with privileges that I get to travel, to be an outsider who is welcomed to a new place, and to turn and look back at my old homeland: a hostile place, resolute in creating the hardest and most unkind borders possible. I know that, to many people, my sexuality, and my relationship to sex, is not normal. And I think for everyone who comes watching my videos, dozens more must be turned off or appalled. But in embracing what makes me different, and bringing that into the light, I enhance my empathy with people who are different from me. One of the positives I found in pig culture in my early days was the amount of liberal, academic types who were pigs. The correlation of opening your mind and opening your body seemed particularly strong. “To be gangfucked is … a practice of unconditional hospitality” (167). Maybe that's something of a jump, but if it takes becoming a pig to make the world a better place, then I just hope more and more people will come and wallow in the mud.

Men Are Such Pigs

Claire Rasmussen

When reading João Florêncio's Bareback Porn, Porous Masculinities, Queer Futures: The Ethics of Becoming-Pig, I recalled a fact I had learned while researching breeding practices in the industrial farming of pigs in North America: most commercial hogs will only ever have sex with humans, not with their fellow pigs. For safety and hygiene reasons, sows are impregnated utilizing artificial insemination, which requires the extraction of semen from the male pig that is then sold in batches online. Sows are inseminated by humans with donor semen. The animal husbandry enabling affordable, mass-produced hot dogs, sausages, and pork chops looks a lot like bestiality, though we might recoil from thinking of it in those terms (Rasmussen 2013). Understanding why we seek to exclude these specific practices from our common definition of “sex” requires us to clarify the distinction between human and nonhuman animals, why that distinction is so critical to the self-understanding of humans, and why the “pigs” in Florêncio's text desire to obviate it.

Historically and philosophically, the line between human and animal has often been entangled in practices of sex whether in the legal category of sodomy that once included both sex between men and sex between men and animals or in the ways that sex—as a messy, bodily experience—is often described in animalistic terms. Put crudely, sex often generates the lines that differentiate the categories: we can fuck humans but not eat them; we can eat animals but not fuck them. That is, we must follow these rules if we seek to retain our humanity (Brown and Rasmussen 2010; Fischel 2019; Rasmussen and Brown 2018). That humans are embodied subjects who eat, secrete, and excrete means that to be recognized as human and not animal requires continually policing the boundary between human and animal. Those subjects most defined by their embodiment have often been seen as closer to nonhuman animals or defined out of the category of human—or man—altogether. Scholars of race, sexuality, gender, colonialism, and disability have all examined the permeable boundary between human and nonhuman animals, often probing the ways that, as Judith Butler argues, “embodiment denotes a contested set of norms governing who will count as a viable subject within the sphere of politics” (2004: 28).

A pig's embodiment is often used as shorthand for corporeal excess, filth, corruption, and sexual degeneracy in ways that regularly manifest themselves in literary and political metaphors. “Men are such pigs” is a comparison meant to bring men down to the level of the animal because their sexual behavior is boorish (boarish?). The refusal of human exceptionalism embraced by gay “pigs” wallows in this boarishness, rejecting the terms of proper sexuality dictated by respectability and embodying a form of animacy (Chen 2012) drawing on the dynamic forces of life beyond the human.

Recent work on sexual politics has reflected on the domestication of queer politics including concerns about the appropriation by neoliberalism (Duggan 2002; Ferguson 2019; Puar 2018; Stewart 2020). More recently, spurred by the #MeToo movement, scholars have also expressed reservations about the emerging sexual politics that reinforces the carceral state and liberal individualism through narratives of consent and criminality (Angel 2021; Bracewell 2021; Cossman 2021; Fischel 2019; Srinivasan 2021). These concerns reflect the ways that “to achieve integration within forms of public discourse, excluded groups must appear to conform to the standards of ‘normal citizen’ by which they were excluded to begin with” and that often, in turn, exclude other groups (Clarke 2000: 9).

Here is where “pigs” may illuminate selfhood beyond liberal paradigms emphasizing autonomy, productivity, self-reliance, and entrepreneurship. Challenging the dominant model of humanity, the “pig” forces “us to reconceptualize the very male body that has served as the model for the liberal autonomous subject by framing the scope and limits of political agency” (67).

Toward this reconceptualization, I want to highlight three elements of Florêncio's argument that speak to the problem of the “normal human” and the ways his arguments intersect with strands of feminist, critical race, disability, trans, and posthuman theorizing. Hardly exhaustive of the themes of the text, I focus on the decentering of the human subject in the deployment of a pornographic method, the disruption of normative temporality, and in the poking of holes into dominant masculinity. Each of these, I suggest, provides a trough of resources for thinking about queer politics beyond liberalism.

Pornography as Ethnography

Making pornography not only the object of study but a potential source of ethical community is a challenge to conventional understandings of what constitutes a “proper object” for scholars. Queer scholarship has often found itself marginalized by arguments that sex is not a serious subject in an act of what Butler (1994) calls a “mundane sort of violence” that defines particular subjects out of narratives of history or knowing in ways that often render marginalized subjects illegible. This phenomenon is also noted among scholars of animal studies (and its intersection with queer studies) who find the study of animals (outside of the realm of the natural sciences) seen as “kids’ stuff” or as feminized because of an association with sentiment rather than reason. (Gruen and Probyn-Rapsy 2019; Oliver 2009; Rasmussen and Brown 2018) This scholarship looks to these marginalized subjects for counternarratives and forms of knowledge excluded from dominant discourses.

Florêncio references the substantial literature addressing pornography as an object of scholarly research that often, like the scholarship on animals, views pornographic text as “mirror or meat” (Halberstam 2020: 152), a reflection of social relations (such as gender or racial hierarchies), or a fleshy commercial product for consumption. However, to describe the subject of this manuscript as pornography is not meant to be simply a description of the object of analysis. Rather, the suggestion is that pornography as text involves a particularly embodied way of knowing outside of more conventional models of epistemology that locate truth in a distance between the knowing subject and the object of knowledge. Hil Malatino (2019) describes this as the “modern episteme” in which the

task of knowledge is one of conquest, acquisition, possession, and accumulation but these endeavors remain external to the constitution of the subject herself—they don't change her, they don't transform her, they are uncovering truths external to the subject. There is a deep and unhealable rift between being and knowing here, a decisively modern, Western dyadic formulation of epistemology and ontology. (Malatino 2019: 43)

Pornography as a genre—and as Florêncio deploys it in his argument—is a “text” that defies the distance between the knower and the known, transforming the viewer into a voyeur rather than the modernist flâneur, experiencing the text in an embodied fashion rather than as the disengaged observer. The text includes descriptions of films, interviews with producers, and online reviews from anonymous fans like BillyJizz, taking seriously the variety of interlocutors in and around the pornographic representations as generating significant meaning (31). He foregrounds the interactive qualities of the pornographic text in which he is transformed in the encounter and its retelling. Moving from the position of the disinterested scholar describing a scene into the embodied experience, from knowing to knowing in a more biblical sense:

I was deeply taken aback by the intensity and sublimity of what I was watching unable to say anything, incapable of articulating it in words. I certainly had never expected to react in such a way to a porn video, having a porn video convey such a sense of ineffability, of immensity, or a quasi-religious experience of transcendence, my body resonating with the “painful radiance” and “impossible bliss.” (127)

This pornographic method was reminiscent of Friedrich Nietzsche's ([1887] 1989) description of the proper engagement with his texts, drawing from another animal metaphor and bodily practice. He describes reading as rumination, the regurgitation of what we have partially consumed in order to further digest its contents, an art he believes “modern man” has forgotten ([1887] 1989: 23). Gilles Deleuze echoed this argument with the pithy “rumination and eternal return: two stomachs are not too many for thinking” (2006: 29), a way of thinking about the processes of knowledge as continued transformation not only of that which is digested but those who digest.

Temporal Irruption

Deleuze's invocation to think with our stomachs also references eternal return, Nietzsche's concept of an orientation to history that breaks with modernist narratives of progress that he believes are overly teleological, self-congratulatory, and conservative. So too has queer theory explored the ways queer life disrupts or irrupts conventional forms of temporality. These discussions have included debates about historicization and the ability to translate identity across time and space, discussions of narratives of progress as they are entangled in racialized conceptions of humanity as well as reproductive futurity and heteronormativity, and discussions of the teleology of the self that presumes a common and linear self across time and shared milestones such as childhood, work, marriage, and reproduction. Queer temporality disrupts these narratives of linearity and stability with new forms of kinship outside of heteronormative reproduction and with disruptions in the stability of the self through narratives of coming out or transition that require new relations to one's self and to others. On a collective level, many queer scholars have noted the disrupted temporality of the history of the queer community produced by HIV/AIDS, a collective trauma that introduced a new form of life (a viral pathogen) into the community in ways that profoundly shaped queer life.

Jacques Derrida (1988) describes a temporality of responsibility in the future anterior—what will have been—as a moment of responsibility in the presence of a future-yet-to-come that is neither determined by a teleological trajectory nor wholly indeterminate. He describes an ethical call generated by this experience of haunting: “The future can only be anticipated in the form of an absolute danger. It is that which breaks absolutely with constituted normality and can only be proclaimed, presented, as a sort of monstrosity” (1998: 6). Derrida describes a temporal simultaneity in which future possibilities exist in the continued deferral of arrival but in which we reach to anticipate a future we can see but not fully control, a burden that is simultaneously hopeful and horrifying.

This temporality emerges in Florêncio's excavation of pig masculinities in the past. Examining “pigs” in an archive of queer media, he explores the language of masculinity and sex circulating through these texts in and around the AIDS epidemic. Through personal ads evoking the imagery of pigs, he generates a queer textual community, a sty across spatial and temporal distance. Early ads, reaching out for connection without knowing the eventual viral load that awaits them, or the melancholic regrets of Tom of Finland read quite differently knowing what will have been, the monstrous danger that lies ahead. And yet Florêncio excavates a queer future in the contemporary pigs that reference but do not replicate the macho pre-AIDS masculinity: “‘pig’ has today become a form of self-identification, that is taken up by gay men who like to ‘wallow in filth’ as it were … opening themselves to exchanges of all kinds of bodily fluids whilst no longer having to be haunted either by the spectre of HIV and AIDS or by fear of emasculation through penetration” (50). Within heteronormative time, the family is an “object of duration” that guarantees continuity across time through the passage of property and blood (Dahl 2014: 152). Here, the community is linked through practices productive of the self and community, giving one's self over to the other(s) in the circulation of filth and fluids. Elizabeth Freeman (2019) calls this “queer hypersociality,” a positioning of bodies against normalization in ways that create new social milieus.

Men Are Pigs

The focus on the masculinity of pig practices warrants a final note of queer affinity as an alternative to liberal versions of subjectivity, precisely because, as Florêncio notes, modern subjectivity, especially in its liberal and neoliberal manifestations, has tended to center “an idealized male body that—in being autonomous, is able to reason, and be hermetically closed to its outside … [is] a model for the body politic of the modern nation-state” (18). Other subjectivities are marginalized because of their proximity to embodiment; they are seen as lacking autonomy because they are yoked to their bodies as things and understood as more wild, less civilized, less rational, and more animal (Halberstam 2020). The impenetrable masculine ideal posits a subject who is ready to govern (with) others because he governs himself at the level of the body, a capacity denied to those seen as slaves to their natural urges or their bodily needs and thus appropriately subject to others.

Critiques of contemporary queer politics often focus on the normalizing tendencies within LGBTQ+ organizing. In seeking the benefits of the liberal states, queer politics configured as gay rights has emphasized a privatized or depoliticized subject and the “imperative to be ‘proper’ in the eyes of the state; to reproduce, to find proper employment, to reorient one's different body into the flow of the nationalized aspiration for possessions, property, and wealth” (Aizura 2006: 295; see also Ferguson 2019). Florêncio utilizes Pete Buttigieg—the US Secretary of Transportation and former candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination—and his self-narrativization in his aptly titled memoir Becoming Whole as an example of this desire to yoke gay identity to a liberal model of self in which the autonomous or whole subject can “reproduce liberal norms of being through the investment in the self as coherent” (Puar 2019: 49). He proves his body is properly domesticated by becoming a productive, entrepreneurial subject—including the masculine practices of citizenship of military service and finance capital speculation—and by showing his desire to create a “normal” family unit through marriage and fatherhood. That he is gay is a part of his identity he confines to the private sphere as he emerges as an idealized citizen.

Yet sexuality has always been a source of trouble for the autonomous subject, since “sex can induce anxiety and defensiveness precisely because it is a realm in which we risk intense pleasure … sex, and desire, compromise our sense of sovereignty, of knowing ourselves, of being in control” (Angel 2021: 102). The defensive masculine subject is threatened both by his own bodily desires and the others he desires. This may lead to a reassertion of impenetrability to restore that former wholeness or a rationalization of sexual desire by channeling it into socially (re)productive outlets of the heteronormative family and property relations.

The pig bottom, embracing his penetrability and ingestion of the other, redefines “what it means to be and to fuck like a man” (84), and in doing so rejects being human for becoming pig. This sense of self is not rooted in “atomistic selfhood and radial self-possession” (Malatino 2019: 35) but is located in an engagement with others and an ongoing process of self-making. Masculinity is not a source of stability and order, rather “being a pig is something one does, as the enactment of the subject's own sexual subjectivity—a work in progress through the pushing or even undoing of boundaries, a commitment to radically opening up one's body to the bodies and bodily fluids of known and unknown others. Being a ‘pig’ is always a becoming pig” (30). The process of gendering described here echoes work in trans theory exploring the ways transphobic (and queerphobic) discourses reflect anxiety about the instability of self that results from challenges to the gender/sex system because “a conception of gender as a stable, relatively static, durable, dimorphic phenomenon … provides the fundamental scaffolding of selfhood: gender as being” (Malatino 2019: 192). If subjects themselves are continually (re)constituted through their engagements with others, any social order contingent on the stability of these identities is itself subject to transformation.

The inherent instability of the more-than-human pig subjectivity gestures toward the possibility of a “democratically hedonistic culture” (Fischel 2019: 30) beyond the horizon of modern subjectivity. Liberal norms have “enacted the idea of the universality of Man while also using that category as measure for the exclusion of all beyond the universe of white propertied manhood … the ‘we’ of the people, the possessed individual, the subjects before the law, and so on” (Stanley 2020: 116), a form of membership that has always necessitated a constitutive outside to define itself. If the pigsty offers an alternative model of community premised in different ways of knowing and being, it may find points of solidarity with other marginalized subjectivities expelled by the body politic. Some of these alliances are mentioned explicitly—such as thinking about the flow of migrants and the boundaries of the nation-state, or the unevenness of the distribution of pharmaceuticals like retrovirals and PrEP as a manifestation of global flows of power. Other alliances may yet be possible. For example, scholars of disability share a common resistance to the model of the “wholeness” of the body. Feminist scholars seeking a sexual politics that avoids the pitfalls of carceral state solutions to redress sexual injustice may consider ways to promote a more porous alternative of masculinity that displaces the idealized and imperial white male subject. In the face of an alliance between conservative critics of “gender ideology” and “gender critical” feminists that seek to ground social order in “the reality of biological sex” as a fixed identity, queer, feminist, and trans activists may find an alliance in “becoming pig” as an alternative way to conceptualize embodied gendered selfhood beyond biological determinism. Florêncio's text offers a delightful and filthy invitation, drawing from Deleuze's “productive power of the conjunctive force” (130) to be pig and man and something yet to come.

References

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  • Angel, Katherine. 2021. Tomorrow Sex Will Be Good Again: Women and Desire in the Age of Consent. London: Verso Books.

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Prurient Frames

Christien Garcia

It is a pleasurable experience for those who are concerned, to surrender themselves so unreservedly to their passions and thus to become merged in the group and to lose the sense of the limits of their individuality.

Sigmund Freud (2001: 84)

In Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, Freud (2001) observes with fascination that individuals will do things as part of a group that they would never permit themselves to do alone. In the army or church (Freud's examples), the condition of this surrender is that the group must represent something greater than any one member—a heroic leader or an ideal for which the individual will shed the normal binds of their individuality. In conceptualizing the contemporary male sex “pig,” João Florêncio's Bareback Porn, Porous Masculinities, Queer Futures: The Ethics of Becoming-Pig asks what happens when the pleasurable byproduct of this surrender itself becomes the ideal to which a group aspires. Can the pleasure of abandonment be both the basis of life-affirming collectivity and the ideal by which one loses themself entirely?

Pig, Florêncio writes, “presents us with a new kind of gay masculinity, one that is grounded on what could be seen as ‘extreme’ or ‘uncivilised’ sexual behaviours” (7). These typically involve multiple penetrations, any number of partners, and the exchange of bodily fluids including, but not limited to, ejaculate, urine, spit, and sweat. But while pig masculinity constitutes a set of specific behaviors, for Florêncio it is more so a “script” that gay men can take up and perform, often in surprising ways. The volume's favored lens is Michel Foucault's critical paradigm of disciplinary power whereby bodies are construed inward and outward through the ritualization of discursive meaning. The account Florêncio provides of pig sex is not simply a utopian equation where the dirtier you are the freer you are. He understands that breaking from the norm, whether in heroic proclamation or shy confession, is itself what captures the body in the “contemporary molecularisation of biopolitical control” that defines power under neoliberalism (17). In the context of the sexual culture that this book examines, these atomizing logics are primarily biomedical, technological, and what we might call “pornological”1 in nature. Florêncio presents the sexual imago of pig as an invention (to invoke Foucault) of the revolutionary antiretroviral HIV therapies of the mid-1990s and the culture of hook-up apps and niche porn outlets made possible by the advent of the internet. This “vertiginous collision” (7) of new opportunities for sexual subversion, on the one hand, and new apparatuses for the virtual and medical regimentation of bodies, on the other, is the analytical mud Florêncio uses to wrestle with the pigs.

One of the ways Florêncio keeps “the future-orientated and life-affirming dimensions of ‘pig’” (15) and their biopolitical determinates in productive tension is by repeatedly evoking pig as a frame for thinking through broader constellations of subjectivity. The editorial abstract in the book's front matter states that “this is the first book to reflect on an increasingly visible new form of sexualised gay masculinity.” (Doesn't the history [and scholarship] of “pig” sex go much further back than the twentieth century even if the popularization of the porcine moniker doesn't?) But while the study stakes claims on the grounds of academic firstmanship, on the whole the author approaches pigs less as a new form of gendered sexuality to be mapped than as a vector of what Judith Butler calls “the historical sedimentation of sexuality … maintained within the field of bodies” (2003: 66). Pigs “help us frame” (14), “think through” (19), and “beyond” (153) neoliberal and libidinal formations of modern subjectivity, place, and belonging. The pig script is as much method as topic. In this way, the author largely avoids the instrumentalizing approaches of some of the more recent (“post-Bersani” and “post-Unlimited Intimacy”) academic writing that presents various queer sex acts and cultures as tools for bypassing neoliberal constraints. Such writing tends to rely upon a boundary between the kinds of sex that do and do not disrupt normative structures of power, thus inadvertently erecting a normalizing metric of “good” queerness all its own. Florêncio, by contrast, wants to understand pig culture in and through such, especially gendered, structures of power. This thinking with, rather than purely about, pig fosters a generative method for framing and examining the “intersection of twenty-first-century media, sexual practices, biomedical technologies, community formations, affects, and experiences of identity and belonging” (14).

Another way Florêncio gives life to this conceptual tension between power and possibility is by repeatedly placing himself in front of the prurient pig gaze. In his preface, for example, Florêncio writes about the risk, not sexual but academic, of being interested in pig sex. He expresses his reasonable concerns about the impact that the topic of the book may have on his career and his relationships with colleagues and students. Whether explicitly or not, here Florêncio draws a parallel between his subject matter and the messy, even piggish, desires of being an academic in this age of the university as a clusterfuck of class privilege, precarity, exploitation, and commodification. In other words, he frames sex, be it pig or otherwise, in parallel with the lust for professional validity that conditions so much work in the university today. Excessive interest in any topic will always take on sexual connotations, and the fact that academia sublimates this excess into capitalistic knowledge “production” only partially masks what is, to many, the inconvenient associations of scholarly and libidinal satisfaction. The fact that Florêncio's topic just happens to be porn implicates the reader in these associations in interesting ways.

A more concrete example of the way the book frames itself alongside its object comes with the infectious affect with which Florêncio deals with his largely pornographic archive. While Florêncio provides a convincing account of the emergence of porn as “a legitimate object of cultural analysis and criticism” (15), it is also clear that the analytical drive of the research has something to do with the pleasure of it being not quite legitimate. This is the same queer pleasure we can sense in the preface when Florêncio describes writing an academic monograph on a decidedly unacademic topic. In this sense a cheeky infiltration of the scholarly mainstream, Bareback Porn, Porous Masculinities, Queer Futures casts the academy in the same “heroic penetrability” (17) that defines the pig ethos. “I never expected Real Pump N Dumps of New York City to become the madeleine to my Proust” (6), Florêncio writes in the introduction, the former text being a porn film and one of his formative case studies. Taking Proust as the epitome of what is both canonical and lascivious, the author sits on both sides of his pornological method: his wish is to both legitimize porn and to pornographize scholarship.

Thus, while antiretroviral drugs and the intersection of pornography and the internet constitute the most explicit biopolitical context of this study, it is perhaps necessary to add academia generally, and the academic monograph specifically, to this list of “centripetal technologies” (7). As scholarly studies of bareback sex, chemsex, pig sex, and so on continue to multiply, they don't just describe new tributaries of sexual life, they also expand the availability of sex as a means by which institutions define individuality and difference—hence the editorial framing of “the first study” of this or that subsection of queer desire. Such work has the arduous yet crucial task of countering what has been described as the increasingly sex-phobic queer identity politics permeating the university and beyond (Davis and Dean 2022). Nonetheless, complex questions arise. Does giving dissident desires academic visibility invariably imbue them with the pedagogical centricity of taxonomic meaning? And if pig culture is based, at least in part, on the surrender of the normal limits of individuality and the sexual dictates of respectability, how do we understand its circulation within the neoliberal university, which after all is fundamentally individualistic in the way it allocates prestige and resources? All this is to say, weird things happen when we approach dissident sex with the desire to legitimize its place within scholarly discourse, which is why books like this, which are aware of this uncanny collision, are increasingly important. No doubt, as the array of dissident categories and studies grow, those sexual scripts will be garbled by bodies in yet unforeseen ways.

Note

1

A term referring to the ways in which the apparatuses of pornography produce rather than merely represent the limits of the body, porn as academic method.

References

  • Butler, Judith. 2003. “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory.” In Feminist Theory Reader: Local and Global Perspectives, ed. Kim Seung-Kyung and Carole R. McCann, 6171. London: Routledge.

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  • Davis, Oliver, and Tim Dean. 2022. Hatred of Sex. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

  • Freud, Sigmund. 2001. Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 19: The Ego and The ID & Other Works, London: Vintage Classics.

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Fat Leaky Holes and PrEP Desires

Corporeal Realities of an ENBY Faggot

Liz Rosenfeld

The year 2021 was a big year for this body, specifically, my body. While finally getting the nerve to come out to a doctor about how I had been self-administering small doses of community-procured hormones for several years, I officially was “coined” a transsexual by my health insurance, and now have my tri-monthly testosterone shots paid for. Coming from a broken health-care system in the United States (to say the least) to a country like Germany, where (from an American perspective) if you can afford to pay a yearly small fortune, you receive what appears to be top-notch health care, never would I have imagined that health insurance would cover services like acupuncture and, if you can finagle it, psychotherapy, let alone HRT (hormone replacement therapy). I haven't lived in the United States for quite a long time, so I can't personally say what it is like to live as a trans person in need of medical support, but I know from friends, media, and the reality of access and politics there that it sucks. However, I think a lot about my pre-Berlin queer health-care days of rocking up to the free clinic, waiting my turn to be called into that ubiquitously well-known small room (they all look the same) to be questioned about my sexual history, and proceeding to get my HIV test. Exchanging knowing looks in the waiting room, I was edging the lines between care, cruising, and the unknown. This memory, already edging the line of how nostalgia becomes a double-edged sword, is a memory that feels warm and comfy, like a weighted blanket, while also morphing into a weapon, a pinkwashing of what a “post-AIDS” era is supposed to be but never actually was or is. Even though, back when I went to free clinics in the United States, I didn't have the language to explicitly articulate myself as a nonbinary trans fag, I always felt so seen, or, rather, the process of being asked about how I had sex and who I had sex with made me feel like someone validated me beyond what most people assumed I was at various points in my sexual life: a high femme lesbian, an andro butch, a dyke who fucked lesbians, or a slutty fat girl, an obese body with no prospects to get laid. Pre-blood draw, sitting in that questioning room always felt like a rite of passage for me. I could say that I fucked homosexual men, lesbians, dykes, fags, and trans people. I would proudly list the people I had fucked in the last months, remembering the darkrooms and cruising spaces I passed in as a (then) cisgendered-read female.

The bears I had jerked off in cruising bars, they were the ones who never questioned my gender legitimacy, because they saw a mirror of themselves in me. They saw fat. They saw flesh. They saw abundance. And that was enough. That one time, there was that twink who I blew on my knees in the back of The Cock, an infamous gay bar in New York City, which is exactly the kind of local neighborhood dive bar you see on “gay tv.” It was a packed night, so packed that I could barely feel my feet on the floor; it was as if I was floating. (Well, I sort of blew that twink. I sucked the tip before his hands cupped my tits and, in a 5:00 am panic, pushed me off of him and called me a liar. “How could you?” he said in disdain. For real. He said that.) And there was this very cute trans boy who I picked up on the street corner while I was smoking a joint outside the Cubby Hole, a West Village local dyke bar, an institution. I think we made out, and then later that night we ran into each other in the bathroom at Catty Shack, which was at the time where the queers went late at night to dance in Brooklyn. I sat on the toilet while he rode my face and came in my mouth. Even the super-hetero sweater-set sorority girls, they all saw something in me, a secret: a way to be brought into the fold, topped by a real queer, without having to be public about it. I was super-hot for them because they reminded me of the mean girls in middle school, the ones who used to hold me down in the bathroom and pee on my face while they called me “pig.” They counted too. Listing all the times I had had safe sex and unsafe sex, I could be out about and proud of being a slutty queer, even though the person questioning me had to stay professionally neutral.

I should also add, this was at the end of the 1990s / beginning of the early 2000s and I was living in New York City and Chicago, two major cities with vast queer scenes, sexual health education programs, and access. And to be clear, I always had access. Not just because I lived in these cities, but because I was a white, middle-class code-switcher, who might have found themselves in some scary moments while trying to “pass” as a fag in predominantly cis-male cruising spots, but who ultimately always found a way out. I found a way out either with the friend who went cruising with me as my cis-male beard, or I just made a run for it. “I found a way out” when I was “found out.” Often, I was heckled out by men implying that there was nothing for me to experience in a darkroom. And sometimes, I was shamed out, because it was as though the presence of a pussy suddenly turned what was designated as just “male space” into “homosexual male space.”

The known presence of a non-cis male body suddenly renamed and took power away from an otherwise anonymous preference-free exclusive male territory. This is not to disregard the realities of people who are not out as queer in their everyday lives, and how cruising space is often the only space where one can feel anonymous and safe to engage as they need to. However, my point is, I always got out, and I rarely felt in danger. And even though I was cruising to inform myself about my own gender journey and deeper understanding of my queer desire, I also look back to my early cruising years and think about questions of how my privileged code-switching was actually enabling me to even feel safe enough to try, and I look back now at those first years I started to engage with assumed all cis-male cruising areas and wonder whether I was actually working against the dismantling of coded space, or whether my attempts and rare experiences of “passing” were re-enforcing the system of socially enforced patriarchal cruising.

I have lived in Berlin for almost 14 years. I can only speak the bare minimum of pragmatic German, and the same day I officially told my doctor that I had been obtaining testogel from my friends and guessing my daily dosages based on blog posts written by trans-masculine people, I also received my first HIV test in Berlin without being questioned as to why I think I needed it. The first time I tried to get tested in Berlin was in 2009. We had simultaneously fisted each other hard and deep, and squirted all the fluids. I didn't even realize until my date left that we had been rolling around in a mix of blood and cum, spit and piss. It was hot. We had fucked raw. As a queer who came of age in the “ safe sex generation” but, like so many people I know, rarely practiced safe sex, I called my date the next morning to inform them that in the heat of the moment we seem to have overlooked that one of us, or both of us, or some of us, parts of me, segments of them, matter from me, that all our holes, they just seemingly exploded as if they were one hole, and I couldn't tell whether it was just them or just me, but probably both of us had mixed our cosmologies. I just wanted to share the unremarkable information that I was going to go and get tested and that I would let them know the outcome if they wanted. No big deal. My primary partner at the time, a cubby trans man, said that he went to the gay clinic in the gay neighborhood, and hadn't had a problem getting tested. It never occurred to me that I would have a problem either. My friends who were sex workers told me that I should lie and say I am one too, because sex workers are always granted HIV tests no questions asked, as they are considered a risk group in Germany. But suddenly, there I was, desperately attempting to communicate in my nonexistent German with a middle-age cis-German gay man about why I needed an HIV test. He couldn't understand. When I told him that I had engaged in the kind of sex I had, he replied: “But with a woman, right? With a vagina?” as he pointed at my crotch. I didn't even respond. “I go to darkrooms you know,” I said. “Like swingers clubs you mean,” he replied. “No, like I fool around with homosexuals, like you. Gay men. Like you. I fuck all the genders.” He didn't believe me and sent me away. Upon the advice of my friends, the next day I went to a general practitioner, specific identity markers unknown, and I lied and said I was a sex worker.

On the same day, I was legally prescribed hormones by my doctor. I was also asked whether I had considered taking PrEP and if I had any questions about it. Other than a casual conversation at brunch with a queer cis-fag friend of mine, I had never been asked this question before, especially not by a doctor. It never occurred to me that I could. Again, I felt similarly seen like 2008, when I had taken my last HIV test at the free queer health clinic in New York City before moving to Berlin. It was the same feeling: a flash of euphoric hyper-visibility and, simultaneously, feelings of shame. At the age of 42, why am I still in need of a sense of self-assurance as a result of what felt like a kind of queer validation from a cis-gay man? Why did it make me feel so good? It was as though the proposition of PrEP brought me into another fold, a sanctum of faggdom that I hadn't earned entry into yet. It was a weird fucked-up rite of passage feeling, like the way my bat mitzvah was supposed to make me feel, but did the opposite. Again, it was another feeling of acceleration coupled with shame. Here I am again, falling for a construct, getting lured into a packaged deal, and I am not referring to PrEP the drug itself; I am referring to the fact that even the most privileged of the “oppressed” love to be absorbed by capitalism, and specifically I am referring to myself.

In my mid-20s, when I was exploring all the erotic identifications of pig, after being turned away from the door with my friend who was attending a fetish night for gay male-identified pigs, I came across the gainer/feeder community, and became fascinated by the multifaceted erotic identification that being a pig could inhabit. In this specific space, pig equaled someone who wanted to get as fat and incapacitated as possible, specifically, in this case, cis-women as the submissive bodies to cis-men who were the dominant ones. Being a large queer person, I am always searching for different experiences where my body can be informed by various states of transition. I often explain that I have always been a nonbinary body, beyond a specific gender, as I have never fit inside standards that were set for me, literally and metaphorically, forever in a state of maturing in an unreadable body. Getting extremely large to the point of not being able to move was not hot to me personally, but somehow trying to pass in an online community of gainers and feeders, also known as pigs/owners, was exciting to me: role-playing, exploring, jumping into another identity that I could gain a new insight into. Again, as I look back, in the most privileged form, it was the passing that was interesting. But, when I finally divulged my actual size, I was told I didn't meet the requirements to even be considered as a pig: I was too small. And the idea of me being “pig”-adjacent or an ally was just not an option. And I was asked to sign out of the group.

As a result of gaining official access to hormones, I was not only offered PrEP for the first time, I also found out that I was in the early stages of a chronic illness, one, if managed, I can live a long life with. It had been three months since I had been on HRT, and I went in for my first blood tests. That's how I found out, and frankly it's the only reason why I think I would have found out, and that's because I have access.

I am forever obsessed with the conflicting nature of desire, especially queer desire, and the way in which queerness places an unfathomable expectation on the power of desire to transform … everything. It does and it can, and it also really doesn't and it can't at all. Desire plugs up all the holes just as fast as it can encourage them to expand—like flashes, like shadows, like clouds, like an ink stain, like slime, like colors bleeding out. On its best day, I imagine queerness as a paradox, like a swirling anus that grows uncontrollably, bursting the seams, like an overflowing science experiment that you just can't control, producing material that moves so fast we can't catch it long enough to know what it is; hopefully, it just keeps on moving.

Review Essay

Oliver Davis

João Florêncio's captivating and profoundly generous book brings its author's highly developed theoretical and aesthetic sensibility to bear on piggy sex, a cluster of sexual practices, self-understandings, and representations defined fairly openly but in opposition to vanilla homonorms, including bareback, fisting, play with piss, cum, and occasionally shit and various forms of body modification, all invariably fueled by a cocktail of “recreational” drugs including G (GHB or GBL), mephedrone, and crystal methamphetamine, smoked or injected, as well as the pornography—professional and amateur—which represents and stimulates this edgier form of contemporary gay masculinity.

The field of inquiry thus overlaps to some extent with other recent research into chemsex and pharmacosexuality, even though discussion of illegal (recreational) as opposed to prescription (antiretroviral) drugs is limited in this book. This in turn enables quite an abstract acknowledgment of some of the harms also involved in these subcultures: “There is always a risk that practices of radical openness such as the ones sustaining gay ‘pig’ subjectivities may be taken too far to the point of radical self-annihilation” (19), which I take to be a euphemism for death, among other outcomes. A critic might counter that the principal concrete example of someone going “too far” in this book is an incivility, the brutal rebuff delivered at a Berlin bar by a handsome hunk facing unwanted attention from a less toned and trashed admirer, who is in turn chastised by an upstanding friend of the author, an anecdote intended to show that pig masculinity abhors body fascism (135). For sure, I would not have wanted to read yet another anxiogenic diatribe on the dangers of chemsex, and, up to a point, I applaud the decision to want to offer an analysis that does not revolve around risk and harm but rather around pleasure and possibility, since such an analysis would be a corrective to the prevailing way in which such topics are addressed. While Florêncio has written eloquently about the use of drugs for sex elsewhere (Florêncio 2021), I felt that the sidelining of so prominent a facet of pig-sex cultures in this particular book—after all, lives and livelihoods are also lost this way—is in keeping with the desire to offer a very optimistic appraisal of their wider ethical and political value, more optimistic than may perhaps ultimately be warranted.

Implicated both professionally and personally in the pig subcultures he analyzes, as many of us who have written around these areas are to some extent, Florêncio begins by candidly sharing his fear that his book may be “too personal” (x), which I took to express both a worry that hostile readers might use its more salacious revelations against him in a professional context and, more substantially, a concern that confessional self-revelation entraps us by fixing us to the self it creates, as Michel Foucault maintained. Neither worry seems unjustified: sinister reputation-managers at the neoliberal university of today can be assumed to be especially vigilant for admissions of criminal culpability, even though, in the case of prohibitionist drug regulation, most relevant here, academic research has convincingly demonstrated that such law does a lot more social harm than good. Probably the award of an AHRC Leadership Fellowship to fund the project (xi) will have calmed fears—no doubt, the secretive institutional calculations of risk and benefit in such scenarios would make a fascinating focus of critical research in themselves. The more intellectually interesting danger, which Foucault spotted, of being trapped in and policed by identity, is countered by Florêncio for pigs in their generality by appealing to the Deleuzian concept of becoming (le devenir), as indeed Foucault did when he rejected gay identity in favor of gay becoming in a famous 1984 interview: “We have to create a gay life. To become” (Foucault and Lotringer 1989: 382).

Despite sharing principled Foucauldian concerns about personalization, I found myself gravitating toward the more personal dimensions of the account, less for prurient reasons and more because, amid the astute readings of peak pornographic scenes and the tumult of high theory, I wanted some sense of how the masculinities being analyzed might coalesce into incorporated form as lives more or less livable. After the prefatory matter, the most personal of the book's chapters is the fourth, which recounts the author's encounter with pioneering bareback porn producer Paul Morris, as well as some of his own escapades in Berlin. In both cases, I was struck by the juxtaposition of contrasting cultural levels: the fisting scene that Morris briefly sets to Schubert and the evening in the Berlin club with a group of friends, in which dancing, conversation, drugs, and the occasional trip to the darkroom are intermingled. In each, there is contrast: between a quintessential expression of high musical culture and minoritarian pornographic visual representation, between depersonalizing piggy sex in the darkroom and the civilizing conviviality of friends on the floor above. In alternating desublimation with sublimation, as Proust's narrator does while visiting Venice, in such juxtapositions and in the elation that comes of fluidly navigating between them lies that which to my way of thinking is possibly most remarkable about queer culture. By contrast, while piggy sex can plausibly be described in terms of “becoming”—perhaps Florêncio's book should be read as saying it should become a becoming—that open-ended vista of self-surpassing transformation tends currently to coexist with earnestly self-consolidating and dubiously administrative projects of self-maximization, erotic up to a point, certainly, but also limiting, at worst tiresome: how wide can you stretch your hole, how many hands, how many loads, etc., as though the technics and tropisms of neoliberal governance still ticked away quietly in the background even as pigs pursued their pleasures in the playroom. In other words, as is the case with the overlapping set of chemsex subjectivities, pig masculinities are often also lived in ways that conform to the wider cultural and economic imperatives to self-enhancement and self-management, including in their performance of masculinity: porcus economicus.

When the use of drugs such as methamphetamine is itself eroticized and caught up in this “neoliberal” dynamic of self-maximizing exacerbation, as often in slam sex, “radical self-annihilation” assuredly awaits in the absence of developed and robust structures of care. Florêncio is clearly aware of some of these dangers, but a question I have for him concerns intensity in general. Whatever their differences in practice and self-concept, pigs are said to be united in “the intensity with which they live their sexual lives and pursuit of sexual pleasure” (9). As it was for Guillaume Dustan, rightly recognized as a pioneer of pig masculinities, intensity of experience is devoutly to be wished. Yet if intensity is suspect, as philosopher and novelist Tristan Garcia (2018) has suggested, insofar as it might be the confirmatory subjective counterpart of the objective mathematization and abstraction of the world since Descartes, where might this leave the pig masculinities of which it is said to be a defining quality? Personally, I find Garcia's critique too widely drawn, but what if it were not intensity per se that is the most significant or politically salient feature of pig masculinities but rather the capacity to move freely between intense sexual pleasure and lower-amplitude states of calmer, convivial, and even conjugal contentment? Nobody lives as a pig all of the time: moments of extreme subjective porosity dramatized in openness to the bodily fluids of others are arguably at best highpoints, spectacular pornographic showpieces. Florêncio's discussion of the Bakhtinian carnivalesque (137) shows he is aware of the difficulty—if pig masculinities are moments of exuberant release from a more buttoned-up form of (neo)liberal subjectivity, then their overall political significance might be conservative—but this difficulty is never really resolved. This was a sticking point for me, too, when I asked in 2011 whether “sex pigs” are political subjects (Davis 2011). I did so within the terms of Jacques Rancière's particular understanding of politics, which for many is already too episodic and intermittent, but even with such an ostensibly propitious conception of the political I was ultimately unable to draw conclusions about the world-changing implications of pig sex, much though I had then wished to do so. By contrast, Florêncio writes:

If the project of European bourgeois modernity was sustained through the construction of an idealised male body that—in being autonomous, able to reason, and hermetically closed to its outside—also functioned as a model for the body politic of the modern nation-state, the radical openness and porosity of gay “pig” masculinities offer us a form of embodied subjectivity that inhabits the thresholds of distinctions between mind and body, inside and outside, human and animal, cleanliness and dirt, male and female, life and death, and health and disease, all of which have sustained the development and hegemony of the bourgeois body, its thinking, subjectivity, and the sphere of the politically possible. (18)

The porous pig body is furthermore said to model an alternative to the hard borders of the contemporary nation-state, suggesting:

alternative formations of the body politic, predicated on an openness to displaced bodies and border crossings rather than on policed self-containment, thus welcoming rather than fearing the foreign and the strange at a time when discourses of national identity and security are, once again, becoming increasingly invested in immunising the body of the state against foreign bodies through a closure of its borders. (17)

The claims made in the above two quotations about the (macro)political implications of pig sex are rearticulated on several occasions in quite similar terms. The French have an expression: Tout est bon dans le cochon, “everything in the pig is good (to eat).” Reading such claims, it seemed at times as though the pig might be good for almost any political project. One difficulty here lies, I believe, in the wholesale adoption of a certain strand of feminist theory from the late 1990s that privileges the porous or permeable over the bounded and autonomous subject, since similarly exorbitant extrapolations are also in evidence there. On autonomy specifically, I would observe that feminist philosophical discussion of autonomy has moved on since then: it is generally recognized today that a capacity for autonomous self-separation is also imperative for feminism to be an emancipatory political movement—too much relatedness and too much merging can be self-defeating pathologies, harmful both individually and collectively (see the essays in Veltman and Piper 2014, in particular Hirschmann 2014). But even without turning to such further reading, it seems to me clear that pioneers in the history of pig sex as Guillaume Dustan and Paul Morris are incomprehensible without a much stronger conception of the value of autonomy—as a capacity for dissensual self-separation, in their case from the insistence on “safety” in the environing community—than the book seems to want to acknowledge as important.

My difficulty with the political and ethical interpretation of pig sex might be stated as follows. If we reconstruct in argumentative form the set of claims being advanced in the book about the porous pig body modeling a more open polity, we have to rely heavily on the hoary politico-theological conceit of the “body politic.” Nevertheless, as Florêncio is well aware, the biopolitical governmentality of the modern nation-state involves a far more mediated, distributed, and frankly administrative form of manipulation at population level, even if the medicalization of individualized deviance and ideals of “hygiene” remain prominent epiphenomenal features of this mode of rule. Within this complex paradigm, I find it difficult to give more than minimally meaningful content to the claim that any particular type of body (or masculinity, or femininity) might model a different type of macro-political structure. Furthermore, I worry that if we take some of the historical claims repeated in some of the feminist literature seriously, we quickly end up subscribing to a very unpalatable sacrificial theology: assuming for a moment that sometime during the early modern period or the Enlightenment the Western, white, middle-class bounded and autonomous subject modeled the variously invidious kinds of nation-states we now seem to be stuck with, is the radically porous pig body not then being offered up today as a kind of sacrificial offering, an atonement for past wrongs, a body to be wasted in the tokenistic moral correction of history? This is a similar reservation as voiced in critique of “governance” forms of feminism: the idea that they imply a retributionist and ressentiment-ridden attempt to visit the wrongs of the past on individuals in the present who have no real responsibility for them. Does praising the exemplary porosity of some marginal subjects at a time when porosity is politically devalued or disavowed not risk leaving those subjects entirely open, exposed, and vulnerable to sacrifice?

For the reasons just outlined, I was reluctant to be convinced by some of the grander political claims made on behalf of pig sex. Nevertheless, these sex subcultures are so fascinating in and of themselves and the analytical description given of them in this study is so rich and inventive that this barely concerned me. I revelled in all of the details, the anecdotes, and the tributes to the depraved splendor of pig masculinity, as well as the deep contextualization of these cultures within recent gay history; I delighted in the audaciousness of the theoretical interpretation, even when I did not entirely go along with it (Esposito used to differentiate the argument from Dean's, 140–143), or felt it was perhaps a touch too projective (being gangfucked “as a practice of ‘unconditional hospitality,’” 167). I would also like to pay tribute to the remarkable generosity of this book, which performs to some extent the radical porosity it values: the decision to give so much textual space over to the voice of “Martin,” a porn model interviewed in research for the project, who has an extraordinarily lucid and articulate grasp of the significance of his own work and the desires it engages (113–115), was one particularly striking example of the success of this approach.

Pig sex is certainly one way to negotiate the constitutive messiness of sex—snout-first, defiantly wallowing—and Florêncio's book offers a compelling and generous portrayal of it. Perhaps that messiness, that capacity to disorder the subject and the ambivalent aversive and attractive feelings it arouses, may well be characteristic of sex much more widely and help to explain why, as has been observed, most people don't actually like it.

References

  • Davis, Oliver. 2011. “Are ‘Sex Pigs’ Political Subjects? Queer Sexual Self-Animalization and Political Theory.” Paper presented on the panel with Denis Provencher and Dan Maroun (“Queering the Non/Human in French Studies”) at the 20th and 21st Century French and Francophone Studies International Colloquium, San Francisco, 30 March–2 April 2011.

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  • Florêncio, João. 2021. “Chemsex Cultures: Subcultural Reproduction and Queer Survival.” Sexualities. https://doi.org/10.1177/1363460720986922.

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  • Foucault, Michel, and Sylvère Lotringer. 1989. Foucault Live: Collected Interviews, 1961–1984. New York: Semiotext(e).

  • Garcia, Tristan. 2018. The Life Intense: A Modern Obsession. Trans. Abigail RayAlexander, Chistopher RayAlexander, and Jon Cogburn. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

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  • Hirschmann, Nancy. 2014. “Autonomy? Or Freedom? A Return to Psychoanalytic Theory.” In Autonomy, Oppression, and Gender, ed. Andrea Veltman and Mark Piper, 6184. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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  • Veltman, Andrea, and Mark Piper, eds. 2014. Autonomy, Oppression, and Gender. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

The Care of the Flesh

João Florêncio

Sacrificium

When I finished writing Bareback Porn, Porous Masculinities, Queer Futures: The Ethics of Becoming-Pig in 2019, I had no idea that a book that tried to speculate on the ways in which twenty-first-century gay pig masculinities can help us think the porosity of bodies as living flesh cut across and shaped by political forces and ethical imperatives would be published in the middle of a new global pandemic. That newer pandemic brought a whole new set of concerns regarding the exchanges of bodily fluids that, to me, were—and remain—practices that raise important challenges to our understandings of our bodies, our pleasures, the plastic mess of our fleshy selves, and the ways in which—alongside and despite all that mess—we manage to find ways of relating to others, of surrendering our/selves to others.

To a certain extent, as soon as the book came out riding the speculative promise—yet to be wholly fulfilled—of a joyful world of collective sexual experimentation and becoming no longer haunted by the specter of AIDS and sustained by an ethics of care toward both our flesh and the flesh of those we becum with, I was taken by an immense sense of dread: the book I had written was aiming at something that suddenly appeared gone, impossible, unthinkable. Bareback Porn, Porous Masculinities, Queer Futures seemed to me to have appeared in the world out of sync, out of time. That opening of our selves and of our sense of collective existence alongside and within an other; that opening of the skin to the inner flesh of another in what Liz Rosenfeld describes, in their contribution to this forum, as a mixing of personal cosmologies; that sense of potentiality that I had hoped could be achieved through something that, to me, is germinal yet certainly not fully realized in pig sexual ethics—all that seemed to have been interrupted by the urgency of another kind of sacrifice, the sacrifice of touch and intimacy as a result of COVID-19. The life-affirming sacrifices that were central conceptual actors in my book had now been seemingly overridden by the need for another kind of sacrifice, one that to me and most, I think, felt instead to be life-hindering in its interpellation. Bareback Porn, Porous Masculinities, Queer Futures thus ended up feeling to me like a book about the potential of a certain kind of sexual self-sacrifice and the ethics that ought to come with it in order for that potential to be realized, yet one that came out at a time of a much different, more pressing, and less joyful kind of sacrificial imperative. And how much we did sacrifice we did sacrifice.

At the same time, however, the COVID-19 pandemic and the institutional responses to it also reignited and reinforced some of the arguments I made in the book, especially those regarding the often messy and internally conflicted ethico-political potential of pig sex. Oliver Davis in his critical response to the book that is included in this forum, foregrounds the neoliberal rationality that—undoubtedly—sustains pig masculinities, highlighting that feminist thought has “moved on” past (some of) the feminist thinkers I draw from—even “wholesale” adopt—and claiming that “too much relatedness and too much merging can be self-defeating pathologies,” that autonomy and “dissensual self-separation” are needed when forging the political. Davis is also suspicious of my deployment of the porosity of the pig body as a conceptual tool for thinking a more open polity, arguing that I rely “too heavily on the hoary politico-theological conceit of the ‘body politic,’” and that the complex nature of governmentality in the modern world gives “minimally meaningful content to the claim that any particular type of body (or masculinity, or femininity) might model a different type of macro-political structure.” Yet, contra Davis, it was exactly that very paradigm of the nation-state as body politic—of the individual body as the guarantor of the body of the nation—that once again appeared, clearly and unquestionably, at the helm of institutional responses to the new pandemic. And, as if following an age-old and well-recognized script for some kind of overrated genre film generated by those Netflix or Pornhub algorithms that give you what your scapegoating heart desires, immediately the question of gay men and the sex we get up to became the story driving quite a bit of the sexual panic and pearl-clutching in many newspaper and TV headlines. So much for my relying “too heavily on the hoary politico-theological conceit of the ‘body politic’” when—it turns out—it was that very same conceit that called upon all of us to act like responsible subjects over the last two years. So when Davis worries that I may be subscribing to an outdated and “unpalatable sacrificial theology,” the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that sacrifice is an everyday demand placed upon every single one of us: “STAY HOME > PROTECT THE NHS > SAVE LIVES.”

In that context, and beyond my disagreement with both Oliver's claim that scholarship has “moved on” and the linear understanding of time such claim entails—as if we didn't always carry the past within us, as if mourning were not so much a way of moving on as it is a way of learning to live with—the question that I was left with is: what are we being asked to sacrifice? What life is to be sacrificed and on whose behalf? That, to me, and given the ubiquitous and continuous presence of calls to sacrifice, is more important a question than the question of sacrifice itself. And it is only by answering that question that we can learn to put sacrifice in context, to understand its political nature, and to differentiate between the lives that are affirmed or hindered by different calls for sacrifice, by different stakes. Because it is only through that that we can think sacrifice through the ethical demands it places upon us rather than through moral imperatives. And it is only ultimately through that that sacrifice has the potential to become a means towards something a little closer to the kind of autonomy Davis sees as needed in every political project, an ethical autonomy that—while being perhaps different to the one endorsed by Oliver—I certainly did not reject in the book, much to the contrary.

In calling on us to sacrifice ways of living in the name of life itself, public health responses to the COVID-19 pandemic once again brought to the fore the limitations of the abstracted public in “public health,” as well as the ways in which what was considered a life worth protecting in official discourse is certainly not consensual but, instead, highly contested by different counterpublics with different values and lifeworlds, as recently discussed by Ursula Probst and Max Schnepf in “Moral Exposures, Public Appearances: Contested Presences of Non-Normative Sex in Pandemic Berlin.” In that article, the authors draw from the tensions that emerged between governmental public health restrictions and individuals and organizations involved in Berlin's infamous non-normative sex cultures, from sex workers to club promoters and gay men who used to attend sex parties, all of whom were suddenly placed, once again, “under particular public scrutiny and moralised (health) governance” (2022: 75S). This resulted both in increased politicization of those scenes and practices and a subsequent attempt, by some actors, to evade, contest, or eventually incorporate public health governance into their lives, organizations, and/or events in an attempt to legitimize themselves as “good” biopolitical subjects and thus ensure the survival of their scenes during the pandemic. What Probst and Schnepf's example shows us is the ways in which, yet again, it was non-normative sex cultures and their subjects who were exponentially targeted by police, public health surveillance, and press headline upon press headline during this newer pandemic, with gay men in particular being portrayed as irresponsible hedonists and vectors of infection in so-called “superspreader” events. In refusing to sacrifice their “lifestyle,” gay men were seen to be sacrificing the lives of others—and, ultimately, the body politic of the state—at the altar of their sexual desires and pleasures. It's a familiar story: 1980s, here we go again.

One of the things that a recent series of events highlights is the tension at the heart of the relationship between sacrifice and autonomy, one that was already very much present in my book through my reading of Lacan's reading of Antigone. Indeed, as I wrote, citing Lacan at the end:

Reflecting on her decision to break Creon's law and bury her brother Polynices, Lacan understood Antigone's law-breaking as something she had to do in order to become the Antigone we've come to know. Despite all the risks associated with breaking Creon's command, which stands as an allegory for Lacan's Law of the Water, it was only in the exact moment in which she broke the law in spite of herself—that is, despite all the likely consequences of her unruly behaviour—that Antigone, did, paradoxically, become herself. … As such, the ethical act embodied by Antigone “affirms the advent of the absolute individual.” (Florêncio 2020: 174)

It was Antigone's sacrifice that opened the path to her autonomy. In order to become herself, she had to risk losing herself. And while as a faggot I may be biased, I like to think that it is that very kind of ethics that has sustained queer culture historically, indeed the ethics that, as Davis also notes, makes queer culture remarkable as an alternation between desublimation and sublimation, “the elation which comes of fluidly navigating between them,” between doing and undoing, being and becoming, between breaking yourself down and putting yourself back together in new glorious constellations. Sacrifice needs not be reduced to a letting go of the self. Instead, it can be carefully enacted as the ongoing writing forward of a self that will have been.

Curatio

To undo the self in order to stimulate its becoming—like a muscle that has to be torn before it can grow—requires an ethics of care: to care not for the self that is but for the bodies of self and/as other, to their flesh with all its potentiality, its plasticity, its desires, its ability to affect and be affected, its power as animated matter in the world. Michel Foucault highlights this point very clearly1 in ways that are casually overlooked by contemporary public discourses that push back against his cultural legacy as one of supposedly “everything-goes” neoliberal hedonism. Suspicious of a sexual politics purely based on narratives of liberation that had been informed, among others, by Wilhelm Reich's articulation of psychoanalytical theory and Marxist political thought, Foucault asks instead: “In the other of sexuality, is it obvious that in liberating one's desires one will know how to behave ethically in pleasurable relationships with others?” Rather than being a champion of reckless, unaccountable individualism, for Foucault “liberty is the ontological condition of ethics. But ethics is the deliberate form assumed by liberty” (Fornet-Betancourt et al. 1987: 115).

Foucault's are important points to consider when reflecting on the pig sex scenes I explored in the book, its potential as a laboratory of production of new bodies and embodied constellations of being and becoming, as well as its current shortcomings that only an ethics of care can help avoid. Fundamentally, assuming the sacrifice of the self as a ground zero—a destruction of all structures—ethics is required to avoid a subsequent crystallization of liberty into fascism. From zero, anything can grow—both more capacious and more self-hindering formations of the subject. The zero has no politics beyond being a site for the coalescence of something new. Only care allows us to shape that process in the direction of a horizon of joy and self-enhancing possibility. When asked whether “the care for self, released from the care for others, [does] not run the risk of ‘absolutizing itself,’” Foucault replies:

No, because the risk of dominating others and exercising over them a tyrannical power only comes from the fact that one did not care for one's self and that one has become a slave to his desires. But if you care for yourself correctly, i.e., if you know ontologically what you are, if you also know of what you are capable, if you know what it means for you to be a citizen in a city, to be the head of a household in an oikos, if you know what things you must fear and those that you should not fear, if you know what is suitable to hope for and what are the things on the contrary which should be completely indifferent for you, if you know, finally that you should not fear death, well, then, you cannot abuse your power over others. (cited in Fornet-Betancourt et al. 1987: 119)

Foucault's argument is useful to frame my interest in gay “pig” sexual subcultures, not because I wish to “redeem sex … in an ethico-political sense,” as Ricky Varghese asks in his contribution to this forum, but because—as anyone of his psychoanalytical persuasion will agree, no doubt—sex tells us something about ourselves in the current episteme. Namely, that the pull of the negative that psychoanalysis associates with jouissance can give us access to new aspects of the self to think and care about, a level of what Tim Dean (2013) describes as a kind of pre-individual ontological sameness from which we can restart shaping new and more capacious ways of relating to ourselves and one another. There, “the pigsty offers an alternative model of community premised in different ways of knowing and being” that, as Claire Rasmussen writes in her response to the book, “may find points of solidarity with other marginalized subjectivities expelled by the body politic.” Yet the risk remains, as Christien Garcia notes in his contribution, that, while we attempt to think the pig in academia, it becomes institutionalized and that its potential as a dissident body withers away, that the sexual excess of the pig becomes sublimated into capitalistic knowledge production. What happens to the pig when it goes to university? I'd like to think that, at best, he can function as a glitch, a virus that corrupts the code that structures institutionalized knowledge, that breaks through the immunity of the university. At worst, he'll become crystallized, ossified, dead, while the sexual subcultures outside the ivory tower will continue to live and invent themselves anew, oblivious to whatever academics think or write. And that is not, dear reader, necessarily a bad thing.

Ecce Porcus

In this book forum, Varghese notes that “perhaps, the pig can't be contained by the seeming excess that is denoted by the word ‘extreme.’ Perhaps, he simultaneously both tries to exceed all our redemptive, political expectations of him and, at the same time, fails to exceed any of it at all.” This is precisely indeed why—in my view—the pig is such an alluring creature in contemporary gay male sex cultures. Porcus, the pig—the etymology tells us—is a swine that is somewhat tame, somewhat domesticated, or otherwise it isn't that which we claim it to be. As I've argued in the book when discussing the work of Peter Stallybrass and Allon White (1986), it is exactly because the pig is both like us and not like us that it invites us to reckon with ourselves: it is one that would not be triggered by an encounter with a wholly wild, alienating swine. The pig is a creature of threshold, and it is there that its value resides. There is no reason—I don't think—to mourn the sanitation of the pig, as John Thomas does in this forum. Similarly, there is no reason to worry about the risks of “too much relatedness and too much merging” as Davis does. Because unlike—say—the wild swine that is the boar, the pig is neither here nor there. Should it move decisively into either one of those two directions, he will cease to be a pig, becoming instead either too much of a familiar pet or too much of a wild beast. This is exactly why the pig that I imagine—one that may not always or not yet be wholly found in the scenes I describe—can only be a pig who cares for his own body and, through that, for the bodies of all others; for we are all, ultimately, delightful agential beautiful flesh. That is why the pig belongs to the threshold. He belongs neither to order nor to chaos while somehow having something in common with both. That is also why, politically, the pig is neither of the far right nor of the radical left, neither a centripetal libertarian nor a centrifugal anarchist, even though he can feel the pull of both and sometimes veer either way in a radical line of flight toward dangerous forms of ontological hyperstratification and political sedimentation—and a rock is always a hard place. The pig is also—most certainly—not a centrist, for the threshold is never a center: it is a boundary, a limen, where everything comes undone to allow for new unforeseen possibilities to be reckoned with and pursued. That is why the pig can only be true to himself in the domain of ethics, not of law. Because law requires knowledge of what is possible, ethics—Antigone has shown—requires that we make decisions that laws cannot fully account for, that we be present and porous to the other in all their strangeness, in all their ungraspability, for ethics, as I understand it, is anathema to jurisprudence. Therein lies not only the ethico-political potential but also the risks posed by pig sex as an existential laboratory, as a zero point of new configurations of matter and meaning, of affects and flesh. Perhaps the caring pig my book speaks toward—this pig that cares and therefore curates himself ethically in relation to others—is not yet here. Yet, perhaps, we already carry within us his seed, the seed of his becoming.

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    • Export Citation
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