Sunday, January 31, 2016

Heteronormative or Transgressive or a Word Yet to Be Invented

Yesterday we were going to meet up at the vintage motorcycle show in Dania Beach.  I would go to spin class and then stop at the park on the way back, which is equidistant between the gym and the house.  My spouse and his brother would ride their motorcycles over.

But our motorcycles wouldn't start.  So my spouse and his brother went to get a battery charger and set the bikes to charging.  We ate burgers and waited.  Eventually, the batteries charged, and my spouse and his brother went off--this time, successfully making it to show.  I stayed home to grade the work of my online classes.

Once that task was done, I picked up the latest book from my stack of library books, Maggie Nelson's The Argonauts.  The first several pages almost made me put the book right back down, but I persevered, and I'm glad I did.  It's a fascinating book, full of reference to critics and works that I read once upon a time, but haven't for decades (think Jacques Lacan and Judith Butler).  She's thinking/writing about gender in a way that feels groundbreaking, but that's probably because I'm not around people who are doing much of that--I still have to explain more than I think I should why I call my partner my spouse and not my husband, why I refuse to use gender when I refer to God.

At one point in the afternoon, I thought that I haven't seen the word heteronormative show up in a piece of writing so many times in the same hour--well, maybe ever, but certainly not since reading those books of critical theory that seemed so important in the late 80's and early 90's--so important, so often barely readable.

It was interesting to read this material against the backdrop of my own heteronormative afternoon--men off to a motorcycle show, woman left behind to deal with teaching tasks.  It's interesting to think about transgressiveness of all types; I think of the reactions in the spring when I told people about our motorcycle adventures, and I found myself quoting Whitman:  "I contain multitudes."

It's an interesting time to be alive, in the year after the Supreme Court made same-sex marriage more widely available--and how many of us stopped to wonder if that's what we've been fighting for all along?  After all, as a much younger feminist, I could have told you all the ways in which marriage was a patriarchal trap.  As an older feminist, I'm the first to tell you that my younger self was correct in many ways, yet also wrong.

We haven't done much reimagining of our primary units--when we say family, what do we want that to look like?  How would we need to redesign our living spaces?  How would our work lives change?

The most transgressive time of my life so far was when I lived with my spouse and 2 other adult housemates.  We lived in the Charleston, SC area, back in the early 90's, when it was much more conservative than it is now.  Most people simply couldn't fathom why I would want to live in that type of community, when I had no blood connection to the other 2 adults who weren't my spouse.

When I think about the most transgressive element, here's what bubbles up:  we ate dinner together almost every night for the first several years of living together.  Or maybe it's the vacations that we took together.

Transgressive and yet so very normal. 

I remember in 1992 when a friend at work said, "I am so tired of hearing about people's sex lives.  Tell me about your financial life--that's truly transgressive."

Except that she probably didn't use the word transgressive.  I'm the only one I know who uses the word transgressive on a regular basis.

There's something about the work of Nelson that takes my mind to the early books written by Susie Bright.  I always wondered if Bright wrote about real people--it was hard to tell if they were composites, if people could really live those kinds of lives.  How did they pay the rent?  While they were smashing the patriarchy and reinventing lesbian sex, how did they decide what to have for dinner?

I haven't finished reading The Argonauts, but I imagine Nelson's work will be short on those kinds of details too.  She's very coy about the gender of her partner, Harry Dodge, for example.  I've spent more time than I want to admit zipping around the Internet, trying to solve these puzzles.

In the course of my research/nosiness, I came across the Susie Bright's blog, which is so much like those early books of hers that I loved so much, those books about truly transgressive women, or so I thought back when I didn't realize how transgressive it might be to have dinner every night with people who shared your space.  I was saddened to read that Honey Lee had died.  I loved reading about her photography, what she hoped to accomplish, what she did accomplish; you can read it too by going here, but be warned, the pictures involve nudity in a way that seems more explicit (dare I say transgressive?) than some of the more common nudity that we see so much these days.

Here are some of the works that have inspired me this morning.  I loved this interview with Nelson at the Bookslut site.  Here's a great quote:  "Sedgwick herself has written movingly about how knowledge is not something one gains once and then moves on, but rather something one knows and then forgets, and then re-knows differently, and then re-knows or re-forgets again, and so on. The latter process is far more interesting, intellectually and spiritually."

I also enjoyed this interview with Harry Dodge and Stanya Kahn at Bomb magazine.  It makes me want to do interesting things with film and grateful that there are others who do those interesting things. 

Now I must get ready for my own transgressive Sunday:  I'm headed off to church to lead voting on the church budget.  Unpack that statement!

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