politics of expression

Sex! It’s a provocative subject that has been analyzed for centuries and often reflects more about the author’s tastes, deviance, and experience than any scandalous title may suggest. The subjectivity inherent in this undertaking creates a scene where perversity and contradiction thrive. This quest to distill ourselves – how we come to understand our sexual identities and how we perform those norms (which can result in panics) – has coupled sexuality with body politics for as long as flawed history books have been written.

The what you want, all of them, and all those sticky enshrouded and repressed reasons why you want are complicated. It’s biological and it isn’t. It’s fixed and it’s dynamic. You could focus on visibility, accessibility, the mechanics, or anything from economics (think about all those ways we feel pleasure from consuming) to culture and still not completely satisfy your curiosities. And we aren’t even covering the erotic. A lush landscape that could lead you to play with the tension of what can be imagined to the exploitation of deeply held desires.

There’s something about all the ways we talk about sex that attract the most attention. Sexual testimonies that have been passed down, a legacy we measure ourselves against, as the origins of our understanding about sex and sexuality – yours, mine, our neighbors. These narratives are situated in specific cultural, racial, historical, gendered rituals of age, geographical locations, and within very real systems of power. It’s the dominant stories, the ones that are replicated to the point where they are assumed to be truth, that get mythologized. Our destiny is to then decide to perform or reject.

This metaphysical project of measuring perceived reality in proportion to these mythologies, is what The Sex Myth: The Gap Between Our Fantasies and Reality attempts to unravel. “And it is this link between sex and self that sits at the root of how sex is regulated in our culture, more than any individual rule or whim of cultural fashion.” A contemporary ritual of self-worth we must all fulfill.

The interviews that thread The Sex Myth chapters are specific histories woven around a frame that is supported by a strong economic influence. “To be sexually ‘free’ is not just a question of doing as you please but a public display of self: an identity that is contemporary, cultured, and financially secure.” This is all within what Hills calls an “attention economy” – any form of recognition is a form of validation. The Sex Myth also pulls apart performance from judgement and normalized expectations.

The chapters on masculinity challenged me for personal reasons and so did the one dedicated to femininity (narrowly constructed around “learning heterosexuality”). I saw my angsty former self expressed in the confessions that got to the root of religion’s control over your autonomy and self-worth. I’m still learning how to undo that damage.

I learned just how extensive the heterosexual agenda is for all of us.

“The primary account of heterosexuality in these films [G-rated] is one of heteroromantic love and its exceptional, magical, transformative power,” the researchers wrote – Martin, Karin, and Emily Kazyak. “Hetero-romantic love and heterosexiness in children’s G-rated films.” Gender & Society 23 (June 2009), 315-36.

I was reminded of just how far beyond those prescriptive expectations I have wandered.

In the end, The Sex Myth is a tale centered on the “tension between control and freedom”, and the price we pay in that constantly fluctuating exchange rate. I appreciated the implicit action to destroy the instinct to question the body first and the system that defines us second. “The Sex Myth is palpable not only in the what we cannot do without fear of stigma or harm, but in what we feel we must do in order to avoid feelings of shame and inadequacy.” It’s critical to deconstruct our feelings about sex and their potential connection to how we embody shame and inadequacy.

My hope is that the conversations started in The Sex Myth agitate and provoke its audience into questioning their own stories and assumptions about what is normal or “true.” Another hope is that we destroy the myth that sexuality is a determined process bound by binary thinking. That’s one way to bridge this gap between our fantasies for more – more freedom, more pleasure, less repression – and envision a reality where our politics and how we express ourselves is ours to tell.

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