Pop Theory: The Lesbian Sex Machine

Do you want some education with your entertainment? Our new column, Pop Theory, takes a more academic approach to the queer parts of pop culture.

How might we think about sexuality as something that always and only manifests in culture, in the (actual/actualized) world and, specifically, as a product of bodily relations? What if we kicked it old school Foucault-style and thought about sexuality not as an identity but as an act? Sex acts instead of sexuality? If desire is fluid, if it flows, why must we think of it in terms of a fixed identity, when desire — which enables and produces connections between bodies — is rendered intelligible in those wonderfully fleshy moments of bodily relations, in sex acts?

In one of the most famous passages of The History of Sexuality, Vol I, Foucault explicates the emergence of the “homosexual” and the translation of acts into identity:

As defined by the ancient civil or canonical codes, sodomy was a category of forbidden acts; their perpetrator was nothing more than the juridical subject of them. The nineteenth-century homosexual became a personage, a past, a case history, and a childhood, in addition to being a type of life, a life form, and a morphology, with an indiscreet anatomy and possibly a mysterious physiology. Nothing that went into his total composition was unaffected by his sexuality. Everywhere in him it is present: underlying all his actions…. It was con-substantial with him, less as a habitual sin than as a singular nature…. Homosexuality appeared as one of the forms of sexuality when it was transposed from the practice of sodomy into a kind of interior androgyny, a hermaphroditism of the soul. The sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a species. (emphasis added)

This passage, my darling homolabians, has become Foucault’s “claim” to fame, so to speak. (That is, now you too can discuss Foucault like a professional snob at parties and social get togethers! “Parkour to you!”) Foucault explains that — instead of understanding “identity” as the a posteriori creation of acts (that identity is a designation established by actions; that it is “performed or produced through action”) — identity has been re-imagined as something innate to the body, that a body is “born” with.

The epistemological shift that occurred — from thinking of sexuality in terms of acts to identity, was cemented by that hideous beast Psychoanalysis, among other discursive beasts — has established how we think about sexuality today.

(There’s actually a contingent of feminist/queer scholars, such as Elizabeth Grosz, Rosi Braidotti and Claire Colebrook, who advocate a “becoming-imperceptible” to move and think beyond identity and its stultifying effects.)

How can we think about lesbian as something other than (an) identity, as something in terms of acts and oh-so-seksi actions?

What about if we posited lesbian as the (product of the) action(s) between two female-identified persons? (Because, one can also become a woman, ammi right?) What happens when we detach “lesbian” from the person and affix it to the act?

What is lost/gained/different in this exchange? In the contemplating of “lesbian” as something that is created through the coming together or the interaction between two (or more) female-identified bodies?

The idea that a body only acquires meaning once it “does something,” once it acts or is acted upon, is a philosophical idea that has its origins in Spinoza — How does a body mean? This is a question that depends on another: What can a body do?

Well, a body can have one helluva seksi time with other bodies, that’s what it can do!

Here is the main idea: that sexual identity doesn’t reside within a body, but that sexuality is what is produced through the connection between bodies.

body + body = becoming-machine

female-identified body + female-identified body = becoming-lesbian

Claire Colebrook, a brilliant Deleuzian feminist (mentioned above), offers the example of a bicycle as a helpful example: a bicycle at rest does not begin to work or doesn’t have a particular meaning until it connects to another body, a human body. The bicycle moves — takes meaning — once it connects with a human body that rides it:

human (body) + bicycle (body) = cyclist (becoming/moving)

A lot of times, context lends partial definition to a becoming. So, think about two guys who pat each other’s bum. Gay, right? At a bar, perhaps. But two guys patting each other’s bum on a football field isn’t considered “gay,” at least not by the rabid football fan who’s enjoying the “camaraderie” that’s considered to be part of the “game.”

Or, what about postmodern art? What if we saw a piece of gum stuck to a park bench? Litter, right? Well, what if we saw a piece of gum affixed to a canvass that was located within an art museum? The context (here, the museum) renders that “trash” art.

What Colebrook, via Deleuze, asserts is that a body’s “meaning” becomes dependent upon the connections or “assemblages” it forms with other bodies. This is in part why Deleuze frequently refers to bodies as machines. In fact, in the Anti-Oedipus (co-written with Felix Guattari) he says “everything is a machine”:

An organ-machine is plugged into an energy-source-machine the one produces a flow that the other interrupts. The breast is a machine that produces milk, and the mouth a machine coupled to it. The mouth of the anorexic wavers between several functions: its possessor is uncertain as to whether it is an eating-machine, an anal machine, a talking-machine, or a breathing-machine. Hence we are all handymen: each with his little machines.

Our individual bodies are machines but we also form machines when we connect with other bodies, like Transformers!

Thinking about “lesbian” as a becoming, as a product that is created through the wonderful, seksi and delicious coming together of female-identified bodies is another way to affirm our existence and to see sexuality as something that is positively produced (as art, even!) rather than as something innate within us, “a personage,” which, unfortunately, is what it has become, according to Foucault.

It also allows us to conceive of desire as productive, as a force that enables and compels connections, rather than as a “lack” (thanks to the beast Psychoanalysis) that we desperately, and unsuccessfully, try to fill throughout our life.

So, what do you think, my thoughtful commentators, of re-conceiving sexuality in this way?

Dr. Marcie Bianco is gloriously unemployed and homeless — as only one
with a handful of useless degrees could be. She currently serves as
the Editorial Director of VelvetPark.