Bad Queer

CW: I want to talk about gender, specifically my gender and my feelings around it. I want to try and put into words a feeling that I’ve long denounced and tried to hide, but that feeling doesn’t really have a name for me. Not yet. I suspect it never will. My life has been defined, from without as much as from within, by a sense of indeterminacy. It’s never comfortably fit any label applied to it from the outside, and I’ve been denied any opportunity to define things on my own terms. I’ve tried to counter both of these things in all sorts of way. From now on, I’d like to affirm it.

I’m not sure what the best way to do that is. For now, I’d just like to tell you a story. Let it be known that this story features explicit references to sex, abuse, sexual abuse, eating disorders, body dysmorphia, mental ill-health, and various other things. Accordingly, this might not be a story that everyone wants to read or enjoys reading, and that’s okay.

When I was a teenager, I faced daily homophobic abuse. Beginning at the end of primary school and continuing until my second year at university, not a day went by without incident. It was at its worst during secondary school. I’d get tripped up and punched in the stomach by passing assailants as I walked between classes. Left to wheeze on the floor, kids laughed at me, like I got what I deserved. I had rocks thrown at me, and was once sent home with a concussion after being clipped hard by a projectile at the base of my skull. Cars driven by older kids used to play chicken with me, swerving at the last moment, as I walked home from school along country roads. One time a big group of kids congregated outside my house and threw snowballs at my window, just to intimidate me as I sat in my room, which I rarely left. As I got older, it only got worse. Some of the boys used to shove their hands down my pants, trying to feel me up and penetrate me in the middle of woodworking class, or jab through my trousers with cold soldering irons, just to see if I “liked” it. Most days someone called me a “faggot”.

I would try and tell my parents I didn’t know why these things kept happening to me, on the days I came home and could not hide my feelings, but even they’d started asking if I was gay. My mum would make statements out of the blue like, “it’d be okay if you were gay, you know”. Once she said this in earshot of my dad, who said he’d kick me out the house if it were true. I confronted him about this years later and he claimed he was joking. It didn’t feel like it at that time, but I could sense the shame in his voice, knowing he had said the worst thing he could have said. I love my dad very much, and forgave him for this long ago, but it is nonetheless part of a pattern of responses and interjections that I sadly became all too used to. My sexuality was a source of speculation for my family and friends as much as it was for people I couldn’t have cared less about.

What was most baffling to me was that I had never actually questioned my sexuality. In fact, I’d had a pretty healthy string of girlfriends — certainly more than most boys my age. I was a confident explorer of my own desires, for a time. When I look back on my childhood and my teenage years, I feel like I was always “seeing” someone. But it didn’t matter. It was like everyone else saw something in me that I didn’t see, like I had a sign stuck on my back that I wasn’t aware of that said “future gay”. It warped my brain. Shame took over, and I began to wonder if everyone knew something I didn’t.

It wasn’t because I was somehow weak and easy to pick on. Though perhaps seen as “effeminate” against the social standards of the time, I was otherwise tall, broad-shouldered, and stocky. On multiple occasions, I was scouted by rugby coaches who didn’t know any better, seeing me as a potential hooker based on nothing more than my square frame. Unfortunately, there was nothing I hated more than rugby. I actually loved to figure skate — something I’ve written about previously. I didn’t tell many people about this, of course. I knew it wouldn’t help me. But it didn’t matter anyway. I was deemed too big for that sport by the girls I used to train with. I was made to feel so unwelcome that I dropped out just before I mastered my toe loop jumps.

If I’d put my mind to it, I could have probably played rugby and enjoyed it. It wasn’t the game I hated but the people I had to play it with. I hated team sports in general, precisely because they brought out the most pathetic displays of masculinity in my peers. It wasn’t long before the irony dawned on me. For someone who supposedly “liked” men, I couldn’t have wanted anything less to do with them. I had no drive to compete with them, which seemed to be all they really cared about. It was probably my utter rejection of their values that made me gay in their eyes. But that hatred pooled with my own adolescent hormones all the same. The rugby scouts planted an idea in my head. I began to wonder if learning to throw my weight around might help my cause.

I starting taking Judo classes, and I hated them too, but I got more confidence about fighting off the abuse. Soon enough, if someone came at me, I started giving back as good as I got. I punched a kid in the face who, unprovoked, tried to pour a drink over me on the bus. I hit him so hard that I nearly broke my hand. I hit someone else on the bus with my boot bag who made fun of my voice, studs clapping the top of his head. He didn’t see it coming and the outburst was effective. Admittedly, these were not techniques taught to me by my sensei. Regardless, fighting didn’t solve anything. The bully I punched back had multiple older and much bigger brothers who could come to his defense. I learnt the hard way that, just because they started it, it didn’t meant I could finish it. I quit Judo, succumbing to the knowledge that there was always someone else to kick me back down.

Over time, I became further alienated from people. I just wanted to be left alone. I struggled to make new friends or really connect with anyone, always feeling slightly on the outside of whatever was going on. I was depressed and looking for an outlet. Ironically, all the abuse had been counterproductive. It did more to make me experiment sexually than any desire I felt on my own accord. I didn’t know how I felt anymore. I’d been told who I was for so long, I just accepted it, passively. I’d been shoved in the closet so many times, I just decided to make myself at home there. I let myself be led by older and more openly curious boys. I didn’t like any of it, and found the feeling of adolescent stubble on my face distinctly nauseating, but I felt so alienated from myself that I couldn’t say for certain what I wanted anymore. I grew anxious about any expression of sexuality whatsoever. In the end, I even found heterosexual expressions of intimacy difficult. I repressed everything. No matter who I was with, I felt paranoid. I was constantly second-guessing my own feelings, as well as others’ feelings about me.

After a while, it became a case of “if you can’t beat them, join them”.

When I was 16 or 17, I fell in love with my best friend. On the day I intended to ask her out, she told me she was gay and had started seeing someone. I was heartbroken but we stayed very close. This led to a whole new adventure for me. The secret friendship group she’d slowly been gathering around her became my secret friendship group too.

I was quickly introduced to Hull’s “gay scene”, my first memory of which was a night at Fuel, the main LGBT club in town. I went with my best friend and her new girlfriend, with a few others in tow. I didn’t know anyone yet and, at one point, I ended up on my own, hovering by the entrance to the bathrooms. The girls had gone in together, and later admitted they ended up having sex in there for a while. I stood waiting for them, not knowing what to do with myself, feeling a new kind of alienation. It was truly the worst time I ever had third-wheeling. But it wasn’t long before a group of queens gathered around me, towering in their platform boots and killer heels, all wearing the most magnificent drag. Larger than life, but immediately warm and friendly, they asked if I was okay, what my name was, what I was doing there. They asked if I was gay, straight, or bi. I reluctantly said I was straight, half-expecting them to leave when I made my confession, like I was an imposter who wasn’t worth their time. They didn’t care. They welcomed me into their fold for the night. I felt at home immediately. I’ve never felt more at home anywhere in my life.

I think we all felt like this, as young teens getting to know the Hull scene. We felt like bohemians on the edge of the world. With the Humber Bridge looming over town, we affirmed our city as the “San Francisco of the North”. Sod Manchester. Sod Canal Street. Theirs was a west coast arrogance to our east coast autonomy. Here was an “unfenced existence: facing the sun, untalkative, out of reach.” In typical Hull fashion, we saw ourselves as a movement unto ourselves. This, in turn, gave us a sense of confidence and defiance that positively affected everyone who was part of our group. We felt otherworldly, like we saw a bigger picture, if only because our limited numbers meant we were far more likely to befriend kids from other schools, or hang out with folk much older than we were. Whilst everyone else stayed in their school-day bubbles, we embraced the fact that there was a world waiting for us beyond the school gates that was far more accepting of who we happened to be. Eventually, this attitude permeated the atmosphere within school as well. As people became more out and proud, our diverse friendship group cross-pollinated with the groups we kept up at school. People gradually became more tolerant, and it was a really beautiful time in my life.

But the boys were still the same confused bunch. They continued to bully. What’s funny, actually, is that the nature of the bullying changed. Those same young men started acting more jealous than disparaging, fundamentally misunderstanding what it meant to have a close-knit group of girlfriends who were all gay. They were cynical but also oddly intimidated, as if they assumed I somehow had a front row seat to all of the sex these mysterious women were having, and they wanted nothing more than to be in my shoes. It was a classic teenage boy-fantasy that could not have been further from the truth. We all found it hilarious, and even played up to it, sharing photographs of everyone kissing each other on social media. In truth, I was content in friendships where desire was off the table. These gay women were in on the joke, and I felt safe there. There was trust, precisely because there was no teenage “will they, won’t they”. No judgement. No pressure.

This suited me more than the boys’ obsession with chasing tail. Behind the racy pictures taken in gay bars on a Saturday afternoon, the thought of sex still stressed me out. For a time, I even struggled to hold a girl’s hand with any sincerity. I felt pathetic, and I blamed those boys for it. They had triggered an abject repression in me, at the exact moment I finally felt free to do anything.

Admittedly, as I got older, things could occasionally get complicated. I came out of my shell but in an increasingly confusing environment. I had a couple of relationships with gay women that were experimental for the both of us, and they always ended in complicated tears. But I think whenever any intimacy did arise, it was because there was a shared sense of gender identity that resonated between us, rather than any sexual desire. I felt at home among these women who were far more comfortable identifying as femme or butch or something in between. But it was only the lesbians in my friendship group who understood that their own sense of femininity was a spectrum. I never gained any sense of this from the men I knew. Gay or straight, none of them were quite so understanding of different gender identities. (In fact, my experiences with gay men were as negative as those with straight men. The majority I met at that time, who still saw me as an unknown or indeterminate sexual quandary, were quite predatory. It was just one more reason to stay away from men altogether.)

I lost that friendship group when I went to university. It was oddly traumatic. I suddenly felt detached from these roots that I’d put down. I still seemed to gravitate towards lesbians — it is a running joke at this point that I always end up befriending gay women — but I never again felt immersed in a scene. In fact, my first girlfriend at university was a twin, whose sister came with her to study on the same course. Her sister was also gay, and had met her girlfriend at university as well. We all embarked on our first sexual relationships together and hung out all the time. In truth, the relationship was terrible and was never going to last. When it ended, I remember feeling like I missed my friendship with her sister more than our relationship. She was the last connection I felt I had to a transitory home. After that, I never felt like a member of a scene again. I felt more like a tourist.

I felt myself falling out of that sense of belonging in other ways too. Though the assumption that I was gay haunted me throughout my time at university, it started to dissipate as my body changed and I reached the end of puberty. Specifically, by the time I was 22, I was capable of growing facial hair. On the day it felt full enough to be an official “beard”, rather than a collection of prickly smudges, I noticed something happen. The abuse stopped. I rarely heard the word “faggot” anymore. I rarely heard second-hand whispers about my personal life.

It was around this time that I started a relationship that has continued to this day. There’s certainly nothing like a decade-long relationship with a woman to socially cement a newly perceived heterosexuality. But relationships had never stopped the rumours before. It was always a case of “yeah, he’s just not accepted himself yet”. But what’s more, the abuse even stopped from strangers and passersby. The assumptions and the constant prying from people I didn’t know ceased so abruptly that it left me dazed. To be honest, I liked it. I leaned into it. I put on weight and I started wearing more black. I embraced my inner goth for the first time to try and look more “masculine” and scary. Whereas the emo and scene kids I knew growing up were among those most comfortable with “non-binary gender identities” (though we didn’t possess that sort of language yet), goth felt harder and less flexible. It was to have one foot in with the scene kids but one foot in something else. The reason for this was simple: I didn’t want to invite discussion; for the first time in my life, I wanted to intimidate.

This makes me laugh, in hindsight. I was suddenly deemed to have reached a certain recognisable standard of masculinity and all I’d done, in my eyes, was let myself go. The state of men…

For a few years, this was all fine by me. It was nice to have a break from it all. It was nice to “pass”. But I didn’t feel like myself. My weight began to yoyo, and I began a struggle with bulimia, feeling torn about a body image that was increasingly “masculine” and all the more alien to me as a result. I grew my hair out but, even at my skinniest, I just looked like Jon Snow. A visible northern masculinity, which encased an increasingly invisible femininity, became an albatross around my neck. Outwardly, I displayed a certain pride in it as my mental health nonetheless deteriorated.

Things came full circle when I moved to London, aged 26. I was suddenly treated with another kind of suspicion. I started to naturally make friends with queer people from all sorts of backgrounds, but I found they were cynical about me in a way I wasn’t used to. My friends were, for the most part, younger than I was. They were experimenting in a way I wanted to but had a way of thinking and speaking about their own experiences that I’d never really acquired, and my attempts to do so were perhaps seen as appropriative rather than attempts to update my capacity for self-expression. With many having lived in London for some time already, they had been initiated into its queer spaces and they were understandably protective over them. I expected to be there for just one year, and so didn’t make too much of an effort to put down roots. (When I left London, four years later, I regretted this deeply.)

Although I never really spoke about my sexual preferences or my internal feelings in public, now that I at least looked the part — whatever that means — I felt even more distant from a certain sense of community that I’d once taken for granted. The assumption that I was questioning or undecided went away, and with that went a part of myself I didn’t realise I was quite so attached to. I understood why, of course, and so I didn’t push back against it. Still, I felt shunned. Despite spending the entirety of my formative teenage years feeling at home in queer spaces, I began to feel like another kind of outsider. The mask I’d put on, the outfit I’d chosen, the depression I’d embraced, all in a subconscious attempt to shield myself from further abuse, made me look like the sort of person I’d once have run a mile from. It came as no surprise that queer friends now looked on me with suspicion. Whereas I’d once been a mystery to straight friends, I had become a mystery to queer friends also. Caught in the middle, my body dysmorphia intensified.

I felt I had been turned into a social weathervane, all too eager to please, facing whichever way the assuming winds blew me. When I wasn’t straight enough, I found a home in queer spaces, but once I was no longer deemed queer enough, I accepted my fate as another kind of outcast. It has made me incredibly unhappy, all because I never considered the possibility to staking a claim — that is, until I felt like I had lost any claim to stake. I realised that my identity had been a concern for other people for so long that I’d relinquished all ownership of it. When the ball was suddenly in my court, I just looked at it, puzzled. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with it. I arrived in London feeling like a blank slate, but rather than chalk up a sense of who I wanted to be, I fell into a mould constructed for me by others. I became whatever people thought I was, until I had no sense of myself anymore.

Over the years since, I’ve begun to understand that, if I want to affirm those experiences in my life, I need to start talking about them. My silence and my sense of detachment constitute a self-fulfilling prophecy. If I don’t shape those experiences into statements about myself and my experiences, claiming that subculture as my own, as the place where I once felt most at home and where I once felt like I belonged, then of course I will have no place within them. But given the assumptions made about me in the present, I started to feel like this would be too little too late. I have been an ally, a defender of queer subjectivities — vocally so on this blog over the years — but nothing more. I have stayed abreast of conversations around queer culture and politics, watching as the conversation changes around me, denying myself the opportunity to participate, seeing myself as a victim, lost to another time before the language of the present made affirmation and self-acceptance so wonderfully possible. As such, I have persistently denied myself a voice in the now.

More recently, I’ve started wondering: Do things have to stay this way?

I must admit that a major catalyst for finishing this post/statement/story, which has been percolating in my drafts for some years in various forms, has been reading Adam Zmith’s forthcoming book Deep Sniff for Repeater Books. A magnificent history of queer futurities, constructed around those shapeshifting substances, the alkyl nitrites, Zmith’s recurring use of the term QUILTBAG, which I’d never heard before, brought up all kinds of emotions and memories for me.

Having consumed all sort of queer culture over the years, I’d always found echoes of my own experiences in these many representations of queer life but I had never read something that I felt carved out a place for me. Zmith’s book changed that, with the simple fact that he included those who are “questioning” in his queer taxonomy. “Questioning” was once a cage I felt forced into, then later forced out of. Though a source of trauma, it still felt like a home, and my relationship to that questioning self has never been resolved, nor has it had the opportunity to resolve itself. To be indirectly given permission to reaffirm my identity as “questioning”, of my gender if not my sexuality, has made Zmith’s book the most affirmative thing I’ve read in years. I saw a lot of myself in it, if not as a gay man, then at least as a once proud member of the QUILTBAG.

That being said, things are hardly any less complex than they once were when I was a teenager. Whilst vocabularies have changed and confidence has grown, who can claim ownership of certain words remains a hugely contentious topic. Alex V Green’s recent essay for The Outline on the word “queer”, for instance, is both a comforting read and an encapsulation of all the anxieties I have about publishing this essay.

Green begins with a summary of the 90s discourse around the word “normal” — “who that category contains, who it excludes, and the kind of coercive mechanisms that make such a category possible.” I remember feeling the legacy of these discussions in the 2000s; it is far easier to position yourself outside of something like “normality” than it is to position yourself inside of something else. The choice had already been made for me that I was not “normal”, but now the discussion has been inverted. I reckon I’m still as “not-normal” as I’ve ever been, but does that make me “queer”?

Truth be told, I feel no more comfortable with labels now than I did when I was a teenager. I’ve abstained from making any claims one way or another because I have never felt ready to say, definitively, what I am. But maybe I don’t have to decide before carving out a space for myself. Maybe this long-held feeling of in-betweenness is valid in itself. I did once experiment with this in private. Around 2014, I began identifying as “queer” or “genderqueer” — at least to my girlfriend. I had read John Stoltenberg’s book Refusing to be a Man, which she had acquired from a charity shop or maybe from a friend, and on completing it I like it had given form, for the first time, to some sort of deep truth newly legible to me. I remember that, after reading it, I tried to explain how revelatory it had been for me. I told her I had always felt “genderqueer”, or that I was at least “politically genderqueer”, whatever that means. I think this was my way of saying, please, don’t worry, I love you, please stop worrying about whether what everyone used to say is going to come true one day, I love you and I’m not going to leave you, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be a space for queerness in my life and in my politics.

I first spoke to my partner about this when she was invited to write an essay for a blog many years ago, about when she first came to self-identify as a feminist, at a time when it was an oddly taboo word in popular discourses. (Seriously, it blows my mind how much has changed, in terms of our popular political language, in the first few decades of this strange century.) We talked about it and wrote up our stories together — with hers being the only one to be submitted, of course. So that she could more comfortably share an intimate journey with the world at large, we first exchanged intimate experiences with each other at home. It felt like a bonding moment, sharing our own perspectives on something that was important to us both, albeit for different reasons, bouncing off each other’s experiences so that we could better clarify our own.

I wrote about how my sense of feminism wasn’t taught to me by women in any generic sense. I didn’t feel like the sort of cliched man whose life had been shaped by strong women; the only female role model I had was my mother and we didn’t get on at all. My feminism was, instead, always queer and trans, informed by my peers, whose politics and personalities aligned far better with who I felt I was. Not as a “woman” in a patriarchal world, but as something else in another kind of space. This is to say that the feminism I grew up on wasn’t about making it in a man’s world, as was the proto-girlboss vibe of the 1990s and 2000s. It was about being cast out from under the masculine order of things, and finding power in that outsideness. It wasn’t striving against patriarchy so much as it was recognising and affirming that you were already part of another world that was constituted by a different set of relations and where a different set of rules applied. In hindsight, I don’t think I was anywhere near this articulate in talking to my partner. I’m not even sure I’m being that articulate now. But she understood the point, which was that I felt a queer feminism had fundamentally given form to my identity. It clarified something in how I felt about myself. That’s why I felt comfortable calling myself a feminist.

The problem, perhaps, is that I never said that out loud to anyone else. I’ve tried to have this conversation before, but it feels like one of the hardest things for me to do. In private, I still squirm when invited to talk about the politics of sex and gender and about my own personal experiences. Nevertheless, I have often made passionate defenses of queer experience on this blog, against rampant TERF dogma or the mutant liberalism of certain posthuman philosophies, whilst at the same time trying to avoid sending out any signals that I might have a personal investment in the debate. But I want that to change. I want to be able to talk more openly about the kind of person I am, the kind of experiences I’ve had, and how they’ve shaped who I am today.

An important question remains: how?

This post, in itself, is a terrifying thing to write. It feels like an intrusion on a vocabulary that others have a far more convincing claim to, as well as an invitation for derision from certain corners of the blogosphere that I have gradually been trying to extricate myself from. But Green’s essay once again explores how “queer” is an innately political term in the present, and less something for a card-carrying contingent to police in others, as if replicating the kind of boundary policing that once defined our exclusion from a heteronormative society. They write, for instance, how the apparent tension between spaces that are “gay” and spaces that are “queer:

In November, a (now-deleted) tweet demanding “More queer bars, less gay bars” invaded my timeline. The framing felt strange: gay and queer are, functionally, synonyms. But I knew what the tweet meant in drawing that seemingly arbitrary distinction … It immediately reminded me of an i-D article from August, which proudly proclaimed “the gay bar is dead,” pinning its cause of death on the rise of “the queer space.”

Queer spaces, Green explains, are “spaces of intentionality and community, where people felt the freedom to come together, away from the stigmatizing and normative gaze of straight, cisgender, white, and male society.” It is a definition of queer that resonates profoundly with my own, that I have clung onto in private for so many years, not knowing whether it was an appropriate way in which to use it. As Green continues, in queer spaces “people experimented with aesthetics, music, experiences, and connections that made them feel at home. On the street, they were outsiders; once through the doors, they were part of a community.”

I have missed this terribly under lockdown. Recently reading Paul B. Preciado’s book An Apartment on Uranus has only made this harder. The isolation of quarantine has no doubt enforced the queer space as an imagined idyll in my imagination. But what about a queer home? If I have a queer inner life, it is hardly replicated in the objects outside of myself, never mind in my own dress sense or mannerisms. An apartment on Uranus sounds like a blissful place to be by comparison. I wonder, increasingly, what it might be like to construct one; to have some sense of agency over my own four walls. But a sense of agency over my “self” is a more pressing starting point, and that is, in some ways, what this blog is for.

As a first step, this post feels enormous, but there is so much more that I would like to do. What does that “more” look like? I’m not sure yet. Despite how it may sound, I don’t think of this post as a “coming out”. I feel like who I am is obvious to those who know me, even if that’s limited to “Matt’s a bit camp”. To others, this might seem out of the blue. It feels a little out of the blue for me too. Why have I let this conversation lie still for so many years? Why have I never said anything out loud before now? I think because I knew how it would look, in our cynical age, for a big burly beardy man in a long-term heterosexual relationship to stake a claim on queerness without also being into leather or makeup or otherwise signalling outwardly how I feel internally. But the more long-term truth is that I’ve long been denied any opportunity for self-acceptance and self-expression. It has to start somewhere, and that is surely in knowing how to talk about yourself.

Knowing my audience, I anticipate some of my more casual and annoying readers will decry this post as an indulgent slip into identity politics. It is with them in mind that I will be abstaining from making any public changes to my pronouns anytime soon. I am not yet prepared to weather the social media cynicism that often brings from certain quarters. But there is a lesson for those people here too. For all the slips into “I”, this is not intended to solely be a discussion of the politics of identity as a form of individual affirmation. Self-acceptance is the desired by-product, yes, the personal significance of this post is overwritten, in my mind, by a far more forceful expression of solidarity, which I used to have and have since been denied, precisely because of who I appear to be. As such, it is the negative, individualising side of identity politics that I has been forced upon me for too long — an enforced individualism, wherein one must represent one thing only, held apart from both an internal multiplicity and indeterminacy, and an external solidarity. The impact of this on my personal life has been as sexual as it has been political. No longer. I am who I am, but who I am is one of you.

Even as I write this, old habits die hard. I’m left feeling deferential. I am one of you… if you’ll have me, is how I am left wanting to end that sentence. I’m queer now, if it pleases thee. Call me genderqueer now, if you like? Such is the tension within any self-declaration of solidarity. But why is self-declaration important? Because I don’t think most people realise how suffocating their assumptions can be. It takes a great deal of courage to correct them. That is a courage I have always lacked. I have never taken the opportunity to define myself because it has always been denied me, and I have always smothered the desire to speak up for myself for fear of failing to meet other people’s expectations of who or what I should be. But from now on I’d like to feel able to talk about myself in terms that feel appropriate to me rather than anyone else. I’m fed up of pandering to those who would attack my own attempts at self-acceptance.

It’s taken me a long time to realise this, and just as long to write it all down, but I have been inspired by so many lovely trans and non-binary people I’ve met over the years, who have shown a strength of will and self-knowledge that I have always been slightly jealous of, and who have perhaps sensed a certain affinity already. I know some have claimed me, tongue in cheek, as an “honorary tran” and I’ve had some difficult and confused conversations with some of you about this before already. Thank you for your patience. I feel like you, more than anyone else, will understand. For those that don’t, I don’t know how else to express it. I don’t know how to insist upon my inner experience. I’ve had a hard enough time in my life making the case for this with depression, which remains an enigma to those closest to me, who don’t understand the inner workings of a mind that habitually recoils from life, family and friendships, preferring instead to quietly self-destruct. But this doesn’t feel like an illness or being broken. It feels like breaking a set of restrictions that have negatively impacted my life for as long as I can remember. It is an expression of what makes me happy rather than an expression of my capacity for misery. Understanding the latter has taken precedence for a long time. I’d like to make space for the other side of the coin.

So I think it is about time that I make a claim; that I affirm my experiences and where I’ve come from and what I’ve learned about the world and about myself in the process. I want to affirm my upbringing as an early enigma, used as a punching bag even by those kids who would later come out as gay or trans themselves. I want to show some love and appreciate to that kid who was already disenfranchised and afraid when it became acceptable for others to express themselves in other ways. I want to accept that effeminate child and the awkward teenager he became and the strange lopsided man he turned into. I want to call him queer now, and step back into his shoes. I’ve spent too long out of them.

Ever the worrier, images of eye rolls and scoffs intrude as I continue to write what feels like a truth. But the other truth is this: it is a lot harder for men to stake a claim on a kind of queer gender without breaking other aesthetic conventions. That is true even within gay communities themselves, where a kind of homomasculinity reinforces patriarchy in microcosm. But I think, for me personally, I have to start somewhere. I have previously made no claim to queerness because I didn’t think anyone else would think I was queer enough to qualify. But the conversation was limited. The terrain was one-dimensional. Debates around my queerness, always instigated by others, had always been with regards to my sexuality. That remains a complicated and private topic for me, no doubt because it is an aspect of my personality I’ve long been denied any ownership of. But the real issue has always been gender. I knew in myself that the disconnect was between my gender and my sexuality, but I didn’t have the vocabulary or the opportunity to explore that in a way that I was comfortable with. So I locked it all away. I recoiled from the idea of wearing my heart on my sleeve. I no longer felt comfortable expressing myself outwardly. I wore nothing but black in an attempt to at least make my voided sense of self look chic. Thank god I started writing. These days it’s all I have. I think now’s about time I wrote this down and said it publicly, to finally try and perforate the divide between who I am within and who I am socially and sexually — two worlds that have long been kept firmly apart, with deeply damaging results.

The strange thing is that, in writing all of this down, I thought I’d feel different. It is telling that I don’t. Saying this out loud means the world though. It feels defiant. It feels like claiming ownership over a part of my life that has always belonged to other people. In fact, lots of my life feels like it belongs to other people. Such is life as an adoptee — feeling like a patchwork person with two names. Knowing I am Matt Colquhoun to many but, to another group of people, I am Lewis D—-, is enough to mess with your head as it is, and maybe that’s part of this strange feeling too. But surely, in the realm of heteronormative family dynamics, adoption constitutes a queer relation in its own way. Regardless, it nonetheless remains true that all the conflicts in my life until my twenties were oddly gendered. I think I’d like to acknowledge myself as oddly gendered now too, thanks.

I don’t know what that looks like yet. I don’t know if it looks like anything. This isn’t a post to declare a change of name or of pronouns or anything else (although I may start signalling “he/they” when the opportunity arises). This is a post written to tell a story that I’ve often been made to feel ashamed of, by straight friends and queer friends alike, all because I don’t look the part. The problem is that I’ve never looked the part, no matter what that part is. The name of this blog, of course, was just another joke about not looking the part. As a teenager, I used to use the pseudonym “pseudochild” online — an expression of this same sentiment, I think, cloaked under a collection of other mid-pubescent changes. (The unintended resonance this pseudonym has with “xenogothic” is something I have thought about often.) But these names are as much a claim of identity as they are an attempt to circumvent it altogether. Because even if I don’t look the part, I feel the part and always have. Embracing a feeling over an outward appearance was a founding gesture of a newly authentic life online, and affirming being a bad goth has been life-affirming more broadly too. I think it’s about time I finally embrace being a bad queer as well.

A Postcapitalist Battle of the Sexes

One of the comments that came up persistently following Aly’s reading list — and even in a comment on my own post [since deleted] — is that reducing accelerationism to some battle of the sexes is reductive and lame.

I’m not sure what those people think they are defending in saying this. If I was to emphasise Alex Williams’ original communist inflection on accelerationism, would these same commentators decry the reduction of accelerationism to the class struggle?

On Twitter, @CmonNowGirl commented on my last post with a link to a recent essay of their own on “Gender Realism” — a really excellent bridging of the gap between Mark Fisher’s capitalist realism and an Irigarayian feminism. I’m really glad @CmonNowGirl brought this up, as it further grounds the importance of cyber/xenofeminism to accelerationism’s overall lineage.

Fisher wrote on feminism fairly often. In his own accelerationist writings, he addressed the melancholy of Ellen Willis, for instance, as a way to highlight second-wave feminism’s crisis of negation. He writes for eflux:

In her 1979 essay “The Family: Love It or Leave It,” the late music and cultural critic Ellen Willis noted that the counterculture’s desire to replace the family with a system of collective child-rearing would have entailed “a social and psychic revolution of almost inconceivable magnitude.” It’s very difficult, in our deflated times, to re-create the counterculture’s confidence that such a “social and psychic revolution” could not only happen, but was already in the process of unfolding. Like many of her generation, Willis’s life was shaped by first being swept up by these hopes, then seeing them gradually wither as the forces of reaction regained control of history. There’s probably no better account of the Sixties counterculture’s retreat from Promethean ambition into self-destruction, resignation, and pragmatism than Willis’s collection of essays Beginning To See The Light.

The upset commentator on my last post expressed concern that I, xenogothic, great reader of Mark Fisher, could be so easily caught up in Aly’s manufacturing of outrage that he would have surely had little time for. (It was a truly mind-numbing comment.) The truth is Mark was a huge supporter of accelerationism’s feminist foundations and using them to reinvigorate accelerationism’s wayward edgelording. He adds in his essay on Willis:

I want to situate accelerationism not as some heretical form of Marxism, but as an attempt to converge with, intensify, and politicize the most challenging and exploratory dimensions of popular culture. Willis’s desire for “a social and psychic revolution of almost inconceivable magnitude” and her “quarrel with the left” over desire and freedom can provide a different way into thinking what is at stake in this much misunderstood concept.

What @CmonNowGirl calls “gender realism” is precisely the sort of extension to his own thinking that Fisher applauded. In fact, “gender realism” resonates very nicely with what Helen Hester has called “domestic realism”. Hester’s essay on this was the required reading for the last session of Fisher’s Postcapitalist Desire course at Goldsmiths in 2017. We unfortunately don’t know what Fisher would have had to say on it but it is nonetheless mentioned over the course of the course — which you’ll be able to read for yourself next month in this new collection I’ve edited.

Mentioning Willis’s text — also required reading — in his introduction to the course, Fisher says:

And what I particularly like about this piece by Ellen Willis is how it raises the question of what we’ll look at later; of what Helen Hester calls “domestic realism”, which is a bit of a parallel to what I’ve called “capitalist realism” — i.e. the idea that domestic structures, the ways we organise our lives at home, are fixed and immutable, and we can’t imagine them being any different. In the Sixties, in the counterculture, people did try to live in a different way, did try to live in a more collective and communal way. It didn’t work out. It stalled. It failed. It went wrong. Interestingly, Willis’s argument is that part of the problem was impatience. People thought that we could overcome these structures very quickly. In fact, they are highly tenacious and will reassert themselves unless they are continually dismantled.

In the session on Willis’s text, which did go ahead before Fisher’s death, he expands on this — [emphasis in the quotation below is all mine]:

What the counterculture aimed at was the phrase that I picked up: “a social and psychic revolution of almost inconceivable magnitude”. We who came after the 1960s — even though I was born in the 1960s, although too late to comprehend it at that time — we who come after it find it hard to imagine a time when those ambitions seemed to be realistic. What’s being registered in this text by this time is the simultaneous and synchronised emergence of capitalist realism and domestic realism, and their co-implication: the idea that there’s no alternative to capitalism and there’s no alternative to the family either.

I actually think that domestic realism is even more powerful than capitalist realism in today’s world. Even when I was at school, in the 1980s, there were fairly serious debates about alternatives to the family. I remember when I taught teenagers, a few years ago, you’d talk about alternatives to the family and they were just horrified by the very thought of it. And the full tragedy of that was, of course, that many of them had come from very difficult family backgrounds. So, they had an idealised idea of the family that didn’t fit with their experience of the family at all. And yet that very idealisation implied that they still held up the family as an idea. The countercultural mission to have done with the family really has almost entirely disappeared now as a widespread cultural phenomenon.

@CmonNowGirl’s essay, along with Helen Hester’s, covers a lot of the groundwork here, expounding upon why capitalist and gender and domestic realism are co-implicated and, most importantly, why so much has been done to obscure their relationship to one another.

An accelerationism that dismisses this as a superfluous “battle of the sexes” is precisely the outlook of someone who doesn’t know what accelerationism’s stakes are. It is, of course, not the only revolution that accelerationism first sought to instigate, but it is a major one. Without first revolutionising these relations, little else will be able to follow.

Cyberfeminist Beginnings, Cyberfeminist Ends


My mind is elsewhere as of late, but it would be remiss of this blog to witness some accelerationist drama on Twitter and then let it go unacknowledged.

Aly recently posted an accelerationist reader that controversially, as Ed Berger explains on his blog, “skips all the usual suspects (Marx, Deleuze, Guattari, Land, Fisher…).”

The reading list is great. By (almost) exclusively citing women, it provocatively provides accelerationism with an alternate history — or rather, it provides an alternative to what has since become understood as acc “canon”.

It’s a shame that this is how accelerationism is now approached, through claims of canon and non-canon. We were discussing this in the XG reading group on Sunday — the extent to which Reza Negarestani is now retconned as a card-carrying member of the Ccru. He never was, but that’s not to delegitimise Reza. It’s important.

The Ccru, in themselves, were not “canon”. They were a Thing that emerged from a combination of all this cross-cultural pulp; a veritable Swamp Thing. But they found a certain amount of fame nonetheless. Reza was someone who kept their momentum going along a new vector. He wasn’t a part of Ccru but he was successful in inserting himself into that demoralised post-Warwick trajectory, lighting up the blogosphere. He was an outsider who wrote himself inside the fiction. It says a lot about how successful he was — but also how short people’s memories are — when the Ccru and Reza and the rest of the blogosphere started to lose their defining outsider status. It’s a process whereby narratives get calcified, fossilized. For Reza, that acephalous oily mouth, that’s effectively theory-death — although a death he later welcomed. But an essence is lost in the process. The original fault is filled in like grout between tiles.

When Robin addresses Reza’s strange history in his Brief History of Geotrauma, he writes that “Trauma belongs to a time beyond personal memory”. What is being investigated there is something prehistoric; prewriting; prenarrative. I think that’s an important consideration here.

A narrative is something that we build on top. Extending a narrative has its uses but, at a certain point, all we are doing is repressing that which we were first trying to describe. This is, arguably, why Deleuze and Guattari and the Ccru and Reza all try to describe and enact what they are describing simultaneously. It’s a kind of writing in your own blood. It is a kind of traumatic writing that triggers and is triggered. It drives stakes down beneath texts to those things we dress up in philosophy only to later forget them. It’s a practice of holding wounds open rather than than stitching them with so many words.

This is why Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos grew beyond him so successfully. His personal traumas were obscured by the sharing of a cosmic perspective and the truth was unearthed from beneath one man’s sexually repressed and racist neuroses. The wounds were opened so wide as to swallow the world in them.

For better and for worse, since the days of the Ccru, accelerationism and its adjacent weird theories have been given the status of a Cthulhu mythos, always adding strings to the bow. Of course, acc thought is nowhere near as internally cohesive as the Ccru’s brand of fictioning. Perhaps because it arrived too late (and this is perhaps why we must repeatedly go back to the Nineties, skipping over the actual moment of accelerationism’s Noughties emergence). Today, accelerationism, as a political philosophy that hopes to deal with the impasses of postmodern capitalism, is crawling with PoMo rot. We should be careful what we attached it to, in case you lose control of its spread.

This is why repeated attempts have been made to try and re-situate accelerationism’s original concerns. Aly’s list is perhaps the most important recent example. (You wouldn’t think it to look at it — no shade, of course; it is just minimal as far as acc primers go — but the response to it speaks volumes.) It is a list that does well to add an obscured dimension back into accelerationist thinking and Ed’s follow-up post goes a step further towards situating the list in a context that those people mad about it have conveniently forgotten about, having become too caught up in an ahistorical narrative. It is necessary that we drag “accelerationism — now more a splinter of cyberfeminism than vice-versa — back to the (un)ground that gave rise to it in the first place”.

It’s been quite exciting to see — even the backlash. The squabbling has reminded me of that exciting time online in 2018 when U/Acc and G/Acc were first being developed in the blogosphere and in the bowels of Cave Twitter. Amy Ireland and Nyx Land were doing so much valuable work to re-centre this trajectory via a kind of feminist horrorism, drawn quite explicitly from Land’s often ignored tendency to give voice to a feminine Nietzscheanism — and going further still, building on those members / affiliates of the Ccru so often lost under Land’s shadow — many of whom are mentioned in Ed’s post.

Whilst Land remained the central vector and influence, emphasising his (proto-)xenofeminist tendencies was an attempt to uncover this same trajectory, re-contaminating his thinking, and making it something impossible for his more uncritical acolytes to ignore.

It was later Mother Hellcrypt, an elusive avatar occasionally invoked by Land himself, that became a icon for those of us thinking these things through. She was the vector through which this history was allowed to flow.

I’d like to think this blog has always had a place for this lineage — although, admittedly, it’s not my main area of expertise. Amidst the blogosphere’s patchwork of ideological perspectives, these threads were best explored by others, but a defence of accelerationism’s feminist valences has nonetheless been a regular feature here. (The last time was notably in response to another of Aly’s excellent blog posts, attempting to reconnect XF to the insights provided by accelerationism’s central ur-text, Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy — a connection squeamishly ignored by XF’s critics, even though it holds the answers to many of their concerns.)

But the question still remains: Why has this disarticulation between XF and accelerationism occurred in the first place? XF was arguably an attempt to intensify a vector that seemed to lead to an amputation. An acc-fearing feminism and a feminism-fearing acc found themselves firmly gripping two sides of the same saw. (Never mind Twitter spitting its dummy out the other night, it was clear that we were having a bit of a crisis when XF, and accelerationism’s feminist beginnings more broadly, had to be defended against other feminists rather than from any other explicitly acc contingent.) As ever, accelerationism is caught unproductively in the middle as all sides of the political compass try and use it as a vessel for vague, paranoid concerns.

Again, Ed’s excellent post drives home the fact that things are not as they used to be. But still: why? Aly’s reading list raises a number of valuable questions in this regard, some that should give everyone pause for thought.

Accelerationist thinking has long been a boy’s club — that’s undeniable. The assumption of ownership by male interlocutors has always been a point of contention, with some of the most important contributors to acc thought being chased off platforms not with pitchforks but through creepy replyguy tendencies. Theorybros are a scourge that many thinkers have struggled against and found the battle not worth fighting for, going quiet / private or disappearing altogether rather than masochistically fighting for a seat at the table, the other occupants of which having previously looked up to them for guidance. (I probably wouldn’t be blogging here still without early support and encouragement from Amy Ireland in 2017, who introduced me to the rest of Cave Twitter — I think the same is true for many people around these parts.)

Suffice it to say, if accelerationism’s feminist foundations are shocking to you, perhaps ask yourself why. What has led to this ground being obscured from your vision of this unruly thought? It’s long had a presence on every acc blog that matters, so why is a list that only lists its feminist (or at least female) influences the source of so much outrage?

The answers will be obvious to most. If they’re not to you, maybe take a look at yourself and ask why.


Following the recent release of the acc course written by Meta-Nomad and myself, I’ve been continuing to flesh out my side of the project in the hope of turning my material into a book draft. (Don’t hold your breath, it’ll take me a while yet.)

This version of acc’s genealogy that I’m newly sketching out for myself — contrary to Vincent Garton’s perennial wisdom — doesn’t (presently) include any explicitly feminist material, to my shame, but — following the recent Twitter drama around acc’s cyberfeminist beginnings — I’m now wondering about how this project is still relevant to that cyberfeminist trajectory, and how I might make space for it in my otherwise heavily localised considerations.

This is to say that my focus might be somewhat controversial in its own right. It isn’t much concerned with Land, or Deleuze and Guattari either, except in passing. Instead, it situates accelerationism within the immediate circumstances of its blogospheric emergence: the financial crash of 2007/08 and the critical impasse that left-wing thought seemed to be faced with at that time.

Alain Badiou called this impasse our “crisis of negation”. His argument, succinctly put, is no doubt familiar: we are capable of destroying the old but we are incapable of producing the new. Today I’m wondering to what extent xenofeminism and cyberfeminism are concerned with this same crisis in negation, albeit within feminist thought, that acc first sought to rectify more generally…

This argument regarding the crisis in negation has long been doing the rounds culturally — Mark Fisher and Simon Reynolds’ writings on hauntology made much the same claim. However it was Badiou (and, to a lesser extent, Žižek) who led the charge politically in the late 2000s.

With this long ignored Badiouian basis in mind, we might argue that accelerationism and hauntology are concerned with the same problems. Accelerationism, however, placed itself distinctly in opposition to its theoretical neighbour.

Alex Williams, on his long dead blog Splintering Bone Ashes, rejected hauntology as a “form of good postmodernism, as set against the bad PoMo of a rampaging retroism.” It is, he writes, “a cowardly move, lusting after utopias that never were, or which are now unreachable, a retreat into childhood/youth, just as trapped in the endless re-iterative mechanistics of the postmodern as the lowest form of retroism, merely in a hyper-self-aware form.” As a result, hauntology is too liable to falling on its own sword — and, in its melancholy, it would probably be happy if it did so — because it “cedes too much ground to what it attempts to oppose”.

Accelerationism emerges as a kind of political response to hauntology’s cultural ascendancy in this regard — the overbearing nature of its melancholic “end of history” stasis. Accelerationism, then, challenges Badiou, at the height of his (recently acquired) powers in the Anglosphere, with the same critique — he also cedes too much ground to what he attempts to oppose. Williams nonetheless draws on Badiou’s thought and then, notably, pushes it further. He writes:

Perhaps what [the financial crash] offers … is a chink in the armour of late capital, a Badiouian event, evading the usual in-situational structural determinations. In a sense Badiou would not recognise (economic) it really does give an opportunity (as did the crash of 1929) to recalibrate both the state-market relation and the type of economic theory deployed by governments. But this will be merely to retrench, to stabilise, to maintain the present system, in a new form, by whatever means necessary and available. Politically it is less clear, for in order that the potential this event offers to be fully exploited, we need a politics capable of fully evading even the kind of generic humanism Badiou’s politics (for example) proffers. For the impasse of the end of history can only be properly surmounted by a final nihilistic overcoming of humanism — in a sense even Badiou fails this test, his minimal-communist humanism not going far enough. What perhaps this might entail is a rethinking of a revolutionary position, built on the basis of a rethinking of the very notion of value itself.

Now, I don’t want to just regurgitate my research from my half of the acc course here, but suffice it to say that a renewed focus on Williams’ initial accelerationist texts has proved hugely informative for me as of late. (It was following this post quoted above that Noys responded: “that’s the sort of kakocratic thinking I’ve been calling accelerationism” and Williams (followed closely by Fisher) went “yoink!”)

I feel like a new sense of acc’s beginnings has given me a new appreciation of just how shit the conversation around it has become. Indeed, all the squabbling about what is and isn’t acc is not only futile but damaging when we fail to realise that what we are witnessing is accelerationism falling victim to the very forces to hoped to critique. This was articulated after the Christchurch shooting — Brenton Tarrant is the very subject that accelerationism first sought to critique — but accelerationism’s problems started long before he pulled a trigger.

What we failed to see, in the years prior, was how Accelerationism was similarly sliding from the “good” PoMo deterritorialising political heresy of the 2000s to a bad PoMo horroristic conservatism in the 2010s. It is the equivalent of Burial releasing an album of Arctic Monkeys covers and we run with it for the sheer “mad lad” cahones of it. Or perhaps the other way round — Alex Turner releases an “Archangel” cover for Record Store Day. The line between blessed and cursed runs thin and whilst we might get caught up in the lulz and the spectacle of it all, we should remain vigilant to the fact that this could be the system’s way of ironing out the dialectical movement that exists (with difficulty) between diagnosis and symptom. Before you know it, the world has moved on, and someone picks up that release and sees Burial and Alex Turner as natural bedfellows. Where there was, initially, a critical tension, there is now a flatness as a postmodern cultural consciousness eats its outliers.

Are we still able to affirm, after everything that has happened, Williams’ attempts to play chicken with these tensions in the hope they might break the system? I’m not so sure. He obviously no longer thinks so. But it remains relevant because this problem that Williams and others sought to address has still yet to be resolved. There is the additional irony that this problem is most relevant to accelerationism itself today. It has become entangled in the forces of PoMo it hoped to accelerate out from. Clearly some acc theorising had done nothing but place drag on that attempt.

(As an aside, it is worth noting, I think, that although Land’s influence looms large over accelerationism — the fury around Aly’s recent reading list seemed to come primarily from Land’s sidelining — many of the early accelerationists were critical of his fidelity to capitalism. Whilst his Nineties analysis of capitalism is DeleuzoGuattarian, it seems he later came to prefer its reterritorialising tendencies rather than call for a vigilance against them. This is to say that Land seems to absorb ideological extremes and others’ attempts to move past his thought in order to retain his own relevance, just like capital. Perhaps such a tactic is not to be rebuked in and of itself — we could just call to “learning” or “changing your mind” — but it certainly complicated his affinity with the neoconservative right in the present moment, which begs the question: To what extent does Land’s aping of capital through a cultural conservatism similarly cause drag on the system rather than lubricating it?)

(As an aside to this aside, this problematic becomes most apparent in the ways that Land absorbs and neutralises many critiques made against him by the early blogosphere; in the ways he adopts tendencies that were invoked by others to move beyond his Nineties work in order to furnish his new Noughties neoreaction for himself. Horrorism, for instance, is wholly associated with Land today, but it was Alex Williams who first used that term, borrowing it cynically from Martin Amis to describe “a non-dialectical amassing of negativity … a horror piled upon horror, a critical mass capable of pulling the subjectivity attached to the organic human substrate through to some nether-zone of dissolution, a Deleuzean becoming crucially without affirmation.” This was a dark Deleuzeanism proper — far darker than anything Andrew Culp could pull out of the blogosphere — which called for a political praxis of terroristic communism able to “destabilise the current state-capital bond … a kind of meta-terrorism, operating on the plane of capital itself … a capitalist surrealism [seeking] the exploitation of credit-based financial systems for their primary destructive potential … not merely to be thought on the ability to trigger vast crashes, which is readily apparent, but further their capacity to destabilise the consistency of value itself.” That horrorism is today associated with the worst kind of right-wing online edgelording shows just how successful Land’s reterritorialisation of the term has been.)

Where does accelerationism’s cyberfeminist foundation fit into all of this? I’d argue that G/Acc, most explicitly, was the first successful attempt to answer Badiou’s melancholy call. Feminism itself has been caught within its own crisis of negation, happy to destroy old gender norms but reluctant to build new ones (outside the purview of capitalist orthodoxy). Accelerationism’s adjacency to trans discourses is obviously relevant here. There’s no more accessible way to hack the matrix of subjectivity in the present than fucking with gender. G/acc recentred the cyberfeminist lineage and added to this the horrorism that trans discourse injects into a liberal establishment.

G/acc’s relationship to u/acc in this regard is wholly positive. U/acc flattened the playing field, attempting to destroy the build-up of misconceptions and divergences that obscured accelerationism’s striving for the new over the destruction of the old. Without ceding too much ground to the destructive tendency it hoped to critique, g/acc emerged as a product of that striving; the phoenix from the ashes.

Cyberfeminism has arguably always played that role in this thought. The outrage triggered by a reading list — a fucking reading list — that recentres this shows just how rotten and fatally ingrown (broadly speaking) accelerationism’s attempts to produce the new have become.

Xenofeminism and the Problem of the Non-Alienated Region

Alex has written a really fantastic blogpost on the tensions between immanence and transcendence in the Xenofeminist Manifesto. It chimes with something I’ve been thinking about recently, after spending quite a bit of time with Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy. (I’m going to pull on this thread here, which may or may not resonate with Alex’s post — I cannot claim to be as well acquainted with XF’s named antecedents as she is.)

The sense in which “alienation” is used in xenofeminism’s self-described “politics of alienation” has been a sticking point for a few people in recent years — and Alex’s response to this handwringing is entertaining enough: “I don’t care enough to comment”. But I do feel like, indirectly at least, Alex has sketched the outline of a figure that these critiques always fail to see.

This figure emerges in the form of a fundamental tension, which Alex draws out as follows:

For XF, calls to nature are power moves — linguistic expressions of the will to power that inadvertently locks one into a prison — in which we “are told to seek solace in unfreedom, staking claims on being ‘born’ this way, as if offering an excuse with nature’s blessing” (Cuboniks 2015, 5). Appeals to nature — or more specifically, truth in nature — are “a retreat from what makes trans and queer politics more than just a lobby: that it is an arduous assertion of freedom against an order that seemed immutable” (Cuboniks 2015, 5). Here, nature is figured as a kind of limit which must be overcome — an order that can be overthrown or escape. This xenofeminism confronts a prison, sure, but prisons have outsides: they are escapable.

Yet while this XF is embedded rather neatly in the language of transcendence, hardly two pages later the manifesto shatters any illusion of transcendence or the possibility (possibilities?) therein. With a heavy dose of Donne Haraway, XFM reads: “‘Nature’ — understood here, as the unbounded arena of science — is all there is“ (Cuboniks 2015, 4). Where the previous XF almost yearns for a kind of innocence (though I’m sure no one will ever admit to it), this other Xenofeminism — where nature is not a limit but “all there is” — invokes Haraway’s unwavering refusal to tease out the organic and the inorganic: “we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism” (Cuboniks 2015, 2).

This tension has led to a number of critics trying to tease out just what exactly XF is talking about when it talks about alienation. The first of these was Annie Goh’s for Mute magazine, which many found to be deficient in constructing a flawed history of the term’s philosophical uses. I’ve been nursing an argument recently that this article’s paranoic drawing of lines around certain senses of the term doesn’t get us anywhere because it misses out a central if silent reference: Lyotard.

Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy declares — controversially, of course — that there is a false tautology in most understandings of alienation in the present, as if the presence of alienation suggests there is some non-alienated region for us to escape to. But this position, more often than not, falls back on primitivist arguments of retreat. When dealing with something like capitalism, this kind of logic is never not reactionary. It also ignores the extent to which people — specifically, the modern proletariat — enjoy their alienation, complicating the entangled processes of desire and capitalism.

I’m partly interested in this because of my current research into adoption and surrogacy. Because, despite all the recent romanticising of familial abolition, I find it interesting that there is little consideration of how adopted children (broadly speaking — that is, whatever the circumstances of their births) are quintessentially alienated subjects. It seems to me that any focus on the politics of surrogacy, though still valuable in and of itself, can only ever have half of the picture if it refuses to consider the complex affects of alienation commonly experienced by those who are surrogates, who are born of surrogacy, or who raise surrogate children. This is because, no matter how emphatically the abolition of the family is called for, it nonetheless remains this oddly transcendental prison that we cannot see outside of.

This is intriguing for me in my research because I think it can be argued that most of the trauma experienced by those in the adoptive triad comes from the fact that they are outside of a societal limit of familial relations that are so abstract and yet so concrete. Each figure in this complex relationship is primed to escape the bounds of what we understand as a “family” but this very process of adoption and surrogacy exists in order to suture together some ill-fitting ideal. The resulting alienation occurs because, as we know, even though the nuclear family is a bygone category — with its failure statistically more common today than not — it remains a sort of transcendental institution that defines how we think about and imagine our domestic relations.

Mark Fisher wrote about this once, commenting on Beginning to See the Light by Ellen Willis, who mourns the extent to which the hippies, who were all for communal living, for a time, couldn’t get past the desire deep down to marry off and start a family. Mark writes:

The counterculture’s politics were anticapitalist, Willis argues, but this did not entail a straightforward rejection of everything produced in the capitalist field. Certainly, pleasure and individualism were important to what Willis characterizes as her “quarrel with the left,” yet the desire to do away with the family could not be construed in these terms alone; it was inevitably also a matter of new and unprecedented forms of collective (but non-statist) organization.

Willis declares her generation naive to have thought they could have done away with the desire for the family so swiftly. Mark talks about how this is prevalent in even the most unlikely of places — as even children who have been abused and are the products of abjectly dysfunctional families still yearn for the ideal — and the Right arguably preyed on this in the 1970s. He continues:

Willis insists that the return of familialism was central to the rise of the new Right, which was just about to be confirmed in grand style with the election of Ronald Reagan in the US and Margaret Thatcher in the UK. “If there is one cultural trend that has defined the seventies,” Willis wrote, “it is the aggressive resurgence of family chauvinism.” For Willis, perhaps the most disturbing signs of this new conservatism was the embrace of the family by elements of the Left, a trend reinforced by the tendency for former adherents of the counterculture (including herself) to (re)turn to the family out of a mixture of exhaustion and defeatism. “I’ve fought, I’ve paid my dues, I’m tired of being marginal. I want in!” Impatience — the desire for a sudden, total, and irrevocable change, for the end of the family within a generation — gave way to a bitter resignation when that (inevitably) failed to happen.

Mark goes on to claim that the questions raised by Willis’s obituary for the counterculture — not least in its admissions of impatience — are explicitly accelerationist, at least when coupled with a necessary clarification of the term. He writes:

I want to situate accelerationism not as some heretical form of Marxism, but as an attempt to converge with, intensify, and politicize the most challenging and exploratory dimensions of popular culture. Willis’s desire for “a social and psychic revolution of almost inconceivable magnitude” and her “quarrel with the left” over desire and freedom can provide a different way into thinking what is at stake in this much misunderstood concept. A certain, perhaps now dominant, take on accelerationism has it that the position amounts to a cheerleading for the intensification of any capitalist process whatsoever, particularly the “worst,” in the hope that this will bring the system to a point of terminal crisis. … This formulation, however, is question-begging in that it assumes what accelerationism rejects — the idea that everything produced “under” capitalism fully belongs to capitalism. By contrast, accelerationism maintains that there are desires and processes which capitalism gives rise to and feeds upon, but which it cannot contain; and it is the acceleration of these processes that will push capitalism beyond its limits. Accelerationism is also the conviction that the world desired by the Left is post-capitalist — that there is no possibility of a return to a pre-capitalist world and that there is no serious desire to return to such a world, even if we could.

Here we see Lyotard’s charge, that the oppressed might enjoy their oppression, landing perhaps a little too close to home — and we cannot deny that XF has always been, quite explicitly, accelerationism-adjacent, whether in Fisher’s sense or otherwise.

I’d argue that Lyotard’s challenge of total alienation isn’t just a huge factor within capitalist realism but also in what Helen Hester has called “domestic realism”. In fact, we might argue that (part of) XF’s sense of alienation approaches the family in much the same way accelerationism approaches capitalism. We cannot disavow everything the family produces simply because of the circumstances of their genesis — not least because the ideal of the family is the primary foundation we have for a communal form of living. In this sense, we can use it as a starting point, as any politics of surrogacy surely has to do by default in our present moment. But this position necessitates the inclusion of Lyotard’s own problematic — we have to then account for the ways that parents and their children actually enjoy the tortorous Christmases, the shit family outings, the passed-on neuroses, the genetic familiarity…

When XF calls for transcendence from nature whilst acknowledging its immanence, surely this is the battleground they are describing? The call for the abolition of the family, of gender, of domestic realism, cannot fall back on the fallacy of a non-alienated region to set up camp in.

And if alienation is all there is, then the only way out is through.

Sexually Identifying as a War Machine: Keeping the Trans* in Transgressive

Many people around this part of the internet will already be familiar with Isabel Fall’s amazing short short “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter” — available here via the Wayback Machine because it was, tragically and maddeningly, taken down.

On the off chance you missed it and all the drama that surrounded it, Gretchen Felker-Martin has penned an excellent summary of the events that led up to its removal from the web alongside a short reflection on the (an)ethical nature of transgressive literature, its importance, and why the reaction to “Attack Helicopter” paints a picture of seemingly progressive circles that is deeply unflattering, emboldening the right-wing view of leftism as a new fascism due to the formal-aesthetic conservatism that exists at its popular core.

This, however, is one of the rare instances where this accusation comes convincingly from within, and demands a long overdue reckoning.

As Felker-Martin writes:

The violent and oftentimes ironically ignorant backlash against Fall’s story sheds light on a troublingly regressive, entitled, and puritanical trend in the relationship between artists and their audiences, particularly when it comes to genre fiction. Readers appear to feel a need to cast their objections to fiction in moral terms, positioning themselves as protectors of the downtrodden. Trans writer Phoebe Barton went so far as to compare Fall’s story to a “gun” which could be used only to inflict harm, though in a later tweet she, like Jemisin, admitted she hadn’t read it and had based her reaction solely on its title.

Many reactions to Fall’s story, for all that they come from nominal progressives, fit neatly into a Puritanical mold, attacking it as hateful toward transness, fundamentally evil for depicting a trans person committing murder, or else as material that right-wing trolls could potentially use to smear trans people as ridiculous. Each analysis positioned the author as at best thoughtless and at worst hateful, while her attackers are cast as righteous; in such a way of thinking, art is not a sensual or aesthetic experience but a strictly moral one, its every instance either fundamentally good or evil. This provides aggrieved parties an opportunity to feel righteousness in attacking transgressive art, positioning themselves as protectors of imagined innocents or of ideals under attack.


That someone reacts with hurt to art doesn’t make that art dangerous, and claiming that all art that’s capable of causing pain is inherently toxic is a solipsistic nightmare in which a reader’s personal experience becomes an act of violence committed against them by an author whom they likely do not know. It’s a reflexive model of critique, a rejection of evaluating art on its own merits. In a way it takes the place of criticism entirely, ignoring aesthetic concerns in favor of moral ones. Perhaps in that emotional reaction is some trace of readers reliving their own trauma and, casting the artist in the role of an attack or abuser, reimagining it as a scenario in which they can stop that violation from happening. It’s a poignant thought — who among us wouldn’t want to protect our younger selves, or hypothetical children who remind us of ourselves, from life’s nettles and pitfalls? It also locks us in memories of our own pain and reduces art to something strictly individual, cutting away its ability to let us experience the lives and dreams of people we’ll never know.

Stories like “Attack Helicopter” are vital to unpacking the webs of intersecting forces which make up every human consciousness. They constitute an outlet for the suffering of marginalized artists raised in bigoted, imperialist cultures, a way to process the poison we’re spoon-fed from birth into something that awakens and lays bare. Calls for the destruction or censorship of such stories constitute a rejection of life’s intrinsic complexity, a retreat into the black and white moral absolutism of adolescence, or theocracy. These rigid moral strictures strip marginalized communities of their full humanity and of their history as makers of painful, difficult art stemming from their experiences as outsiders. They rob audiences of the space and tools necessary to engage art thoughtfully and in good faith. They make our world a poorer, harsher place, clannish and merciless, and smother beauty in its cradle.

I think this article is excellent, not only for its unpicking of how and why “Attack Helicopter” unfairly ended up in the trash but also for its brief but potent exploration of how transgender discourses, in some corners of the internet, are doing far more damage to the experiences they say they want to protect from harm in sharing a moralising hair-trigger when it comes to transgressive art, even when it is produced from within their own comunity.

Now, obviously I write a fair amount about trans* experiences on this blog — undoubtedly a suspicious amount for someone who is cis — but what I respect and admire in the proliferation of trans* discourses online, particularly in this part of the internet, adjacent to xenofeminist conversations, is the openness and frankness regarding experiences of embodied displacement that I only wish was more commonplace in the wider world.

I’ve written previously about my relationship to trans discourses in this regard, particularly related to research I started into the documented overlap between post-adoption and transgender experiences. However, more generally speaking, the importance of articulating such displacements for me is that I think a widespread acceptance of our patchwork selves will lead to a far healthier social sphere for all to engage in. The difficulty is that it requires a radical attack on identitarianism from both the right and the left. It requires an adaptive and perpetually unsettling transgression.

This is something that I think Felker-Martin implicitly affirms her article and I wanted to add something as to why I think this story in particular is an excellent example of a radical aesthetics and politics in action simultaneously, the reactions to which perfectly demonstrate how the popular left is in constant danger of cutting off its nose despite its face.

This is explicitly relevant to transgressive literature. Indeed, transgressive literature often finds itself attacked from all sides, precisely because it is so often coupled with a deeply ethical agenda that seeks to demonstrate how inner experience finds itself perpetually displaced within an often monolithic and moralistic sociopolitical right-left culture.

The question becomes: How can we allow marginalised literature like “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter” to flourish? And: How might we do so in a way that combats left and right identitarianism wherever it emerges?

In thinking about an answer to these questions I was reminded of that scene in American Beauty where the bullying military Dad, Frank “the Colonel”, who expresses a murderous rage whenever someone brings up “the faggots”, ends up supposedly revealing himself to be a closeted homosexual.

It’s a familiar trope — and a tired one at that — but it’s also a demonstration of a tendency that you will see all the time in your daily life once you know what to look for, and especially if you have ever found yourself on the receiving end of a sociocultural rejection for not fitting into your prescribed gender role well enough, becoming an ironic outlet for other’s insecurities. (Odd memories resurfacing here from my high school years of being inappropriately touched by the lads to demonstrate my effeminate self.)

This abusive relationship to queerness (or perceptions of queerness) is revealing, however, for the ways that queerness is understood socially, even by those who would discriminate against it.

This scene in American Beauty demonstrates this effectively. On the whole, it is one of those films — like Fight Club, notably released the same year — that is a wholesale attack on a deeply American and violently holistic sense of self — of the gendered variety in particular — that is all too often interpreted as a defense of its opposite. Kevin Spacey’s portrayal of Lester Fitts, like Brad Pitt’s / Edward Norton’s of Tyler Duerden in Fight Club, seems to many to be representative of a warped American individualism where the patriarch is at his strongest when he gives in to his personal desires and embraces what we’ll call here his “Integer Self” — an unmistakably phallic sense of being that sees itself as being complete in itself: a monolith in a social milieu of performative relations and a rejection of what R.D. Laing most famously called the “divided self”. You notice that you are divided, ergo you must pick a side — the radical option being the transgressive road less traveled; the side you hide from the wider world.

This is a bad reading.

As the scene with the Colonel’s kiss makes particularly clear, Spacey’s power (and Pitt’s / Norton’s tandem power in Fight Club — although it is cynically reflected inwards rather than outwards) emerges from the discovery of a newly machinic and schizophrenic sense of self. It is not that they stand alone — it is that they are newly capable of entering into previously closed-off connections; connections not officially sanctioned by the Big Other. (To borrow from Sadie Plant, we can argue they turn from a 1 into a 0.)

Fight Club is full of these moments but the distinct (visual) separation between Pitt and Norton’s characters allows for an audience compartmentalisation that scaffolds a big narrative twist at the end but downplays the power of the schizoid relations they are tapping into (especially on first viewing; on second, it’s just obvious and embarrassing). American Beauty is better at this. In his encounter with the Colonel — to stick with the example — Fitts’ moral indifference towards his wife’s apparent infidelity is nonetheless coupled with a broader social compassion that disarms the Colonel, who is struggling to maintain his grip on his viciously maintained masculinity. Lester’s honesty about his own failings as a man who can’t satisfy his wife encourages the Colonel to embrace his own insecurities and lean in for a kiss.

By comparison, Fight Club‘s schizoid narcissism is cringe as fuck. Whereas Fight Club would split these relations between imagined and divided selves, here Spacey embodies the complex relation between self and other as a personable openness, and demonstrates the social affect of one becoming multiple.

As a result, in American Beauty, it is not enough to simply accused the Colonel of being a closeted homosexual. What must be recognised is his stereotypically American and holistic approach to the self — the stringent belief in “The USA” over the unconscious unruliness of the frontier; the adamance in the pursuits of the modern settled protectionist individual over a transgressively nomadic ancestral past. The Colonel, seemingly in the midst of a breakdown as his selves threaten to erupt onto the surface, tests another self out on Lester — a self he can then reject (kill) by murdering the screen onto which he has projected it. Bye-bye, Lester.

(Lester, in turn, has a mirrored experience where he nearly has sex with his teenage daughter’s best friend, Angela, who he has lusted over uncomfortably throughout the film but instead stops himself, discovering that she too has been playing the role of someone she is not — the sexually experienced cheerleader is, in fact, an insecure virgin. Instead, he parks his lust and ends up having an unprecedentedly compassionate conversation with her.)

This is to say that Fitts is the open embodiment of everything that Fight Club spends an entire movie trying to accept within its narratively enclosed self — for all Lester’s flaws, and he has many, at the end of the film he seems to have entered a zen state of effortless compassion where he can disarm and connect emotionally with everyone. That is his power — something he achieves through willful non-conformity and transgressive behaviour.

In Lester’s reflection, the Colonel demonstrates how hatred of difference emerges from such an understanding of yourself as enclosed and fully formed; finished; final. This is why the Colonel seems so keen to send his wistful son (who has given himself over to life’s flows, infamously, like a plastic bag in the wind) to military school: so he can tie off his loose ends. Military discipline, then, is framed as a sort of psychological finishing school. It is the same pathological protectionism behind everything from pro-life anti-abortionists to imperialist foreign policy. It is an ideology that believes in the individual, the whole, uber alles.

(Donald Trump’s “historic” appearance at the March for Life is a perfect example of this derangement as it manifests in real life: a raging and impenetrable ego fighting for the right of the individual unborn child, demonstrating a classic conservative worldview that is paradoxically incapable of thinking about anything that is not an integer, whether that is the nation, the family, the self or the fetus. For them, “the entire world” is not — as Gilles Deleuze proclaimed — “an egg” but a Matryoshka doll.)

Fall’s short story, “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter”, is a work of genius because it injects an atomistic radicality back into a holistic right-wing meme that, in itself, betrays an ignorance of this transgressive relation within the group from which the phrase originally emerged. Identifying as an attack helicopter is supposed to be funny, for the transphobic right, because it hopes to point out that identifying as something so holistically Other is really dumb. (And they’d be right — it’s quite the self-own.) You cannot identify as an attack helicopter because you are not that machine, which is to say, through a gendered jingoism, you cannot say you are something when you don’t have — and apologies for the euphemism here, but it is surely what is implied — “all the necessary parts”.

And yet, to be transgender is nonetheless to affirm that very position. It is not the primacy of the whole over the sum of its parts but the affirmation of one’s self as a collection of parts that connects into a wider machinic milieu. It transforms the attack helicopter as right-wing machine of war into a DeleuzoGuattarian affirmation of the nomadic war-machine; an affirmation of the instrument that skirts the edge of an overtly defended territory.

It was Deleuze and Guattari’s point in A Thousand Plateaus that the State had appropriated the war machine in this regard. The military is a State appropriation of a warrior class that previously traveled and intersected with communal outsides. Warriors — like artists or the Gothic “journeymen” — are interfaces between worlds, traveling along and carving out lines of flight.

Isabel Fall dramatises this DeleuzoGuattarian argument exquisitely, describing how to sexually identify as an appropriated instrument of the military-industrial complex might allow someone to unearth the radical machinations within. It is like a retelling of Ghost in the Shell, where the realisation that one has become a weapon for state purposes leads to an anti-Oedipal excavation of the self in its original formlessness.

In Fall’s story, this is taken a step further, with the act of sexually identifying as an attack helicopter becoming a perfect metaphor for a radical politics that the right deploys as an insulting joke but which it unconsciously wishes it could nonetheless enact, like the Colonel leaning in for a kiss at the sight of that which it violently declares it is not. It is a transgressive transgendered transmilitarism brought forth within a supposedly harmful phrase to demonstrate its perverse acuity.

A militaristic understanding of the body as a machine is instead revealed to be a woeful misunderstanding of what the body can do. In searching for inputs, it may become an all too telling idea of that which it insists it is not. As Fall writes:

Look at a diagram of an attack helicopter’s airframe and components. Tell me how much of it you grasp at once.

Now look at a person near you, their clothes, their hair, their makeup and expression, the way they meet or avoid your eyes. Tell me which was richer with information about danger and capability. Tell me which was easier to access and interpret.

This is the ethical centre of transgressive literature and the encounters it so often dramatises. It is what I love so much about Georges Bataille. At the heart of each literary violence is a question of communication and compassion. To only see the violence is to shut down the text’s unfolding of itself, reaching out for other inputs. It is, as Maggie Nelson writes in The Art of Cruelty, an expression of the “right to reject the offered choices, to demur, to turn away, to turn one’s attention to rarer and better things.” It is com-passion — be that in conversation or in an orgy. It is to affirm one’s itinerant being. It is an understanding of the body as a vehicle for an adaptive way of life rather than as an oppressive temple you find yourself trapped in.

This is the ethico-political engine inherent to trans* discourses as well, and it must be preserved, alongside quests for social justice. The two are not incompatible. Bataille’s laughter before the void — his writing in the face of Nazism — is a powerful case in point (but not the only one). To demand the acceptance of another’s choices is not the same as demanding recognition from the Big Other. This is the disillusion captured by the response to Fall’s story. It is as radical and necessary a critique of the status quo as Andrea Long Chu’s excellent Females is. The utter commitment to a bit, even one with supposedly dangerous origins, demonstrates how even a joke made at one’s own expense can become an entry point for a radically machinic politics, where non-binary identity is not holistically understood as an identity in itself but as an opportunity to reject what Fall describes as “a private way of being”; an opportunity to machinise oneself; to become open access.

What we mustn’t do is deny such an opportunity and instead make transness, in whatever form, more palatable through a holistic understanding of a generalised experience.

To be trans, to be female, to be free, is to be a machine. Embrace it.

Side note: There is a great explanation of the DeleuzoGuattarian warmachine, particularly relevant in this context, online here:

As a non-disciplinary force, the nomadic war machine names an anarchic presence on the far horizon of the State’s field of order: nomadic warriors and herders who ground their being in an itinerant territoriality. Deleuze and Guattari immediately find value in the warrior because of the warrior’s alterity to the disciplined subject: “It is true that war kills, and hideously mutilates. But it is especially true after the State has appropriated the war machine. Above all, the State apparatus makes the mutilation, and even death, come first. It needs [its subjects] preaccomplished, for people to be born that way, crippled and zombie-like. The myth of the zombie, of the living dead, is a work myth and not a war myth….The State apparatus needs, at its summit as at its base, predisabled people, preexisting amputees, the still-born, the congenitally infirm” (ATP 425-26).

To be still-born, in this sense, is to be born completely incomplete. To be born with one’s purpose predetermined; to be born a slave. It is to say, the state needs poverty so it has a herd to pick recruits from. It needs bodies without options.

Why is Chelsea Manning more violently suppressed than Edward Snowden? Because she represents an attack helicopter gone rogue, reconnecting with a warrior spirit within her otherwise disciplined self. She is the machine the government don’t want you to see.

Anti-Essentialism and Cancel Culture: Notes of TERF Science and Anti-TERF Science

At the end of last year, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling caused another TERF storm on Twitter after she weighed in on Maya Forstater losing her case of unlawful dismissal against her former employer.

Forstater, who had an unfortunate tendency to tweet TERFy stuff about biological essentialism, ended up losing her job at an international thinktank for being too online. Rather than taking a chance to reflect, she decided to sue them and use it as a PR opportunity for the sort of hard time “gender critical” feminists like her have when trying to speak their superior minds about their superior bodies.

The case predictably brought all of the UK’s TERFs out of their holes like the slimy eels they are and led to them doing the usual conservative thing which is turn the conversation into a weird freedom of speech issue when it’s really about something else.

J.K. Rowling jumping on the band wagon only served to throw a can of gasoline on what was effectively at that point just a few candles for a self-determined martyr. The case exploded but, most frustratingly, it exploded in terms that were set by the TERFs themselves, making the discussion surrounding the case all the more toxic.

Despite the outcome of the trial, the public conversation around it was reduced to Forstater’s (losing) argument with no mention of the judge’s actual ruling which, frankly, was excellent.

As The Guardian reported at the time:

Forstater has been supported by Index on Censorship. Its chief executive, Jodie Ginsberg, has said previously: “From what I have read of [Forstater’s] writing, I cannot see that Maya has done anything wrong other than express an opinion that many feminists share — that there should be a public and open debate about the distinction between sex and gender.”

But in a 26-page judgment released on Wednesday, [Judge] Tayler dismissed her claim. “I conclude from … the totality of evidence, that [Forstater] is absolutist in her view of sex and it is a core component of her belief that she will refer to a person by the sex she considered appropriate even if it violates their dignity and/or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. The approach is not worthy of respect in a democratic society.”

What I found particularly interesting about this was that Forstater was arguing that her right to deny trans people the dignity of being addressed how they would like to be addressed constituted a “philosophical belief” and should therefore be “protected” under law, when the truth of the matter, as the judge demonstrated, was that Forstater’s belief in her own right to speak over others constitutes an explicitly anti-democratic approach to the debate she says she wants to have.

Forstater illuminated a pervasive problem we see across politics at the moment, which is that poor arguments are emboldened by being self-described as the product of intellectual pursuits.

It is the political equivalent of saying “I think, therefore I am intelligent.”

The Cartesian callback here is not made unknowingly. It is an explicit bastardisation of a philosophical position because it takes an approach that is meant to be rational and logical but eschews any semblance of Cartesian doubt in its own constitution. As a result, there’s nothing recognisably philosophical about her view at all. If there is, her allusions to ways of thinking about the body and the mind are still inherently out of date.

The primary tension of Forstater’s position comes from the fact that she does not believe her belief to be a belief at all. Confused? So is she. As far as Forstater is concerned, when it really matters, these are not opinions but scientific facts. Sex is real. Which is to say, her opinions about sex are real and if she thinks them then they must be true.

If she were truly attempting to be philosophical in her position, chances are she would be much more humble about the origins and fallibility of her own reasoning, which is not just absolutist but ugly and arrogant. Instead, in each articulation of her right to determine another person’s expression of self, she confuses philosophy, politics and science in an unclear blob of emboldened beliefs that don’t really latch onto anything except an essentially fascistic view of the body. She essentialises and repeats a Cartesian dualism, just as Rowling does, that says you can dress and think however you like, but that’s your mind. And your mind is not your body.

It’s basically the most boring version of that oft trotted out conservative declaration that reality is more terrifying and unjust than you can imagine and cannot be softened by your humanistic appeals to ethics. As Ben Shapiro infamously puts it with his dumb catchphrase, “facts don’t care about your feelings.”

But this sort of gender essentialism misses so much out from our collective experiences — and not just our experiences of gender but our experiences of being human. The real reality is that the unruliness of the human body (including its brain) terrifies TERFs and so they clutch at their sex pearls. What if, instead, science itself is woefully insufficient in describing the experience of life and consciousness in this regard — and surely that is obvious? More often than not, it is loaded “facts” that are used to prop up political points about what it means to be a valid human being and science is invoked in a way that lops off any feeling in ways that are actually deeply hypocritical and paradoxical. They think they’re channelling Vulcan logic but instead appear blinkered and repressed. (And I say this in a pop science sense, which has seen a rise in attempts to re-legitimise race science as well in recent years — not looking to incur the wrath of any neorats here… Although they’re often guilty of this too, in far more innocuous ways.)

When H.P. Lovecraft said: “The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.” I felt that.

Suffice it to say, as far as I’m concerned, the hard reality of subjectivity isn’t that facts don’t care about your feelings but rather that feelings that don’t care about your facts. The maelstrom of consciousness has yet to be unravelled by biology or statistics or any other science. This is not to say the humanities are much better but at least they’re more likely to be honest about it when deployed in pop culture Overton Windowing.

However, you’re very unlikely to hear anything like that on social media, in a neoliberal age where, even on the left, the weathervane of pop scientific discourse is made out to be the last line of defence for and against biological bigotry. For example, it is often at this point that many well-meaning biologists weigh in on hellthreads to counteract TERF science with some lefty science of their own.

J.K. Rowling’s tweet remains a key reference. For instance, Twitter user @eugenegu responded to Rowling with a viral tweet of their own, saying that “it is both a scientific and medical fact that intersex individuals do exist and gender is not as binary as mainstream society is set to believe.” Many other tweets basically followed this line and, whilst I’d like to think it is very much correct, that doesn’t mean I think it should be wheeled out as an absolutist response to a TERFy absolutism.

This sort of scientific validation might be well-meaning but, more often than not, it just sounds gross. Who has ever felt validated and felt better about their lived experienced by the knowledge that intersex people have been observed in a bio lab? It feels like the product of a confused biological determinism for the 21st century.

Not that I have any clue either way. I’m not trans but I do often think and write about experiences of slipping through societal expectations of what is right and proper when it comes to class and gender, and this is often a topic that can get me in hot water.

Because I hate essentialism. I hate it from the right and I hate it from the left. Whilst it’s somewhat expected from the former, I am more likely to take the latter to task over it because the conservative right are more or less defined by a tendency to absolutise everything in their path — essentialising subjects, cultures, and the past in general, all to service and give an illusory ground to their political imaginary. Political imaginaries are fine but when the left starts pearl-clutching around issues of subjectivity as well, no matter what progressive cause it is supposedly in aid of, I just don’t think it is a good look.

Is this a long-winded way of saying “idpol sucks”? Maybe… Probably… But that’s not to say that the politics of subjectivity are not incredibly important for understanding ourselves and each other — it’s the abstraction of this into modes of subjectification that explicitly appeal to contemporaneous authorities of individualism that needs to go.

With this view of idpol in mind, what I find interesting about the judge’s ruling in the Forstater case in this regard is that it could apply just as easily to “cancel culture” and the creation of intimidating and hostile environments for people who do not fit into an essentialist view of politics.

This is not an arbitrary accusation or one that I want to see used to defend slippery manipulative edgelording, but the fact remains that when you spend a lot of time with your head above the parapet of social media discourse, it’s never long before you end up getting called a “crypto-this” or a “crypto-that”, or just straight out shut down for apparently being 100% some kind of political subject. Half of my own grumpy posts on this blog come from a deep-felt frustration at having a position essentialised and reduced to finer and finer points that supposedly define my entire way of being and thought. (They never do but everyone loves summing people up in that way.)

Contrapoints’ latest video is really good on this and, whilst her personal receipts constitute something of an endurance test to sit through, she breaks down this problem of essentialism not being a problem of opinion but of flawed logic in a very convincing way within the video’s first 15 minutes, demonstrating perfectly how the knee-jerk reaction of cancelling is emboldened by fundamentally bad ethical logic dressed up as radically militant political reasoning.

The basic argument, as I see it, is one of suspending judgement. Any philosophical reasoning — and this is something noticeably shared by everyone I personally admire — is understood as a form of becoming, in that people take time with their reasoning and their decisions and leave themselves open to correction and changes of opinion, constantly thinking and adapting thoughts and not settling on some essentialised project. More than that, they refused to be defined by a single utterance. (Resisting the sanitising of Mark Fisher’s thought in this regard is one of the main projects of this blog, for instance.)

This is not to say these people cowardly resist taking a position one way or another. If the history of philosophy is going to tell you anything it is that change is constant and nothing under the sun will avoid the test of time. It is often philosophy’s task to do much of the tearing up of sociopolitical norms. The hardest thing in the world, I think, is carrying that knowledge with you whilst constantly repeating the modernist mantra of “make it new.” To do this openly, wearing your doubt on your sleeve, and always working to update your opinions is not just philosophizing 101 but cultural production 101, and the primary thing I mourn within contemporary leftist politics is an inability — both from within and enforced from outside — to do these two things in tandem whilst the right gets away with it with much more ease because, at least in this country, sociopolitical experimentation is traditionally the exclusive hobby of the upper classes who don’t need to work to feed themselves. (See, for example, Dominic Cummings’ most recent blog post.)

Instead of trying to “make it new”, keeping ahead of oppressive forces and forging new forms of life, the latest phase of cancel culture — of the vampire’s castle — is defined by a desire to simply keep up with the micro-political trends of the herd, typically established by accident, through the mechanisms of the cancel machine itself, here understood as a sort of internalised and secularised Christian moralism, buoyed by fake news rather than research. Later in her video, Contrapoints basically explains how and why this is bullshit and challenges people’s assumptions that they have all the facts, whilst describing the ways in which this behaviour snowballs into a vigilantism that does a disservice to actual forms of social justice.

The reason she gives for this is brilliant but subtle and comes to a head within the video’s last 20 or so minutes, where I interpret the argument, tentatively and somewhat nervously offered up, to be as follows:

Your McCarthyism boils down to fighting any perceived gender essentialism with a bullying political essentialism.

Anyone who has had any sort of brush with cancellation will recognise this equation immediately, I’m sure. Of course, on its own, this doesn’t amount to much and I’m painfully aware — and feel quite sorry for Contrapoints in this regard especially — that, when you’ve been misrepresented by idiots online, sometimes the only thing it feels like you can do is construct a robust defence full of receipts even if no one has asked for it and you know the result will get you ridiculed and most won’t read about it anyway.

(Speaking from personal experience: The U/Acc Primer was primarily a 10,000 word collection of receipts to try and shut up accelerationist naysayers who insisted on smugly essentialising a position based on little more than a viral misreading. It was dismissed on a few occasions by the people it was targeted towards as a “long-winded tantrum” despite being an attempt to park emotion and instead introduce into the conversation some unprecedented levels of rigour. Thankfully, over time, that gesture has won out and it did successfully shut up some of the dumber naysayers. I’ve been less successful with this in trying to counter the anti-xenofeminist Facebook crowd.)

It is typically at this point, when you’ve done all you can in terms of trying to course-correct the trajectory of a public conversation, that the question stops being one of politics or belief but purely philosophical and, more specifically, ethical. However, here again the sheer poverty of that declaration, in the mouths of people like Maya Forstater, becomes abjectly depressing.

Ethics, today, isn’t really in vogue. It’s also confused with lots of other political trends. Being in possession of an “ethics” or an ethical response to a certain topic or agenda is not the same as having a political hair-trigger. It is also not the same thing as having an essentialised and immoveable response to a certain kind of question. It is also not a praxis of McCarthyite moralism.

Ethics, as far as I am concerned, is about communication.

My favourite ethicist is Georges Bataille — the man who declared that all human communication is violent and “evil” for the way that, at its most affecting, it ungrounds the self and the other. He wasn’t interested in the nausea of Sartrean individualism or the Christian hangover of a political moralism à la Simone Weil. He sought the affirmation of communal experiences that dramatically removed the self from the everyday and thrust it into the maelstrom of being-with other people. At its most virulent, this is why it is the “community of lovers” that is the pinnacle of his ethical system, wherein the everyday is ruptured by a radical commitment to the other, as shared by two.

None of this is to say that the answer to inter-leftist bullying is that we all form a giant polycule — although Bataille did spend plenty of time in orgies, it seems, but in order to lose himself, not bureaucratise asymmetrical relationships through domesticity — but it does demand a level of patience and compassion that is alien to most people in their daily lives. (I have an old essay series on Bataille’s ethics here if you’re keen to learn more — there’s also a lot about it in Egress.) It is a compassion that is not just reserved for the political conformers in your day-to-day encounters with the world — those inside the in-crowd of political respectibility — but also the mad lot who might be falling apart at the seams and be saying dumb shit. It’s to embrace everyone as comrade and not use that word as an excuse for gatekeeping. (Recent example of that issue here.)

I recently saw something, for instance, that said “political correctness” is a byword for compassion and the right just can’t seem to understand that, but the left has nonetheless internalised that same discrepancy, where the enforcement of political correctness is often wholly dispassionate and negatively affects many people who it is supposed to protect.

Contrapoints almost stumbles onto this point in her latest video, addressing one particular drama around having Buck Angel contribute to one of her videos. She refers to an Instagram post he made in which he somewhat dismisses the outrage of the trans community, directed at himself, because he knows that all trans people are in pain and he does not take their projection of this pain onto him personally.

Contrapoints reads this generously and I am inclined to as well. The point being made, it seems, is that people who find themselves ill-fitting within sociocultural infrastructures go through huge amount of internal distress and trans people are perhaps our most visible marginal group of late who talk about this openly as a community. And yet, online, these debates that are occurring at the very edge of our sociocultural Overton Window too often substitute actual compassion for border control, gatekeeping and delegitimising — even, and (paradoxically) sometimes especially, when those are the supposed targets of the mob’s rule. (An excellent text on this, I think, is Foucault’s Friendship as a Way of Life.)

Untangling these political interrelations is messy, and I’m aware the above summary probably sounds like it is lacking in the very generosity to calls for, so I don’t want to try and unpack that any further. This is undoubtedly the reason why Contrapoints’ latest video is one hour and forty minutes in length. Unpacking stuff like this is hard but she does a better job of it than I am right now. Instead, I want to shift gear to what I see as the only ethical response to these sorts of issues that is similarly Bataillean in its affections (at least in my reading of it):

The basic ethical perspective of xenofeminism, as I understand it, is that we must be radically anti-essentialist on all fronts. It is only in this way that we will find the porosity through which we can let in new forms of life that both left and right, with equally misplaced suspicion and fear, would rather subject to humiliating lab tests before deeming them worthy of existence.

Killing the fascist in your head is one thing, but kill the scientist in your head as well. Don’t categorise — just go with the mutation. Don’t fall back on objective understandings of nature to back up your politics, no matter what they are. Change your mind. Change your body. If nature is unjust, change nature.

Update #1: “Kill the scientist in your head” is a glib and inaccurate turn of phrase, as pointed out by Dominic in the comments below. Don’t do that. Do kill the tendency to deploy science in a way that plays into a subservient and reductive politics though. “Kill the scientist” in the same sense of making yourself a “body without organs” — don’t literally eviscerate yourself; do away with the bureaucratic understanding of anatomy that limits what we think our bodies can do. Don’t reject the cold rationalism of science; do reject the scientific superego as arbiter of a “realist” biological understanding.

Elliptical Orbit II

After yesterday’s afternoon Joy Division pilgrimage, we went back to a very foggy Macclesfield (pictured) that same evening to go and see Star Wars IX: The Rise of Skywalker.

It was fine. The screening was held in an independent cinema installed in an old church / town hall which had amazing picture quality but muddy sound. The plot of the film itself was a bit weak, suffering from that all too common ailment of blockbuster impatience — bad writing with bad editing to match — which relies too heavily on audience dreamwork to patch up plot lacuna. It makes for a thrill ride quickly forgotten, much like the second installation of this latest trilogy (and 75% of action-adventure movies these days since the rise of Michael Bay.)

I’m not here to pick apart plot holes though. This isn’t a review of any kind. I just found the film resonating — despite itself — with a lot of recent thoughts.

[Spoilers below]

So many bad Cultural Studies essays have been written about the original Star Wars trilogy aping on Oedipus Rex. Orphaned boy goes out seeking vengeance for the death of his parents but in the process almost kills his father and nearly fucks his sister. It’s not really that close to Sophocles’ character at all but it does have many heavy doses of classicist hubris.

The new trilogy, though, echoes Sophocles’ plays a bit closely and in interesting ways. Kylo Ren’s rebellion against his family in the first film, culminating in him murdering his father, seems to correlate somehow with Rey’s orphaned upbringing and her adventure being driven by her search for her true self. Together they are Oedipus split.

In film #2, Rey finds Luke Skywalker, the original Oedipus, isolated on a planet somewhere and learns about Jedi stuff from him. Rey is devoted to him but he’s weighed down by the fateful line his life has taken and struggles to overcome his resentment towards it. In the end, Rey not only learns from him but helps him to let go of his past. At peace, he dies, or becomes one with the force, or whatever, and she heads off to get back to doing her own thing. It is Oedipus at Colonus in space.

The final film, then, quickly and blatantly becomes Antigone. Rey, set free of the burdens of her own past and her duties towards her elders, affirms her displacement but also retains a dogged sense of loyalty despite this. Just as Antigone stays loyal to her brother’s corpse despite being sentenced to death for the principle, Rey nurtures a loyalty to Kylo Ren, the last Skywalker, despite his persistent attempts to kill her.

Rey’s loyalty simmers and grows because she increasingly sees in Ren his family lineage — his mother, Leia, and his uncle, Luke — the two “masters” who have trained her in the ways of the Jedi and the force — and, as a result, realises that some bonds are worth more than life, fate and the rule of law. Family — or a sense of collective belonging at least — remains central to her life and the driving force of the Resistance as a whole but gone are the shackles of a patriarchal tradition and duty. She follows love and desire wherever they lead her, even if that is into the jaws of what she fears most, navigating their complexities as and when they cross her path.

(And they cross her path on countless occasions. The set piece of Rey and Kylo fighting on the wreck of the Death Star amidst a violent ocean was a highlight due to its very strong symbolic-of-the-unconscious vibes, but it ultimately felt like the setting was underused. A rare attempt at subtly, perhaps, that didn’t really work out.)

This is affirmed most explicitly when it’s revealed that her family are the worst of them all — it is revealed she is a Palpatine, grand-daughter (somehow) of the Emperor who has pulled the strings throughout the entire Star Wars saga. She struggles with the knowledge of her own bloodline and experiences the same horror when faced with the truth that Luke did, but she is far more assured of her own place in the universe than her mentor when he learned of his father’s true identity. There is no question of her giving into a familial fate. She moves adeptly around others’ expectations of her to find a third way.

Here, she affirms her displacement. “Some things are stronger than blood,” someone tells her — something I couldn’t help but scribble down in my notebook with surprisingly clarity in the pitch dark of the cinema (pictured).

This could refer to any sort of sentimentality but, thankfully, it turns out that what is stronger than blood is her own will to power.

Of course this is all demonstrated with little subtlety or grace. In the final scene, after burying Luke and Leia’s lightsabers on Tatooine, she reveals her own lightsaber, built herself, has a yellow “blade” — the third colour of the primary trinity, relative to the blue and red lightsabers that have defined the saga’s colour code of good and evil — but what I found most touching was that the final dialogue of the film had Rey — who has so far been known as “just Rey” — affirming a new identity, introducing herself to a passerby as Rey Skywalker.

After all that I’ve been writing about lately, around the anxieties of post-adoption experience and its impact on subjectivity, I couldn’t help but do a little air punch at this affirmation of a name that is not her own by birth. To choose a name is still a surreal taboo for many in society, even now. It was nice to see.

For all its faults — and the saga has had so many — it was nice to see it end with its own Antigone. Through all the melodrama and clunky set pieces, it ended with a popular-modernist affirmation of what I think is the best but most difficult position to take regarding family dramas:

Anti-Oedipus but Pro-Antigone

Piss Gauntlet II

I’m starting to regret yesterday’s missive on XF sent out into the blogosphere, a rapid response to the latest article to take a swipe against xenofeminism’s neighbours, if only because I’m reminded of how mind-numbing Twitter arguments are. I prefer the blog. Sorry.

The point being made in that glossed overview — written fervently (and as ever) on my lunch break yesterday — of a year of XF discomfort emanating from a predictable subsection of Facebook leftists, seemingly missed by the critics mentioned in the post themselves, is that their arguments are undermined by their insistence on a bubblewrap of caveats and bad research that hang around them.

More patient readers than I have noted that the most recent article on Metamute, about XF and alienation more broadly, actually has some interesting things to say once you get past the language of “sniff[ing] out the suspect traces” and unfounded accusations of “lively esoteric fascist movement[s]” that make up XF’s still-unravelling genealogy.

In fact, Gleeson’s conclusion, read in isolation, is a good one. She is right to say that “we need to move beyond either accepting [XF’s] terms, or denouncing its corruptions.” “Repair work must begin here”, she says, and that is a sentiment I am happy to get behind.

So why did the article’s beginning only serve to perpetuate the opposite?

I’m reminded of a paragraph in Annie Goh’s critique where she falls into the same hypocrisy, noting how “Mark Fisher heaped praise on the [XF] collective for ‘definitively grasp[ing] feminism back from the […] hands of the moralising-spiteful petit-bourgeoisie’.” Unfortunately, despite this, Goh’s recognisably Goldsmiths variety of squeamishness later takes over.

Because that’s what this is. Sophie Lewis asked from which academic institutions she and the others are supposedly supposed to be boundary policing, presumably because she isn’t officially affiliated with any, but this is precisely where this need to disavow without research came from. It was a paranoia that fell out from Goldsmiths in 2017 and leaked all over the rest of the London Left. Whether affiliated or not, that’s where this came from and it is for those sorts of people that these snide acts of disavowal take place. It is a type of “saving face” that is endemic and petty.

It was following the reemergence of this in Gleeson’s article that the point was made yesterday that, rather than dismiss U/Acc as fascist without evidence, or based on nothing other than the long shadow of Land, why not take a closer look and see what is being done to further interrogate XF’s questions of otherness and alienation in that adjacent discourse? Because there’s plenty going on there.

This isn’t just a tantrum over being sidelined, as Gleeson assumed. It sticks in my craw only partly because I’m proud of this blog’s U/Acc Primer repeatedly finding itself on imageboards, posted by people seeking to counteract the alt-right bastardisation of these discourses that Gleeson lumps us in with. I’d wager that post alone has done more than most articles to turn 4chan shitposters away from violent edgelording and towards an actual engagement with the ideas, but I’m far from the only person writing on these issues. In the aftermath of some atrocious events where accelerationism and its influences have found themselves in very hot water this year, U/Acc writers has done more than any other subsection of people to galvanise debate to the contrary, and its transfeminist contingent is exemplary of this.

Gleeson’s response to this yesterday was that the article wasn’t about U/Acc and XF does its own thing — of course it does — but surely this is still implicitly relevant to the argument she ends on about comradeship, togetherness and repair? Starting off with such an embarrassing misrepresentation of an adjacent discourse is a pretty bad start to that, isn’t it? It begs the question of who it is they want to repair relations with. Their own inner circle? Not a bad place to start but it stinks of London leftist myopia.

This morning on Twitter, Sophie Lewis weighed in with her own weird logic that echoes this as well. She’s friends with Helen Hester, you see, and so she feels emboldened by the fact that “at least one of the authors that are the subjects of the comradely critiques did explicitly regard them as comradely.” But the thoughts of a single individual don’t make for a strong endorsement of comradeship by any measure. (No shade cast on Helen but the argument is dumb all the same.)

This is the issue that seems totally lost on those concerned over the last two days. They betray themselves to be in favour of the Goldsmiths version of comradeship — internally emboldened, critiqued just enough to appear progressive whilst still being run by the same “moralising-spiteful petit-bourgeoisie” that the politics they pay lip service to was meant to unground. The insistence on scattering poorly researched digs at others throughout their texts proves it and the overall conclusions being made here, by Gleeson in particular, deserve far better than that.

Piss Gauntlet

I woke up to an insane amount of notifications on Twitter this morning after pointing to the latest attempt at a takedown of Xenofeminism.

Jules Joanne Gleeson has written an article for MetaMute called “Breakthroughs & Bait: On Xenofeminism & Alienation” which deals with The Xenofeminist Manifesto and its “best critics”.

Evidently, there are slim pickings when writing an article like this because all Gleeson seems to deal with is Annie Goh’s glorified Facebook rant and Sophie Lewis’s repetition of her arguments elsewhere (albeit tailored to fit with her book for Verso).

I think the most frustrating thing about these successive attempts to disavow XF is that each writer has in turn acted as if they’re throwing down the gauntlet — here are our challenges, now come at us! But, speaking of breakthroughs versus bait, all that is liable to emerge from any of these critiques is a pissing contest.

The question I’d like to ask of these critical trio is: How can you expect anyone to bother addressing any of these arguments when they betray an embarrassing ignorance of their source material? Are you completely unaware of this? If so, what’s the aim here? Just to protect the boundaries of your academic institutions?

The Xenofeminist Manifesto was an attempt to thrown down the cyberfeminist gauntlet in our present era by a loose collection of para-academics and feminists who wanted to shake up contemporary thought. And they did just that, with an array of references and challenges to be built upon.

This is obvious, you’d hope — it’s a manifesto after all: a form that inevitably comes with various problems and demands regarding its unpacking. So simply declaring that its contents aren’t developed enough is a weird approach to take. (I’ve addressed all this before.)

What I’d like to demand, in turn, of these critics is that they at least do the necessary work to understand what it is they’re trying to pick a fight with, because the holes in their research — never mind their reasoning, as highlighted by @qdnoktsqfr and @Josh86480104 — are nothing short of embarrassing.

If they want to introduce some academic and political rigour to the XFM, that means keeping up with the field you want to critique. Instead, each article feels immediately out-dated, taking a five-year-old text at face value, providing — as Sophie Lewis rightly acknowledged — “a paranoid reading” of a text but not its present environment.

Gleeson’s “response” drives all these previous points home. A response is an answer, isn’t it? A response is a reaction. Gleeson’s reaction seems limited to: “here’s what Goh and Lewis said with a few more details”, and these in themselves are further out of date. As S.C. Hickman rhetorically asked: “Anything that doesn’t reduce to 19th Century Marxist thought becomes ‘fascist’? Spoofy world; bogus thought.”

Personally, I’ve struggled to get past the article’s third paragraph, in which Gleeson argues that “since 2015 a furtive network of pseudonymous Twitter accounts and shortlived cultural spaces have arisen to develop ‘unlimited accelerationism’ as a lively esoteric fascist movement (known as ‘u/acc’).”

U/Acc — unconditional (not ‘unlimited’) accelerationism — is an emerging area of thought that has already been thinking about and dealing with the questions that Goh, Lewis and Gleeson throw out from their respective positions as an attempt at some sort of ‘gotcha’ moment. Most memorably, Goh’s critique was that u/acc is an “appropriation of the alien” — ironically whitewashing the Ccru and its influences based on a contemporary perception of contemporary Twitter shitposters.

Her main issue was with the “xeno-” prefix:

The Greek xenos means ‘strange’ or ‘foreign’, and the prefix ‘xeno’ commonly denotes ‘relating to a foreigner or foreigners’. The name ‘xenofeminism’ is one of the first things people often query and I recall an audience question at the book launch regarding the prefix ‘xeno’, in relation to how the collective negotiated any proximity it might therefore seem to have to the commonly associated word ‘xenophobia’. A somewhat awkward answer came back from the collective to the effect that: ‘among us (the authors), some of us are queer, some of us are trans, some of us are mothers […] we are all white and from the Global North.’ Yet, we were assured that the manifesto’s subtitle, ‘a Politics for Alienation’, associated xenofeminism with the notion of ‘alienness’, but not the ‘xeno’ of ‘xenophobia’. … [W]ith xenophobia being a very real and pressing issue in the context of the contemporary resurgence of the far-right, and with the well-known rise of white nationalist and Islamophobic feminisms, to make this immediate equivalence of ‘xeno’ with ‘alienness’ and attempt to fill it with positive rather than negative content, cannot be regarded as straightforward.

Sophie Lewis summarised her questions as: “Xeno for who? Xeno from whose perspective?”

Such is the question inherently asked by accelerationism and unconditional accelerationism most explicitly. The challenge repeatedly put to equivalences of u/acc-adjacent discourses with the acc of the Christchurch shooter is that the latter is precisely the kind of modern subject that u/acc attempts to critique.

More generally, after the left and right accelerationisms of the early 2010s found themselves limited by subjective biases, u/acc emerged to challenge these assumptions (and so did the XFM itself) asking precisely the question of “xeno for who?” Nyx’s gender accelerationism blackpaper had one answer to this — notably absent from all critiques despite being the most well-known continuation of the XF challenge to now.

This is likewise something I explored in depth in this blog’s U/Acc Primer, which I’m proud has become this site’s most viewed post and is frequently shared on imageboards to counter the prevailing alt-right acc appropriation.

XF’s critics are unaware of this, of course. They lump everything in together betraying an total ignorance of their own subject matter. They focus entirely on Nick Land, doing more to limit the perspective of acc-adjacent discourses than the people they supposedly critique. And what’s worse is it’s not like any of this other stuff is hard to find.

It begs the question of who their critiques are for. They only embolden the anti-intellectual, unengaged and clout-seeking. They are preaching to the converted. If they’d like to be taken seriously by those in their crosshairs, maybe even change the minds of those who think xenofeminist is pretty cool, the least anyone such expect is an actual engagement with the arguments on the table, rather than a superficial paranoid appraisal of art world buzzwords.

Do better, then each might get the sort of responses they mistakenly think they deserve.

UPDATE #1: Gleeson has responded to this post with the dismissal that it’s “1100 word blog saying I’m not worth responding to, lol.”

It’s not that I don’t think she shouldn’t be responded to but simply can’t, because the inaccuracies undermine everything she has to say. This post isn’t intended as a response but a nod to everything written since the XFM that extends its questions and has already dealt with many of the badly formed questions posed in her article, as well as Goh’s and Lewis’s.

I share @qdnoktsqfr’s position:

I would have been a full supporter of her comments there, if not for the terrible tribunal-style associationism that holds sway throughout the first half of the article, whatever its retrospective ‘methodological’ justification. [1]

I no longer have any mercy for this way-too-easy ‘intellectual contamination’ argument. [2]

UPDATE #2: There was a line in this post that suggested Gleeson was suggesting the XFM had a “transphobic undercurrent”. She has correctly pointed out that this isn’t the case and so it has been removed.

Is she capable of rectifying all the myriad inaccuracies left in her own text?

Typos are not the issue — it’s the dismissal and shadowboxing of a thought, declaring it “a lively esoteric fascist movement”, when in fact already attempts to deal with the challenges she is posing. It is this that undermines the rest of the argument, as it undermines the arguments of all the others. You don’t know who you say is your enemy.

UPDATE #3: An extra something here, in lieu of a Twitter hellthread I don’t have the time for, there’s a short reprisal here that hopefully gets more to the point of what is missed by these bizarre XF articles that can’t help but get digs in about adjacent discourses.

Xenomorphic Extremism

If you’ve been at all puzzled by the recent discussions and disagreements surrounding xeno- prefixes and alien outsidenesses, this new essay published by Amy Ireland on her blog — “Alien Rhythms” — is an absolute must read.

Alienness — and the alienation that results from a confrontation with alienness — is the genesis of novelty and change. Wherever one encounters the alien, a mutation or a transformation isn’t far behind. And yet, because alienness involves an aspect of unknowability and unpredictability — an erasure of the familiar and the homely — it is also one of the things in the world which makes us most afraid. We fear the different and the strange, yet we require these things in order to evolve. This makes for a paradoxical affective relationship with the notions of otherness and difference that alienness encompasses — a bizarre and complex orientation unifying dread and desire. Already there is a kind of geometrical confusion in this: desire drives you forwards, while dread forces you back. As Mark Fisher writes in The Weird and The Eerie, it’s not a simple case of ‘enjoy[ing] what scares us’. Rather, ‘it has … to do with a fascination for the outside, for that which lies beyond standard perception, cognition and experience’, an affect that involves terror and distress, but isn’t wholly described by them. Fisher’s invocation of ‘the outside’ immediately brings into play the prefix ‘xeno-’, a denotation nominating what follows it as foreign or alien — an ‘outsider’, someone or something that arrives from the outside.

Rebekah Sheldon offers the following extended etymology of the term alongside some of its contemporary applications. […] She concludes ‘[e]tymologically, xeno is trans. As graft, cut, intrusion, or excession, xeno names the movement between, and the moving entity. It is the foreign and the foreigner, the unexpected outside, the unlike offspring, the other within, the eruption of another meaning’. Xeno- describes both a vector and an alteration: the coincidence of transition and transformation. It thus involves a relationship between an inside and an outside, divided (or linked) by a threshold which becomes the object of a crossing.