Monthly Archives: November 2013

The Problems with “Identifying-As”

A number of things I’ve read and/or observed lately run aground on the notion of “identifying as”. The notion of identifying as in a fixed manner indicates not only a misunderstanding of the proper use of that action, but a misunderstanding based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the notions of Self, identity and Self-Identity.

The only thing I identify as in a fixed way is my Self, i.e. I identify uniquely and solely as me. This isn’t some rampant individualism, since my Self is largely shared with other human beings, more so the closer we are in terms of the society into which we were initiated, and in which initiation we became human. Self-identity, at its base, is precisely the identity of one’s Self with oneself. How we comprehend this identity and how we always know when we are being true to our Selves is a complex matter, but it has nothing to do with identifying as one genera or another, or with one group or another.

When I see someone doing verbal somersaults trying to accommodate their sexuality, as an example, to a label they can be comfortable identifying as, and predictably failing, there is a demonstrable confusion between who one is and how one happens to live. Simply put, if I fuck the same sex, I’m gay; if I fuck the opposite sex, I’m straight; if I fuck both, I’m bisexual. At any given point in my life, based on how I project myself acting in the foreseeable future, picking one or the other shouldn’t be altogether that difficult. The apparent difficulty arises when we try to use the way we project living in the reasonably near future as determining who we are. At that point the simple definitions (and the huge variety of more complex ones) are never sufficient to capture every aspect of something as complex as sexuality, and the only possible outcome, beyond the above mentioned confusion, is a self-limitation to one or another group’s definition of itself as a group. Living as straight, gay, bi, is not a limitation since that projection can change as we change and develop. Identifying as any of those, or queer, or leather, or cuticle-centric, or whatever is inherently limiting the manifold ways in which we change and grow as selves.

Of course we spend time in various groups, not just over a lifetime, but over a single day, and to some degree we ‘take part’ in the identities of those groups. However simply because we are employed by private businesses we do not necessarily ‘identify as’ rampant capitalists; nor do we necessarily ‘identify as’ xenophobic nationalists simply because we come home to a family of a particular ethnicity and enjoy some of the common praxes of that ethnicity. The State arbiters between groups as groups precisely because individuals morph between various groups on a constant basis, and as a result their identities, wants, desires are far too complex and fluid for any kind of comprehensible contract between state and individual. Just as having an ethnicity that is part of my identity does not make me identify as that ethnicity, neither should having particular sexual proclivities, or being part of particular groups that are defined by some common proclivity, force me to identify as that proclivity. While it is part of my identity it may be a major or minor part, it may be constant or fleeting, or it may come and go.

The exceptions, of course, are groups where membership is a lifelong binding commitment. Being a Jesuit is not something you can take up and put down, for example. Neither is being a Hell’s Angel. Even in these extremes, though, members remain the complex beings they are, the difference being that they have made a solemn commitment to putting a particular group’s interests above those of any other group they may take part in at different times in their lives or different times of the day or week.

With the implosion of the concept of ‘personality’ and its replacement with the poorly enough defined ‘self-identity’, as individuals we are in greater difficulty coming to grips with who we are than ever before. However self-identity and identification are separate matters, and conflating them cannot lead to a satisfactory self-understanding. Simultaneously modernization, and capitalization in particular, has functioned as an acid on a vast number of shared praxes that lent a sense of belonging to members of different groups, whether the destruction of the shared praxes of particular rituals in various religious groups and their replacement with groups that only share abstract ideological belief-systems, or more recently the abandonment by capital of the shared praxes of the sciences, and the ensuing removal of funding for the scientific community and its replacement with “knowledge workers” that do not maintain the expensive and, from the perspective of global capital, useless shared praxes that gave a sense of belonging to members of the scientific community. These changes lead to an understandable desire to have a comprehensible determination of oneself, and a sense of belonging to some sort of community with whom we share something intrinsic.

Creating new communities, though, requires new shared praxes, and this is a difficult achievement, particularly in a time where people are skeptical even of skepticism itself. Trying to create communities via a shortcut of self-imposed sets of limitations via the notion of ‘identifying as’ will not work, and in fact will cause nascent communities to self-destruct, leaving individuals in the same place they were to begin with. There’s no point in defining and redefining what makes a particular group the group it is to such a degree that it becomes unrecognizable. All that’s been achieved, functionally, is the destruction of the group and its replacement by an arbitrary set of individuals with no common praxis that would lend the sense of belonging and identity desired in the first place.

Redefining something in order to make it more inclusive, in this case usually inclusive of whatever is part of your Self, but was excluded in the original definition, also makes the definition less precise. As an obvious example, some of the recent redefinitions of ‘leather’ that I’ve read are so inclusive they make it practically synonymous with ‘human’. We all belong to that definition in any case, there’s no need to duplicate it, nor will doing so give anyone any greater sense of belonging to something particular.

Communities based on new shared praxes, providing they are not particularly difficult or onerous, have the advantage of being open to anyone willing to participate in the shared activity, without thereby becoming more and more inclusive to the point of meaninglessness.


“Lifers”

Recently I had a discussion with someone who had spent significant time in the scene, albeit in another city. He mentioned a non-group of people, since they didn’t get together or necessarily even know one another, that he referred to as “lifers”, i.e. people who lived a 24/7 M/s or similar dynamic but weren’t part of any “scene”, although most had been part of one scene or another at some point.

We discussed the reasons most of these people had no further interest in the scene: they had no interest in the mutual admiration performance art of a play party; they had no interest in the mutual justification societies of the BDSM / leather conference circuit; they had no interest in relationship-oriented groups since, just as individuals individuate and diverge from group interests, their relationship had individuated to the degree that group discussions about relationships had little to no relevance.

One of the reasons I found the discussion fascinating is that it articulated many of the things I feel about the scene and the various sub-scenes, and their relation to emmie and me.

I find no interest in playing publicly, the aspects of the way emmie and I actualize our fantasies are rather personal and playing publicly forces us to “tone down” what we do to the point of disinterest.

I haven’t enjoyed the conferences I’ve been to: the only areas of interest are largely for beginners and, it seems to me, necessarily so, since discussions on more advanced topics would be too specific to the people involved, without enough in common to attract any type of group.

I’ve lost interest in the relationship-oriented groups we’ve attended: I have very little advice to offer that is generally applicable, what we do is too personal and thus irrelevant to others; the inverse is also true, where what others who have been involved in this lifestyle as long or longer do things in such a substantially different manner that beyond mutual respect there isn’t much worth discussing; the idea of teaching or otherwise influencing those new to the idea of a 24/7 power dynamic is both repetitive, since what is common to this type of dynamic is very limited, and irritating, since people whose longest power dynamic has been measured in months or less are aghast at how emmie and I actually live and spend the time telling us that we’re doing it all wrong.

I have no interest in any of the established “groups” precisely because they, as groups, depend for their own survival on inculcating and maintaining group values and interests, while my own desires and interests have diverged further and continue to do so.

Although many of our friends, naturally, are in the scene, meeting at “scene events” gets annoying simply because we’ve said all we have to say to one another about “scene stuff”. While I enjoy them as people, the enjoyment of their company has to do with enjoying things that have nothing to do with M/s or BDSM from the perspective of non-vanilla people. Since people are busy though there is an unfortunate tendency to put off getting together with other people in the scene in non-scene situations, with the idea of “we’ll see them at such and such scene event in any case”.

It appears to be the last point that seals the effect where those my acquaintance referred to as “lifers” often know very few or even no people who share their lifestyle the longer they’ve been involved in it.