Toward a Politic of Desire

I've been tip-toeing around the idea of a politic of desire, and I just started to get a handle on it when I spoke last November at the Transcending Boundaries Conference (TBC). They'd asked me to talk on the conference theme which was, that year, "beyond the binary." I was in the throes of deadlines for my memoir, and I had no fucking idea of what to write. The night before I was supposed to give my keynote, I skipped out on a performance by my friend, Kelli Dunham, and sat in my room writing notes on hotel stationery until maybe three in the morning.

The next day, I got dressed in my Battlestar Galactica Colonial Fleet fatigues—I was being old lady Starbuck—I needed her madness and her courage to help me get through the talk, which I delievered haltingly. It was new, and I was saying some of these words for the first time—or they were going in the order they were going in for the first time. I needn't have worried. The audience at the conference could not have been more encouraging or welcoming.

Much of what I talked about in the keynote is going to wind up in My New Gender Workbook, due out from Routledge Press in November 2012. Short deadline. So I'd like to have a conversation with you about this notion of a politic of desire. Yes, I'll check this blog at least once daily and I'll dialogue with you about the subject. I think it's an important one, and I think your voice is going to be instrumental in making the notion real and accessible.

So… if you like, please have a read of the text I dictated from those scribbled notes. 

Download KB_keynote_TBC_2012

OK—let's give it a stab at talking together, here in the comment section. Be gentle with me, it's a way early draft. And thank you for your participation.

kiss kiss

Auntie Kate



  1. I like this and where it’s going, but I think a couple things:
    I think we are always hooked into seeing the world in certain terms. We have language and cognitive schemas and we aren’t and shouldn’t get rid of those. That being said, we can approach others lovingly or arrogantly, we can be open or closed.
    We can be so disciplined and rigid that we never let anyone in or ever change. I think that’s the dangerous binary thinking and it is more than a historical concept, it comes from violence in our society and what it takes to become part of the fraternity.
    I also think that our desires often have social meanings and while it’s important to liberate desire, it’s also important to avoid enacting the belief that desire is not created through oppressive powers (i and many gay men are attracted to men who represent a certain ideal that is imbued with lots of hierarchy. many women allow themselves to be demeaned because it has become what is sexy through social processes). I think a politic of desire needs to go there.

  2. Thanks, Justin. What I’m reading you say is that there’s a natural balance to… well, everything… that I didn’t to into in enough detail. If that’s right, then yup, I agree with that, and I’ll take it into account on the next draft. If that’s NOT what you meant, I still like what I got out of reading your post, and I’ll fine tooth comb it later. Thank you. Very useful. xo K

    Just wanna say that you’ll read the phrase, “That’s why were here at the flocking conference…:” That’s my dictation software (Dragon Dictate for Mac, AMAZING) just doesn’t like the work fuck, and I do say it a lot, and I just missed it on my one pass edit. Hope it gave you a chuckle, and not a furrowed brow over the idea of flocking conferences. I shudder at the thought. xo Kate

  4. Welcome. Loved reading it 🙂

  5. I think politics of desire is a bit like the one rule in ‘Hello, Cruel World:’ Don’t be mean. Get something or git some, but don’t be mean.
    Essentially the question to ask is: How do I get what I want without destroying people? This is applicable to both desire and power. I think our society needs a larger metaphor for dealing with this question in terms of power, and our culture needs a better story for dealing with it in terms of desire.
    Binaries are easy to understand. If not one then the other. Simple. Not much thinking involved, so easily reflexive. They are, however, models, and not realities, so just as all problems are nails if you only have a hammer, all people become A or B and nothing else if your brain has been invaded by the binary. Because it’s easy.
    So what’s needed is an easy alternative. An easy alternative is to take a step back and say: Sure, there’s a binary here, but it only applies in some ways. I’m a ‘man,’ but not in the way you think. I’m a ‘liberal,’ but that doesn’t mean I hate America, you brainwashed conservative. (note irony.) The point being that even if we manage to liberate ourselves from our own models day and night, and somehow remain mindful at all moments, there’s simply no way to teach someone else if they don’t think they need it, so they must be coaxed down a convenient path.
    This is why these stories must be cultural (rather than individual), and must stretch the boundaries rather than destroying them. Those boundaries create an illusion of safety regardless, and that helps people.
    For instance, the It Gets Better project is something that people just kinda know about regardless of their position on gay rights or whatever. It’s not just a movement, it’s a story that’s being told over and over with a great degree of potency. It’s simple to understand, and it’s an easy story to tell. It’s easy to convince people that suicide is bad, and from there it’s easy to say that we should convince suicidal people that they should stick around. That they happen to be LGBT is the ‘stretchy’ part, but is completely non-controversial in this context. That the whole project is life-affirming in every way imaginable is the astonishingly beautiful outcome.
    So: What’s the simplest story you can tell about compassionate, mindful desire that could enter the cultural lexicon? This is a question to ask your readers, if I may be so bold. 🙂

  6. Can we link to this post from the TBC blog and website? I figure the answer will be yes, but it’s polite to ask. 🙂

  7. Hey, Micah. By all means, please do link to TBC blog and website. Thank you for the courtesy of askin’ , you polite thing, you. And please give my love to all the steering committee. kiss kiss, Kate

  8. Enoch Root makes the point that binary-generated responses become culturally recognizable and asks the intriguing question:
    “What’s the simplest story you can tell about compassionate, mindful desire that could enter the cultural lexicon?”
    I know I’m going to have to think about that one, and I’d love to see thoughts from other readers. Thanks, Enoch. xo K

  9. This is jumping to a slightly different topic, but: I think it would be fascinating to read your deconstruction/re-telling/analysis of the Sodom and Gomorrah narrative following the Genesis creation myth. This story is interwoven in U.S. political discourse in a terribly melodramatic way which further instantiates the dichotomy of good and evil by demanding that the good are rewarded and the evil are punished (and all of our political decisions are somehow supposed to uphold that ideal). Comparing the complexities of the desires (for hospitality) found S & G myth with the melodramatic demands of political discourse in America today might be interesting to play with when connecting imagined archetypal desire with political life-on-the-ground.

  10. it is a good reading!!! i would agree with some of the views up there.

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