Wednesday, October 31, 2012
the puzzle world
it's a gross understatement to say that i've spent a lot of time thinking about my sexuality.
i've had a lot of major revelations about my life in the past few years that have led to intense periods of isolation and self-discovery. sexuality has always been at the center of this. i usually settle on the fact that i'm interested in women, and leave it at that. by default, that makes me "queer" or "a lesbian". i won't deny those labels because they have some way of communicating to the rest of the universe what my interests are and i don't want to be an asshole.
then i'll go on okcupid and find basically every profile i look at strange and alienating in one way or another. part of it might be that i find the format of aggregating a bunch of headshots of people i'm supposed to be interested in objectifying by its nature, but it also says something about how people feel they have to present themselves to get a date. and there's definitely a pretty consistent language people use to describe themselves. depending on where you live or who you're interested in, it's different, but it's always there.
then i've had sad moments of realization when i see all of my personal heroes identify as straight or some variant of bisexual/pansexual. i couldn't think of any lesbian heroes i have off the top of my head (i believe very strongly that anyone who biologically essentializes against transwomen must have other substantial flaws in their thinking), though i'm sure there are a few. sometimes it seems kind of ridiculous that i would even give it this weight, because i understand that "non-gay" people are a vast majority of the population. but knowing that the identity i have is supposed to make me different from them in some way makes me feel pretty bad about whoever i am.
and then i'll feel inspired by something someone male-identified has done or said, or guy friends will express interest in me, and because i feel very alienated with my own identity, i'll try to let that in. and then i go over in my head many many times how maybe i'm something else, like pansexual, because that would make me more open to the world and less focused on what "lesbian" or "queer" means i can and can't do. and then i think about how girls that i feel attracted to could just be some projection of how i see myself, or a desire for the sort of strong female support i didn't have early in life. or that negative feelings i have towards male figures early in my life are obscuring feelings i might have for men.
but i realize that's just easy. it's just me, out of frustration, trying to indulge in what norms and past abuse have tried to make me believe. in better moments, basically everything feels in sync and these feelings aren't exerting any sway over me. in weaker moments, though, it is incredibly hard for me, without the support of others, to be able to separate parts of myself out and understand who i am and that i'm not some kind of freak or monster for being who i am.
going my own path and stumbling my way through all this doubt and confusion has instilled in me a very strong need for autonomy. in order to not be a victim to all of this expectation, i've found it completely vital to understand why these norms exist, who's enforcing them, and what their motivation for doing so is.
i feel like this usually puts me at odds with the rest of the world. in circles of queer and trans friends, i've felt expected to conform to all sorts of behaviors which i might not agree with or feel are right. i usually avoid revealing my feelings about this, because i have a fear that i will be attacked for my views, or passive-aggressively treated as an "enemy" or "other" in one way or another. if it doesn't feel to them like i'm fighting the world in the same way they are, it seems like that makes them see me as not one of them. it makes me feel sick, and it makes me feel like the support i get from others is conditional to me conforming to certain expectations of what kind of person they think i should be, as "queer" or "trans" or whatever.
i could say that i'm just projecting my own negative feelings onto these interactions, but i trust my perceptions enough to believe that that isn't true. and anyway, accepting that it's my own malfunction is just another way for me to devalue the importance of my own opinions when they go against something that exists in the minds of multiple other people.
i understand their thinking. a lot of people's preferences or behavior or just their entire existence puts them at tremendous odds with dominant societal norms, so there's an intense pressure to communicate who and why they're different to other people. having a concrete way to define yourself is a kind of strength because it legitimizes your continued existence, at least in the eyes of the world. but those words that you find powerful are just as easily co-opted and used as weapons by others to essentialize and disenfranchise a group of people.
women who identify as a lesbian or queer often don't do much of anything to challenge this, by subscribing to stuff like the "butch" and "femme" dynamic, or believing that feminine behaviors are just a construction of men who want to keep women passive and subservient. really, to me this just another way of accepting that what is seen as a traditionally "masculine" way of seeing or approaching the world is more powerful and more desirable kind of behavior than a traditionally "feminine" one.
i've come to realize that my experiences among friends and acquaintances are just another example of the many ways people are taught to accept being essentialized and disenfranchised as part of their being.
i understand that words are a shorthand to be able to communicate with other human beings. if you're a woman who likes other women, it's important to know if a woman you are interested in is also interested in you. but just the act of accepting a word as your being heavily defines how the world will read you and understand your existence. it also changes the way you see the world, internally, and defines the way you'll interact with others. these are avenues traditionally well-exploited by advertising. you may think that you're not acting within the norms of a particular group you identify as, but it's foolish to believe that seeing yourself that way isn't shaping you as a person, because it is. it's a filter to your consciousness.
filtering is a natural response to our cacophonous world. if we filter, we have some sort of understanding of the world with an easily articulated, straightforward logic to back it up. if we filter, it means we have a consistent set of views, which communicates to others that we are a strong, self-assured human being. if we filter, we can continue to function within some subset society and make some sort of living for ourselves without having a complete breakdown that forces us to challenge all our existing views.
then, if we choose to fully legitimize our filters and subscribe to its category or lineage of ideas, we can believe fully that the complete realization of those ideas will leave us at an endpoint where everything in the world will function in its ideal state. this, unfortunately, has little to do with how our world actually operates. in fact, the full realization we so desire usually results in all different kinds of terrifying consequences. this is something Zizek calls a "totality", a desire for us to achieve some ideal complete synchronicity within our liberal democratic world. this desire, however, is really a desire for totalitarianism. the endpoint is usually a complete reduction of the existence of individual human beings to a few words, or even further, to a number as part of this "perfect" system. or, to put it another way, The Holocaust.
these systems, as we've seen, are completely separate from the sort of incomprehensibly complex organisms that sustain our bodies and form our consciousness. they're puzzle worlds formed from machines of our own creation, which we are now the victims of. we search tirelessly for a perfect solution to a problem that we believe exists. while we search for this perfect solution, our world - the world that nurtures us and brought us into being, is becoming increasingly unable to sustain us.
it is very likely that someone viewing this article will open up my blog and scroll right past this post the moment they see me talking about my sexuality, or the word "queer" appears, or they'll scroll down to see where, if at all, this article mentions videogames. well, here you go: i'm indulging you this time, you fuckheads. the culture of games is so harmoniously tied to idealized, totalitarian fantasy versions of the world that i don't think it's at all separable or salvageable from that. it may have not been this way early in the history of games, but it is certainly that way now.
why? because the precise function of most videogames is to be a particularly well-realized indulgence of our desire for totality. this is what we call escapism, and it is as much of a pure encapsulation of what most videogames aim for as you could come up with. and yet we still want to believe there to be something altogether good and pure about it.
well, i'm throwing any kind of apology for escapism out the window right now. i don't believe it ever serves a positive function. escapism exists to espouse idealized versions of the world that have never existed, and will never exist. escapism is used by those in power to keep people in the dark from of all the ways they are being disenfranchised and their beings are destroyed. there is nothing but cruelty and suffering hiding underneath.
what about all the cool sci-fi or fantasy worlds, you say? what about star wars? isn't that escapism? well, maybe it's time to confront the conventional wisdom and acknowledge that star wars might not be the wonderful, innocent world we'd like to believe it is. but in actuality, many sci-fi and fantasy worlds can and have have much more relevance to our own existence than worlds that have aimed to be a recognizable facsimile of our own. but that's all up to the creators. the creative process is not voodoo magic that functions outside of all bounds of logic. it's filled with meaning and purpose gathered from experiences in our own lives. this must be acknowledged, and nurtured, and directed by its creator in order for it to have relevance and communicate to other human beings. instead, it's often used as another pretty dressing of endorsement for totalitarianism.
videogames have been moving towards one clear direction throughout their short history - towards a sort of total, unbroken immersion. some refer to this as "The Holodeck". our desire for a sort of "realism" or fidelity within the world of a game is, in fact, actually a desire for us to finally realize the complete fantasy of totality within our own world that is unbroken by the flaws of the machine. a perfect world built of perfect systems without disharmony. a world that can never break down into chaos or cacophony and expose the flaws of its own inner workings is the ideal state for a videogame.
videogames are, therefore, a totality. for us to construct a different purpose for them means to challenge every bit of conventional wisdom about them, and to look back into their short history and try and find things which reflect our strange, sad, upsetting, confusing, horrifying, and beautiful world.
this tumblr i've made for odd videogame screenshots is my starting point. i'd love to see yours as well.