michael j. morris


courageous appearance

I sat down this afternoon at the local cafe and started to write about gratitude, specifically gratitude for the array of public figures that bring diversity to the public sphere, specifically folks who identify their genders in ways that do not conform neatly—or at all—to clear, discrete binaries of masculine/feminine or male/female. I am grateful for so many folks: musical performers like Justin Vivian Bond and Antony Hegarty, porn performers like Jiz Lee, Drew Deveaux, James Darling and a whole community of queer/trans/genderqueer porn performers who I admire, burlesque performers like Eileen Galvin, scholars like Eva Hayward and Susan Stryker and the whole trans studies initiative at Arizona State, people like Jack Halberstam, public figures like Kate Bornstein, Carmen Carerra, and Laverne Cox. People in academia and different modes of public performance who are actively reshaping how we see and think about gender and sex.

And then my thoughts on gratitude drifted, and I found myself scribbling out thoughts on appearance, recognition, vulnerability, and courage. It is not a formal essay, but the start of some thoughts. Not the start, actually, because this thinking follows closely so much that I’ve learned from Judith Butler, Hannah Arendt, Bobby Noble, Shine Louise Houston, and Brené Brown, among others. I won’t be offering formal citations in these scribbled thought, but they are certainly indebted, built with and from the work that each of these people have done:

The space of appearance is fundamentally a social space: to appear is to appear for someone or someones, to be made available for others, with others, and to be apprehended within that availability. Society and social norms then come to condition that space of appearance, structuring how it is that bodies and people can appear, can be made to appear, can be made not to appear, can be made to disappear. To appear in ways that do not conform to such such—or refuse to conform to such norms—is to insist on a different social space, a different society that depends/relies upon different structures of visibility and recognition. Dissident appearances or appearances that dissent from the dominant norms exert force on such norms to adjust, adapt, and make space for appearing otherwise; for such norms to make space, the society that enacts—or is enacted by—such norms must become otherwise as well.

Of course, it is possible that such insistence will be intolerable, will not be tolerated, and will be punished or eliminated in order to maintain the existing norms that regulate who can be visible, who can appear, who can be recognized, and how. This maintenance can take any number of forms: subtle social pressures and insidious coercions, self-policing that takes the place of the policing of behavior that we have experienced or that we have witnessed, a look or posture from an other that registers one’s unintelligibility—a stare that communicates that you are seen and apprehended as incoherent, or even unapprehendable because of one’s incoherence; it can take the form of harassment or threats of violence; it is possible that one’s appearance will render one invisible, a kind of invisibility that accumulates in a space from which people avert their eyes, away from which people turn.

To not appear in ways that align with the norms that condition and regulate the social space of appearance—norms organized according to sex, gender, race, ability, and any number of other dimensions, indeed, norms of appearance that in part shape what is understood as sex, as gender, as race, as an able or disabled body—is always a risk. It is to risk invisibility, incoherence, discrimination, harassment, and violence; it is to risk the compromised sense of self that can result from any encounter with another in which the self that one appears to be is reflected back to that self as invisible, incoherent, or the cause for discrimination, harassment, and violence. And to not appear in ways that align with such conditioning norms must not be figured as always a choice, as if those who do not appear or appear incoherently, or whose appearance results in harassment or violence, could be said to have chosen such an existence, or to have chosen otherwise, as if such person could have chosen to conform to the social expectations for appearance. This is not, or even often, the case.

And yet, whether dissident appearance is or is not chosen, it is courageous. It is courageous because it is a risk, and the stakes of the risk are certain unavoidable vulnerability that make up what it is to be embodied with-and-in a world of others. To be is to be among others, and to be among others it to be physically exposed to them, to their words, to their gaze, to their touch, whether their words or looks or touches are caring or abusive. We are all [and here “we” and “all” are not only human] exposed to one another in any number of ways, and that exposure constitutes both the risk and the requirement of social existence. It is because of our shared vulnerabilities that we are already given over to one another; we require one another’s care, one another’s protection, one another’s assistance, one another’s nonviolence. Butler writes that we are already obligated to nonviolent coexistence because of this pervasive exposure and shared vulnerability. And all that we require from one another depends first on our having been recognized by an other.

When recognition requires appearance, and when appearance is regulated by exclusionary norms such that it becomes possible to not appear or to appear in such a way that renders one unrecognizable, or to appear as such an aberration of the norms of appearance that one is made into a target of violence, appearance then carries the risk of misrecognition or not being recognized or recognizable, making appearance a question of survival and livability.

These are common vulnerabilities, the risks that accompany appearance and recognition for everyone. But these vulnerabilities are taken for granted, overlooked, or even repressed when appearance closely approximates the normative expectations that enable and constrain recognizability. When society appears in ways that are homogenous and consistent, when those who appear maintain the effect of norms as natural, the stakes or cost of appearance are less apparent. When how one appears is how one must appear in order to be recognizable, the risk/cost of appearing otherwise cannot be obvious.

Thus, to appear in ways that resist or do not align with such norms is not courageous only because to do so exposes one to vulnerabilities; rather it is courageous because it exposes those vulnerabilities that might otherwise remain unappreciable, precisely when doing so also risks some degree of duress or suffering.

And: such appearances are also courageous because in the face of this all, they insist on the possibility—and livability—of such appearances. They insist on a society or social existence in which it is possible to appear and to be recognized in ways that exceed the available norms—of sex, gender, race, or ability. If such appearances or recognitions are to become possible, intelligible, even in their incoherence, it will be only because of the pressures exerted on the norms of appearance by those who appear otherwise, who courageously insist on public visibility.

Today I am grateful for the world that is given to me by those who insist on appearing otherwise.

Afterthought: Although dissident appearance is not always a choice, it can be a choice, a courageous choice, to appear otherwise. To produce more incoherence within available norms. To dress or present oneself in ways that do not confirm the expectations of one’s given sex or gender, to explore more diverse performances of self, more unexpected styles of movement and behaviors, to try out fashions or looks that introduce more diversity into the social space of appearance. To wear things that other than how they were intended to be worn. To wear clothes made by designers who are pursuing design into unexpected places, designs that reshape how we look at bodies, that reveal bodies differently. To make choices about one’s appearance—hair, make-up, no make-up, shaving, not shaving, tattoos, piercings, other surgical interventions, how you carry yourself, how you take up space—in ways that are intentional, thoughtful, and resistant to what you feel like you should do. I am not saying that these strategies alone are what makes or unmakes bodies, sexes, genders, races, etc., but I am suggesting that the more difference that we introduce to the social space of appearance, the more difference that social space will be expected to absorb and make space for. These are small activisms that are available to all of us, in our presentation of self, our production of self, and our production of the shared spaces in which we live.

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warming up
Image

warming up: a queer porn screening and conversation

warming up: a queer porn screening and conversation at FEVERHEAD
saturday, february 25, 2012
5:00pm-7:00pm
18+ age limit
suggested donation $2-5

Join us for a queer porn screening presenting work by directors Shine Louise Houston, Courtney Trouble, and Madison Young, introduced and facilitated by Michael J. Morris. If we consider pornography to be an archive of human sexual behavior, queer porn makes important social contributions by giving representation to bodies, sexualities, and sex that go otherwise unacknowledged and often disavowed within our society’s mainstream cultural productions. In a society in which bodies/people are identified by markers such as gender, sex, and sexuality; in which rights and value are mediated on the bases of these identifications; and in which media—including pornography—plays significant roles in shaping our perceptions of both ourselves and of others: the production and screening of this material takes on substantial social and political dimensions. We invite you to come enjoy a sampling of sexy scenes by award-winning filmmakers and performers, to take part in dialogue about the social and cultural relevance of this work, and to consider pornography as a productive site of knowledge in addition to its erotic functions.

We will be screening scenes from Shine Louise Houston’s HeavenlySpire.com, Courtney Trouble’s Roulette: Toronto, and Madison Young’s Fluid: Men Redefining Sexuality; with performances by James Darling, Quinn Valentine, Jiz Lee, Drew Deveaux, River Turner, Tommy Midas, Rose, and Devi Lynne.

For more information, contact Michael at morris.787@osu.edu
Michael J. Morris is a PhD student and Graduate Teaching Associate in the Department of Dance at the Ohio State University, doing research in the areas of performance, sexuality, and queer theories of the body.

This event is made possible through the support of CoCo Loupe, FEVERHEAD, and Queer Behavior; and the generous permissions of Shine Louis Houston and Pink and White Productions, Courtney Trouble, Madison Young, and Good Releasing.

RSVP on the facebook event page: http://www.facebook.com/events/210505295702709/

Trailers/More Info:
HeavenlySpire.com with James Darling and Quinn Valentine: http://www.heavenlyspire.com/wordpress/james-darling-and-quinn-valentine/
Courtney Trouble’s Roulette: Toronto: http://courtneytrouble.com/dvds/roulette-toronto/
Fluid: Men Redefining Sexualityhttp://goodreleasing.com/fluid-men-redefining-sexuality/

http://feverhead.com/
http://queerbehavior.com/wordpress/
http://pinkwhite.biz/
http://courtneytrouble.com/
http://madisonbound.com/
http://goodreleasing.com/



Inspirations: queer porn, ecosexuality, etc.

I wanted to take the time to leave the trace of another constellation of ideas that are forming frames for me right now. In the midst of everything else I’m doing, I have also been lucky to find some intense inspirations. One of the most notable is work happening in and around queer porn.

I have written around some of these ideas on the blog for the Laboratory for Independent Scholars (the collaborative research project with Karl Cronin, Christopher Kennedy and myself). You can check out those posts here.

On that blog, I listed lots of the individuals involved with and responsible for queer porn that have quickly become heroes in my life. I don’t want to be redundant, but I do want to leave a trace, so briefly (with hyperlinks, which are anything but brief when blogging), they are:

Jiz Lee (genderqueer porn star, blogger, activist, artist, etc.)

jiz lee

Madison Young (porn star/director, gallerist, educator, etc.)

madison young

Shine Louise Houston (porn director/producer, etc.)

shine louise houston

Courtney Trouble (porn star/director/producer/etc.)

courtney trouble

Syd Blakovich (porn star, artist, activist, etc.)

syd blakovich

Drew DeVeaux (porn star, model, etc.)

drew deveaux, photo by rae threat

Dylan Ryan (porn star, academic, etc.)

dylan ryan

Billy Castro (porn star, etc.)

billy castro

Annie Sprinkle (one of the the original queer porn performers/directors/dreamers; artist, activist, sexecologist)

annie sprinkle

Travis Mathews (filmmaker, activist, artist, etc.)

These people are some of my many heroes.

I wish I could write a whole essay right here about why I think queer porn is a radically progressive force in our world, culture, society, etc. (I’ve dabbled with some of these ideas on the LIS blog), but the short version is that queer porn, among much else, demonstrates and performs bodies and sexualities in a way that substantially disrupts and subverts normalized heterosexist configurations of bodies, identities, sex, sexualities, and gender. By giving representation to bodies and acts that live at or beyond the edges of normativity, queer porn offers legitimacy and recognition of those lives to others who are living them . . . that’s not clear . . . what I mean is that one of the things queer porn does is offers a site of identification for those who live and perform their bodies and sexualities outside of the socially sanctioned and normative. But it also functions as a activism towards a public archive of such lives/bodies/sexualitites that authors our culture beyond the edges of the normative. It leaves a trace of some for all, an archive that subverts the notion that all bodies and people are a particular way (this is most notably a heteronormativity, but I would venture to argue that much of gay sexual practices, identities and representations have configured themselves as imitations and emulations–thus representations and reiterations . . . maybe even simulacra–of heterosexuality, thus constituting a homonormativity that continues to abject some lives/bodies/sexualities and sexual expressions/acts as unlivable; I think the efforts of queer porn disrupt these normativities as well). In this way, queer porn accomplishes in representations of sexual encounters, relationships, pleasures, etc., what I tend to strive for in my dancing life–a practice, experience and perhaps even representation of bodies of vast possibilities, bodies that know and become more rather than less, that form and reform within mobile, fluid edges, never stable and always in transition.

I have some ideas of how my work will begin to dialogue with practices in queer porn. Some of this will be explored in the forthcoming reconstruction of “Sketches of Shame” (discussed in my previous post), although I’m not yet certain how.

I also have become interested in how this work and work by these individuals beyond the scope of “porn” might become topics of my research (alongside arts practices by the Love Art Laboratory, Karl Cronin, and various Butoh artists). One such example is a project with which I have recently become completely enamored called Twincest:

Described on their site:
“twincest was a multimedia collaboration between two lovers, Jiz Lee and Syd Blakovich. They spent 4 years together documenting their interpersonal dynamics and intimacies through sound, movement, video, photography, body fluids, pain, aggression, meat, sex, and love. Founded in 2004, their art and performances not only strengthened their budding relationship, but also provided a playground for the more complex elements that manifests in love’s shadows.”

their manifesto:
“My blood brother/sister,
Bonded by bloodpissshitcumspitpussweat-andassjuice, we share a body/canvas/culture for projections of disjunctured identities. With you, I expose and archive the physicalities of the sorid, you are my twin conjoined through the technological extentions of the body, a desire for the same…
bleedng
wrpt in soild shts
fckd dry
Anx us
and dstrctd”

Traces of their work.

Syd Blakovich says on her website (which is distinct from the twincest project that she conducted in collaboration with jiz lee from 2004-2009): “My interest in movement based performance is similar to my interest in body fluids. It’s a dialog between bodies and the spaces they occupy.”
Which is completely ecosexual, as far as I’ve theorized it.

I want to write about this work. I need to study it more. I need to be in contact with Jiz Lee and Syd Blakovich at some point. I need to draw together supporting theoretical materials needed to discuss this work. I already think Bataille’s Erotism, Death & Sensuality has a lot to offer. I think Catriona Sandilands “Eco Homo” article has a lot to offer.

I’m thinking about flesh and fluids, permeability and that which permeates, transmission and that which is transmitted (this has to do with performance, performativity, writing, choreography, etc., in the metaphorical sense), but also the levels of the body which we (in dance, in society) don’t address. I remember reading Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen’s writings about Body-Mind Centering, and those writings referring to movement on a level of fluids and tissues and bones. I didn’t find it to be very precise, although I have heard from colleagues who are more familiar with that work that those who understand it intimately, it is incredibly precise.

As I talk about fluid bodies, how can I not talk about body fluids? The morphability/malleability/instability of bodies is at the skin, in the seeping and sloshing and squirting, the sweating, the threat of leakage, the “necessity of management” (or of an aesthetics of flesh, re: Sandilands) in an age of latex. As I write about sexual epistemologies (see the paper posted in previous post), how do I not discuss latex and liquids, the edge between safety and danger that is inseparable from how we must know/understand sex in this era, and how does that affect how we live/understand the world, bodies, identities, dancing, etc.?

And what does a dissertation begin to look like if these are (potential) figures to be considered: the Love Art Laboratory (Annie M. Sprinkle and Elizabeth M. Stephens), Karl Cronin and the Somatic Natural History Archive, twincest (Jiz Lee and Syd Blakovich), and Butoh artists such as Kazuo Ohno, Tatsumi Hijikata, and Yoko Ashikawa?

I’m not sure where any of these ideas/inspirations are going, but I knew I wanted to begin to leave their traces here.
I’ll keep you informed as to how they develop.