Samuel R. Delaney reflects on a discussion of Transgressive Sexual Practice he participated in. (There's video!)
WHY IT'S HARD FOR ME TO THINK OF MYSELF AS A SEX RADICAL
Last week at the New School, with bell hooks, M. Lamar, and Marci Blackman, in a conversation on transgressive sexual practices, hooks and the others paid me the compliment of calling me “a sex radical”. I said, sincerely that I didn't think of myself in those terms. (The truth is, at 72 I don't think on my feet as nimbly as I once might have — which is why this elaboration here, a week after the fact.) As I explained, for me, transgression — sexual or any other kind — means there is a line that you have not crossed and that, from somewhere, you must seize the power to overcome the fear of crossing. I have crossed such lines many times in my life — many of them sexual. (And, in many cases, I have decided that it would be better to remain on the side I already was.) If, when I crossed them, what I'd found was five, fifteen, twenty-five or even fifty people there, then probably I would be able to call my own crossing a radical act. But what I invariably found beyond the lines I crossed — and this is what I did not say then — were thousands and thousands of people on the other side, and not only that, they had been there for years and years; in some cases; many of them lived on the far side for all practical purposes. Not only that, but buildings, businesses, whole languages (literary and vernacular) and institutions (legal and illegal) existed and had existed for years to accommodate them. Thus, I never felt I was doing anything unique. In books such as The Motion of Light in Water, Heavenly Breakfast, The Mad Man, and Times Square Red / Times Square Blue, and even Dhalgren, I would write about what I saw or use it as the basis for fiction. But even there, I'm aware that I was never the first to do so. Andre Gide, Bruce Nugent, Paul Goodman, W. H. Auden, James Baldwin, Willa Cather, Wallace Thurman, Hart Crane, Radclyffe Hall, Ned Rorum, John Rechy, Jean Genet, Djuna Barnes, Collette, Henry Miller, Violet Leduc, Sade, Klowsowski, Bataille, Cocteau, Lillian Helman, Wilde and Proust had all preceded me — and many, many others, back to Petronious and Apuleius and Catullus. These were the people who allowed me to do it and without whom I could never have written anything that I wanted to about the world I saw around me. That's why I've never seen my enterprise as radical.
If you are not familiar with Delaney's books: go read them all.
I cannot resist thinking of an old blog post of mine, Swamp, which contains a similar metaphor.
Imagine the world of human experience as a swamp. The swamp has a varied terrain: sandbars, reedy marshy bits, outcroppings of land, shallow rivers, muddy riverbanks, and so forth. Full of interesting stuff, but not entirely hospitable.
Most people live in castles in the swamp. A castle has a controlled environment, defined by the people who live there. It typically has windows and parapets from which the residents can view the swamp, though a few castles are completely sealed off.
Swamp travellers are interested in the swamp, and often are also interested in the different swamp denizens. They may stop in to visit folks in the various castles, carrying news and information around the swamp, picking up supplies, and occasionally deciding to settle down in one for a while, or even forever. They also tend to know the locations of ruined castles where a few eccentric holdouts are living and working.