Sexual is (not) Political (Part 3) – Slavoj Žižek

Although LGBT+ perceives itself as undermining the normativity of the heterosexual binary opposition, one should never forget that it involves a normativity of its own: since “binary” heterosexuality is perceived as the violent imposition of a model onto the plurality of sexual forms and practices, it is clear that practices which reject the standard heterosexuality are normatively preferred to it, i.e., that there is also an ethical edge to opposing the heterosexual norm

(click for the previous part)

Sexual Difference, Hierarchy or Antagonism?

Our media are full of reports about the oppressive religious atmosphere in Muslim countries, and the usual Leftist reaction to this “Islamophobia” is to point out that, to get things in a proper proportion, one should compare Muslim countries with the – once again no less oppressive – atmosphere in today’s US Bible Belt where publicly declared atheists are de facto ostracized.1

“US Bible Belt”:  relatively oppressive religious States in the US

However, oppressive religious atmosphere in Muslim countries is a fact that has to be confronted – but how? There is a struggle going on in Palestinian social media, ignored in the West. Two figures are at its centre: Mohammed Assaf and Tamer Nafar. Assaf is a pop singer from Gaza wildly popular not only among Palestinians but in all Arab world and even in parts of Europe, supported by Hamas in Gaza and by Palestinian Authority which proclaimed him the cultural ambassador of Palestina; he sings with a beautiful voice tender love and patriotic songs orchestrated in orchestral pop style. Politically, he is a unifying figure, above political divisions except his support of Palestinian freedom. In March 2016, Assaf declared in an interview that as part of keeping »tradition,« he would not allow his sister to sing in public. Tamer Nafar, the Palestinian rap artist who is the main actor and co-writer of Udi Aloni’s movie Junction 48, responded to Assaf in this touching open letter:

If any other pop artist said: ‘According to our tradition women are not allowed to sing, and on a personal level i cherish these traditions so I cannot allow my sister to sing.’ I would protest and hurt him, but since it’s Assaf, our Cinderella from Gaza, saying these words, I still will have rage, but mainly I am hurt.

Like the Palestinians who were united for the first time in the streets of Gaza, the West Bank, the Diaspora, the Refugee Camps and inside of ’48 to support Muhammad Assaf, we ask Assaf to join us on the same streets to encourage that girl from Yemen, Gaza, Morocco, Jordan and al Lyd – that girl who is dreaming to sing, dance, write and perform in Arab Idol! We as Palestinians must fight the Israeli Apartheid and the Gender Apartheid. My dream is to march hand in hand, a woman holding a man’s hand against any separation wall. It is not reasonable to walk separately and ask for unity at the same time!

You want to talk about traditions? From personal experience, I used to be an angry kid in the ghettos of Lyd. I wouldn’t calm down unless my mom sang to me a Fairuz song. That is the tradition i want to cherish! So, my dear Arab sisters (Hawwa), sing as loud as you can, break the borders so we can calm down. Freedom for all or freedom for none!

Aloni’s film deals with the difficult predicament of the young ‘Israeli Palestinians’ (Palestinians descended from the families that remained within Israel after the 1948 war), whose everyday life involves a continuous struggle on two fronts: against both Israeli state oppression and the fundamentalist pressures from within their own community – in his songs, Nafar mocks the tradition of ‘honour killings’ of girls in Palestinian families, for which he is attacked also by Western PC Leftists. A strange thing happened to him during a recent visit to the US. After he performed his song protesting against honour killings at the Columbia University campus in New York, some anti-Zionist students attacked him for dealing with the topic – their reproach being that, in this way, he promotes the Zionist view of Palestinians as barbaric primitives (adding that, if there are indeed any honor killings, Israel is responsible for them because the Israeli occupation keeps Palestinians in primitive conditions and prevents their modernization). Here is Nafar’s dignified reply: “When you criticize me you criticize my own community in English to impress your radical professors. I sing in Arabic to protect the women in my own ’hood.

Udi Aloni, Junction 48 (2016)

Nafar’s point is that Palestinians do not need the patronizing help of Western liberals; even less do they need the silence about honour killing as part of the Western Leftist’s »respect« for the Palestinian way of life. These two aspects – the imposition of Western values as universal human rights, and the respect for different cultures independently of the horrors that can be part of these cultures – are the two sides of the same ideological mystification. A lot has been written about how the universality of universal human rights is twisted, how they secretly give preference to Western cultural values and norms (the priority of individual over his/her community, and so on). But we should also add to this insight that the multiculturalist anti-colonialist defence of the multiplicity of ways of life is also false: it covers up the antagonisms within each of these particular ways of life, justifying acts of brutality, sexism and racism as expressions of a particular culture that we have no right to judge by foreign Western values.

This polemic between Assaf and Nafar is part of a big struggle for sexual difference, which gives a new twist to the old 1968 motto “Sexual is political.” The destructive effects of this struggle are discernible all around the world. The fate of Attawapiskat, a remote aboriginal community in northern Ontario, which drew attention of the media in early 2016, exemplifies the way the Canadian aborigines remain a broken nation unable to find the minimal stability of a life pattern:

»Since autumn there have been more than 100 suicide attempts in Attawapiskat, which has a population of just 2000. The youngest person to attempt suicide was 11 years old, the oldest 71. After 11 people tried to take their own lives on Saturday evening, exhausted leaders declared a state of emergency. On Monday, as officials scrambled to send crisis counsellors to the community, 20 people – including a nine-year-old – were taken to hospital after they were overheard making a suicide pact. ‘We’re crying out for help,’ said Attawapiskat chief Bruce Shisheesh. ‘Just about every night there is a suicide attempt.‘«

Attawapiskat, on the map.

In searching for the reasons of this toll, one should look beyond the obvious (overcrowded houses riddled with mould, drug abuse and alcoholism, etc.); the principal among the systemic reasons is the devastating impact legacy of the residential school system which disrupteds continuity between generations:

»for decades, more than 150,000 aboriginal children were carted off in an attempt to forcibly assimilate them into Canadian society. Rife with abuse, the schools aimed to ‘kill the Indian in the child’, as documented by a recent truth commission. Thousands of children died at these schools – the absence of dietary standards in the schools left many undernourished and vulnerable to diseases such as smallpox, measles and tuberculosis – with hundreds of them hastily buried in unmarked graves next to the institutions. In nearly a third of the deaths, the government and schools did not even record the names of the students who had died.«2

One should add here the widespread sexual exploitation of children in residential schools.  For millions of people all around the world, a similar kind of hell is the reality of what sociologists call the process of modernization, of the dissolution of traditional family ties: what they get is just the destructive aspect which they are unable to »sublate« into post-traditional individuality. There is something in the very structure of sexual norms and gender practices which resists to direct imposition of any politics aiming to transform it. Jacqueline Rose recently made a key pointJacquelin Rose recently made a key point addressing that such a sublation has not been achieved, when she dealt with the question: is the widespread talk about violence against women in our mainstream media an indication that there is more of this violence in real life, or is it just that this violence became more visible because, on account of the growing feminist awareness, we apply higher ethical standards which qualify as violence what was before considered part of a normal state of things? Rose pointed out that this higher visibility if profoundly ambiguous: it signals the fact that feminist awareness penetrated general culture, but it also neutralizes the impact of violence against women, rendering it tolerable and standardized – we see it all around, we protest against it, and life goes on… – The Boko Haram way – is no solution to – but the outcome of  this deadlock because it does not enact an actual return to traditional communal life but merely counteracts destruction with an even more (self-) destructive »totalitarian« group identification.

Boko Haram just brought the logic of normative sexual difference to its extreme. (Incidentally, Lacan’s point is that the true threat is not polymorphous perversion which destabilizes, sometimes even ignores, sexual difference but this difference itself in its antagonistic dimension.) The notion of sexual difference which prescribes to each of the two sexes a specific role to play thereby imposes a symbolic norm destined to guarantee sexual relationship, to provide the coordinates of “normal” sex. Parallel to Boko Haram logic, anotherAn exemplary case of such (mis)use of sexual difference is provided by Suheyb Öğüt in his comment “The Butch lesbians and the HDPKK”3:

According to psychoanalysis every relationship is sexual. But this doesn’t mean that every relation in everyday life smells of sexuality. On the contrary, this means that in every relationship – whatever it is, political, social or economic – agents occupy a sexual position which is either the position of a man or that of a woman. Indeed, even if the type of relationship is not a conventional one but the one unusual for the majority of population, this rule is valid. It is exactly for this reason that even in ‘queer’ relations – like in heterosexual relations – there is a male (master, dominant) role and a female (servant, submissive) role which is enacted. Otherwise the relationship is an impossible one.

For example, the lesbians: Fundamentally there are two types of lesbians: butch (male role) and femme (female role). When we observe the butch lesbians, it seems impossible to distinguish them from males. Their body language (seating, walking, gestures, mimics, cloths, even their tatoos) is macho. They look very brave and good4. They are much more aggressive and ‘if punch, knock down’ type of people than an average man. If you engage in a fight with a butch you should probably immediately run away. This macho ‘image’ is also enacted in their relationship with their partners: they are very dominant and they ask partners to behave towards them in a very submissive way. So when you observe this type of relationship, you notice the same phallic enjoyment as that of a man enjoying the submissiveness5 of his partner.

But in reality the situation is exactly the opposite one. Butch doesn’t occupy a position of phallic manhood, for sure. The macho-male mask – witnessing her symbolic castration – that she wears in everyday life doesn’t serve her to derive from it any sort of phallic enjoyment. It is rather the enjoyment of the Big Other which defines her macho manhood. This is because a butch lesbian is desperately obliged to use some artificial tool as the substitution for the real-natural organ that she lacks, and also because she waives her own pleasure in order to really possess her partner like a man would do. This kind of pleasure found in waiving her own bodily pleasure, a pleasure found in merely serving painfully the Other’s pleasure, corresponds to female enjoyment. Behind their macho appearances butches are therefore nothing but the usual obedient ‘good girls’. However, this situation of which they are unconsciously aware doesn’t disturb them much as long as they look macho from the view of the Other, as long as they can keep on hiding their ‘good girl’ in their inside.

Never mind, these HDP+PKK’s look like butches who act like a macho, challenging the State and the majority of people by way of using dildo-like external weapons. There is a ‘good girl’ woman behind this mask. There is a pathetic servant behind those who work for the Big Other’s enjoyment (of secularism, of İsrael, of Kemalism. What, then, makes them endure the pain of masking their castrated submissive femme, of leaving behind their original ‘good girl’ femininity? Here is the answer, the same as the butch lesbian’s answer: they endure the pain in order to be able to be seen and approved as a disobedient (leftist) and roughneck (secular) master by the Big Other. That’s it.6

This brief comment (which appeared in a popular Turkish newspaper), a theoretical and political nightmare, enacts a blatant misuse of Lacanian psychoanalysis: it offers sexual difference in the traditional sense (master and servant, active and passive…) as a framework which defines the specific agencies “for manhood and for womanhood,” and then universalizes it as a model for all human relations, “political, social or economic“; even when a sexual relation is not the standard one, as is the case with lesbians, there has to be the dominant masculine position and the submissive feminine position (butch and femme). This framework is supposed to function as a kind of formal a priori, a condition of possibility, of any relationship – “otherwise the relationship is an impossible one”… but Lacan’s point is precisely this one, namely that sexual relationship IS an impossible one, il n’y a pas de rapport sexuel. Every other (not directly sexual) interhuman relation can be sexualized precisely because “there is no sexual relationship: sexuality affects other domains not because of its overpowering strength but because of its weakness. For Lacan, “there is no sexual relationship” means (among other things) precisely that no symbolic opposition (like active-passive, master/servant, etc.) can adequately determine sexual difference.

Things then take an even worse turn: a lesbian relationship is explained in the terms of the opposition between “natural-real” sexual organ (penis) and artificial external dildo: butch lesbians lack real penis, so they have to rely on the artificial dildo in order to impress some figure of the big Other (their Ego Ideal) with their masculinity. One should also note the political dimension of Öğüt’s text: written in order to support the official policy of the Turkish government (which denounces Kurdish opposition as terrorists), it is meant to slander one of the greatest moments of Kurdish struggle in Syria, the women-fighters who proved to be very efficient against ISIS (we should also note the late turn towards feminism of Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of PKK). The idea is that these women-fighters are like butch lesbians: they fake their masculinity by way of displaying their dildos (masculine guns) in order to impress the figure of their Zionist-secular (i.e., anti-Turkish) big Other… there is a slight problem here. For Lacan, phallus (which defines masculinity) is not the penis but a signifier, the signifier of castration, which means precisely an external supplement, “structured like a dildo” (to paraphrase Lacan’s famous formula “the unconscious is structured like a language”). So the situation described by Öğüt as a lesbian diversion is for Lacan a normal one: what defines the masculinity of a man is not his possession of penis but the way he relates to some external phallic signifier on which his authority relies, and he does this in order to be noted by a figure of big Other which confers on him his authority. Consequently, would Öğüt be ready to say that Erdogan is also a butch, a weak guy who displays his dildo in order to impress the big Other (Turkey, Islam)?

The Impasses of Transgender

In his “The Instance of the Letter in the Unconscious, or Reason According to Freud,” Lacan, correcting Saussure, illustrates the relationship between signifier and signified by way of emphasizing the differential character of the signifier: he presents the image of a signifying couple GENTLEMEN LADIES and, under each of the two terms beneath a bar, he draws the SAME image of a toilet door – with the clear point that sexual difference is not a matter of nature (biology, meaning) but a matter of signifier: the signified is the same.

Lacan’s comment:

“Here we see that, without greatly extending the scope of the signifier involved in the experiment – that is, by simply doubling the nominal type through the mere juxtaposition of two terms whose complementary meanings would seem to have to reinforce each other – surprise is produced by the precipitation of an unexpected meaning: the image of two twin doors that symbolize, with the private stall offered Western man for the satisfaction of his natural needs when away from home, the imperative he seems to share with the vast majority of primitive communities that subjects his public life to the laws of urinary segregation.”7

The notion of sexual difference which prescribes to each of the two sexes a specific role to play thereby imposes a symbolic norm that extends up to the domain of urinary segregation. The irony is that segregated toilet doors are today at the center of a big legal and ideological struggle, especially in the US. On March 29 2016, a group of 80 predominantly Silicon Valley-based business executives, headlined by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Apple CEO Tim Cook, signed a letter to North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory on Tuesday denouncing a law prohibiting transgender people from using the public facilities of the opposite sex. “We are disappointed in your decision to sign this discriminatory legislation into law,” the letter says. “The business community, by and large, has consistently communicated to lawmakers at every level that such laws are bad for our employees and bad for business.” (The law says a person must use segregated public facilities such as bathrooms and showers according to biological sex, not gender identity. A transgender person would have to have his sex legally changed on a birth certificate to use the facilities of his preferred gender.) So it is clear where the big capital stands: Tim Cook can easily forget about hundreds of thousands of Foxconn workers in China assembling Apple products in slave conditions – he made his big gesture of solidarity with the underprivileged, demanding the abolition of gender segregation… As is often the case, big business stands here proudly united with Politically Correct theory.

So what is “transgenderism”? It occurs when an individual experiences a discord between his/her biological sex (and the corresponding gender, male or female, assigned to him by society at birth) and his subjective identity. As such, it does not concern only “men who feel and act like women” and vice versa but a complex structure of additional “genderqueer” positionspositions which are outside the very binary opposition of masculine and feminine: bigender, trigender, pangender, genderfluid, up to agender. The ultimate vision of social relations that sustains transgenderism is so-called postgenderism: a social, political and cultural movement whose adherents advocate a voluntary abolition of gender rendered possible by recent scientific progress in biotechnology and reproductive technologies. Their proposal doesn’t concern only scientific possibility but is also ethically grounded: the premise of postgenderism is that social, emotional and cognitive consequences of fixed gender roles are an obstacle to full human emancipation. A society in which reproduction through sex is eliminated (or in which other versions will be possible: woman can also “father” her child, etc.) will open unheard-of new possibilities of freedom, social and emotional experimenting. It will eliminate a distinction which sustains all later social hierarchies and exploitations…

One can argue that postgenderism is the truth of transgenderism: the universal fluidification of sexual identities unavoidably reaches its apogee in the cancellation of sex as such. This ambiguity characterizes the conjunction of sexuality and freedom throughout the XXth century: the more radical attempts to liberate sexuality get, the more they get close to their self-overcoming and turn into attempts to enact a liberation FROM sexuality:

If part of the twentieth century’s revolutionary program to create a radically new social relation and a New Man was the liberation of sexuality, this aspiration was marked by a fundamental ambiguity: Is it sexuality that is to be liberated, delivered from moral prejudices and legal prohibitions, so that the drives are allowed a more open and fluid expression, or is humanity to be liberated from sexuality, finally freed from its obscure dependencies and tyrannical constraints? Will the revolution bring an efflorescence of libidinal energy or, seeing it as a dangerous distraction to the arduous task of building a new world, demand its suppression? In a word, is sexuality the object of or the obstacle to emancipation?8

The oscillation between these two extremes is clearly discernible in the first decade after the October Revolution where feminist calls for the liberation of sexuality were soon supplemented by the gnostic-cosmological calls for a New Man that would leave behind sexuality itself as the ultimate bourgeois trap… The first thing to note here is that transgenderism goes together with the general tendency in today’s predominant ideology to reject any particular “belonging” and to celebrate the “fluidification” of any identity. Thinkers like French social theorist and public figure Frederic Lordon recently demonstrated the inconsistency of “cosmopolitan” anti-nationalist intellectuals who advocate a “liberation from belonging” and in extremis tend to dismiss every search for roots and every attachment to a particular ethnic or cultural identity as an almost proto-Fascist stance. Lordon contrasts this hidden belonging of self-proclaimed rootless universalists with the nightmarish reality of refugees and illegal immigrants who, deprived of basic rights, desperately search for some kind of belonging (like a new citizenship). Lordon is quite right here: it is easy to note how the “cosmopolitan” intellectual elites despising local people who cling to their roots belong to their own quite exclusive circles of rootless elites, how their cosmopolitan rootlessness is the marker of a deep and strong belonging. (This is why it is an utter obscenity to put together elite “nomads” flying around the world and refugees desperately searching for a safe place where they would belong – the same obscenity as that of putting together a dieting upper-class Western woman and a starving refugee woman.) This paradox is properly Hegelian: within each particular community (nation), today’s universal class of managers and university elite appears as a particular group isolated from the majority by their entire life-style – a humanities professor in New York has much more in common with a humanities professor in Paris or even Seoul than with a worker who lives on Staten Island. The form of appearance of a universal class which reaches across particular nations is extreme particularity within its nation – universality divides a particular identity from within.

Furthermore, we encounter here the old paradox: the more marginal and excluded one is, the more one is allowed to assert ethnic identity and exclusive way of life. This is how the Politically Correct landscape is structured: people far from the Western world are allowed to fully assert their particular ethnic identity without being proclaimed essentialist racist identitarians (native Americans, blacks…); the closer one gets to the notorious white heterosexual males, the more problematic this assertion is: Asians are still OK, Italians and Irish maybe, with Germans and Scandinavians it is already problematic… However, such a prohibition of asserting the particular identity of White Men (as the model of oppression of others), although it presents itself as the admission of their guilt, nonetheless confers on them a central position: this very prohibition to assert their particular identity makes them into the universal-neutral medium, the place from which the truth about the others’ oppression is accessible. The imbalance weighs also in the opposite direction: impoverished European countries expect the developed West European ones to bear the full burden of multicultural openness while they can afford patriotism. Although, of course, it is not the same to assert the identity of a marginal oppressed minority or the identity of a privileged white nation, we should nonetheless not lose from our sight the formal identity between the two: “the nationalist right has simply taken over the identity politics. They are saying: ‘Not you (gays, blacks…), we are the real victims here, we are the minority, nobody cares about us…’”9

Incidentally, something similar happened with the anti-abortion movement which also presents itself as the simple and logical expansion of the anti-racist fight: first, the fight was to include blacks and other races into the set of those who are fully human, and now we just want to extend this fight to those who are not yet born…

And it is easy to detect a similar tension in transgenderism: transgender subjects who appear as transgressive, defying all prohibitions, simultaneously behave in a hyper-sensitive way, they feel oppressed by enforced choice (“Why should I decide if I am man or woman?”), they need a place where they could fully recognize themselves. If they so proudly insist on their “trans-“, beyond all classification, why do they display such an urgent demand for a proper place? Why, when they find themselves in front of gendered toilets, don’t they act with heroic indifference – “I am transgendered, a bit of this and that,  a man dressed as a woman, etc., so I can well choose whatever door I want!”? Furthermore, do “normal” heterosexuals not have a similar problem, do they also not often find it difficult to recognize themselves in prescribed sexual identities? One could even say that man (or woman) is not a certain identity but more a certain mode of avoiding an identity… And we can safely predict that new anti-discriminatory demands will emerge: why not marriages among multiple persons? What justifies the limitation to the binary form of marriage? Why not even a marriage with animals – after all we already know about the finesse of animal emotions, is to exclude marriage with an animal not a clear case of “speciesm,” an unjust privileging of human species?

This deadlock of classification is clearly discernible in the need to expand the formula: the basic LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) becomes LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual) or even LGBTQQIAAP (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Allies, Pansexual)10. To resolve the problem, one often simply adds a + which serves to include all other communities associated with the LGBT community, as in LGBT+. This, however, raises the question: is + just a stand-in for the missing positions like “and others,” or can one be directly a +? The properly dialectical answer is: yes – in the series, there is always one exceptional element which clearly does not belong to it and thereby gives body to +. It can be “allies” (“honest” non-LGBT individuals), “asexuals” (negating the entire field of sexuality) or “questioning” (floating around, unable to adopt a determinate position). (Especially suspicious is here the category of Allies: why should heterosexuals who have a sympathy for transgender people count as a special category of sexual identities? Is their sympathy not a fact of their morality which has nothing to do with their sexuality? The hidden normativity of transgenderism is clearly perceptible here: heterosexuality is silently conceived as “lower” than a transgender position, as immanently linked to oppression, so “allies” are “honest enemies” in almost the same sense in which historians of Nazism like to discover an “honest Nazi,” a Nazi who admits the criminal nature of Nazism…).

Consequently, there is only one solution to this deadlock, the one we find in another field of disposing waste, that of trash bins. Public trash bins are more and more differentiated today: there are special bins for paper, glass, metal cans, cardboard package, plastic, etc. Here already, things get sometimes complicated: if I have to dispose of a paper bag or a notebook with a tiny plastic band, where does it belong, to paper or to package? No wonder that we often get on the bins detailed instruction beneath the general designation: PAPER – books, newspapers, etc., but NOT hardcover books or books with plasticized cover, etc. In such cases, to properly dispose of one’s waste would have taken up to half an hour or more of detailed reading and touch decisions. TO make things easier, we then get a supplementary trash bin for GENERAL WASTE where we throw all that did not meet the specific criteria of other bins – again, as if, apart from paper trash, plastic trash, etc., there is trash as such, universal trash. And should we not do the same with toilets? Since no classification can satisfy all identities, should we not add to the two usual gender slots (MEN, WOMEN) a door for GENERAL GENDER? Is this not the only way to inscribe into an order of symbolic differences its constitutive antagonism? Lacan already pointed out that the “formula” of the sexual relationship as impossible/real is 1+1+a, i.e., the two sexes plus the “bone in the throat” that prevents its translation into a symbolic difference. This third element does not stand for what is excluded from the domain of difference, it stands for (the real of) the difference as such.

The reason for this failure of every classification that tries to be exhaustive is not the empirical wealth of identities that defy classification but, on the contrary, the persistence of sexual difference as real, as “impossible” (defying every categorization) and simultaneously unavoidable. The multiplicity of gender positions (male, female, gay, lesbian, bigender, transgender, etc.etc.) circulates around an antagonism that forever eludes it. Gays are menasculine, lesbians womenfeminine, transsexuals enforce a passage from one to another, cross-dressing combines the two, bigender floats between the two… whichever way we turn, the Two lurks beneath.

This brings us back to what one could call the primal scene of anxiety that defines transgenderism: I stand in front of the standard bi-gender toilets with two doors, Ladies and Gentlemen, and I am caught in anxiety, not recognizing myself in any of the two choices. Again, do “normal” heterosexuals not have a similar problem, do they also not often find it difficult to recognize themselves in prescribed sexual identities? Which man has not caught himself in a momentary doubt: “Do I really have the right to enter GENTLEMEN? Am I really a man?”? We can now see clearly what the anxiety when confronted with the choice LADIES or GENTLEMEN really amounts to: the anxiety of (symbolic) castration. Whatever choice I make, I will lose something, and this something is NOT what the other sex has – both sexes together do not form a Whole since something is irretrievably lost by the very division of sexes. We can even say that, in making the choice, I assume the loss of what the other sex doesn’t have, i.e., I have to renounce the illusion that the Other has that X which would fill in my lack. And one can well guess that transgenderism is ultimately precisely an attempt to avoid (the anxiety of) castration: a flat space is created in which the multiple choices that I can make do not bear the mark of castration – or, as Alenka Zupančič put it:

One is usually timid in asserting the existence of two genders, but when passing to the multitude this timidity disappears, and their existence is firmly asserted. If sexual difference is considered in terms of gender, it is made — at least in principle — compatible with mechanisms of its full ontologization.

Therein resides the crux of the matter: although the LGBT trend is right in “deconstructing” the standard normative sexual opposition, in de-ontologizing it, in recognizing in it a contingent historical construct full of tensions and inconsistencies; however, it reduces this tension to the fact that the plurality of sexual positions is forcefully reduced to the normative straight-jacket of the binary opposition of masculine and feminine, with the idea that, if we get away with this straight-jacket, we will get a full blossoming multiplicity of sexual positions (LGBT etc.), each of them with a full ontological consistency: once we get rid of the binary straight-jacket, I can fully recognize myself as gay, bisexual, or whatever. From the Lacanian standpoint, however, the antagonistic tension is irreducible, it is constitutive of the sexual as such, and no amount of classificatory diversification and multiplication can save us from it.

Although LGBT+ perceives itself as undermining the normativity of the heterosexual binary opposition, one should never forget that it involves a normativity of its own: since “binary” heterosexuality is perceived as the violent imposition of a model onto the plurality of sexual forms and practices, it is clear that practices which reject the standard heterosexuality are normatively preferred to it, i.e., that there is also an ethical edge to opposing the heterosexual norm. Judith Butler deploys this superiority in her theory of the rise of heterosexuality: the first libidinal object of a child is his/her parent of the same sex, and when, under the pressure of heterosexual normativity, the child is compelled to drop this libidinal object, s/he identifies with what s/he was forced to abandon – a small boy becomes a man by way of identifying with his father as his primordial libidinal object, and the same goes for girls. (Butler refers here to Freud’s thesis according to which our ego is composed of identifications with lost libidinal objects.) However, homosexuals refuse to abandon the primordial object: boys and girls continue with their libidinal attachment to the same-sex objects. This is also why the difference between homosexuality and heterosexuality corresponds to that between melancholy and mourning: heterosexuals successfully conclude the work of mourning for the lost object, while homosexuals remain faithful to it, which means that heterosexuality is based on a radical betrayal…

To be continued…

Footnotes:

1) See the CNN report http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2014/05/24/atheists-in-the-bible-belt-a-survival-guide/.

2) http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/16/canada-first-nations-suicide-crisis-attawapiskat-history.

3) HDPKK is the author’s malevolent condensation of HDP (the legal pro-Kurdish political party which has over 80 members in the parliament) and PKK (the illegal Kurdish resistance movement decried by the Turkish state as a terrorist organization); the aim is to make it clear that the public and legal HDP is just the public face of the terrorists.

4) The Turkish term “delikanlı” used here means “dauntless young men”, and is a term never used for women; it signifies that the man is strong enough to tell the truth, like “dobra” which means “able to say the truth.”

5) The word used, “köleleştirme,” means literally “making slave.”

6) Quoted from http://www.aktuel.com.tr/yazar/suheyb-ogut/2015/08/17/butch-lezbiyenler-ve-hdpkk. I owe the translation to Engin Kurtay.

7) Jacques Lacan, Ecrits, New York: Norton 2007, p. 416-7.

8) Aaron Schuster, “The Third Kind of Complaint” (unpublished manuscript).

9) Alenka Zupančič, “Back to the Future of Europe” (unpublished manuscript).

10) And insofar as the other great antagonism is that of classes, could we not also imagine a homologous critical rejection of the class binary? The “binary” class struggle and exploitation should also supplement it by “gay” position (exploitation among the ruling class itself – bankers and lawyers exploiting the “honest” productive capitalists), “lesbian” position (beggars stealing from honest workers, etc.), “bisexual” position (as a self-employed worker, I act as both capitalist and worker), “asexual” (I remain outside capitalist production), etc.

http://sendika61.org/2017/06/sexual-is-not-political-slavoj-zizek/

http://sendika61.org/2017/07/sexual-is-not-political-part-2-slavoj-zizek/