Rectum: A Lifeline Instead of a Grave. Notes On The Current Episode of My Podcast

The Ninth Episode of my Podcast Everyone Thinks is Queer Except You and Me has British Queer author Jonathan Kemp as guest. It is a bold one because it presents alternative examples of community building that could even be considered as utopian. This counters dominant models of homosexuality defined through consumerism and compliance to medical protocols. But mostly it tackles our fears.



Us, humans, are, however, usually and paradoxically incapable of feeling and experiencing that that we fear. But what do we fear? First and foremost, those who we believe are different to us. Probably because it reminds us of the inadequacy of those inherited choices we were programmed to make. Choices made by us that we did not even made. In this blog, I often talk about the gay trauma that derives from the place of discomfort that oppression usually leaves. In this episode, however, we talk about the place of vitality opened by oppression and death.

Non Calvinist Vitality at 5o something

As counterintuitive as it sounds, one finds life in the most unexpected places. I am seeing a 70 year old guy but it would be inaccurate to describe him like that because whatever it is that goes on between us could not be typified as Gerontophilia, a medically monitored and tragic experience of joy while awaiting to die. As expected, I am the old one of the two. Almost at the same time, I met a younger guy, around my age, who would had a relatio stay overnight only one day a week under the belief (and I think he was totally right) that any step further in the ‘I love you’ department would kill the physical chemistry. But one day I saw it in his eyes. Gay trauma performing its usual loop. Allegedly, his trauma was more specific. He had been drugged and raped by his friend’s boyfriend but he never raised the issue with him. What was his part in his own rape was a question that immediatly appeared. But, at that point, there was no time for them because he suddenly turned it against me and lashed at me the usual way: using the information shared by me against me. He saw his denial as a way of redemption, concealed in the suited shape of a productive member of majoritarian society. The jump was, of course, the medical profession. He was studying to become a therapist which, in his mind, put him in a strategic spot to judge the fringes of society. Stockholm syndrome leaving a trail of destruction, his own. The message was clear, unless you comply to the mandates and eventual insults of majoritarian society, joy is not for us, as I have been told, again and again.

It is that internalised fear to connect that always appears among gays like that or as sexual insecurity. I had lovers that without me uttering a word, left almost in tears when not being able to have an erection within the first ten minutes of touching each other. In our conversation, British author Jonathan Kemp draws attention to the particular and very racialised situation of black gay men who are expected to perform in inherited ways all the time. Lots to think about those we hurt not even thinking about.

A Canon of Contemporary Gay Literature is Missing 

Kemp was in pole position to lead a literary phenomenon similar to the Brit Pack years before them. Despite this, I have not read critics asking the question why there has not been a literary boom in gay literature analogous to the expansion of interest in Queer Studies and Sexual Identities. The products pushed by mass media for that particular niche have been to say it plainly, insulting. Focussing on money making and overacting sexual urgency, gay characters tend to be either comic or tragic but never balanced. They seem to follow a formula where the only requirement is for them to be flat.

Jonathan Kemp was, like George Michael before him, the type of middle class English lad from the provinces that soon became the darling of the literary world. A white role model in times of multicultural ghettos that the system wanted to turn into a trend. John and George have and had talent but most of all, independence of spirit. They could see things when no one was paying attention and have not been afraid of pointing at those things.

Kemp’s latest book is ‘52’ and the fact that it did not find publishers stunned me. I have the impression that his relationship with his agent did not survive the discussions around this book. I have enough conversations with Sally Gardner to know how those chats go. The British publishing industry considers authors not as artists but as part of a production chain. In our conversation, Kemp mentions that his agent refused to depict chemsex as enjoyable. Such a discussion surely happened in the context of the consolidation of corporate cultural industries, amongst which the publishing industry is a fundamental component. Aesthetic decisions belong to the author until a marketing specialist decides that that is not the best for profits so without even asking for permission, the author is suddenly pushed out of his own creation. left out of his creation. The result is a literary market without literature or with one that poses as such telling half baked truths for an increasingly zombie like population.

That is why when I finished reading a book called Maggot Moon by British Author, Sally Gardner who will be the protagonist of the next episode of this Podcast, I remained silent for a while probably to honor the depth of my feelings that were far beyond a sentimental reaction to form. The book which I did not read but listened to as an Audible product took me back to that place of physical and ethical inadequacy that a gay boy usually experiences when he realizes he cannot pretend to fit as easily as he should. Jonathan Kemps latest book 52 did not find a publisher yet and maybe that is the reason. Surely it raises many eyes in the wrong direction, now that authors are Calvinist monks that cannot even live from their sales but have to embark on gigs in schools. His literature is, as we can predict, not fit for schools but the fact that authors have to survive that way spectacularises their work and, again, flattens it.

Gay Sex as Our Handshake and Our Activist Weapon

Kemps topic is sex, addiction to sex but mostly to love. Until recently and still these days, sex is for gay people a form of sociality. Kemp says that having sex for us is like a handshake for streight people and this is a source of envy. Of course, it is not sex what they want but desire. However, when a gay man enters that sociality, he comes with a big baggage. Traumatised both by society and by other gays, he fears rejection at every step of the wya while craving the type of affection promoted by.heterosexual mores. My friend Alejandra, who knows Perlongher inside out, used to give me a wide smile when referring to her Spanish colleague, a post Almodóvar Spaniard who, of course, is “in a relationship”. The truth is that when i was in relationships was for fear of the gay sex market that is relentless and unforgiving. We are horrible to one another and pass all the aggression we feel forward to those that we see as weaker.

Again the question of fear. Fear of what? Of what we think of ourselves filtered by the frustrations of those who think they love us but under certain conditions. So to the fear of what we think about ourselves, we must add the fear projected on us by members of our community who lash at us for no reason or even worse, for daring to confront the difficult aspects of ourselves without hiding like them or pretending to be what we are not. Gay Calvinism is reaching uncanny heights these days. The self-discipline of the gay population has been almost total. Even those who teach Queer Theory cannot sustain for two days that way of life.

The Butlerian Kemp

For this interview I read four books by John Kemp. Two of theory that are Homotopia and The Penetrated Male. The former is dedicated to the in depth analysis of four texts by Proust, Gide, Carpenter and Symonds. What the four texts reveal, according to him, is an extreme level of anxiety around sex especially anal intercourse. All of them either ignore or minimize anal sex. Kemp is not shy about asking a question that might come across as anachronistic but it is not for if they opposed maybe medicine would not have been as damaging to same sex preference as it was. This sets the tone for his second book where he explores the infamy of being penetrated derived fromn a “repudiation of the feminine”. There he marks Leo Bersani’s reflections on AIDS in “Is the Rectum a Grave?”as a milestone that ends an era of an agreement on the repudiation of the anus. Then he delves into the European debates where the phallus is signaled as the affirmation of sexual difference, by what is meant that sex is only acceptable if between different identifications. A very sophisticated and timely quote by Adorno’s Negative Dialectics: Objects do not go into their concepts without leaving a reminder… they come to contradict the traditional norm of adequacy’. So Kemp suggests a reconsideration of sex among equals and of an aporetic approach to life but how? The answer makes the physiological and the spiritual collapse into one: “The Anal in Analysis”. In Kemp’s terms: “Amongst other things, this book wants to stress the anal in analysis for it is concerted with the thought as embodied and that such embodiment is first and foremost erotic’. A true Francophile, admirer of the 1968 Paris uprising, imagination is analysis and to realise is to let oneself be penetrated. Although I agree, at this point the whole structure seems a bit wobbly. It is an attractive jeu des mots but his own beliefs do not allow him to be convincing apart from turning his analysis into a gay variation of Judith Butler’s theory in Gender Troubles. In other words, what for Butler is performing gender, for him is a less clear corporeal notion of thinking. I think this is problematic because his excessive reliance on the latter’s constructionist views make him forget his own point. Butler’s view of identity as an embodied performance is not really embodied but the outcome of an act of sovereign will. Nothing corporeal in that. Then it becomes corporeal through rituals and repetitions but Kemp goes even further than her. I think the main problem is taht while Butler embarks in a discussion with J.L. Austin’s notion of ‘speech act’, Kemp stars by taking Derrida’s commentary of the anal in analysis as precisely what he shouldnt: a perlocutionary act. The other problem is his excessive reliance on Ranciere. Without mentioning it he has the notion of dissensus in mind all the time when transforming almost anything in bed into an act of resistance. I found both volumes entertaining and even activist in the sense that they are addressed at a less specialised public what is quite telling of his position in the publishing world because that is the place of the darlings of the industry.

The other two books are autobiographical but fictionalised. I did not like 26 for what it was praised, its self indulgence. I think there is a problem that transcends Kemp in the ekphratic depiction of gay joy.  52, by contrast, touched a nerve for I am 52. Kemps emotional immaturity is like mine and I also identify with his pedantry. The problem with the book is that he takes too long to turn vocabulary into poetic language but when he does it is magical. Although he tends to turn everything he likes into something white and classical, that last chapter is a masterclass in fiction as theory and theory as praxis. He knows what he is talking about and, for once, he shows his fragility and when he does that something transubstantiates. Bearing in mind that what I like of his literature is literally the last paragraphs he wrote, I wish he carries on.

Before you listen to the Ninth Episode of the Podcast a caveat, this episodes understands that a gay man’s happiness should not be a pathetic copy of the heterosexuals ideals of happiness which means that human beings are in a better state when in couples (also when in a friendship). It does not assume that to stupidly sacrifice oneself for the future generations (even if they are infertile) really means that and firmly believes that collegiate gay sex or a certain intimacy can only be accessed with the use of certain substances, at least in the case of certain people and that such use should not be considered negative per se for there are more toxic things in those who like to raise their finger only to hide their life. This episode moralise only those who moralise but instead the approach is quite erudite and biographical. These are things that we are both bold to talk about so it should be understood as an exercise in Queer Activism. I will never forget when the daughter of a well known Brazilian collector called Texeira da Freitas said to me in a dinner party after I expressed my doubts about being in a relationship: “Rodrigo, don’t worry Rodrigo, you also deserve to be happy”.



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Everyone Thinks is Queer Except You and Me: The Podcast