Interview with sexybrain Kathryn Allan
(Go on! Go buy it! I promise, the orgy won’t start till you get back.)
Editors Djibril al-Ayad and Lori Selke have organized a fantastic daisy-chain, in which each of us contributors interview each other on our blogs.
Here’s my interview of independent scholar Kathryn Allan, who wrote a supersmart capstone essay in the book.
Q. Kathryn, I want to invite you to focus in on one sentence, which struck me as particularly relevant to the intersection of our interests:
“Outlaw bodies are ripe to the touch, they ooze into the corners of our vision and into our deepest sense of self. Their excessive bodies disgust, arouse, and confuse.“
I’m picturing a venn diagram: three overlapping circles… “things that disgust” … “things that arouse” … “things that confuse.”
In the centre: outlaw bodies.
This confluence of sensations strikes me as extremely relevant to bdsm, which also sometimes simultaneously disgusts, arouses, and confuses both the observer and the participant.
So, what do you see as the common root of these three sensations, which can manifest very differently but seem to be linked at their core?
I think that disgust, arousal, and confusion – used in this way – all circle a split core of desire and shame. Outlaws bodies, to me, are those bodies that speak the unspoken desires of our collective cultures, whether they are sexual or nonsexual. Since outlaw bodies break the confines of “what’s normal,” to desire the non-normative often brings shame. This is why communities of like-minded, like-bodied outlaws are important – they take away the stigma, the shame, of desiring to be/to be with outlaw bodies. Reactions like disgust, arousal, and confusion can either bring people together or force them apart depending on the lines of communication and acceptance.
Q. How can the same act result in three different sensations? Or are they the same sensation?
I think that the same act can result in three different sensations – or indeed, a great many more – but not necessarily within one individual. Desire and shame (which are at the core of our impromptu outlaw bodies Venn diagram) manifest themselves differently from person to person. The issue should not be distinguishing one sensation from another, but that we each have equal opportunity to express ourselves in ways that do not limit the rights and freedoms of others.
Q. In what way does arousal = confusion = disgust? Attraction = repulsion?
There are no clear lines between any of these reactions to outlaw bodies. One person’s kink is another person’s mundane experience. Outlaw bodies themselves are also constantly changing in response to these reactions. Outlaw bodies push the boundaries of acceptable desires; outlaw bodies redefine the consequences (i.e. to repress or express) of shame over having non-acceptable desires. Society is constantly absorbing the people who stand at the margins. It can take centuries or decades to move the novel into the everyday. What attracts in one time and place, will disgust in another. The only constant rule to outlaw bodies is that they are bodies that create uncertainty.
Q. Why is it that the transgressive, the taboo, specifically, creates these overlapping sensations?
The transgressive carries with it the senses of novelty, daring, and exploration. I know, I know – I just added in more descriptors of feelings/reactions. But I guess that speaks to the confusion outlaw bodies elicit, doesn’t it? They aren’t just ONE thing, one sensation. The taboo is experienced differently for the person who has already transgressed than by the person who is only considering the transgression. When we are faced by the unexpected, or by the thing that we should not be, we must make sense of this new experience somehow. Bigots fall back on well-structured, and therefore comforting, notions of normativity, while the open-minded reassess what they believed they had knew to be “true.” It is incredibly difficult to remain open to new ideas, to new ways of being, that at first appearance seem antithetical to what we thought of as true. The reward for expanding ourselves – in terms of our minds, beliefs, bodies, relationships, and so on – is proportional to the risk we take in exploring the transgressive. Of course, some taboos should remain taboo (i.e. necrophilia, pedophilia, and any act in which there is an inherent lack of consent, power, and/or agency from all parties involved).
Q. Does this indicate some kind of deep pleasure at the root of confusion and disgust, too?
When it comes to transgressive acts that are truly consensual, I do believe that there can be pleasure at the root of confusion and disgust. You started this interview by raising the practice of BDSM and noting the variety of conflicting sensations that attend it. Within a BDSM relationship, consent is key. The submissive has consented to a temporary – or pre-arranged – power imbalance with the dominant partner. Both actors retain their agency. Sensations of confusion and disgust will naturally arise when boundaries are pushed – the key to finding pleasure in those situations is how those sensations are acted on and explored. Again, this involves communication and acceptance.
Q. In what other situations might we access this state?
I think that art (visual or written) can provoke a similar state of mind. While there is usually not a literal dialogue between creator and consumer, I do believe that there is a kind of conversation that happens.
Q. What does it mean to transcend any/all of these states — for example, is it necessary to overcome disgust in order to fully experience arousal, or might arousal be heightened by disgust (say, in something like humiliation play)?
It comes down to the individual, doesn’t it? As I already noted, outlaw bodies – or perhaps it is better said at this point in time, outlaw sensations – raise a myriad of feelings and reactions. There is no one way to transcend an unwanted or surprising emotion. If I go back to the core of desire/shame that lies at the centre of these states, the possibilities for transcending discomfort, for fully experiencing the transgressive, are limitless. And that’s what I find fascinating about outlaw bodies. They are without boundaries. They have no set instructions to how we react to them, enjoy them. Some people might find their transcendence through disgust, while others through self-sacrifice. Again, for me, it all comes back to consent and agency. All bodies – no matter how disgusting, confusing, arousing – deserve rights and freedom to exist. Because the designation of an outlaw body is always changing. It is not fixed in time. Outlaw bodies are transcendent bodies.
Thank you so much, Kathryn!
Readers: To check out other interviews related to Outlaw Bodies, click here: http://djibrilalayad.blogspot.in/2012/10/outlaw-bodies-blog-carnival.html