Gender/Sexual Identity as Commodity
I’m trying to come up with an idea for a macrophilia tattoo that might be recognizable to another macrophile should they see me with it. I’m also trying to come up with a symbol that the rest of the community might find useful to use, seeing as how it’s exploded in size and activity over the past 4-5 years for reasons that are beyond me.
I want the symbol to be simple, versatile, and visually striking, and I want it to be able to play well with other symbols, like the LGBT rainbow or BDSM triskele do. And in reacquainting myself with the various pride flags so that I can do up some comps and make sure that it really will work just as well with the ace pride colors as it would with the trans pride ones (because there are a lot of aces in the “G/t fandom”, as folks are calling it), I do a little googling. And of course googling “pride flags” will invariably bring you to tumblr.
Specifically, tumblr blogs like this.
And it’s sort of vaguely interesting to me at first – I’m fascinating by worldbuilding in fictional storytelling, and I see a lot of parallels here. The thought that Tolkien put into designing his heraldic devices and war banners is eerily similar to the thesis-quality trains of thought that go into picking a specifically avocado green over an apple green.
But then the fascination turns to apathy, turns to morbid curiosity – I’ve moved from having one foot in that world to having none, now suddenly an outsider – and I wonder just what is it that people do with this glut of pride flags? Abstract representations for the way you lose interest in someone after getting to know them; for the inexplicable way you’ve been conditioned to want to kiss people who wear make-up and whose underwear never tent; for why you gravitate toward toward commodified, airbrushed, sex-on-demand instead of other people. I’ve even seen countless requests for pride flags signifying confusion and indecision. (How about this: use a goddamn question mark.)
What purpose do pride flags actually serve in a world coked up on advertisements, capitalism, identity-as-iPhone-color, identity-as-operating-system, identity-as-tumblr-aesthetic, identity-as-who-am-I-in-this-cartoon-that-exists-to-sell-me-shit?
If pride flags are born on tumblr, then etsy is where they go to die.
Etsy pride peddlers have knick-knacks (whose constituent parts are made by near-slave labor overseas – what colors is the sweatshopsexual pride flag?) of the likes you didn’t even know you needed. Here’s a greeting card that will do the coming out for you if you’re genderqueer. Here are some sexuality pride blobs made of environmentally irresponsible plastic nurdles if you happen to want them in the shape of a computer mouse. (Talk about capitalizing on a niche market.) Here’s some resin in a bottle done up to look like the aromantic flag. Here’s a beanie made from oil so that you can tell the world that you’ve pinned down your otherwise difficult-to-pin-down sexuality. Here’s a bar of soap that will make you smell like a straight ally. (C’mon people, allies are a totally untapped market here – straights have money too! Get on it!)
Me? I’ve actually given up with trying to figure out “what gender am I”. Somewhere along the line I became vaguely aware of what I was really trying to do: I was trying to brand myself, adopt an aesthetic, and turn myself into a commodity. I was setting myself up for something pretty spectacularly depressing: an identity and lifestyle propped up entirely by the clothes that I wore, the media I consumed, what fictional representations I saw when I looked in the mirror (“am I more BMO or Salem the Cat today?”), how I walked, talked, and even occupied a chair while sitting. I was looking into a pattern of behavior and trying to project forward from it, into the future. I called it ‘being descriptive’, but I was being prescriptive instead. And once I realized that my sexuality could be played like a fiddle depending on what medications I was taking, that my gender could change depending on how much I liked myself that day and how much money I had in the bank, when I started recognizing myself in a number of definitions of “different” “genders”, I didn’t want another label to slap on it like duct tape holding together something rapidly falling apart. I was sick and tired of trying to find a neat, tidy, abstract representation of my lived experience. I was done.
Crimethinc. has a booklet out what serves as a pretty decent introduction to anarchism, called To Change Everything. And it has a really nice section outlining why representation in all its myriad forms – whether governmental representation in the form of laws or elected officials, or media representation – does no service to autonomy and the project of liberation:
You can only have power by wielding it; you can only learn what your interests are by acting on them. When every effort to exert leverage on the world must be channeled through the mediation of representatives or translated into the protocol of institutions, we become alienated from each other and our own potential. Every aspect of our agency that we yield reappears as something unrecognizable and hostile to us. The politicians who always disappoint us only show how much power we have given up over our own lives; the violence of the police is the dark consequence of our desire to avoid personal responsibility for what happens in our neighborhoods.
In the digital age, when every person must continually serve as his own secretary to manage his public image, our very reputations have become external, like vampires feeding on us. If we weren’t isolated from each other, competing to sell ourselves on so many professional and social markets, would we invest so much time and energy in these profiles, golden calves made in our own image?
We are irreducible. Neither delegates nor abstractions can stand in for us. In reducing human beings to demographics and raw experience to data, we lose sight of everything that is precious and unique in the world. We need presence, immediacy, direct contact with each other, direct control over our lives—things no representative or representation can deliver.
Is it really any surprise that the ancients had no real words for homosexuality, for asexuality, for non-cis identities, but we do now? We have nothing else but capitalism and the Enlightenment to thank for that. And I don’t know about you, but that’s not a legacy I want to reinforce when I get dressed every morning.
I had my hysterectomy: it’s what I needed, though even now language fails to explain how and why that is, fails to convey the peace I feel now. But it’s really not my responsibility to explain, is it? Or language’s responsibility to be adequate enough, abstract enough, to neatly convey my innermost thoughts and emotions? I don’t want a word for how it makes me feel to not have a uterus or cervix. Words are cheap.
And pride flags are too.
So let’s not forget what they really are: branding. Commodification. They’re no different than wearing a Star Wars shirt or a pair of Nikes. The desire to wear these things is the desire to be acknowledged as a demographic and a market. Someone to be sold and sold to.
And that’s exactly what I’m doing with the macrophilia symbol. I would say that we’re unmarketable, like most of BDSM or polyamory or any number of other forms of expressing intimacy that our current system has no means to capitalize on, but I’d be flat-out lying if I said that. Macrophilia is almost entirely a product of capitalism: the early-childhood imprinting that most of us have experienced came from some piece of media or another – from television or a video game. Sometimes it comes from a book, and even rarer still does it come from an actual, physical experience. Either way, it all has the same effect: we crave the impossible, the fantastic. We crave something in the abstract, and that’s something only capitalism can really deliver.
So for now, I’ll make the pride symbols. Because why not? We’re all already far down the rabbit hole, and we might as well try and make the best of it.
But in the meantime I will continue to envision a world without pride symbols, without gracelessly strung-together Greek words to try and describe something that maybe doesn’t need describing. That maybe only contributes to the world in the same way as clean needles contribute to the well-being of a drug addict. In other words: I’m interested in people who recognize that the drugs, the glut of genders and orientations, are a reactionary symptom and not in any way a meaningful solution to the bigger problem of mass misery and alienation.