(Re) Conceiving Erotics through Autobiography (Colloquium Report)

Billy Clem, Northern Illinois
Community College, presented
a colloquium, (Re)
Conceiving Erotics through
Autobiography, at CLAGS on
November 8, 2007. The
following is an excerpt from
his presentation.
Thus, I take it upon myself—if
for myself alone though I cannot
believe others have not/do not do
so—to create a comprehensive list of
intersecting oppressions that would
allow me and all of us to target and
combat domination: race, ethnicity,
class, caste, gender, sexuality, age,
disability, ability, species, region,
nation, and environment. This
list, though certainly incomplete,
(because I cannot somehow include
religion) allows me to formulate
thoughts and to take action to
oppose all forms of domination
wherever and however I can, realizing
fully that I, too, am coerced
into complicity with the relations
of ruling and oppression. And this
is the crux of the matter for me
and for this talk. I propose that
we end domination and reconceive
eroticism—what I am calling life
energy—so that all beings in the
cosmos can fl ourish. This is no easy
task, of course, but we must—all
of us must—make the effort connected.
I make the effort each day not
to comply with domination, and
everyday I fail because: I am a
white man who lives in a white-supremacist
patriarchal police state; I
am a person who has had access to
higher education, even if I have a
student loan debt that might never
be fully repaid and that will limit
my ability to function fully in US
society; I can aspire to the middle
class, which means a fairly comfortable
if boringly lethal existence; I drive a car
that consumes oil and pollutes the air,
for which many are dying; I purchase
and read books for which trees have been
killed; I eat meat—killed beings—at
restaurants where those who cook and
serve my food are grossly underpaid and
abused; I use hot water to bathe or wash
my dishes when so many everywhere
have no access to good water even for
drinking, this most necessary thing; I use
electricity to light and heat my two-bedroom
apartment knowing that people die
in mines for coal and that nuclear energy
can mean the end of life on this planet
while healthy, wealthy white men and
their minions in air conditioned offi ces
in expensive suits with made-up secretaries
make handsome monetary profi ts;
I have reached orgasm from viewing a
pornographic movie; and I have, once, in
the past, participated in a non-mutual
but “consensual” top/bottom//active/passive
relationship with a young man who
insisted that he could only enjoy himself,
only orgasm, if I objectifi ed him and
abused him by slapping and ejaculating
on his face.
To alleviate my crimes, if possible: I
recycle all materials that I can; I walk
rather than drive when possible; I participate
in voluntary activities that help
ensure women’s access to safe abortions; I
try to purchase most of my necessities at
a cooperative grocery; I attempt to conserve
water when bathing and cooking;
I try not to eat meat; I have volunteered
with lgbtq youth in the past; I “teach
to transgress,” to quote bell hooks; and,
fi nally, I have given up participation in
gay or queer social and sexual activities:
fi rst, because where I live in a small town
in the rural middle west of the US such
activities are grossly misogynist, racist,
ableist, ageist, and classist at least; and
second, I have stopped dating or trying
to meet men for romance or companionship
or partnership because almost every
man I have ever dated or met is interested,
in one way or another, in replicating
dominant structures of hetero-dominant-
sexuality in intimate, pleasurable
activities that could be sites or moments
of loving-kindness. This resistance or refusal,
which is never enough, always leads
to further isolation for me. So, what
is to be done? Am I to capitulate to
what I fi nd unacceptable, or am I to
ask others to work with me to create
something else?
I must state that I believe
unequivocally that Audre Lorde
is fundamentally correct when
she says “the Master’s tools will
never dismantle the Master’s house,”
words that have been rejected by
many. Even Cheryl Clark, a poet and
Lorde scholar, has said that though
she values Lorde’s essays in Sister
Outsider, this particular sentence
angers her as a “seemingly easy
aphorism” (6). It has become an
aphorism to be sure, even a rallying
cry, but easy it is not. I have always
read this eponymous essay as a call
for each of us to reject domination as
it takes places through oppression of
difference—internally and externally;
or, in short, if we use racism,
ethnocentrism, sexism, misogyny,
class and/or caste, heterosexism,
lesbianphobia, homophobia, ableism,
ageism, speciesism, and/or
environmental destruction—tools
by which the dominators rule and
destroy us—for pleasure or profi t,
we only replicate and relive the
very domination that we seem to be
working so assiduously to eradicate
so that we can “defi ne and seek a
world in which we can all fl ourish”
(Lorde 112). This, I have always felt,
is the essence—a dangerous word, I
know—of Black Lesbian Feminism:
the wor(l)ds of a black lesbian, a
black woman, describing her experiences
of oppression and possibility
and demanding that the world—all
of us—take notice and change itself
for a fairer, possibly truly democratic
existence. At this moment, as in
every moment, we have no other