• Anna Hijmans

Sexuality; Definition and Performance

A look into Paul Preciado and Eve Sedgwick on their discussion of identity, emancipation and sexuality.

There is a lot to unpack in these texts and much that I would like to say about each of them, so to avoid wasting too much space on a proper introduction, I hope you'll forgive me for getting right into it.

Paul Preciado begins his text by discussing the dildo. Describing it as a tool that modifies the subject that uses it. Preciado uses the term ‘dildo’ at least 200 times in the countersexual manifesto, so clearly it contains an essential argument. One that I initially had trouble grasping.

See, Preciado considers the dildo as an object that, despite its phallic face and relation to dominant masculinity and power, cannot belong to someone. Therefore, in its ‘nomadic’ quality, exists beyond normativity and homo/hetero definition, and in this way, is multiple. Preciado describes his written manifesto as taking the side of the dildo, thereby aiming to disrupt what he calls three heterocapitalist structures; Marxism, psychoanalysis, and Darwinism. (Preciardo, 7) The thing that took time for me to understand was why the dildo was so important, why that particular sexual object? Out of all the ones to choose from. Queer discourse is already so dominated by representations of male anatomies, so why lead the charge with yet another phallus?

Over the course of his writing I began to understand that it's is not really about the dildo itself, but the superfluous way in which it becomes a part of the user without being related physically to an external force or power. That being said I still don't know if I have fully grasped the scope by which Preciardo uses the dildo metaphor, but I will continue to try.

I also cannot say that I have summed up Preciardo’s text without mentioning Sexual Realists and Countersexualists. Sexual realists are defined in this case as individuals who practice ‘fucking’ within strict definitions and boundaries. Sexuality is discrete and therefore only enjoyed within the definitions of mainstream sexual identity . Whereas countersexualists explore sexuality beyond notions of reproduction and pleasure, side stepping capitalist exploitation of sexual definition in favor of experimentation and freedom. (Preciardo, 29)

Eve Sedgwick discusses in detail the epistemological crisis of homo/heterosexuality. She describes the broken ways by which we define sexuality, and the indicative structures upon which most sexual discourse is based. Sedgwicks begins by describing the origin of the term homosexuality and explains its proliferation throughout the 20th century, and the consequent panic arising from this sudden ‘difference’. She argues that the separation and performance of sexuality becomes so extreme that they become dichotomous species. (Sedgwick, 9)

This performance and difference exists in spaces such as ‘homosexual panic’, a violence that is justified by the performance of ignorance. And arguably also plays a role in the performance of ‘coming out of the closet’. (Sedgwick, 3-4, 19)

You can somewhat tell that Sedgwick’s text was written before that of Preciado. No because it is less mature in any way, but it seems as though, while Sedgwick must still ply her text out of the trenches of preconception and describe the epistemological nuance of sexual discourse, Preciado seems to speak to an audience that no longer requires him to prove his point on the constraints of sexual definition, borrowing terms from queer culture, architecture and feminism at will. It feels as though there is a small freedom to Preciardo’s text that Sedgwick had to spend more time setting up. Though I am no expert on how the discourse indeed developed between 1990/2008-2018.

What also I noticed was the emphasis each writer placed on their own standpoint and their own identity. Which is funny when you think about it. Both utilise these texts to criticise the language of sexuality, and the capitalist commodification of identity, however in the process of the introduction seem to try and identify themselves to the reader in some way. I’m not saying this to be critical, and I would certainly not argue that they are hypocrites. But it seems that to some extent; Sedgwick in explaining her standpoints and motives, almost frustrated in her own lack of omnipitence , and Preciardo in describing his own transexual journey, going so far as inviting the reader the define himself as queer or disabled, invite their own identity to add a new layer of meaning to their book (Sedgwick, 12-18, Preciardo, 2-4). Which makes me think back to our discussion of (post)colonialism on the 24th of February, where we questioned why so many of these discussions begin by defining yourself and your relationship to the question in order to legitimize your point. Again, I am not accusing Segwick or Preciardo of using themselves in this way (Preciardo in particular does not define himself strictly at all), but it did give me pause.

If I had more space to write I would have liked to expand on the commodification on queer identity as well, and how I grew up surrounded by different definitions and flags and the ever expanding lgbtq+ acronym. Where rainbows and buttons became a standard sellable object and companies who did so earned gold at every pride parade. Every new flag opened a new market, and it seemed that as soon as new sexual identity became profitable, so too did it become acceptable.

But that is a long conversation, one that both authors add much to as well. Perhaps it can be further discussed as a group.

Thank you for reading.

Anna Hijmans


Eve K. Sedgwick, “Introduction.” Epistemology of the Closet. Berekely, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1990,2008. 1-65 (focus on 1-22).

Paul Preciado, “Introduction” and “Countersexual Society.” Countersexual Manifesto. New York: Columbia University Press, 2018. 1-40

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