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Sexuality means many different things to different people, especially sexuality of a homosexual nature. Everyone has their own personal ideologies about sexuality, many of which have been forced on us by mainstream society's portrayal of what of is right or wrong. Bersani's objective is to take these societal sexual idiosyncrasies and turn them upside down to reveal how he feels gay male sex should be. In Bersani's article, Is the Rectum a Grave?, he entertains ideas of the self, sexuality (especially homosexuality), and power. Bersani believes that abolishing the self opens many options sexually and psychologically. He rejects conventional ideologies pertaining to sexuality like gender, identity and inequality but proposes new ways of thinking about sex and ones sexual identity by showing the reader new and unusual ways of viewing homosexuality and sexuality in general.
In the article, Bersani discusses "the self" and that it should be eradicated. The following is what Bersani thinks of "the self":
It is the self that swells with excitement at the
idea of being on top, the self that makes of the
inevitable play of thrusts and relinquishments in
sex an argument for the natural authority of one sex
over the other.
This quote displays Bersani's thoughts of how one's self controls the way they have been trained to think. The self is formed through a lifetime's worth of experiences, actions, lessons, and just living in the world we live in today. To abolish the self is to abolish an old way of thinking about sex and sexual identities.
Bersani makes it quite clear that he does not believe in unequal homosexual intercourse or any gender's intercourse for that matter. It is a common belief in today's world, whether conscious of it or not that "To be penetrated is to abdicate power.
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Another rationale as to why it is important to abolish the concept of "the self" is that it creates sexual identities of people, which then in turn puts limitations on the acceptance of that very identity. When heterosexual people see homosexual people trying to replicate their ideas of gender and sexuality this causes confusion and tension on both sides. Gay machoism is a result of this and according to Bersani, "gay men run the risk of idealizing and feeling inferior to certain representations of masculinity on the basis on which they are in fact judged and condemned. " Why is anyone feeling inferior though? Who said that certain identities belong to either heterosexual or homosexual men? It is the self that is saying that and therefore, ridding one of "the self" rids them of controlling notions of sexual identities.
I also gathered from Bersani's essay that gay male sex defies "the self" because it defies mainstream heterosexual stress of "Why are you having sex with multiple men if you could die because of it?" Gay men are defying "the self" by celebrating their right for pleasure no matter what anyone says about the dangers.
In his essay, Bersani argues against conventional notions of sexuality like gender, inequality, and normative sexual actions. He believes that both "women and gay men spread their legs with an unquenchable appetite for destruction." Bersani says that this because sexual inequality is a problem for both gay men and women because both become the "insertee" during sex and therefore, give up their power. Most people in today's society would think that this is just the way it is. "It's biology", they would say. Bersani however, goes beyond that way of thinking in order to break down that inequality barrier. How he plans to do that will later be explained.
An additional argument Bersani makes against conventional notions of what most people deem "normal" sexual activity is that he celebrates and almost glorifies homosexual promiscuity saying that "Gay men's obsession' with sex should be celebrated " This according to Bersani, is shocking to people considering the huge AIDS epidemic because "AIDS offers a new sign for the symbolic machinery of repression, making the rectum a grave." Bersani argues against this homophobic notion by saying that gay sexuality should not be hidden and pushed aside. Heterosexual people with "heterosexual anxieties" use AIDS as a tool to discriminate against homosexual men saying that sex with multiple partners is wrong and dangerous; however, I found the article giving off the notion that for the gay male community, what is more dangerous is not having sex because of that.
Bersani's innovative ideas about sexual promiscuity and sexual equality signify the need for change. His ideas for change, however, are not backed up with sufficient evidence and lacks a plan which people in need of this change can carry out. Through a culmination of MacKinnon's and Dworkin's work, Bersani has come up with "the redemptive reinvention of sex " which "has as its very condition of possibility a certain refusal of sex as we know it..." with an "agreement about sexuality as being more respectful of "personhood" than it has been " Does this reinvention mean that there will be equality? This reinvention he talks of is not specific enough. It leaves the reader wanting to know more about how sex for all genders and all sexual orientations will be more about respect and less phallocentric; however, the reader is left with no conclusion as to how this is supposed to aspire in their lives . This "reinvention of sex" seems all nice and well but there is no mention of how this is supposed to be adapted into reality. Bersani's other alternative to "conventional" gay male sex, as said before, is to celebrate homosexual plurality. For the gay community, celebrating casual sex is a celebration of their freedom and right to do so while abolishing "the self" that does not understand equality, pleasure, and sexual needs.
Bersani's essay, although very thought provoking and creative, was difficult to understand as a cohesive addressing of his views and ideas on homosexuality. His points were valid and made sense individually, but connecting all of the random thoughts and interjections was challenging. Bersani seems to have trouble finishing off his thoughts in a way that makes the reader feel a sense of closure on the subject he is talking about. For example, he talks about the image of a man with his legs thrown up in the air because he is "unable to refuse the suicidal ecstasy of being a woman. But why suicidal'?" After that last sentence, nothing is said about why it is "suicidal". This left me with an unfinished thought that I wanted answers to, however, none were given which made his argument that much weaker.
Within the entirety of the essay, Bersani often talks about AIDS. This is fine except that what he has to say about it is interspersed throughout the essay. Everytime I came across something about AIDS, it felt out of place and awkward. He neglects to put is reasoning for placing the AIDS issues where he does; however, if he does put his reasoning, it is not made clear. In one instance, Bersani stops what he is talking about and says, "Before being more explicit about this " . In this instance, Bersani has broken up his argument to explain something else which then leads him onto the topic of AIDS. This way of explanation distracts the reader from the original point he was trying to make, thus making his argument weaker than it should have been. I found that Bersani's ideas and thoughts were interesting and new, however I wish he would have made the thought process within the essay more cohesive and organized. On their own, the ideas and points he brings up were for the most part well put and backed up.
Is the Rectum a Grave?, by Leo Bersani, contains concepts regarding the self, sexuality, homosexuality and the fight for power. In the essay, Bersani establishes that by eliminating "the self" new opportunities of the sexual and psychological nature arise. Bersani argues against traditional beliefs concerning sexuality like gender, identity and inequality; however, he puts forward original ways of thinking about sex and sexual identity. Although I do not agree with some of the ideas Bersani has written about, I do believe that sexuality and homosexuality are due for a change. An adjustment is needed in the way that people think about sexuality and homosexuality. Minds need to be opened to the possibility of equality, to getting rid of something that is holding one back from seeing sexuality for what it really is, and to the prospect that some things will never change.
Bersani, Leo. Is the Rectum a Grave?. English 3AA3 - Thinking Queer: Activism,
Ethics and Representation. Custom Courseware. McMaster University.