With the 2020 election just days from now, I have spent an enormous amount of time thinking about power: structural power, institutional power, personal power. My entire adult life has been dedicated to the study and understanding of power in some form (go, go, grad school nerd!). In the last three-year shit show of the current administration, I keep returning to the idea that the power most accessible and most feared by people is the power of the erotic.
The erotic is the power to arouse powerful sexual feelings. It is housed in the body, all bodies. There are two distinct parts of the erotic which cannot be separated: physical arousal and emotions. This is what makes it both powerful and terrifuying to many people. Phsycial arousal by itself my be diminished as a “physical need” and dismissed as lacking any other meaning than an innate phsyical drive and often associated as a “male” necessity. Emotions are often dismissed as “dramatic” or “hysterical” or “overly feminine.” However, the erotic binds the two, physical and emotional/ male and female, together and they cannot be separated.
Politicians hate the erotic. The political realm being dominanted by men has required the erotic to be dismissed as “unnecessary” and “shameful” and soemthing “to be kept behind closed doors.” This happens because men have long been required to eschew their emotions to be seen as powerful. Toxic masculinity demands men refuse to acknowledge feelings, especially in public. To acknowledge the erotic has power would be to acknowledge that the stoic “masculinity” is lacking.
To try and balance the scales, politicans (men and women both, these days) seek to control any aspect of the erotic. Fearing the power of the erotic is at the core of attempts to end funding to the National Endowment for the Arts, the push for the SESTA/FOSTA laws, and the desparate attempts to regulate female sexuality.
Looking at the push to end funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) by Bush in 1990 and Trump in 2017, it is clear that fear of erotic power is at the core of these attempts. The National Endowment of the Arts was founded by the Johnson administration in 1964 as part of the “Great Society” legislation. The goal was to encouage diversity and excellence in American art. Its roots were in the Works Project Administration in the Great Depression which put artists to work doumenting America in the 1930s.
The NEA focused on funding diverse artists who represented the best of American arts. In the 1980s, the NEA funded several artists, including Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano which caused a flurry of criticism from the right. Mapplethorpe’s work captured the eroticism and sexuality of kinky and queer people. Serrano came under criticism for his specific work “Piss Christ.” The politicans arguing against supporting the NEA only came foreward after artsits who embraced Black male sexuality, BDSM, and female sexulaity were funded through the NEA. It was empowering voices which uplifted the erotic they found objectionable.
Why is this so terrigying to politicians? I believe it is rooted in their need to uphold the patriachy and deny power to those outside their small social circles, especially queer folks and women.
Erotic power is something which being queer and being raised female means being aware of from the earliest points in our lives. Growing up female means learning that your body is a cource of constant consumption and observation by others. Before the first breast buds appear, women are taught that our bodies are the locus for male sexuality and can be used to corrupt their power.
Girls learn to put on make-up, dress a certain way, talk a certian way, in order to gain male attention and acceptance. Schools often ban tank tops and spaghetti strapped tops for girls claiming such garb with “distract” boys from leanring. There are still hundreds of cases a year wher girls are sent home to change if they wear these “inappropriate” items with the justification that a boy cannot concentrate if he sees her shoulder.
This teachs both the girl being sent home and the other girls in school that baring a shoulder has such sexual power that it is “dangerous”and can stop a boy from completing even the simplest of tasks. Our bodies are powerful, and therefore must remain hidden and controlled.
Being queer, we are taught the same thing. The years before the Supreme Court heard the case about the legalities of gay marriage, pundits on all conservative channels constantly argued that knowing a gay couple down the street was married somehow would undermine all straight marriages. Just the idea that two men down the street somewhere were having sex in a married relationship had enough power to undo all “traditional marriage.”
We queers are not hated because of “who we love.” We are hated because of who we have sex with. Living platonically with another person of the same sex has never raised the ire the mear idea of two men having sex consensually does. Like with women, politicans and moralist seek to control and limit any expression of our sexuality.
The other reason politicans hate erotic power is it is something which everyone can access. There are no gatekeepers you must get past in order to access your own erotic power. That widespread access, uncontrolled, is a direct threat to other powers consolidated within a small, select group of individuals.
I do not know what results this election will bring. Honestly, I lack faith in the American public anymore. The idea that they will reject a white supremacist, facist supporting, sociopath has not been proven. In fact, many are vocally doubling down on their hate.
What I do know is that, regardless of the outcome, embracing our own erotic power is a way of survival. If the worst occurs, it will be a way to continue to embrace our core selves and our core power in the face of an administration which seeks to destroy all things queer, free, and based in love. If Americans rise to the occasiona and pass the very low bar of rejecting white supremacy and facism, we must double down on our own erotic power. For three-and-a-half years we have had thousands of people in institutions and with structural power trying to eliminate us from existance. They have purged governement sites of mentions of trans folks, LGBTQ folks, rolled back access to birth control and abortion, and the courts have expanded what forms of rape are acceptable under the law.
Embracing our erotic power allows us to tap into an energy shared by like-minded folks. It allows us to tap into the authentic. It is renewing.
So, after doom-scrolling and suffering through Tuesday, please go and be as kinky and queer as possible! Its our only hope.