Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Barebacking as an Aesthetic Practice

Shortly, Readings and clips will be posted. Soon, the reading group will be discussing the act/art of barebacking, and how this may relate to enacting queerness and modes of queer theory on the level of the everyday (or weekend). We will also explore how barebaking is thoroughly anti-social and death-drive driven, and what this means for what can be called a politics (and aesthetics) of queer. Other questions and insights will also be raised and surfaced -- such as (the rise of) barebacking videos and issues of race, class, body types, class codes, etc.
This reading group will dovetail with a discussion of fisting / fist fucking and lesbian practices of sex as art.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Call for Papers: Embodied Queer

Proposal for the LA Queer Studies Conference Panel: October 2009

“Embodied Queer Theory: Living a Queer Life”
Moderator: Robert Summers, PhD/ABD

This proposed panel sets out to explore subjects who perform their lived body, as a modality of queer theory, on the level of the everyday. As opposed to certain strands within queer theory that remain abstract, and thus disembodied, a close examination of lived subjects, past or present—for example, the dandy, Claude Cahun, Baroness Elsa, Arthur Craven, McDermott and McGough, Andy Warhol, David Wojnarowicz, Kathy Acker, William Burroughs, Vaginal Davis, or others—will be explored, and an articulation of how one has, or does, enact “queerness” will be foregrounded.

Some questions to be asked: By whom, and how, is (proto-)queer theory being done, enacted through the body? What “queer” practices existed in the past that are now being enacted in the present? What does it mean to live, enact a queer life on a daily basis—and is this even possible? Further, it is hoped that as opposed to being prescriptive and articulating “how to be queer,” the panelists, via the presentation of specific subjectivities, will gesture toward “living queerly” as an on-going and creative process, which, it is hoped, will open up queer theory as a daily practice of enacting queerness in and through the body, and, finally, what the political, ethical, and/or aesthetic consequences are to “living queerly” in a normative society. Indeed, both historical and contemporary subjectivities will be explored. Submissions from the fields of anthropology, art, art history, comparative literature, English, history, theater and performance, and other fields are welcomed. Proposals that further open up—and even complicate—the questions asked above are more than welcomed.

Please submit a 250-word proposal to Robert Summers at by June 20, 2008. If you have any questions and/or concerns, then please email me at

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Intersectional Queer Visualities: Call for Papers

Intersectional Queer Visualities

Michael du Plessis, University of Southern California

Robert Summers, University of California, Los Angeles

This session will highlight different articulations of art-historical understandings of subject/object relations, theory, and visuality as those terms themselves have been transformed through an intersection with “queer.” We wish to trace passages to critical thinkers (e.g., Derrida, Cixous, Deleuze, Rancière, Nancy, Agamben, Ettinger, among others) and the modalities of their projects—and to ask what “queer” practices can, or have, emerge from such critical and creative crossovers into art history? How have theories on, and around, the visual by these critical thinkers working outside of art history been “queered” and put to work in the practice of “(un-)doing” art history—which is to ask how has the discipline of art history become un-disciplined, “queered”? Furthermore, how is “queer” in theory and visuality thought differently when further intersected with post-colonial theories and/or feminisms? Indeed, how has “queer” been (re-) opened to issues such as race, ethnicity, the nation-state, and sexual difference? How have these multiple intersections with “queer” and/in art history transformed it? Do such multiple crossings, thinkings, and doings by way of creative connections and intersections radically change the project and trajectory of art history as a discipline—if only in some of its modes and movements? If so, then what are the ramifications for the future/s of art history and its institutions? These are some of the questions that we want to explore in this session.

Friday, August 17, 2007

New Series of Readings for the QSTG

I think it would be interesting, after the William Haver essay, which, I think, argues for other ways of being, or better, becoming, if wee look at (and read) the brilliant essays that were colleted and -published by renouned queer theoristr Michael O'Rourke:

Below are two Essays that I am particularly interested in, and both resonate with the Haver essay:

The Force that Through the Wall Drives the Penis:
The Becomings and Desiring-Machines of Glory Hole Sex
Don Anderson

[1] Often found in men’s bathroom stalls at truck stops and most popularly found in pornographic arcade booths at the back of adult video and bookstores, glory holes are holes made in a wall separating two individuals, allowing them to provide anonymous sexual favors to one another. Considered to be a homosexual phenomenon, glory holes to the contrary are often found in places regularly patronized by individuals of all sexualities, most significantly individuals who define themselves as straight. It is common for heterosexual men to engage in glory hole sex with other men. Whether they harbor homosexual tendencies, are merely curious, or desire a sexual outlet outside their marriage, the fact is glory hole sex cannot be considered a purely homosexual activity. Further, it is an oversimplification to label this sexual practice under the banner of either heterosexual or homosexual when its very design and use negates issues of being, identity, and what Deleuze and Guattari would call, “organ-ized” bodies. While it may seem appropriate to think of a penis protruding from a hole in a wall as an organ without a body, it is this very act that reconstitutes the molar body behind the wall as a Body without Organs. Glory hole sex establishes a series of becoming-molecular, becoming-woman, and finally becoming-imperceptible.

[2] Part ethnography, part theoretical inquiry, my research explores how video arcades in adult video and book stores provide a location where desire is nomadic and able to be freely expressed outside socially constructed identities. Through interviews conducted with glory hole users I will show how glory hole sex provides an opportunity where behavior does not decide a fixed identity, how radical anonymous sex challenges normative forms of desire, and the ways that despite the inherent anonymity of glory hole sex, a Deleuzoguattarian subject-group of glory hole culture and community has erupted around its practice. As Deleuze and Guattari insist in Anti-Oedipus, desire is pre-personal and only functions when it breaks down, refuses structures, and explodes molarized sexual identities. Glory hole desire is revolutionary and freed from institutionalized definitions of sexuality and identity. Further, glory hole desire is pre-personal and non-human. It is a desire that operates molecularly and opposes the molar aggregates that would otherwise trap desire in representation. The video arcade room in adult video and bookstores is a place where organs are deterritorialized, facialized, and where they function as little desiring-machines. Such places are queer arenas where these desiring-machines (dis)function and disrupt singularized and transcendent conceptions of sexuality, identity, and bodies.

I: Introduction to the Glory Hole Phenomenon – Public vs Private
Is it an Adult Book and Video Store, or a Humble Sex Club with Free Admission?
“May ’68 taught us to read the writing on the walls, and, since then, we have begun to decipher the graffiti in prisons, asylums, and now in urinals” (“Three Billion Perverts on the Stand,” 186). Félix Guattari
[3] Glory holes have a certain mythical quality about them. Popular representations of them have turned up in films like Porky’s and most recently The Sweetest Thing, starring Cameron Diaz. Even the popular animated FOX series, The Simpsons mention a glory hole in their Halloween special, Treehouse of Horror XI. (i) The online satirical newspaper, The Onion, ran a story about a naïve father who drove his family to see the famous glory hole at a rest stop off the freeway. (ii) The father believes the glory hole to be some fantastic hole in the ground. Despite these popular culture references to glory holes, their existence still remains hushed. When mentioning the term, “glory hole” most people have a look on their face, suggesting they know what it is, but quickly brush it off as some dirty thing men do in bathrooms. In the Journal of Homosexuality, Don Bapst writes:

Some have suggested that this ‘silence’ on glory holes came from the taboo associated with discussing them while others believe there was simply a naiveté on the part of those designated as responsible for repairing them (i.e.; they were, perhaps, simply puzzled by the reason for their existence, mistaking them as a childish act of vandalism). Today, glory holes in public facilities are increasingly rare, and a more hostile approach toward ‘offenders’ is generally taken. (91)
Contrary to Bapst’s claim that glory holes are rare in public facilities, I have found glory holes to be quite widespread. In my university’s library alone there are four (sealed) glory holes, peepholes, and an overabundance of graffiti used to communicate with other patrons who wish to engage in bathroom sex. Through consulting (an online sex cruising reference site) I later discovered this particular bathroom at my university was the top cruising site for sex in my hometown.

The Last Booth on the Left: “To avoid a sexual identity crisis, keep repeating, it’s only a mouth, it’s only a mouth…”
[4] While glory holes are at a risk of being repaired at universities, public parks, and rest stops, the one place they are easily found and condoned are adult video and bookstores. Not all adult bookstores have glory holes, although almost all have pornographic video arcade booths. The laws regarding sexual behavior vary from state to state. My research was conducted in Portland, Oregon, which is referred to by those who cruise for sex as “glory hole central.” In fact as relayed to me by an older cruising gentleman, Portland is the “Amsterdam of America.” This is the city where the shopping center chain Fred Meyers was once referred to as “dirty Freddy’s” due to the stores’ high cruising traffic and the many glory holes in its bathrooms. According to Portland’s local strip-club magazine Exotic, there are forty-seven strip clubs, thirty adult video and bookstores, sixteen lingerie modeling boutiques, two porn theaters, three bathhouses, numerous swing groups and clubs, and a variety of fetish stores. Therefore it is only fair to admit that I’ve conducted this research in what is a very sex-positive and liberal area of the country. Chances are I could not have accomplished such research in a city located in the more conservative areas of the United States. Although, if one merely browses the state and city wide listings for cruise-worthy areas on any of the cruising search engines I list at the end of this essay, it is quite easy to locate areas in the most unlikely places and find where the glory holes are, for example, in Pocola, Oklahoma or Caryville, Tennessee.

[5] Inside adult video and bookstores one will typically find a number of private video arcade booths in the very back of the store, lined up side-by-side, where patrons may view pornographic films operated through a dollar-feed machine. These booths are normally large enough for one person but may accommodate up to two.

[6] Some establishments even have group rooms and others boast mini-theaters where dozens of patrons may view films together. Out of the seventeen video stores I visited, twelve appeared to have installed the glory holes in their video arcades themselves. The holes allow an individual in one private booth to perform various sex acts on another individual in the booth next door, therefore keeping the participants anonymous to one another. Some of the glory holes were perfectly cut in a circle by what I imagine to be a doorknob drill-bit. Others seemed to be crudely cut out as if a customer had spent a great deal of time carving out the hole with a knife or filing tool.

[7] I spoke with a manager of one local adult store with glory holes. She said the store didn’t necessarily condone glory hole sex; they simply couldn’t find a way to circumvent it. Since her store is open twenty-four hours a day, it is easy for people to arrive very late at night with a filer and cut out holes in their arcade walls. The holes typically begin very small and are filed away until they reach an appropriate size. Eventually she and the owner gave up sealing them and decided to file the holes down themselves in order to make them safer for customer use. For the most part all the establishments appeared to openly condone their glory holes. One in particular actually advertised, “glory holes coming soon” in the local newspaper! At three adult video stores the video arcade booths with glory holes were usually labeled outside on the door as “glory hole booth,” so people “know what they were getting into,” as one clerk told me. An owner of two popular adult video stores actually went so far as consulting his patrons as to what type of hole they preferred: did they want a simple circular glory hole or one that was longer from top to bottom that would accommodate different heights? Did they prefer a comfortable plastic casing around the hole?

[8] “Cruising” is the term applied to the practice of frequenting particular areas popular for quick, impersonal, and non-committal sex. Video arcade rooms are highly known for their traffic of regular cruisers. While most stores possess an accepting attitude towards glory holes, in order to thwart loitering, clerks will often do a walk-through their backrooms and remind the patrons who appear to be cruising too much that they must choose a booth and drop some cash. One cannot forget these establishments, while sometimes resembling a private sex club, are in fact small businesses whose interests are to make money. One clerk told me most of their video arcade income is taken from the booths with glory holes. To circumvent too much cruising, those stores still using the classic token deposit arcades will demand that their patrons purchase three dollars worth of tokens before entering the back room. I witnessed one such patron who still had tokens from a previous visit expressing frustration because he didn’t want to pay again. The clerk told him paying again is required because the “boss doesn’t want people just hanging out and propositioning others.”

[9] As with the glory holes themselves, attitudes towards cruising are also inconsistent. One place I visited asked for patrons to purchase three dollars worth of tokens, but as I entered the back room a sign encouraging people to “relax” and “enjoy their time” was clearly displayed. Likewise and perhaps more explicitly, another place actually had a video-feed of the parking lot as one of the channels on the arcade so patrons inside a booth could watch the parking lot and see people parking and entering the store. This way a person waiting in a booth for a partner can see if anyone is coming in whom they may find attractive.

Some places even provide hand soap and a sink with paper towels as well as snack machines containing snickers, M&Ms, lubricants, and condoms.

What is Private and Public about Glory Hole Sex?
[10] The fact that almost all the stores I frequented made condoms freely available, or at least encouraged condom use, supports queer theorist Michael Warner’s assertion that the removal of openly queer public spaces tends to likewise erode places where safe sex education is available and its practice encouraged. In light of Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s zoning efforts to “clean up” New York City, Warner argues that with the removal of public sex places “men who want to meet other men for sex will have to travel to small, inaccessible, little-trafficked, badly lit areas…where heterosexual porn users will also be relocated, where risk of violence will consequently be higher and the sense of a collective world more tenuous” (The Trouble with Normal, 169). Also, the widely available access to condoms typically found in such public spaces will disappear.

[11] With all this open advertisement and overall acceptance of both glory hole sex and cruising (at least in Portland, Oregon) I was immediately curious about not only the legal status of glory holes, but how glory holes fit with Warner’s discussion of public and private space in his recent work. Obviously, legal status varies state to state, but it seems this kind of behavior would naturally fall under the rubric of public sex because it occurs in a public space. Having sex in a public restroom, while possibly doing so within a locked stall, is still having sex in a public place.

[12] Glory hole sex is an example of those sex acts that Michael Warner suggests are “public in some ways, but still intensely private in others” (The Trouble with Normal, 173). The adult video and bookstore is not a completely public space because it limits access from underage individuals. However, it is not necessarily private because there is rarely a cover charge or an orientation process for patrons (both of which are typical for private swing clubs), and aside from underage persons, adult video and bookstores do not discriminate otherwise. These video stores remain open to the public and anyone may freely frequent them as long as they are of age. In fact, it is quite common to see wheelchair access parking for patrons visiting adult video and bookstores, as well as wheelchair access glory hole arcade booths.

[13] Where the distinction between public and private becomes more complex is in the backroom where one finds the numerous arcade booths. On the one hand these booths boast a private space where individuals may watch a large number of channels showing the newest pornographic film releases. But, on the other hand, some of these booths themselves challenge the distinction between public and private. If we understand “public” to describe an exhibition or text directed towards an audience, then when someone is in what is called a “voyeur booth” or “buddy booth” where one wall between two booths is made of see-through plexi-glass so that two individuals may watch each other masturbate, does this act of masturbation not become a public sex act?

[14] I asked a clerk at an adult video and bookstore with glory holes if he knew whether glory hole sex was illegal. He told me video stores are protected under the same rule as motel businesses. Basically, if the door is locked and money is being spent, it becomes a private space. For example, if an individual rents a room for a night at a motel and engages in sex with a prostitute, the motel is not liable since that room, as paid for by the patron, is the patron’s private space. However, despite this rule the clerk told me that his particular video store still exercised caution when it came to admitting it had glory holes. For example, when customers call the store and ask if there are glory holes available in the store’s arcade, he would reply “no.” Likewise, if asked what the holes in the walls are for, the store will euphemistically refer to them as “ventilation holes” to avoid any possible legal trouble (the booths are in fact rather stuffy). So, within the public realm of the store itself, there exist numerous private spaces where private sex acts may take place.

[15] While most of the clerks I spoke with discussed their glory holes openly and seemed intrigued by my research, one clerk at a particular store was extremely resistant when talking to me about their glory holes. He said he was not allowed to talk about their video arcade booths and that glory holes were illegal. Curiously enough, I had spoken with a different clerk at that same store who only weeks earlier gave me a tour of the back room, showed me the holes, and discussed the demographic of their patrons. I wonder if he was fired and the remaining clerks discouraged from talking about their glory holes due to this one employee. Surveillance cameras are the norm in most back rooms of adult bookstores. Maybe his boss saw the tape of our little tour.

[16] Following these contrary instances in which many stores freely exhibited and even promoted their glory holes while others remained somewhat “hush-hush,” it became clear to me that such ambiguity may be a direct result of the ways in which glory hole sex disrupts the boundaries separating public and private. It may also be the way glory hole sex radically revises the oral sex act and establishes a very new kind of sex act. The inconsistencies outlined above may also come from this inability to understand glory hole sex as anything but oral sex. However, as I persistently argue here, glory hole sex is a different kind of sex. Glory hole sex is not oral sex nor is it the kind of sex one has with another full body. This lack of knowing what exactly glory hole sex is and the ways it blurs public and private leads to a confusion as to how such an act fits both legally and conceptually into the lexicon of human sexuality.

[17] In his book The Trouble with Normal, Michael Warner argues that the erosion of public queer spaces is ultimately detrimental to a positive and growing queer culture. Warner’s primary example is the controversy over New York mayor Rudy Giuliani’s zoning initiatives that threatened adult business all over New York in the late 90s. The removal of adult video and bookstores and other areas where the queer community regularly meets for sex or relationships also effaces visual queer public spaces where, according to Warner, queers “have learned to find each another, to map a commonly accessible world, to construct the architecture of queer space in a homophobic environment, and, for the last fifteen years, to cultivate a collective ethos of safer sex” (“Sex in Public,” 191). Warner routinely challenges the heteronormative idea that knowledge of sexual practices is always innate. “[M]ost gay men and lesbians know that the sex they have was not innate nor entirely of their own making, but learned—learned by participating, in scenes of talk as well as of fucking” (The Trouble with Normal, 177).

[18] What in fact may be ironic about glory hole sex in light of Warner’s lauding of queer spaces’ potential for educating queers and his positive theorization of queer public spaces is that the glory hole sex act itself, which may indeed occur after a communal act of cruising on site or online, is extremely private and may even feed the same feelings of shame and guilt that Warner suggests encourages those who support the removal of adult video and bookstores. While adult video and bookstores that appeal to the queer community make up what Warner terms a “world-making publicness” where young queers are culturally educated, some of these same bookstores also provide the space for an intensely private sex act whose anonymity allows those who define themselves as “straight” to engage in experimentation that may negatively reinforce feelings of shame if they are not yet comfortable with their sexuality. These feelings of shame and guilt can impede the openness required for acceptance and education that would otherwise allow such an individual to come to terms with their sexuality. Therefore, glory hole sex may not always fit with Warner’s idea of a “world-making publicness” due to its anonymous and private nature. In fact, I have spoken to some gay men who look down on glory hole sex because they see those men who participate as being in denial of their sexuality. Glory hole sex, as a part of the queer world, may not always synthesize with the positive queer image contained in Warner’s “world-making publicness” because its anonymity does not construct a queer form of public sex. Glory hole sex can both educate individuals about new pleasures as well as reaffirm one’s identity should they find their actions at a glory hole in conflict with their chosen sexual orientation. It is the former that makes glory hole sex so important and special. Despite the odd fit of glory hole sex with Warner’s queer world and its awkward anonymity that confers the act with its paradoxical nature (does it reaffirm or educate?), it remains a crucial queer phenomenon that warrants investigation into its potential for educating and fostering a queer community.

[19] I will again take up this issue of public and private initiated by Warner’s work and consider it from the discussion in Anti-Oedipus of subject-groups and subjugated-groups. From a Deleuzoguattarian perspective we can see just how paradoxical glory hole sex can be in light of the question: is glory hole sex public or private? Is it communal?

[20] Glory holes attract a great deal of business, which is the reason why many stores either install them themselves or merely allow already-made ones to remain in working order. While glory holes are regularly used for sex, drug dealers and users have been known to carry out their business inside booths since the privacy factor, convenience, and perhaps anonymity is attractive to people buying and selling drugs. It is not at all rare to discover needles in the trashcans inside video arcade booths. Granted, arcade booths may very well be bastions of debasement and vice where numerous transgressive behaviors transpire, but they also successfully provide a place where people experiment with their sexualities, subvert dichotomous and socially constructed sexual categories, and instigate a molecular sexual revolution.

II: Molecularity – Bodies without Organs, Castration-Sensations, and Bob Flanagan – Becoming-Woman
Molecular Desire; or Is This the Purest Kind of Sex Available?
[21] Out of all the glory hole users and store clerks I talked with, most claimed between 50-80% of the males they saw frequenting glory hole bookstores were probably heterosexual. Indicators of heterosexual glory hole users were, 1) wedding rings 2) a lack of interest in the gay videos on display 3) only rare reciprocation of oral sex 4) an “in and out” attitude. Warner comments on the participation of self-defined straight men in cruising for sex with other men by suggesting that:

many men who participate in public sex do not see it as an expression of political identity. Many—a majority in some studies, though lately this has been disputed—think of themselves as heterosexual. Many are married. Even those who consider themselves gay may be seeking in such venues [bathhouses, tearooms] a world less defined by identity and community than by the negation of identity through anonymous contact; they may be seeking something very different from “community” in a venue where men from very different worlds meet, often silently, for sex. (The Trouble with Normal, 165-66)
Warner’s quote above, perhaps unwittingly, may be the best explanation for why self-defined straight men participate in glory hole sex. Glory hole sex is not predicated on a stable identity whether of gender or sexuality. Glory hole sex negates issues of identity by way of its inherent anonymity and allows desire to function outside “community” in a way that avoids the politics that are naturally part of a community.

[22] Most of the men I spoke with in person defined themselves as gay. Overall, I found it difficult to have a conversation in the video arcade backroom. The atmosphere is not at all conducive to verbal communication. While cruising the arcades, most men communicate with their eyes, licking their lips, motioning to their crotch, or simply entering a booth and leaving the door cracked open. Eye contact is the clearest indicator of interest. While observing cruising activity I had the sense a verbal enunciation of one’s sexual desires would somehow break the cruising code and awaken everyone in the back room to the realization of what they were there for. Obviously, they knew they were there for sex, but once this desire is articulated verbally it may disrupt the ritualistic hunt, playful coyness, and sense of secrecy involved in cruising. Besides, I wonder if directly asking a heterosexual about his glory hole experiences would force him to affirm his suppressed homosexual tendencies and instigate a crisis in identity. Thus it was easier to strike up conversations with homosexuals. It was also easy due to the fact many of the men had also desired to have sex with me and would happily entertain my questions for as long as needed.

[23] Everyone I spoke with at glory hole sites agreed there was a tremendous mixture of sexualities: gay, bi, trans, and straight. Therefore, I began to wonder how desire is functioning at these places. How are issues of identity, sexuality, behavior, and subjectivity negotiated during glory hole sex? Are these terms and what they represent even necessary at all? Due to the inherent anonymity of glory hole sex, stable sexual identities are meaningless. What matters most is desire—a machinic pre-personal desire that is molecular and formed through partial objects and becomings.

[24] Deleuze and Guattari define desire as that, “which behaves as a molecular phenomenon devoid of any goal or intention” (Anti-Oedipus, 342). In capitalist societies desire is subordinate to a “lack.” Consumers are duped into believing they desire certain products they are currently without, which leads them to fill that desire with some object. For the authors, desire is not a result of such a lack. A feeling of lack naturally requires a goal or an end point for desire. Desire is then directed toward fulfilling this lack rather than functioning as a phenomenal force in and of itself. In capitalist societies, once desire reaches a goal it does not instantly stop functioning but merely replaces that goal with another, therefore ensuring the consumption of commodities. For Deleuze and Guattari desire is production without a fixed end.

[25] Deleuze and Guattari’s most radical notion of desire claims it is desire that forms a subject, rather than a subject who then desires. Therefore, because desire preexists subjectivity it necessarily also preexists sexual-identity formation. In his illuminating call for integrating the work of Jacques Lacan into Queer Theory, queer theorist Tim Dean shows just how close Lacan’s theory of desire is to that of Deleuze and Guattari. Dean writes, “For Lacan, as for Deleuze and Guattari, the decentering effect of desire is so fundamental that desire cannot be conceived as following from the loss of any particular object. On the contrary, in this conception of desire what is lost is the fixed, self-identical subject” (248). Following Deleuze and Guattari and Lacan via Dean, we can think of desire as a nomadic and free-flowing force that takes up a subject through which it is always in production. (iii) Deleuze and Guattari refer to desire as a “molecular phenomenon” because it functions prior to the molar arrangements making up complete bodies, either individually or socially. Brian Massumi describes a “molarized individual” as “a ‘person’ to the extent that a category (cultural image of unity) has been imposed on it, and insofar as its subsequent actions are made to conform to those prescribed by its assigned category” (A User’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia, 55). As Massumi warns, molecularity and molarity have nothing whatsoever to do with size, rather it is the ways in which the molarized male body adheres to social and institutional definitions of maleness and heterosexuality. However, underneath molarity there are always molecular revolutions working away at the prescribed role assigned to the molar identity. In their critical analysis of the familial triangle of psychoanalysis, Deleuze and Guattari write, “Sexuality is by no means a molar determination that is representable in a familial whole; it is the molecular underdetermination” (Anti-Oedipus, 183). While varieties of oppressions (the family, capitalism, the despot) and representations (male, female, homosexual, heterosexual) form the molar identities individuals come to assume, there is a pre-personal desire that presupposes these arrangements and functions outside categories of homosexual or heterosexual, male or female. This is why Deleuze and Guattari insist that, “we are transsexual in an elemental, molecular sense” (Anti-Oedipus, 70), because we are all desiring-machines prior to anything else—prior to any collective identity. Fadi Abou-Rihan makes this even clearer when he follows Deleuze and Guattari by saying, “Transsexuality is homosexuality based on sexes-as-organs rather than sexes-as-persons” (my emphasis, 503).

[26] However, while forging a path for Lacan in Queer Theory, Dean remains skeptical of Deleuze and Guattari’s “utopian valorization of schizophrenia” which he reads as somewhat anarchistic. Dean accuses the authors of wishing to “unleash primary process productivity directly onto the world, without any mediation or regulation whatsoever” (242). This is a common misunderstanding of what Deleuze and Guattari mean when they speak of liberating desire. Deleuze and Guattari are not calling for an irresponsible all out orgy of desire in the world. Instead, the authors are analyzing the ways in which desire is caught within repressive systems and especially the ways in which desire is turned upon itself by those very systems of repression. In a 1979 interview, Félix Guattari responds to a question specifically concerned with the liberation of desire:

The problem as I see it is not a sexual liberation but a liberation of desire. Once desire is specified as sexuality, it enters into forms of particularized power, into the stratification of castes, of styles, of sexual classes. The sexual liberation—for example, of homosexuals, or transvestites, or sadomasochists—belongs to a series of other liberation problems among which there is an a priori and evident solidarity, the need to participate in a necessary fight. But I don’t consider that to be a liberation as such of desire, since in each of these groups and movements one finds repressive systems. (“The Liberation of Desire,” 204)
Guattari argues for the removal of the molecular repressions that reside within so-called “revolutionary” groups. For example, he offers the concept of “sexual liberation.” Immediately upon being termed a “sexual liberation” desire is already appropriated as “sexual” and this automatically forces desire into other forms of oppressions that are already part of the molar concept of “sexuality,” these being groups that operate under specific and categorized identities— homosexual, sadomasochists, transvestites. Deleuze and Guattari are chiefly concerned with analyzing and undoing all the molecular and minor forms of repression that contain desire and tie it to a molar representation. Sexuality is not the only molarity that traps desire. As detailed thoroughly in Anti-Oedipus, capitalism is instrumental in rechanneling desire and libidinal investments and creating compliance on the part of the public to buy into its notion of what the public desires. A molecular revolution could be as simple as perceiving this perversion of one’s desire and acting against it by refusing to buy certain clothes, electronics, or other commodities whose sole purpose is to prolong consumption. This is not anarchic at all, nor is it unmediated. It is a very specific, conscious, and directed molecular revolution.

[27] Due to its inherent anonymity, glory hole sex is a sexual act that only functions molecularly. Glory hole sex is a becoming-molecular because it takes a non-human desire as its immediate principle and it functions as a minor sex act that has nothing to do with normative and majoritarian sexual behaviors that include courtship, relationships, full body contact, reproduction, and physical or emotional attraction. (iv) Glory hole sex refuses all the oppressions and representations composing the molarized individual behind the wall and only asks that he insert his penis through the hole. This kind of sex act does not require the man to be homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual, or transsexual—glory hole sex only facilitates a connection outside these categories and oppressions and outside the molar identity and representations they compose and impose. Further, the wall separating the two individuals reduces each to a partial object: the mouth and the penis. The hole facilitates a machinic connection between these two objects. A sex act operating through partial objects, that specifically emphasizes the machinic connection between mouth and penis, and in which the anonymity of the organized body behind the wall functions as a key component in the sex act itself, naturally resists the concept of sex as an activity between two complete individuals whose anthropomorphism and molarity traps desire in a male body. Further, glory hole sex dis-organ-izes the individuals and forces them to take on the role of a machine: a desiring-machine composed of partial objects. The wall completely disengages any interaction between the bodies for which these machines are part. Slavoj Žižek has recently commented on the becoming-Deleuzian of hardcore pornography where:

scenes in which the very unity of the bodily self-experience is magically dissolved so that the spectator perceives the bodies as a kind of vaguely coordinated agglomerate of partial objects. Is this logic where we are no longer dealing with persons interacting, but with the multiplicity of intensities, of places of enjoyment, of bodies as a collective/impersonal desiring machine not eminently Deleuzian? (293)
The ambiguous representations of partial-objects in hardcore pornography certainly share similarities with the partial object-mouth-penis-desiring-machine that likewise negates issues of identity and molar bodies.

[28] Many of the individuals I spoke with referred to glory hole sex as “pure sex” because only the penis itself was present and not the full body of a male subject. “I only have a physical relationship with men and only with their cocks” one informant told me. Likewise, another said; “It’s the male cock that turns me on, not their bodies. So I’m bi for cock.” Glory hole sex engenders a sexuality formed around organs and not complete bodies or “molar aggregates.” One individual in Bapst’s study of glory holes points out, “All that matters is how you read each other’s sexual energy through the hole in the wall. It’s not any one person I’m servicing, but a ‘man’ or the concept of a man that lives in my fantasies” (98). Glory holes allow the possibility of a sexuality that functions outside identity and does not depend on direct and collective representations of maleness. Instead, gloryhole sex is a radical becoming-molecular because it requires participants to connect outside their respective bodies and identities.

[29] Following the above analysis of the molecularity of glory hole sex, it is fair to ask if glory hole sex can be part of those public sexual materials that Warner claims provides a sexual education for queers. For education to be possible it must be accessible and visible. This is perhaps where glory hole sex deviates from Warner’s “world-making publicness.” It is impossible for glory hole sex to be without its anonymity because once the full body of either participant is perceived, the becomings (molecular, woman, imperceptible) cease. If one perceives two men involved in glory hole sex, the sex act becomes a homosexual fetish. If it is a woman and a man having glory hole sex, it is a heterosexual fetish. The hole becomes fetishized and the anonymity is fetishized just as long as the two partners are guaranteed their preferred partner on each side of the wall. Therefore, a straight man will want a woman and a gay man will want another gay man. All the becomings no longer exist because once you have representation you also have molarity. When glory hole sex is heterosexualized, desire is dead. Guattari insists that, “desire is always ‘outside’; it always belongs to a minority. For me there is no heterosexual sexuality. Once there’s heterosexuality…there’s no more desire, no more sexuality” (“The Liberation of Desire,” 213). Deleuze and Guattari maintain that the end point of all becomings is a becoming-imperceptible. This is likewise the end point of glory hole sex—to become-imperceptible, to remain anonymous, to keep the organs from being organized into an organism. Gloryhole sex composes a series that includes a becoming-molecular, becoming-woman, and finally a becoming-imperceptible so that desire remains at the molecular level outside molarity and organized bodies.

[30] This is not to say that sexual education is impossible during glory hole sex. I mentioned earlier that the anonymity of glory hole sex may continue a self-defined “straight” individual’s shame and guilt. However, many men that I spoke with discovered their love of “cock” through the glory hole and have since used the term “bi-sexual” to define themselves. So, glory hole sex does provide an opportunity for one to experiment with their sexuality and therefore engage in a kind of private tutorial. Further, if that person practices safe sex, glory hole sex may provide a safe area where one can more easily come to terms with their sexuality. They can “get their feet wet” with only a cock, so to say, before placing themselves within the full arms of another of the same sex. However, glory hole sex does not provide a public education; it is an intensely private one. Therefore, glory hole sex resists the worldliness and publicness of Warner’s ideal queer culture, but not without helping and thus educating a few shy and curious males.

The Body without Organs and What Can We Learn About Glory Hole Sex From Bob Flanagan?
[31] While it is very easy to read a penis poking out of a hole in a wall as an organ without a body, it remains more accurate here to speak of Bodies without Organs. This is because what remains crucial is how the body behind the wall, not the penis in front of the wall, is reconfigured during glory hole sex. Visibility is not a prerequisite for achieving the Body without Organs. In order for glory hole sex to function as a machine of partial objects, it requires a new way of understanding the invisible body on the other side of the wall—a Body without Organs.

[32] In the plateau entitled “How Do You Make Yourself a Body Without Organs?” from their 1980 book A Thousand Plateaus Deleuze and Guattari write:

The BwO [Body without Organs] is opposed not to the organs but to that organization of the organs called an organism…The judgment of God, the system of the judgment of God, the theological system, is precisely the operation of He who makes an organism, an organization of organs called the organism, because He cannot bear the BwO, because He pursues it and rips it apart so He can be first, and have the organism be first. The organism is already that, the judgment of God, from which medical doctors benefit and on which they base their power. (158-9)
Gilles Deleuze’s life-long work both with and without Félix Guattari has been concerned with constructing a philosophy of “pure immanence.” Deleuze resists thinking life as phenomena arranged by some outside and transcendent reference point. Rather Deleuze has constantly shown how this Platonic outside is a construction of the immanent arrangements inside. When the authors refer to the “judgment of God” they are confronting the ways bodies are defined and formed in relation to an outside transcendent principle. They insist that, “the judgment of God uproots it [the BwO] from its immanence and makes it an organism, a signification, a subject” (159). The transcendent referent is a despotic agent that forms how we think of subjectivity and how signs are attributed a signified, and finally how complete bodies are thought of as utterly and hopelessly final. The Body without Organs resists such an arrangement and refuses to be stuck with the body God gave it.

[33] In order to fully come to terms with how Deleuze and Guattari employ the Body without Organs in A Thousand Plateaus it is important to see the body without organs connected to the author’s earlier arguments against psychoanalysis and most importantly subjectivity and interpretation in Anti-Oedipus. The Body without Organs is prior to a molar organization of the organism which signifies a distinct category (male/female). Upon the Body without Organs only intensities pass and form connections and conjunctions. Intensities for Deleuze and Guattari are prior to being coded as signifiers for some thing. Identity is thus the dead end for a signification that gives intensities an image of some thing. The Body without Organs is made of intensities prior to significations, overcodings, and the molar arrangements of male and female. In A Thousand Plateaus the authors also reserve the term “haecceity” for what happens upon the Body without Organs. A haecceity is any assemblage “defined by a longitude and a latitude, by speeds and affects, independently of forms and subjects” (262). The masochist’s body is this haecceity that is sliced open, cut up, nailed, pinned, and scalded, a rhizome that resists the organization that would define the body from its head to its toes therefore giving it a form. The masochist’s body is without organs, without organ-ization, and is instead a spatium where intensities are produced and distributed and where “there is nothing to interpret” (153).

[34] Like the late masochistic performance artist Bob Flanagan who, during his lifetime, sewed up his scrotum and nailed his penis to a board, the glory hole enthusiast who inserts his penis through a hole in a wall mirrors Flanagan’s more violent and painful castrating activity. Each act Flanagan performs on his penis flies in the face of God—that transcendent principle that articulates bodies as complete and stable. Placing one’s penis through a hole causes sensations of castration, whether these are literal fears of someone on the other side of the wall cutting one’s penis off, or the simple sensation of feeling as if one’s penis is immediately displaced from one’s body. In order to experience this myself, I placed my own penis through a glory hole only to feel as if this organ, which physically defines me as “male,” was for a moment disconnected from my body. The temperature in my arcade booth was warmer than the temperature in the booth which my penis was in. There was a very obvious difference in environment and this caused me to feel oddly removed from the sensations my penis was experiencing. Of course the paradox here is that one must always remain connected to one’s penis in order to experience sexual arousal. However, this sexual arousal is directly dependent on sensations of a non-violent castration and dis-organ-ization.

[35] Sewing his penis up into a non-gendered sack of skin is a way for Flanagan to achieve a temporary castration. Speaking of this act, Flanagan says:

I think it’s a castration fantasy. It’s weird to look down and see nothing there. I added a little extra something the next time I did that at an S/M demonstration for QSM in San Francisco: before I sewed the penis up inside the scrotum, I pushed the penis head into the shaft of the penis and sewed the loose skin around it so it looked like it was totally cut off! Then I sewed the rest up together. (63)
No longer is Flanagan judged by his penis. Instead he exercises control over the organ, a control that flies in the face of God. Further, Flanagan makes the organ something else—a partial object, a little desiring-machine. Like the desiring-machines on the Body without Organs which eventually break down and fall back on themselves, Flanagan’s sewn-up penis falls back on itself. It breaks down—it is demolished. Once a penis is placed through a hole the person, unlike Flanagan, has no control over his organ that is in the hands and mouth of an anonymous person. The penis is something else—an organ no longer part of a complete body. This lack of control immediately makes the sensation of castration an integral and immediate part of the sexual experience of glory hole sex.

[36] Although less painfully, this castrating act directly parallels Flanagan’s experience described above. Bapst describes a “purely tactile sensation” when summarizing an interviewee: “it was very exciting to feel that his penis was ‘completely detached’ from his body and surrendered to the movement of a warm, wet mouth on the other side of the wall” (93). For other men in Bapst’s study, “[t]his sort of sensory deprivation of the rest of the body heightened the sensation in the genitals” (93). The absent penis from inside the arcade booth constitutes that person’s body as a BwO because its absence undermines the host’s organism. Sensations and intensities of castration make the penis a desiring-machine because it functions, following Michel Foucault, as an “‘unusual’ thing, outside all programs of desire” (224). The penis is a strange and “unusual” sort of absence that is there but not quite there. It is not, like Flanagan’s performance art, a violent castration, but rather an eroticized absence that dis-organ-izes the body of the person who puts his penis through a hole in a wall.

[37] The ability to connect outside bodies and identities may explain why heterosexuals can more easily reconcile their sexuality with what is otherwise normally defined as a homosexual act. There is no unnecessary touching involved during gloryhole sex. This way a heterosexual male may receive a blowjob from another man without having to fully come to terms with the other man’s sex or complete body. One such heterosexual individual, who I will refer to as Paul, asked me, “is oral sex through a glory hole being homosexual?” Paul didn’t believe giving or receiving oral sex through a glory hole defined someone as gay. The problem with Paul’s statement is that it depends on the idea of “being homosexual.” Glory hole sex is not a matter of being anything, it is a process of becoming—a becoming-molecular to be specific. Deleuze and Guattari define “becoming” as a process that does not “imitate or identify with something or someone. Nor is it to proportion formal relations. Neither of these two figures of analogy is applicable to becoming: neither the imitation of a subject nor the proportionality of a form” (A Thousand Plateaus, 272). Glory hole sex does not subscribe to strict and stable anthropomorphic or molar representations of desire. Therefore, it does not possess the ability to imitate something that is absent and unnecessary. It is always in a process of becoming-molecular. Males who feel they assume the role of a female performing oral sex on a man resemble the becoming-woman, which due to its minoritarian function Deleuze and Guattari insist must come before all other becomings. Paul also said his reason for engaging in gloryhole sex was that “maybe it’s the yearning inside to be female for a short while or some such thing.” In their discussion of becoming-woman in A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari write, “What we term a molar entity is, for example, the woman as defined by her form, endowed with organs and functions and assigned as a subject. Becoming-woman is not imitating this entity or even transforming oneself into it” (275). Deleuze and Guattari resist the full and complete body of the female, which for the man in a process of becoming-woman is unachievable. However, this male can become-woman by “emitting particles that enter the relations of movement and rest, or the zone of proximity, of a microfemininity, in other words, that produce in [him] a molecular woman, create the molecular woman” (275). This man who yearns to be female for a short time is entering a molecular process that mixes the discernible points between male and female and allows him to produce a becoming-woman, but without the molar identity of “woman” being a part of this process. This is not imitation—the man is not imitating a woman, but is rather becoming within a “zone of proximity” that allows him to traverse molar categories and molecularly negotiate identities.

[38] Paul is also maneuvering his homosexuality between visibility and invisibility. Guy Hocquenghem argues for this kind of movement in his 1987 article “On Homo-Sex , or is Homosexuality a Curable Vice?.” Paul may not be “out” during his everyday life, but while in the adult video and bookstore, he is “out.” Paul is manifesting Hocquenghem’s words when the author writes that “[h]omosexuality is nourished not by existing—through open and unrestrained confession—but also by not being, that is by appearing (and disappearing only to reappear). Homosexuality is baroque, dramatic, it is an ‘effect’, not a principle” (71). In a Deleuzoguattarian move, Hocquenghem endows homosexuality with a nomadism that resists being. Paul moves between the world of a confessing homosexuality, to a world in which he momentarily occupies the role of a heterosexual, or perhaps more accurately a quiet homosexual. Homosexuality for Paul is not a “principle” but is an identity that appears and disappears. Hocquenghem argues for a more imperceptible homosexuality so that it may simply “express a certain ‘attitude towards life’ rather than an ‘identity’” (71). Following Hocquenghem, Paul is exercising less an identity than an attitude while visiting the glory holes.

[39] Through its anonymity, glory hole sex complicates thinking of identity as some collective and organized body. Instead glory hole sex is about the organ itself and not what is attached to it. It could be argued that by situating all of sexuality within the male penis reinforces not only a super-masculinity, but further emphasizes that there is a very obvious male behind the wall. Such an argument would allow the penis to retain its symbolic status as the all mighty phallus—the representative of male sexual power. However, in working away from the tyranny of molar aggregates and seeking to conceptualize sex at the molecular level, we must avoid distinct categories of “male” and “female” that reductively impose an anthropomorphic representation of sexuality and trap desire within a molar organization of representation. Essentially, what organized bodies are most effective at is providing a physical incarnation of desire. Human bodies impose a human-sex when in fact, prior to this anthropomorphic representation of sex, there is always already the nonhuman sex. Deleuze and Guattari write, “Desiring-machines are nonhuman sex, the molecular machinic elements, their arrangements and their syntheses, without which there would be neither a human sex specifically determined in the large aggregates, nor a human sexuality capable of investing these aggregates” (Anti-Oedipus, 294). Prior to the formation of a subject, these desiring-machines are without an anthropomorphic representation of sex. And on the molecular level we cannot speak specifically of male/female, heterosexual/homosexual, because it is desiring-production that produces such identities. Perhaps, it is Félix Guattari alone who expresses this best when he writes, “Desire is constituted before the crystallization of the body and the organs, before the division of the sexes, before the separation between the familiarized self and the social field. It [desire] is not sexual, it is transsexual” (italics are Guattari’s, “Cinema of Desire,” 153).

[40] Foucauldian and Deleuzian queer theorists often speak of “degenitalizing sex,” but is it possible to degenitalize the genitals? I don’t think we can ignore that something happens to the penis once it is separated from the body, even if this is achieved by putting it through a hole in the wall and not through physical suppression or removal in a Flanagan-esque sense. Such a question destablizes the relationship between the penis and the body. Is it the body that defines the penis as male, or is it the penis that defines the body as male? Following Judith Butler’s work on the lesbian phallus in Bodies that Matter, it is unwise to regard the phallus as a purely masculine signifier. However, we aren’t talking about symbolism here. We are talking about a penis, something that is and should be regarded separately from the symbolic function of the phallus. I am arguing that once the penis is separate from the body, this separation undermines the function of the penis as representative of sex or gender. Like the mutually independent binaries that haunt language (good/bad, light/dark) penis/body depend on their respective meanings to give the other term meaning. Here it is important to recall the Body without Organs of A Thousand Plateaus. Organs no longer function according to a transcendent traffic cop, but rather, as Abou-Rihan writes, “Mouth, skin, anus, vagina, nose, and nipple no longer obey the one-dimensional and inefficient hierarchy of the organism” (503). For the Bodies without Organs of glory hole sex, this transcendent traffic cop is the Platonic idealism of the male body.

[41] One can even draw a parallel between glory hole sex and both Žižek’s and Abou-Rihan’s discussions of fist-fucking. Abou-Rihan shows that during a fisting scene, “the gender of the person one is having sex with, one is fisting or is being fisted by, is not necessarily the most central and defining component of the scene. Sometimes even the gender of the person in question is altogether irrelevant for that scene and its pleasures” (506). Like the asshole, the mouth is inherently non-gendered. But the penis is what changes due to its lack of a body, or in other words, its reconfiguration of its host into a BwO. A key difference between fisting and glory hole sex is that glory hole sex is orgasmically fixated. It is the lack of an orgasmic fixation that makes fist-fucking such a radical and “perverse” sexual practice. However, like fist-fucking glory hole sex cannot be necessarily genitally centered because the lack of bodies undermines the penis’ role as a purely genital organ. Without a molar host, the penis is simply an organ that is becoming-molecular, becoming-facial, and is ultimately redefined by the wall that castrates it from its host.

[42] In Brian Massumi’s commentary on Abou-Rihan’s essay, he points out that his essay is not meant to “deny gender or sexual orientation.” Instead, Massumi argues that Abou-Rihan’s discussion of fist-fucking as a sexual practice that underplays gender and orientation is meant to “supplement it [gender and orientation] with a co-functioning escape from it, in a way that reproblematizes it, forces it to be addressed anew. Is a lesbian still a lesbian if she fists with men?” (v) Likewise we can ask, just as the glory hole enthusiast asked me above, is a straight man who has sex with another man through a glory hole gay? The fact that there is even a slight amount of ambiguity suggests that glory hole sex, like fisting, problematizes and further complicates concepts of sexual orientation.

[43] Video arcades with glory holes in the backrooms of adult bookstores are unbelievably queer. Glory holes allow users to shed their skin, dis-organ-ize their bodies and function on a molecular level outside social and institutional categories of sexuality. Video arcades with glory holes provide an opportunity to witness the very queer ideas of Deleuze and Guattari, particularly their notion of molecular desire, the BwO, and becoming-woman. I would now like to look more closely at how this desire is specifically machinic, how the organs function as partial objects, how a penis is facialized, and in what ways desiring-production operates in the sleazy, dim, and stuffy backrooms of adult bookstores.

III: Desiring-Production – Faciality – Community
Glory Hole Production meets Desiring-Production: The Dawn of the Individuated Sucking Machine
“I feel that cocks are pure sex.” – a glory hole user.
[44] The law of the production of production, according to Deleuze and Guattari, is that “every machine functions as a break in the flow in relation to the machine to which it is connected, but at the same time is also a flow itself, or the production of a flow, in relation to the machine connected to it” (Anti-Oedipus, 36). Glory hole sex is machinic sex because it is composed of partial objects cutting and producing flows. The mouth-machine connects to the penis-machine and cuts the flow of pre-cum and sperm. “Every machine, in the first place, is related to a continual material flow that it cuts into” for example, “the penis that interrupts not only the flow of urine but also the flow of sperm” (36). Again, an individual I interviewed remarked how, “It’s the cock that is such a turn on and how it gets when stimulated and how it shoots cum, not the man.” For most glory hole users there is a consistent fascination with the organ as opposed to the full body of the individual or even that individual’s sex. It is the way a penis cums—how it produces a flow. The individuals who defined themselves as “givers” (the one who sucks the penis) all enjoyed and desired the “taste, smell, and feel, of an aroused man’s cock.” This is why many glory hole givers prefer not to use a condom. They want to swallow the other man’s cum. One individual told me if the other person he was performing oral sex on required a condom, he would ask for the condom when they were finished so he could drink the other man’s cum. For this individual, a flow of sperm must be achieved and taken in and cut off by the other person in order for the glory hole sex act to be complete.

[45] The machinic qualities of glory hole sex require the partial objects composing the machine to be, “in a state of dispersion such that one part is continually referring to a part from an entirely different machine” (Anti-Oedipus, 323). The penis operates in conjunction with the mouth that cuts the flow of sperm. Neither machine is completely independent but rather works together in a joint state of desiring-production—a mouth-penis producing a nonhuman desire. This conjunction further resists the idea the penis is wholly emblematic of the male body. Reducing the male penis to a single signifier of maleness undermines its machinic potential and disrupts the multiple elements of glory hole sex: anonymity, molecularity, nonhuman sex, and sensations of castration. It also negates the role of the mouth machine in establishing a connective synthesis. Glory hole sex functions at the level of connection and synthesis between two machines. The penis becomes a mouth and the mouth becomes a penis. We can more clearly regard this machinic operation of becoming following the description Deleuze and Guattari provide in A Thousand Plateaus. Using an example of an orchid and a wasp, the authors write, “The line, or the block [of becoming], does not link the wasp to the orchid, any more than it conjugates or mixes them: it passes between them, carrying them away in a shared proximity in which the discernibility of points disappears” (293-4). During oral sex through the glory hole, an elaborate sucking machine is generated. The connection between the mouth and the penis initiates the flow of sperm. The machinic qualities of these partial objects are made all the more great by the wall separating them. This wall reduces the organs (mouth and penis) to partial objects producing a flow of desire. In a mutual state of becoming, the distinction between the two partial objects disappears and becomes indiscernible. It no longer remains clear if it is the penis or mouth that sucks. Each engages in a joint deterritorialization of the penis for the mouth and the mouth for the penis. Most importantly, this deterritorialization and becoming is occurring completely outside representations of molar bodies.

[46] So, how does a penis become a mouth? In A Thousand Plateaus Deleuze and Guattari refer to that deterritorialization where the face “touches all other parts of the body” as “facialization” (170). The authors imagine the face as a white screen with two black holes. They refer to this “abstract machine of faciality” as a “surface-holes, holey surface, system” (170). The screen represents signification whereupon the signifier is written. The black holes are what “subjectification needs in order to break through” this screen (168). The face is a liminal phenomenon between signification and subjectification. This “abstract machine” has the ability to overcode other holey parts of the body. If we agree that the penis is an isolated organ—a partial object that is strangely absent from its body—then the penis is unable to be coded by the body of which it is (not) part. This liminal state engenders facialization so that the penis, which has its own hole, is overcoded by the face. The authors write, “[t]he entire body also can be facialized…When the mouth and nose, but first the eyes, become a holey surface, all the other volumes and cavities of the body follow…Hand, breast, stomach, penis and vagina, thigh, leg and foot, all come to be facialized” (170). Žižek argues that fist-fucking is “the sexual invention of the twentieth century…[italics are Žižek’s].” He explains that fist-fucking “is no longer genitalized, but focused just on the penetration of the surface, with the role of the phallus being taken over by the hand, the autonomized partial object par excellence” (293). Similar to the way the hand becomes the phallus, so does the penis initiate a facialization. It is no coincidence that the process of facialization mimics that of becoming. This is because facialization is a becoming. But these similarities also exist because both facialization and becoming require deterritorializations. Therefore, the indiscernibility of the mouth and the penis is directly caused by a shared deterritorialization that facializes the penis and constitutes the individuated sucking machine.

[47] For the individual who is giving a blowjob the experience of swallowing cum and having skin-to-skin contact with the penis is crucial. As mentioned above, this explains why many of the men I spoke with were reluctant to use condoms during oral sex. “I love the feeling of a guy cumming in me,” says one of my interviewees. A condom interrupts the flow and obstructs the machinic connection between the mouth and penis; as a result the partial objects maintain their differentiation rather than become-indiscernible. However, the condom may also provide a “strange excitement in covering up only that one part of [the] body.” As another user says, “[the condom] seemed to draw even more attention to it [penis] so that I was extra aware of it at all times” (Bapst 99). While the condom may obstruct the machinic connection by stopping the flow and exchange of sperm, it can also further increase the experience of having the penis separate from the rest of the body. (vi)

[48] The machinic quality of glory hole sex involves a mutual becoming of partial objects that function outside their respective bodies. The wall initiates this connection and establishes the individuated sucking machine of the mouth-penis through facialization, becomings, and deterritorializations. At the point of indiscernibility, categories of sexuality are helpless in trapping desire within their despotic territories. These categories eventually implode through pre-cum and the sucking sounds signifying the individuated sucking machine.

The Molecular Revolution Begins With a Hole in the Wall
[49] In order to facilitate locating places with glory holes, enthusiasts have created elaborate online cruising guides, chat groups, forums, and websites, dedicated to archiving information on establishments with glory holes all over the world. These places may be rated using a star system and have message boards for user comments. One can now simply sign-up for free on these websites and discover the places in their neighborhood that are “cruisy” or have glory holes. While the atmosphere in the arcades themselves may not be conducive to a social gathering, there is a great deal of communication and interaction occurring online through these sites. On the internet there exists a tight-knit community bound closely together by their sexual and personal lives, by their fantasies, and by the marginal and deviant nature of glory hole sex.

[50] “[I]f any boys wanna suck some cock or jerk off together this Wednesday (11/10) around noon i’ll be there.” (vii) Forums propagate messages such as this one where individuals can be forthright and specific about their sexual desires. This particular person is referencing the bathroom at my university, which has become a heavily cruised area. Messages also appear on the bathroom stall walls. During the summer I witnessed messages in this bathroom detailing specific times and days when individuals, or perhaps the same person, would be in the stall ready to give anyone a blowjob. I watched as the times were updated each day. I imagined this person sitting on the toilet waiting for someone to enter the stall next door. While I assume he enjoyed performing oral sex on men, I couldn’t help thinking how this activity could be read as a selfless act, even if he masturbated during the activity. Certainly he could be fondled by the other man while giving him a blowjob, but if he was only giving a blowjob then what are we to make of someone who simply waits to give blowjobs all afternoon? (viii) An anonymous correspondent of mine familiar with queer theory and adult bookstore arcades suggests that, “anonymous sex among men helps create a sort of sexual ethos centered on the selfless giving of sexual pleasure” (email correspondence 9/3/04). We both agreed this type of behavior represents the “genesis of a new queer community.” Aside from the recent capitalist boom of female glory hole paysites on the internet, glory hole sex is and always has been a predominately selfless sexual act. A number of the individuals I spoke with admitted to being switchers—meaning they received and gave blowjobs. A typical glory hole session may include one partner sucking the other’s penis through the hole. Prior to orgasm, the partners would stop and switch in order to prolong a mutually orgasmic session. However, many also admitted that they preferred to give blowjobs rather than receive them. For some of the individuals I spoke with, the pleasure they received from giving blowjobs was from the feeling of being used, or as one person put it, giving blowjobs through a glory hole is a “thrill” because, “all I am to the guy on the other side of the hole is a hole to dump his load of cum in. Nothing more!” While their pleasure may be read as masochistic, they are also providing a form of sexual activity that may be understood as selfless, due to the lack of a relationship with the person behind the wall and that person’s complete anonymity. What matters most, it seems, is the selfless giving of pleasure.

[51] Despite the anonymity and impersonal nature of glory hole sex, a prosperous online community has developed around its practice. While many of the individuals preferred to have no contact whatsoever during the act, they may address the individual from inside an online forum. “I just got the best BJ ever at the whitecenter hole. Whoever you are thank you.” (forum post 8/11/04). (ix) The online forums, like the glory holes, provide anonymity but also allow for a positive sexual community fostered by the participant’s pleasures and desires. These participants can freely communicate openly and still retain their anonymity. The anonymity of glory hole sex is a tremendous turn on for these individuals, yet this does not completely disable the sense of partnership one finds in more common sexual practices. However, it is a partnership that exists within the virtual world of the Internet.

[52] Michael Warner characterizes the act of cruising and having sex with strangers as a way of “belonging to a sexual world, in which one’s sexuality finds an answering resonance not just in one other, but in a world of others” (The Trouble with Normal, 179). In what is an unabashedly utopian reading of cruising culture, Warner downplays the importance of anonymity as a fetish, but nonetheless argues that strangers may benefit each other’s sexual livelihoods. Warner writes, “When gay men or lesbians cruise, when they develop a love of strangers, they directly eroticize participation in the public world of their privacy. Contrary to myth, what one relishes in loving strangers is not mere anonymity, nor meaningless release” (179). I would agree with Warner that participants in glory hole sex are in fact experiencing something quite meaningful, even if it is a mechanic connection between body parts, because it is this connection that is manifesting a world where identities and bodies matter less than sexual connection. However, as I have hoped to have shown, it is the anonymity that is crucial to the experience of glory hole sex. I also agree with Warner when he writes, “Strangers have an ability to represent a world of others that one sustained intimacy cannot” (179). It is arguments such as this that reflect the burgeoning glory hole community on the Internet that exists despite the anonymity of the arcade booths. I would like to further suggest that this is not a matter of quantity, that many persons are simply better than one. It is the existence of a world of others that allows one to experience sexuality as machinic. In such a world, parts are constantly moving, connecting, establishing lines of flight that traverse the video arcades. In a video arcade of many strangers one can experience the multiplicity of parts, machines, and connections. Multiple parts that connect, produce a flow, stop, and seek out other machines to which they connect. Such a diverse and rich world of connections and flows cannot occur with only one other person, at least not on such a staggering level. I’ve had men tell me that they have sucked up to six cocks in one evening. Such selfless givers of oral pleasure are perhaps a prime example of a Deleuzoguattarian desiring-machine.

[53] Glory hole sex also negates fears of rejection. If a man is self-conscious about his appearance the factor of looks is not typically a major determinant in making sexual contact with another person. While it is true people size each other up outside the booths and some wait to see who goes in a certain booth, most individuals are able to experience sex without fear of being rejected due to their age, size, and overall appearance. “The other guy can be less attractive, but if he’s got a hardon, that’s okay. Mostly, though, for me it is an environment where other guys can feel free to approach me without fear of rejection.” Many of the men I spoke with admitted to getting off on the idea of not knowing who the other person was, if they were old or fat. For another individual, glory hole sex was a turn-on because; “I usually don’t have any idea what the guy on the other side of the hole looks like. Not knowing, until his cock comes through the hole, whether he’s white, black, Hispanic, etc., and not really caring, once that cock comes through.” For this person the cock is privileged over the person it is attached to. Despite these instances of purely non-discriminative sex, the arcades are not completely devoid of judgmental and picky cruisers. Older men who are bald and fat are referred to as “trolls” and are typically avoided by the younger cruisers. Nonetheless, the fact that a large amount of sex still regularly occurs without such discrimination of available partners is what further separates glory hole sex from other normative forms of sexual activity that require a frustrating amount of socially appropriate and courtship maneuvers that ultimately have little to do with desire and pleasure.

[54] This general lack of discrimination at glory holes in adult video and bookstores is also what separates such a space from other queer spaces. More open areas such as gay bars and bathhouses tend to create a similar environment that one may find in a non-gay bar. Such an environment emphasizes looks and age as a requirement for sex far more than the anonymous glory hole. All the ads in the local Portland newspapers that advertise the local bathhouses use exceptionally handsome young men as their poster boys. More importantly, such places especially bathhouses, require a substantial entrance fee and sometimes a year-long subscription. In a chapter from their book, The Sexual Citizen, entitled “Sexual Democracy and Urban Life” authors David Bell and Jon Binnie show that gays and lesbians that lack financial resources are unable to participate in the urban queer arena and therefore avoid the heterosexism and homophobia that exists at the margins of queerdom. “Poverty means that spatial solutions to resolving the conflicts associated with a queer identity and the particular localized experience of homophobia in places (solutions such as permanent or temporary migration, or holidays to ‘gay resorts’ and global gay cities) are denied because poverty puts a brake on mobility” (Bell and Binnie, 85). The authors also cite gay writer Alan Bérubé who claims he felt the gay urban community, “reproduced class hierarchies” (85). Indeed, queers that have little financial resources, looks, or transportation, are unable to participate in the queer urban community. However, adult video and bookstores do not require an entrance fee. (x) Most stores are also centered in the middle of the city or are widely spread out making access to them much easier. The only financial burden associated with glory hole sex is feeding a dollar bill into the arcade every five minutes or so. Therefore, if one is cruising at a busy store where there are many other patrons looking for glory hole sex, one could easily participate with as little as three dollars, or even less. In terms of class, adult video and bookstores cater to a wide range of individuals. It was a common sight to see white-collar businessmen cruising next to blue-collar workers. Likewise, the racial distribution was fairly diverse with perhaps a larger quantity of Hispanics than Asians and African-Americans. Adult video and bookstores offer a solution to the poor and/or working class queers who desire sex but cannot afford the queer urban lifestyle.

[55] The glory hole community exists at the margins of normative sexuality and embodies “socially inappropriate” behaviors that clearly fall at the “outer limits” of Gayle Rubin’s charmed circle of sexual activities. In her influential essay “Thinking Sex,” Rubin’s circular diagram illustrates the differences between each sexual practice and how these differences award such practices the status of either “virtue” or “vice” (109-10). Following Rubin’s analyses of the ways religion, psychology, and popular culture respond to “deviant” sex acts, glory hole practitioners could be pathologized as self-destructive and accused of being unable to achieve intimacy. Further, glory hole sex is non-reproductive, takes place in public, and does not require intimacy and is therefore inherently deviant and sinful from the perspective of popular culture and religion. However, it is due to the “outer-limits” status of glory hole sex and the fact that it exists primarily as a virtual rhizomatic community online that there is tremendous potential for revolution and more specifically molecular revolution. Anti-Oedipus chronicles, among other things, the ways in which desire is turned against itself; how groups believing themselves to be functioning revolutionarily actually remain oppressed by the very forces they fight against. Deleuze and Guattari label such a group a “subjugated group,” which “bears upon the molar structures that subordinate the molecules” and “socially and psychically represses the desire of persons” (Anti-Oedipus, 280). In the subjugated group desire is repressed through molar identity. In contrast to this group, the “subject-group” has an “investment in the transverse multiplicities that convey desire as a molecular phenomenon, that is, as partial objects and flows, as opposed to aggregates and persons” (280). Therefore, the subject-group works outside the molar aggregate and is concerned with molecularity, partial objects, and what Félix Guattari calls, “soft subversions.” We can think of the subject-group as that group without an anthropomorphic representation of desire—a group not formed by organ-ization and molar aggregates. Whatever political and revolutionary power the glory hole community has, it is a direct result of the ways in which the community opposes strict categories of sex and gender and participates together in a sexual act that engenders a molecular and machinic process of desire and resists normative and majoritarian forms of courtship and relationships typically required prior to sexual contact. Further, this community remains unseen and outside the majority and exists as a rhizomatic virtual community without hierarchal levels and representatives. As a result of their virtuality, their revolutionary power is not configured in the form of a figurehead, nor is it necessarily organized under a physical group representation or body; glory hole communities instead function as a virtual and minor body.

[56] There is no strictly homosexual revolution here. Likewise, there can be no heterosexual revolution either. When groups identify and participate in socially and institutionally constructed categories, they remain in “subordination to a socius” that will absorb whatever revolutionary potential the group has (Anti-Oedipus, 348). Such a group is duped into believing it is revolutionary when in fact it “remains at the preconscious level…even in seizing power, as long as this power itself refers to a form of force that continues to enslave and crush desiring-production” (348). Glory hole communities are not such a group. The binarized difference between gay and straight established during collective homosexual representation and demonstration traps desire between two categorized poles, crushing its productive and revolutionary potential. As Deleuze and Guattari argue, “[N]o ‘gay liberation movement’ is possible as long as homosexuality is caught up in a relation of exclusive disjunction with heterosexuality, a relation…charged with ensuring only their differentiation in two noncommunicating series” (Anti-Oedipus, 350). Due to homosexuality still existing at the margins of society, it is inevitably defined in relation to majoritized heterosexuality; it remains subordinated to the socius and to the despotic binary that crushes desire. In Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari call for the destruction of categories and binaries whose definitions only function in relation to an other. The communities surrounding glory hole sex deconstruct this other and operate outside binary structures. The glory hole community is therefore the subject-group whose “libidinal investments are themselves revolutionary; it causes desire to penetrate into the social field, and subordinates the socius or the form of power to desiring production…they mobilize desire, and always cut its flows again further on, overcoming the limit, bringing the social machines back to the elementary forces of desire that form them” (Anti-Oedipus, 348-49). Glory hole sex, by way of its focus on molecular sexualities and desire, implodes binarized categories by reducing the “social machines” of such categories to the molecular desiring-machines operating and producing beneath them.

[57] In order for sex and desire to be truly revolutionary both must function at a molecular level and enter the socius molecularly in order to instigate revolution. Ultimately, if we conceptualize desire as production and monitor the partial-objects prior to their molar aggregation and anthropomorphism, we must do away with the despotic heterosexual/homosexual binary the subjugated group naïvely reinscribes. While this requires a disavowal of homosexual identity, it nonetheless affirms the revolutionary potential of a molecular sexuality that is necessarily queer. Deleuze and Guattari represent a threat to homosexual agency because their concept of desire resists categories that would otherwise provide sexual groups with self-determination. However, it is this same threat that makes Deleuze and Guattari so extraordinarily relevant to queer studies, which likewise seeks to destabilize categories. This shift from molar to molecular desire is part of the revolutionary potential of Deleuzoguattarian philosophy. It is not as anarchic or irresponsible as some critics, such as Tim Dean, may imagine. If we follow Deleuze and Guattari the world will not be set on fire with uncontrollable orgies such as those seen at the conclusion of David Cronenberg’s 1975 film Shivers. Deleuzoguattarian philosophy is responsible. It is a responsibility that, following Foucault’s emphasis in his introduction to Anti-Oedipus, challenges the individual to lead a “non-fascist life” (xiii).

[58] When Deleuze and Guattari in Anti-Oedipus write about the narrator in Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, their descriptions closely resemble the environment and activity at the glory hole arcades in adult bookstores:

He goes toward these new regions where the connections are always partial and nonpersonal, the conjunctions nomadic and polyvocal, the disjunctions included, where homosexuality and heterosexuality cannot be distinguished any longer: the world of transverse communications, where the finally conquered nonhuman sex mingles with the flowers, a new earth where desire functions according to its molecular elements and flows. (319)
By the description above, the narrator here could just as easily be entering the backroom of Mr. Peeps Adult Bookstore in Portland, Oregon. There is a lot more going on in the back of adult bookstores than people may at first think, most of all the people who participate. Perhaps this is the most revolutionary aspect of glory hole sex. The people who participate in glory hole sex probably don’t intellectualize it. They aren’t revolting against anything. For them, it’s a thrill—a chance to become something other. They can for a moment shuffle off the motions required for sexual connection outside the world of the arcade and still get off. They may selflessly reciprocate—even if it is a man, because in the arcade booths, the distinction between man and woman, homosexual and heterosexual, are insignificant when it comes to “pure sex.” For Félix Guattari, such moments are “soft subversions” and “imperceptible revolutions.” Glory hole sex is revolution on a smaller scale that is all the more effective because it isn’t completely noticed by the majority. It is radically silent. The revolution functions outside a conscious organization concerned with queer politics: these people just want to get off. Without being conscious of their little desiring-machines, glory hole users are participating in a revolution; a molecular revolution spread out across the thousands of adult bookstores in the country, a “new earth.”

(i) In order to build morale in defeating the dolphins that have taken over Springfield, Homer says, “Wait! Stop! We can outsmart those dolphins. Don’t forget: we invented computers, leg warmers, bendy straws, peel ‘n’ eat shrimp, the glory hole, and the pudding cup! I’m not gonna let a few hoop-jumping, tuna-munchers push me around!” (Episode BABF21, original airdate: 11/01/00).
(ii) I Think I’ll Drive The Kids Up To The State Park To See This ‘Glory Hole. issue 3944; November 12, 2003.
(iii) In his influential book Homosexual Desire Guy Hocquenghem also speaks of the “dehumanisation” of desire. It is difficult to locate where this idea originated since both Anti-Oedipus and Homosexual Desire were published in France in 1972.
(iv) Of course some men do like to know who they are having oral sex with and will wait outside a booth until they see someone they find attractive go into an adjacent booth. And, as briefly discussed earlier, at one particular adult store patrons may view the parking lot through a monitored channel on the arcade to see who is arriving at the store. Nonetheless, this discriminating mode of cruising isn’t generally true of most people who participate in glory hole sex. As I discuss in greater depth, it is the anonymity that is a key attraction to glory hole sex. Most people who engage in glory hole sex prefer not to know who they are involved with. Those that do wish to know, typically use the glory hole for a sexual prelude to meeting up together in a single booth, someone’s house, or motel room. Therefore, I would argue that such instances where the full body is important are not as significant as purely anonymous encounters with organs.
(v) Available online at:
(vi) Of course those individuals who refuse to use condoms are risking HIV and other STD infection. Therefore, I want to emphasize that despite the obstruction of machinic flows during glory hole sex, condom use remains crucial if we value the health and survival of the queer community.
(vii) Accessed at, posted by user on 11/08/04, 1:15am.
(viii) Although the glory hole in the bathroom I am referring to is closed up, it is not uncommon to invite the person into the other stall, or simply kneel and maneuver your penis under the stall wall. While this activity may be slightly different from glory hole sex as I have described it, the process of performing selfless sexual acts remains consistent.
(ix) Accessed at, posted by user on 8/11/04, 1:49pm. “White Center” is referring to the name of the area where this particular glory hole may be found. This group is no longer available.
(x) Of course, I cannot speak for every adult video and bookstore in the nation, but for the many stores in Portland none require an entrance fee.

Works Cited
Abou-Rihan, Fadi. “Queer Sites: Tools, Terrains, Theories.” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature 24.3 (1997): 501-508.
Bapst, Don. “Glory Holes and the Men Who Use Them.” Journal of Homosexuality 41.1 (2001): 89-102.
Bell, David and Jon Binnie. The Sexual Citizen. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2000.
Dean, Tim. Beyond Sexuality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996.
_ _ _. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism & Schizophrenia. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996.
Foucault, Michel. “Sade: Sergeant of Sex.” Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology. Ed. James D. Faubion. New York: The New Press, 1998.
Guattari, Félix. “Cinema of Desire.” In Soft Subversions. Trans. David L. Sweet. Ed. Sylvère Lotringer. New York: Semiotext(e), 1996.
_ _ _. “Three Billion Perverts on the Stand.” In The Guattari Reader. Trans.Sophie Thomas. Ed. Gary Genosko. Cambridge: Blackwell Publishers Inc., 1996. 185-192.
_ _ _. “The Liberation of Desire.” In The Guattari Reader. Trans. Sophie Thomas. Ed. Gary Genosko. Cambridge: Blackwell Publishers Inc, 1996. 204-214.
Hocquenghem, Guy. “On Homo-Sex, or is Homosexuality a Curable Vice?.” new formations 39 (Winter 1999-2000): 70-74.
Juno, Andrea & V. Vale. eds. Bob Flanagan: Supermasochist. New York: RE/Search Publications, Inc., 1993.
Massumi, Brian. A User’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1992.
_ _ _. “Involutionary Afterword.” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature 24.3 (1997): available online at:
Rubin, Gayle. “Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality.” Social Perspectives in Lesbian and Gay Studies. Eds. Peter M. Nardi and Beth E. Schneider. New York: Routledge, 1998. 100-133.
Warner, Michael. The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life. New York: The Free Press, 1999.
_ _ _ and Lauren Berlant. “Sex in Public.” In Publics and Counterpublics. New York: Zone Books, 2002. 187-208.
Žižek, Slavoj. “The Ongoing ‘Soft Revolution’.” Critical Inquiry 30.2 (2004): 292-323.

Despite what I argue in my paper, representations of glory holes in pornography strictly adhere to specific sexual categories. My analysis is concerned more with the experience of glory hole sex. Once glory hole sex becomes an image and it is clear what sex the participants are, it loses its revolutionary potential and becomes another heterosexualized pornographic representation. There exists homosexual glory hole pornography, but these representations suffer the same loss of revolutionary potential as heterosexual glory hole pornography. Nonetheless, I’ve included a number of internet links to sites with images, stories, and locations of glory holes. Readers can now see what glory holes look like “in action” and can witness just how large this phenomenon really is.

Cruising and Glory Hole Directories:

A popular glory hole FAQ:

Glory hole etiquette:

Glory Hole Porn Websites:
www.glory (heterosexual) (heterosexual)
www.glory (heterosexual)
www.glory (heterosexual)
www.Glory (heterosexual)
www.raveglory (heterosexual) (homosexual) (homosexual)

Portland, Oregon Glory Hole Scene:
glory (heterosexual)

Pink Vectors of Deleuze: Queer Theory and Inhumanism
Jeffrey J. Cohen and Todd R. Ramlow

I owe you lot nothing, nothing more than you owe me. I don't need to join you in your ghettoes, because I've got my own ... We have to counter people who think 'I'm this, I'm that' ... by thinking in strange, fluid, unusual terms: I don't know what I am ... no gay can ever definitively say 'I'm gay.' It's not a question of being this or that sort of human, but of becoming inhuman.(1)

[1] The evidence for the queerness of Gilles Deleuze is scant. He collaborated passionately with Félix Guattari, radical psychoanalyst and activist for the rights of gays and lesbians. He shared his work and interpenetrated ideas with Michel Foucault, the founding figure of contemporary queer theory. Yet the philosopher spent his life happily married to his wife, Fanny. They raised two children in what looks to us like the predictable structure of a bourgeois family. He was not even an especially spiffy dresser.

[2] Yet we find in Gilles Deleuze’s work a provocative reconceptualization of subjecthood and desire, a becoming-queer lucidly evident when he refused the lonely authority of a single voice and hybridized with Guattari and Claire Parnet through writing. This essay explores the trajectories of the queer-in-motion of queer studies and of Deleuze. His greatest challenge to queer theory is something that seems almost recidivist in his work: his animism, his belief that the entire world constitutes a non-anthropomorphic, infinitely connective machinery of desire. There is a capaciousness to Deleuze and Guattari’s exuberant conception of sexuality, a boundary-breaking that cannot be reduced to the merely human frame within which queer theory has sometimes allowed its ambit to be circumscribed. (2) We will therefore speak of Deleuze’s inhumanism. Throughout his philosophical opus assemblages proliferate by means of which the human disaggregates, scattered across a molecular field of animals, objects, intensities in ceaseless movement. Even in his death, we find, Deleuze refused the weary categories of the merely human and sought some path that might lead away from the sedimentation(s) of decline, sickness, redemption. As the philosopher of middles Deleuze rejected determinative endings, especially when they were used to fix in place and thereby devalue what had been a vagrant and affirmative life.

[3] Like one of his favorite classical philosophers, Lucretius, Deleuze discerned in the cosmos movements of desire that intermingle our bodies, our intensities, our particles with the tropisms of the vegetal world, the ardor of stars, the passions of animals, a grand and molecular vitalism. At the farthest side of this process of radical dispersion might lurk death: in Lucretius’s case, a ghastly demise borne of plague. To invoke mortality in a discussion of the queer is, we realize, to risk the pernicious linking of the queer to the fatal. (3) This heteronormative conjoining of queer sexuality to morbidity (especially post-AIDS) conceptualizes death as an individualized, judicial event. The queer trajectories we’ll follow dismantle the notion of identity that buttresses such a conception, and will (in those famous words of Antonin Artaud that Deleuze loved so much) “have done with the judgment of God,” (4) will attempt not to reinscribe mortality back into some reductive system of justice or tragedy. Deleuzian inhumanism opens up the queer to spaces that suddenly cease to stand as final resting places filled only by silence.

Pink Paint

The Pink Panther imitates nothing, it reproduces nothing, it paints the world its color, pink on pink; this is its becoming-world, carried out in such a way that it becomes imperceptible itself, asignifying, makes its rupture, its own line of flight. (ATP 11)
[4] The becoming-world of the Pink Panther might also be understood, in an appropriately deleuzian manner, as the becoming-world of the queer, the becoming-pink of the Panthers and the becoming-panther of the “pinks.” Not the Pink Panther originally cited by Deleuze and Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus, the Blake Edwards-spawned series of fumbling detective movies starring Peter Sellers, bookended by the animated antics of a queer cat. Rather, the Pink Panthers as imagined and produced by the unruly queers of the 1990s. Fed up with homophobic violence in New York and San Francisco, activists coming out of ACT-UP and Queer Nation organized neighborhood watch patrols in the pink ghettoes they'd fought so hard for in order to “take back the streets.” The Pink Panthers spread rhizomatically to other metropolitan centers. Multiple becomings, multiple queerings. The Pink Panthers “imitated” nothing, “reproduced” nothing, although the groups did assemble and deploy tactics and identity particles connecting to a variety of minoritarian and urban-based political projects.

[5] The Pink Panthers represent one instantiation of what Deleuze and Guattari call the war machine, an assemblage produced in/through/from multiple connections across “smooth space” and time. (5) The war machine proliferates speeds, affects and desiring relations/productions to constitute a line of flight away from the State Apparatus at the same time that it takes that apparatus as object of attack: “It is always the assemblage that constitutes the weapons system” (ATP 399). But the attack and the violence are always secondary. The war machine functions primarily by producing new relationships among bodies, objects and groups in excess of institutional authority or control. The Pink Panthers, as war-machine assembled out of and within multiple minoritarian social and political movements, created novel coalitions and affects across identitarian boundaries that could react, sometimes violently, to institutional violence against queers. The Guardian Angels. The Pink Panthers. The Black Panthers. Black Power. Brown Power. Pink Pride. “Black is Beautiful.” “Take Back the Night.” “Take Back the Streets.” “Out of the Closets and into the Streets.” Multiple becomings-minoritarian of queer politics. But for all the paramilitary connotations, including fabulous pink berets, we must not mistake the Pink Panther war machine as a simple extension of patriarchal militarism and the American military-industrial complex. As D&G point out, we must not conceive of this war machine within the logic of the State and institutional power, for “it seems to be irreducible to the State apparatus, to be outside its sovereignty and prior to its law: it comes from elsewhere” (ATP, 352). This pink war machine comes out of minoritarian politics, rhizomatics, assemblages, and becomings; otherwise it would be just another army.

[6] Perhaps we rove too far afield. It’s unavoidable for a pack of Pink Panthers. This restless roaming is, moreover, precisely one of the vectors of queer theory, as well as of D&G, whose vagrancy propelled their projects. The pack, the multiplicity (maybe even what Judith Butler has called “collective disidentifications” (6)), molecular identities and rhizomatic desires, the lines of flight away from, around and back into, through and in excess of molar, institutional, sedimented politics, desire and identity: these deleuzoguattarian formulations have been and continue to be some of the primary goals of queer theory. Queer theory has been invaluable to our engagements with Deleuze and Guattari, just as D&G have been integral to our own queer flights and queer theorizings, even when they might seem most absent from both. A return to some of the foundational texts of queer theory will show that, just as our return to D&G’s Pink Panther was conditioned by queer theory, queer theory is and always has been deleuzoguattarian. (7)

[7] Inextricable from politics and activism, early formulations of queer theory insisted that the definition and status of “queer” must never be finalized, circumscribed, or unitarily representative. (8) As a critical insight, methodological tool and style of being, queer calls attention to the domination of norms in order to undermine and open up. It does not seek to institute some new norm large enough to accommodate itself. (9) Judith Butler has remarked that “if the term ‘queer’ is to be a site of collective contestation, the point of departure for a set of historical reflections and futural imaginings, it will have to remain that which is, in the present, never fully owned, but always and only redeployed, twisted, queered from a prior usage and in the direction of urgent and expanding political purposes.” (10) Similarly, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick asserts that “queer is a continuing moment, movement, motive—recurrent, eddying, troublant . . . The immemorial current that queer represents is antiseparatist as it is antiassimilationist. Keenly, it is relational, and strange.” (11) And in his introduction to the anthology Fear of a Queer Planet, Michael Warner describes queer theory as “the project of elaborating, in ways that cannot be predicted in advance, this question: What do queers want?” (12) Not what are queers, or who is queer and under what conditions, but what do queers want, which is in no way necessarily stable or universal. This is why Warner keeps the question open, and asserts that the contingent answer to this can never “be predicted in advance.” This open-endedness is further propelled by Warner’s claim that “heteronormativity can be overcome only by actively imagining a necessarily and desirably queer world.” (13) That active imagination is, of course, ongoing and ever changing. It is, in deleuzoguattarian terms, a line of flight that marks a becoming-queer of the world and a becoming-world of the queer.

[8] These permutations of queer theory share at least an assertion of the non-teleological, non-unitary status of “queer,” and in doing so directly echo many of Deleuze and Guattari’s elaborations on “becoming.” Deployed against, through, outside of majoritarian, molar aggregates, becomings are minoritarian, micro-political projects. Aleatory and ever-changing, becomings are always in excess of the normativizing processes of the State Apparatus, heteronormative Family, dualist Philosophy, Oedipalized Sexuality. Becomings imagine and put into practice new ways of moving through the world, new alliances and connections across fields of difference. They proceed by production/generation rather than mimesis or assimilation: “A becoming is not a correspondence between relations. But neither is it a resemblance, an imitation, or, at the limit, an identification” (ATP 237). A becoming is infection, alliance, intermingling like with unlike and erupting along trajectories no map can draw in advance.

[9] If becomings are not mimetic or assimilational, neither are they the arboreal product of heteronormative descent. Rather than a (con)descension, they are a con-dissension. Becomings are productive and connective: “Finally, becoming is not an evolution, at least not an evolution by descent and filiation. Becoming produces nothing by filiation; all filiation is imaginary. Becoming is always of a different order than filiation. It concerns alliance” (ATP, 238). Or contagion. Institutions like marriage that render humans predictable create descent; alliance unites the wasp to the orchid in an orgy of desire that brings sexuality very far away from genitality. A man and a woman and a child might partake of evolution, genealogy, filiation; a man and a woman and whip and a bridle that compose a “circuit of intensities,” or a woman and a dog who share a love not framed by the supposed limitations of either species, embark upon a becoming. (14) Like the queer of queer theory, becomings are associational, never fully foreclosed and always on the move. Becomings have neither origin nor destination; like the queer, they are neither filial nor teleological. They do not confer identity—molar, sedimented, unitary—but produce an entity cobbled from disparate, provisionally allied parts, a relation of affects and speeds. Thus, becomings and their haecceities (thisnesses, herenesses, radical individuations) are always middles, never destinations. (15) This idea of middle without terminus also underwrites much that queer theory can attain, in theory and practice.

[10] One of the urgent needs of queer theory today, a need for which Deleuze and Guattari are indispensable, is to challenge the very norms and limits of the “human.” Especially in a cultural climate where categories like the severely disabled limn the boundaries of humanity, a category built upon normalizing and exclusion. Our becoming-queer, becoming-world and becoming-Pink Panther (among other becomings) precisely depends upon our becoming-inhuman.

Inhuman Butler

[11 In her recent book Undoing Gender, Judith Butler offers an extensive rearticulation of the limits of the human as currently constituted. (16) Her work ably demonstrates recent trends in queer theory to which Deleuze and Guattari are well suited. Even if, as she herself asserts, Butler is at best problematically deleuzian, she also admits that her work has been influenced by Deleuze. She writes that “every year [she] receive[s] several essays and comments from people who insist that [she is] Deleuzian” (UG 198). Butler’s reluctance to embrace the deleuzian descriptor comes from her anxiety that there is “no recognition of the negative in his work, and I feared that he was proposing a manic defense against negativity.” (17) Yet even here Butler is becoming deleuzoguattarian. Akin to her own notion of what we might call a potentially subversive disloyal repetition, becoming isn’t mimetic. (18) She is not “being,” or reproducing, or regurgitating Deleuze and Guattari, but allying with them with a difference. Deleuze and Guattari are part of Butler’s own queer assemblage, her war machine and line of flight. (19)

[12] In the first chapter of Undoing Gender, entitled “Beside Oneself: On the Limits of Sexual Autonomy,” Butler engages in an elaborate dis-and-re-articulation of the limits of human subjectivity, and how, why, and what determines the very status of “the human.” Butler begins with some brief excursus on the condition of subjectivity as intersubjective. She says, as the title of her chapter alludes, that to be a subject we are always already that subject for another, so that the very basis of subjectivity is that we are somehow always constituted as/by being “beside oneself": “In a sense, to be a body is to be given over to others even as a body is, emphatically, ‘one’s own,’ that over which we must claim rights of autonomy,” even if/as this autonomy if never finalized or monolithic. (20) The intersubjective status of subjectivity leads Butler into a number of observations and assertions that align rather neatly with D&G’s notions of becoming, of the pack and multiplicity.

[13] The intersubjective status of the body and subjectivity fundamentally challenges the unitary, transcendental signifier/subject of phallogocentrism, and demands a critical engagement with our being ourselves for others, our being “beside ourselves":

The particular sociality that belongs to bodily life, to sexual life, and to becoming gendered (which is always, to a certain extent, becoming gendered for others) establishes a field of ethical enmeshment with others and a sense of disorientation for the first-person, that is, the perspective of the ego. As bodies, we are always for something more than, and other than, ourselves. (UG, 25)
Throughout this chapter and throughout Undoing Gender more generally, Butler deploys the term “becoming” in ways that are directly resonant of D&G. Her “becoming gendered for others” suggests a process formed of alliances with and through others, a process not collapsible to either side of a self/other binary, a process always in motion, changing (performatively) in multiple contexts. More radically, the pack or multiplicity establishes the very ground of possibility for politics and agency: “Multiplicity is not the death of agency, but its very condition. We misconstrue where action comes from if we fail to understand how multiple forces interact and produce the very dynamism of life” (UG 194). For Deleuze and Guattari, of course, the pack/multiplicity is the very condition of minoritarian micro-politics and is propelled by multiple and simultaneous becomings.

[14] For Butler, multiple becomings for others provide a possible reorganization of the norms that sort and give order to “natural” life: “As a consequence of being in the mode of becoming, and in always living with the constitutive possibility of becoming otherwise, the body is that which can occupy the norm in myriad ways, exceed the norm, rework the norm, and expose realities to which we thought we were confined as open to transformation” (UG 217). Here again, as we can suddenly see retroactively in Gender Trouble and Bodies that Matter, Butler’s notion of becomings is tied to “citational” play that is neither a falsely conscious mimesis, nor secondary copy, but something else entirely, the difference that makes all the difference: “One surely cites norms that already exist, but these norms can be significantly deterritorialized through the citation” (UG 218). And earlier in Bodies That Matter: “[I]t seems to me that one writes into a field of writing that is invariably and promisingly larger and less masterable than the one over which one maintains a provisional authority, and that the unanticipated reappropriations of a given work in areas for which is was never consciously intended are some of the most useful” (19). It seems Butler has been deleuzoguattarian for much longer than we might have imagined. (21)

[15] Through these becomings for others and citational play Butler suggests that we might begin to dismantle the organizational binary human/non-human that currently oppresses those who find themselves on the wrong side of the viable and the valuable. Butler sets the stage for this possibility by recalling the poststructuralist principle of the (negatively) dialectical relationship between the norm and the deviant: “It is the inhuman, the beyond the human, the less than human, the border that secures the human in its ostensible reality” (UG 218). What Butler aims at is nothing short of the destruction of originary, disciplinary, violent, and continual reproductions of a limited—phallogocentric, heteronormative, able-bodied, dominantly raced—category called human: “We must learn to live and to embrace the destruction and rearticulation of the human in the name of a more capacious and, finally, less violent world, not knowing in advance what precise form our humanness does and will take” (UG 35). This, it seems to us, is precisely what Deleuze and Guattari have aimed at all along: not the death of the author, but the death of the human.

[16] These rearticulations often proceed by way of fantasy, of imagination and creativity put into practice, given material existence in and through our individual and multiple bodies. Fantasy, imagination, becomings all move “us beyond what is merely actual and present into a realm of possibility,” the multiple possible becomings of the war machine (UG 28):

These practices of instituting new modes of reality take place in part through the scene of embodiment, where the body is not understood as a static and accomplished fact, but as an aging process, a mode of becoming that, in becoming otherwise, exceeds the norm, reworks the norm (UG 28).
This inability of the body to remain a "static and accomplished fact" is seen most brutally in the culmination of the "aging process," in the inescapable fact that no body endures forever. (22) This has been a major insight and avenue of critical engagement for disability studies, and we will merely draw attention here to the fact that the multiple alliances available and desirable between D&G and queer theory extend to and include disability studies in our ongoing disaggregation of what constitutes viable and valuable human embodiment.

[17] Given that the inhuman opens the body to all kinds of positive possibility, to numerous invitations for reinvention and becoming, what are we to make of the fact that beyond the limits of the human also dwells mortality, the blunt fact that even an identity which we might desire—as Pink Panther, as philosopher, as person—will not forever endure? Deleuze, like the queer, moves us beyond humanism. What happens when we move so far along this trajectory that we encounter that limit where subjectivity fades and the body literally ceases to be?

Inhuman Deleuze
[18] Plutarch wrote a famously influential book called The Lives of the Noble Romans. This text transformed into educational narratives the biographies of classical celebrities like Cicero and Brutus, extracting from their lives a parade of instructive virtues for his audience to emulate. People read this book for centuries, and found in its arts of living a model for the care of their own selves. It would be interesting to write a modern companion to Plutarch's Lives called The Deaths of the Famous French Philosophers. It would be full of gunshots (Guy Debord), a death in front of a pastry truck (Barthes), strangulation (Althusser), and a jump from a Paris window (Gilles Deleuze). No doubt such a book would be accused of sensationalism. Death is not supposed to be gazed at for long, especially when it occurs outside the sanitary confines of the hospital and old age. Suicide is especially problematic, because it potentially brings will into play against an event that is supposed to be unwilled. Death is supposed to arrive from an exterior, unknowable, even mystical realm. We die when our time has come; we are not supposed to hasten death's arrival—event and body are, in this case, forbidden to form an alliance. Unlike Plutarch's Lives, most deaths cannot furnish models for forming good subjects. To gaze at death is to be indulgent, morbid, to fetishize the negative, to glamorize suffering, to be naively romantic: the condemnations are so ready to hand that they are easily multiplied. We understand why death is so difficult to meditate upon: we live, after all, in a culture in which too many people have been consigned to the abject, have had their lives labeled "unlivable," have forcefully had their existence terminated. Yet we also live in a society that is death-phobic in the extreme, hiding the end of life away in sanitized and isolated spaces that prevent its penetration into life. Can death be thought in terms that do not arrive pre-judged and already dismissed? Can death be rendered an affirmative event, igniting a becoming?

[19] At the end of a lifetime committed to rethinking in relentlessly affirmative terms how desire envitalizes the cosmos, how “each individual is an infinite multiplicity” (ATP 254), Gilles Deleuze committed suicide. This undeniable terminus, whenever invoked, will have a teleological resonance, as if it were a final statement; anything that can be said in its wake smacks of funeral oration. Yet we have stressed repeatedly in this essay Deleuze’s scorn for teleology. Beginnings and endings are two points that capture a trajectory of becoming and entrap it within a diminishing closed circuit, as if the world were a small place, as if an infinite intermezzo were inconceivable. What does one do with the fact of Deleuze's death? Did his demise erect a blockage that placed a final and diminished end to the proliferations that his life had catalyzed? Or did Deleuze’s leap sustain that middleness against the definitive and reductive contours of a medicalized, moralized, pathologized terminus?

[20] In 1977 a strange little book was published in Paris. Dialogues had been “commissioned as a conventional book of interviews” (xi), in which Claire Parnet, a former student of Deleuze, would ask questions and the philosopher would respond. Both participants agreed, however, that such an exchange of queries and answers would force an unhealthy order on the shaggy multiplicity of Deleuze’s thought. The book is composed of four chapters, each of which is broken into two sections. In chapter one, the first section is signed by Deleuze, the second by Parnet. In order to “undo dualisms” and avoid dialectic (Dialogues 35), all subsequent chapters are still divided into two sections, but they remain unsigned. Parnet writes: “Each chapter would remain divided in two, [but] there would no longer be any reason to sign each part, since it is between the two anonymous parts that the conversation would take place, and the AND Félix, AND Fanny, AND you, AND all those of whom we speak, AND me, would appear as so many distorted images in running water” (Dialogues 35). Not quite the death of the author, but certainly his transubstantiation, his unity scattered across a dispersed and lively expanse.

[21] Dialogues is a book of middles. It was composed between the publication of Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia I, that great, polemical attack against the psychoanalytic conception of desire as fundamental lack, and A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia II. These books, co-authored by Deleuze and Guattari, promulgated a schizoanalysis of subjectivity and culture so innovative that we who live in its aftermath are still scrambling to make sense of it. If Deleuze was so much against endpoints and origins, it seems to us best to seek him in the intermezzo of Dialogues, a book in which his voice vanishes in dialogue with another voice in between the multiplicities of voice that are Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus. These three works, with their compound authorship, are everything Deleuze claimed to be about, even when he wrote alone. (23)

[22] At the beginning of Dialogues Deleuze states flatly, “Most of the time, when someone asks me a question, even one which relates to me, I see that, strictly, I don’t have anything to say” (1). Likewise, in a piece variously published in English as “I Have Nothing to Admit” and “Letter to a Harsh Critic,” Deleuze declares “There is nothing to explain, nothing to understand, nothing to interpret.” (24) We know we won’t get any straightforward answers from such an obstinate figure, especially not about what his own passing might signify, but at least we see a way of formulating the problem. Let’s invoke a famous invocation of Spinoza:

We know nothing about a body until we know what it can do, in other words, what its affects are, how they can or cannot enter into composition with other affects, with the affects of another body, either to destroy the body or to be destroyed by it, either to exchange actions and passions with it or to join with it in composing a more powerful body. (ATP 257)
Deleuze, like his friend and fellow social activist Foucault, was not interested in ontology. (25) He does not speak of substances, of essences, of stable or fixed meanings. The deleuzian world is a cosmos in constant motion, a place of virtuality and possibility, where the primary question one asks is not “What is it?” but rather “What can it do?” “What is it?” prefigures an answer by invoking a system, and Deleuze is the philosopher of nontotalization, of open and fragmented—nomadic—space. The passage reveals as well what Stephen J. Arnott has aptly called “the Spinozist-Nietzschean-Deleuzian zest for life.” (26)

An Art That Takes a Lifetime

[23] We would like to apply the deleuzian “What can it do?” to Deleuze’s own death, surely the limit case not only of his philosophy, but of the human itself. What are its affects, its vectors, its possibilities, and how do they form an assemblage with other bodies, other forces that might, in their own way, change the world? How might his death be read, or become, otherwise than the limits of humanist discourse, which could only see in his suicide a final, tragic, individual signification? And is to seek alternative significance/signification in Deleuze’s death merely to fetishize suicide (or might it, to return momentarily to Spinoza-Hegel-Levinas-Butler, transform the negative into something else)? Was Deleuze's death necessarily a human, all too human surrender to despair, or can his death serve as a potentially creative, constructive event act—a last and affirmative rejection of the normative—that renders such a query beside the point?

[24] First, the facts of his death. Deleuze had always been a heavy smoker, and his seminar room was famous for the narcotic haze that lingered in its atmosphere. Although he had a lung removed because of cancer, the disease spread throughout his pulmonary system. In the last months of his life he underwent a tracheotomy, and lost the power of speech. Silent and dependent upon machines to breathe, he spent his final days confined to his Paris apartment. On Saturday, November 4, 1995, he arose from his sickbed and hurled himself out the window, four floors to the pavement. He was widely mourned in France, although his funeral was, unlike that of many other famous Parisian intellectuals, strictly private. He was seventy years old.

[25] Reaction to Deleuze’s death was swift, especially on the electronic discussion list devoted to his work. (27) Many of the responses disseminated about the event were personal, and quite touching. Much like Deleuze’s own writing, they were also both provocative and poetic. Greg Seigworth described the leap through the window as “a final relay ... in that instantaneous switch of theory into practice” (7 Nov 1995). Steven Perella noted that he had been unable to find both “life” and “death” in the index to A Thousand Plateaus, appropriate enough for this “philosopher of all exteriority” (5 Nov 1995). Charles Stivale wrote of a mixed reaction to the news that amounted to a sad kind of joy (“this is the way he wanted to go”). He quoted a paragraph by Deleuze on Foucault, a passage that culminates in the suddenly prophetic words “You may be heading for death, suicide, but ... suicide then becomes an art that it takes a lifetime to learn” (5 Nov 1995). More acerbically, Douglas Edric wrote “Deleuze jumped out of a window and it must have been horrible and wonderful, or perhaps the most banal footnote in all of history ... Point final, if you really want to know. The rest is up to you, take your own responsibility damn it, write your own brilliant obituary if it’s that important to you” (8 Nov 1995).

[26] The official media, meanwhile, was full of the predictable summations of Deleuze’s life and works. In the French papers a parade of famous intellectuals offered pompous estimations of his importance, situating him within a history of philosophy that he disliked so much that he wrote several books about it. (28) In the United States, the New York Times spoke of his conservative family, his rebelliousness, his subversive charisma—the usual progress narrative (7 Nov 1995, D21). The Associated Press disseminated an obituary that remarked: “He [was] a familiar figure in the city’s bohemian Latin Quarter, his trademark felt hat cocked at a rakish angle” (5 Nov 1995). (29) These are the kinds of elegies that Deleuze would have raged against. In “Letter to a Harsh Critic,” he complained that Michel Cressole had singled out his “long and untrimmed nails” and “worker’s vest” as affectations that he had adopted in order to grant himself an absolute particularity, like Greta Garbo in her sunglasses (Negotiations 5). (30) The danger of a memorialization that focuses upon a “felt hat cocked at a rakish angle” is that a self-autonomous, self-authorizing, humanist subject will be reinstated as the closing movement to a life spent insisting upon the reductive violence of this construct. Deleuze observed that “We are always pinned against the wall of dominant significations, we are always sunk in the hole of our subjectivity ... A wall on which are inscribed all the objective determinations which fix us, put us into a grille, identify us and make us recognized ... Our societies need to produce the face” (Dialogues 45). How appropriate, then, that Greta Garbo, his unwitting Hollywood counterpart, should have been called “the Face.”

[27] This visage, this faciality as privileged marker of “humanness,” is the very thing that Deleuze insisted one must lose. He argued that “One has to lose one’s identity, one’s face ... One has to disappear, to become unknown” (Dialogues 45). (31) For him this process of self-negation was primarily conducted through writing: “One only writes through love, all writing is a love-letter: the literature-Real. One should only die through love, and not a tragic death. One should only write through this death” (Dialogues 51). Love, writing, and death (not “tragic death,” but a death that signifies otherwise) meld here into a difficult composite. The act of writing maps a trajectory that curves away from personal life, so that the particularizations of biography lose their explanatory functions: “It may be that a writer has delicate health ... He is nonetheless ... a sort of great Alive ... Writing carries out the conjunction, the transmutation of fluxes, through which life escapes from the resentment of persons, societies, and reigns” (Dialogues 50). If suicide takes a lifetime to learn, then it is a kind of correspondence course in which the letters bear the self unsentimentally away with them, into a “great Alive,” a great but affirmative unknown.

[28] Deleuze and Guattari wrote at length of the function of minor literatures, of the necessity of entering into one’s native tongue as if a foreigner, of the creative power of self-disaggregation: “It is not a question of speaking a language as if one was a foreigner, it is a question of being a foreigner in one’s own language” (Dialogues 59). So affirmative is this theory of multitudinous identity that Félix Guattari chose these words as his epitaph, visible now on his grave at Père-Lachaise: Il n'y a pas de manque dans l'absence. L'absence est une presence en moi [“There is no lack in absence. Absence is a presence in me.”] Guattari’s tombstone is an act meant to rob what is supposed to be the ultimate terminus of its definitiveness by refusing to emplace that ending within conventional, humanist terms. This difference in worldview—where absence itself becomes presence, where death is forgotten because desire is so much more compelling—can also be glimpsed in the fact that, whereas Foucault could write in Discipline and Punish that the body was under torture a site for the enactment of a thousand deaths, Deleuze would affirm that the body is traversed by a thousand tiny sexes.

[29] We are used to being told by psychoanalysis that desire is produced through a primal lack, that if desire is related to pleasure, it is only by means of something called “enjoyment”—a phenomenon that always seems rooted in the obscene. Deleuze could not stand this kind of moralizing, this reinscription of Original Sin and the fallen nature of humanity through the priests of psychoanalysis: “By taking the path that it has, psychoanalysis is reviving an age-old tendency to humble us, to demean us, to make us feel guilty” (Anti-Oedipus 50). Desire, he argued, is immanent: “Desire and its object are one and the same thing ... The objective being of desire is the Real in and of itself” (Anti-Oedipus 26-7). Desire is not the same as libido, and may or may not involve sexuality. Sublimation has no place in Deleuze’s work, because there is no primacy of an erotic drive to transform. Desire might best be glossed as an innate movement toward connection. The world of desire is molecular, with small assemblages constantly bumping into each other, conjoining and forming bigger assemblages, falling apart and moving toward other combinations. Bodiless desire, universal vitalism. Again, “The question imposed by desire is not ‘What does it mean?’ but rather ‘How does it work?’ How do these machines, these desiring-machines, work—yours and mine? ... It represents nothing, but it produces” (Anti-Oedipus 109). Desire is inescapable, it is everywhere, and it is constantly being forced into the molar or statistical identities that comprise the realm of the social. Desire, if it is anything at all besides this relentless movement toward multiplicitous connection, is queer. (32) In such a realm, where the human is simply beside the point, death barely seems possible.

De Fenestra
[30] Deleuze observed that the writers and philosophers to whom he’d always found an attraction were “of frail constitution,” so that their bodies battled death even as they were “shot through with an insurmountable life” (Dialogues, 15). Among these figures was the Epicurean philosopher Lucretius, who in lively Latin verse described the underlying dynamism of the cosmos, a vitalism that eroded distinctions among the human, the animal, the elemental. Yet Lucretius’s work ends in a horrifying description of the bodily putrefaction caused by an outbreak of plague. Deleuze once fantasized that he might write “a memorandum to the Academy of the Moral Sciences to show that Lucretius’ book cannot end with the description of the plague, and that it is an invention, a falsification of the Christians who wanted to show that a maleficent thinker must end in terror and anguish” (15). Lucretius envisioned in his De rerum natura (On the Nature of Things) an atomistic world humming with life, a world of motion and connectivity uncannily like the molecular, machinic deleuzoguattarian universe. The Lucretian cosmos held no fear of death, since death was part of the constant motion of the world. The third book of On the Nature of Things is even entitled “The Folly of the Fear of Death.” And still the poem ends with a disturbing description of the victims of the Athenian plague, who lose first of all their ability to speak:

Their throats,
Black on the inside, sweated oozy blood;
And the walled pathway of the voice of man
Was clogged with ulcers; and the very tongue
The mind's interpreter, would trickle gore,
Weakened by torments, tardy, rough to touch. (33)
It’s a ghastly conclusion to a long affirmation of life, the kind of moralizing “Look what it all comes down to anyway” that reduces death to that punctuation mark beyond which there is no signifying. It is against this teleological reading of Lucretius that Deleuze positions himself, arguing that so definitive an ending could only be a later interpolation. And it is against this desire to blunt affirmative vitalism through tales of “the judgment of God” that Deleuze positions his own plague-struck body, similarly robbed of voice and “weakened by torments.” He ended his life with a fall, an arc that somehow sought an escape from a teleology of the flesh—from its medicalization, its Christianization, its reduction into morality. Deleuze leapt from the window in order to write with his own body that memorandum about Lucretius, to show that maleficent thinkers do not end in the “terror and anguish” of deathbed conversions. Through a suicidal alliance the potentiality of at least two lives, two bodies was unleashed. In a passage that has nothing to do with Lucretius Deleuze once wrote, “It is not easy to be a free man, to flee the plague ... He may be ill, he may himself die; he knows that death is neither the goal nor the end, but that, on the contrary, it is a case of passing his life on to someone else” (Dialogues 62). And so, queerly, in this memorandum Deleuze passed his life on, and the challenge now is to ally ourselves with its refusal of reduction.

[31] The truth of Deleuze’s inhumanism can be glimpsed in a trajectory of becoming that was his life, his death, whatever is beyond that death. It is a fall that keeps on moving, all middle, not a leap toward some determinative end, pavement. A century becomes Deleuzian (as Foucault famously put it) only by losing him, and continuing to lose him. Freud described two outcomes for grieving: mourning (successful incorporation of the lost object) or melancholia (a non-integration, a constitutive lack). Neither reaction suffices. Both reside under the sign of Oedipus—and if Nietzsche was the anti-Christ, Deleuze was the anti-Oedipus. To take the deleuzian inhuman seriously mandates an embrace of the philosopher in flight: never to stop becoming-Deleuze (“A line of becoming has only a middle”), never stop approaching Deleuze (“Becoming-revolutionary remains indifferent to questions of a future and a past”), never stop touching his fall, even to the point of forming a dangerous (dare we say queer) alliance with it. (34) Our ongoing and queer alliance with Deleuze is that we continually partake of his defenestration and what it might “do,” to our understandings of the human, of viable and valuable lives. If we must, in order to become-Deleuze, always lose him (the molar, “moralized,” aggregate), we are continually throwing him and ourselves (our preconstituted norms, bodily integrities, desires to reduce and convert and moralize) out the window and into the middle of that line of flight.

[32] As an additional apparatus of this assemblage/alliance, one that might illustrate the necessary becoming-deleuzian of queer theory and the becoming-queer of the world, we would offer the complicating vector of the suicide of David Reimer. (35) Reimer was the boy born Bruce, whose penis was burned off in a botched circumcision and who was subsequently raised a girl, Brenda, and subject to ongoing psychiatric and surgical sex/gender reconstructions throughout her childhood. Brenda struggled socially, physically and psychically as a child, until the time in her teens when she was informed of the conditions of her birth, after which she decided to resume her life as a boy, and chose the name David for himself. David continued to undergo psychiatric and medical procedures to “return” him to his “natural” sex/gender, got married to a woman, and adopted her children. Things were never so easy for Bruce/Brenda/David, however, and after subjecting himself to the competing and contradictory sexed/gendered norms imposed upon him violently and variously throughout his life, he finally found that he could live under none of these fully, easily, “normally.” In May of 2004 David Reimer committed suicide. Judith Butler remarks on Reimer's death: “It is difficult to know what, in the end, made his life unlivable or why this life was one he felt was time to end. It seems clear, however, that there was always a question posed for him, and by him, whether life in his gender would be survivable” (UG 74). Survivable not only for David, but for us, those of us who live in abeyance and obeisance to the normal. What is also clear from the case of David Reimer is, as Butler observes, that the multiple narratives surrounding David interrogate “the limits of the conceivably human” (64), just as Deleuze’s death, as we have suggested earlier, constitutes a similar limit case. These limit cases however are not limitations (to “truth,” signification, the Real, etc), but rather the thresholds of new becomings. David’s refusal to live (and his recognition of the impossibility of living) within any of the preconceived and delimiting categories of the sexed/gendered human as they are currently constituted, and Deleuze’s refusal to submit to the final signification of a “tragic” or “moralizing” or “noble” death, demand that we throw our very normative ideas of the human out the window to see what they might become. This, it seems to us, is precisely what queer theory must be about today, and which might be effectuated by the deployment of a deleuzoguattarian inhumanism and the multiplicitous becomings-queer of the world.

(1) Gilles Deleuze, Negotiations 1972-1990, trans. Martin Joughin (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995) 11.
(2) We realize that we are speaking in somewhat unnuanced terms here to make our point, and admit that because of limitations of space this essay is painted with a rather broad brush. We emphasize from the start that the project of queering the queer is not unique to deleuzians, but has accompanied queer theory from its instigation - as the work of Leo Bersani, Judith Butler, Lee Edelman, Eve Sedgwick, Michael Warner, and many others makes evident.
(3) On the poisonous affiliation of queer desire and the morbidly tragic, see especially Judith Butler, “Sexual Inversions,” Discourses of Sexuality: From Aristotle to AIDS, ed. Domna C. Stanton (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press), 344-61, esp. 346, Leo Bersani, “Is the Rectum a Grave?” October 43 (Winter 1987), 197-222, and Ellis Hanson, “Undead,” Inside/Out: Lesbian Theories, Gay Theories, ed. Diana Fuss (New York: Routledge, 1991) 324-40.
(4) “To Have Done with the Judgment of God” was Artaud's last major work before his death. Originally commissioned for French Radio in 1947, it was an anti-American and anti-Catholic diatribe that was ultimately censored from radio play. It wasn’t aired publicly until thirty years later, and was first published in America by Boston’s Black Sparrow Press in 1975.
(5) For Deleuze and Guattari’s most concentrated elaboration of the war machine see “1227: Treatise on Nomadology—The War Machine,” and for their discussion of “smooth space” see “1440: The Smooth and the Striated” in A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987) 351-423 and 474-500.
(6) See Judith Butler, Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex” (New York: Routledge, 1993) 4, as well as José Esteban Muñoz, Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics (Minneapolis: U Minnesota P, 1999).
(7) Compare Michael O'Rourke's similar comments about the Derrideanness of queer theory: “Like a ghostly figure Derrida haunts Queer Theory, always just beyond and outside it, his work being the condition of possibility for it. That is to say, queer theory is always already Derridean (and that Derrida is always already queer)” (“Queer Theory's Loss and the work of Mourning Jacques Derrida,” Rhizomes 10 (May 2005) 5).
(8) Despite some distancing of queer theory from queer politics, especially in its formative stage, it is our understanding and experience that the theory and practice/politics are intimately, promiscuously bound together. See Teresa de Lauretis, “Queer Theory: Lesbian and Gay Sexualities. An Introduction,” differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 3 (Summer 1991), in which de Lauretis makes the claim that the “queer theory” she is elaborating is divorced from the “queer activism” of which she “was unaware at the time” (v).
(9) As Judith Butler points out, though, to be radically outside of the norm is impossible. The norm, in its very status as such and a product of statistical variability incorporates all that would seem outside of it; only thus is a “norm” established. See Butler, Undoing Gender (New York: Routledge, 2004), Chapter 2, “Gender Regulations”, esp. 41-51. What we are getting at here is rather the normative functioning of the norm and the processes of assimilation and social/political quietude.
(10) Butler, Bodies that Matter, 228.
(11) See Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Tendencies (Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1993), xii.
(12) See Michael Warner, ed., Fear of a Queer Planet: Queer Politics and Social Theory (Minneapolis: U Minnesota P, 1993), vii.
(13) Warner, xvi. Several other texts that seem to us to deploy (whether wittingly or not) a specifically deleuzoguattarian molecular politics in the elaboration of queer theory are: Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography (New York: Oxford UP, 1995), in which David Halperin makes the claims that “[q]ueer is by definition whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant. There is nothing in particular to which is necessarily refers. It is an identity without essence” (62), and that queer “marks the site of gay becoming” (79). For Robert McRuer in The Queer Renaissance: Contemporary American Literature and the Reinvention of Lesbian and Gay Identities (New York: New York UP, 1997), “queer” is “a critical perversion that continuously forges unexpected alliances and gives voice to identities our heteronormative culture would like to, but cannot, silence” (5), and that “at its best, the concept is unruly and undermines attempts at fixation or containment” (22). Furthermore, McRuer’s most recent work brings queer theory and disability studies together and productively engages in a “queering” and “cripping” of both. See “Compulsory Able-Bodiedness and Queer/Disabled Existence,” Disability Studies: Enabling the Humanities, eds. Sharon L. Snyder, Brenda Jo Brueggemann and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson (New York: MLA, 2002), 88-99, and “Crip Eye for the Normate Guy: Queer Theory and the Disciplining of Disability Studies,” PMLA 120.2 (March 2005): 586-592. Similarly, Carrie Sandahl engages in a kind of deleuzian transformation of queer/crip theory in “Queering the Crip or Cripping the Queer? Intersections of Queer and Crip Identities in Solo Autobiographical Performance” GLQ 9.1-2 (2003): 25-56. Finally, Cindy Patton has remarked, in “Stealth Bombers of Desire: The Globalization of ‘Alterity’ in Emerging Democracies” (Queer Globalizations: Citizenship and the Afterlife of Colonialism, Eds. Arnaldo Cruz-Malave and Martin F. Manalansan IV [New York: New York UP, 2002]), that “’[q]ueer,’ if it is to have any utility, is best understood, not as a model of identity and practice that can be imitated or molded to a local setting, but as evidence of a kind of unstoppable alterity” (210).
(14) On the equus eroticus in D&G see ATP 155-56 and Jeffrey J. Cohen, Medieval Identity Machines (Minnesota: University of Minnesota press, 2004) 41-44. On dogs and interspecies desire, see Donna Haraway, Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People and Significant Otherness (Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2003).
(15) We should not confuse the haecceity with individualism, that disciplinary norm and ideal of the Enlightenment and humanism. “A haecceity has neither beginning nor end, origin nor destination; it is always in the middle. It is not made of points, only of lines. It is a rhizome” (ATP 263).
(16) Indeed, Butler’s rearticulation of the limits of the human is protracted throughout her most recent work. In addition to Undoing Gender are her considerations of deterritorialization in Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative (New York: Routledge, 1997) and of the Levinasian “face”/faciality in Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence (London: Verso, 2004) in which the “face” becomes a figure of intersubjectivity; these are terms that have distinctly deleuzian resonance, as we shall specifically discuss in relation to Undoing Gender.
(17) See Butler, UG, 198. Butler’s main resistance to D&G is her dedication to the negativity of Spinoza’s Ethics (On the Improvement of Understanding, The Ethics, Correspondence [Trans. R. H. M. Elwes; New York: Dover, 1955]) and Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit (Trans. A. V. Miller; Oxford: Oxford UP, 1977), as the former’s conatus and latter’s master/slave dialectic “signals” for her “a form of vitalism that persists even in despair” (235). More specifically, “Spinoza’s insistence that the desire for life can be found nascent in the emotions of despair led to the more dramatic Hegelian claim that ‘tarrying with the negative’ can produce a conversion of the negative into being, that something affirmative can actually come of the experiences of individual and collective devastation even in their indisputable irreversibility” (236). It is questionable to us that Deleuze and Guattari do not also engage in the production of affirmative ways of being that are themselves produced out of systems of despair and devastation, or perhaps two other “d” words, dominion and delimitation. Additionally, aren’t both Spinoza’s and Hegel’s transformations of despair about the production of something positive (a new/different way of being) out of the negative/negativity?
(18) See particularly the chapters “Gender is Burning: Questions of Appropriation and Subversion” and “Critically Queer” in Bodies that Matter.
(19) Much of this alliance, voluntary or otherwise, may derive from a formative engagement that Deleuze and Butler share with Bergson, a philosopher from whom they each derived several of their shared terms (including becoming).
(20) Butler, UG, 20. Butler’s assertions here too are intimately connected to her understanding and embrace of the “negativity” of Spinozan and Hegelian dialectics (see above fn. 17) and the intersubjectivity of Levinas’ “face” (see above fn. 16).
(21) Reconsider also Butler’s assertion in BTM: “Indeed, some have argued that a rethinking of ‘nature’ as a set of dynamic interrelations suits both feminism and ecological aims (and has for some produced an otherwise unlikely alliance with the work of Gilles Deleuze)” (4); as “unlikely” as Butler’s own unanticipated and unacknowledged alliance with Deleuze in her various becomings in Undoing Gender and elsewhere.
(22) Similarly, in the field of disability studies many scholars have undertaken the dismantling of the myth of the normal body, in particular Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, in Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature (New York: Columbia UP, 1997), offers the neologism “normate” to describe the dominant ideological construction of the “normal” body. Additionally, in Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness and the Body (London: Verso, 1995) Lennard Davis discusses some of the many elisions and negotiations normate culture must make in order to efface and erase the troubling presence of disability within the social.
(23) Cf. the opening words of ATP: “The two of us wrote Anti-Oedipus together. Since each of us was several, there was already quite a crowd” (3). Deleuze elsewhere describes this process of interpenetration as love: “And then there was my meeting with Félix Guattari, the way we understood and complemented, depersonalized and singularized -- in short, loved -- one another” (Negotiations 7).
(24) We quote from the version reprinted in Negotiations 3-12, quotation at 8.
(25) Deleuze’s relationship with Foucault was complicated, and the myth that they had some kind of falling out has often gotten in the way of understanding their continued, mutual intellectual indebtedness. See Deleuze’s book Foucault (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988), which stresses that even though towards the end of Foucault’s life they went a long time without seeing each other Foucault was nonetheless insistently present.
(26) Stephen J. Arnott, “Solipsism and the Possibility of Community in Deleuze’s Ethics,” Stephen J. Arnott, “Solipsism and the Possibility of Community in Deleuze’s Ethics,” Contretemps 2 (2001) 111. 2 (2001) 111.
(28) Deleuze had been schooled in traditional philosophy. As Brian Massumi writes in his “Translator's Foreword” to ATP, “the titles of his early books read like a Who's Who of philosophical giants” (ix-x). Constantin V. Boundas makes observations about Deleuze's "rather orthodox ... molar, segmented line" of a philosophical career in ways that resonate with our opening depiction of his familial life in "Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995)" Man and World 29 (1996): 233-34.
(29) For reaction to Deleuze's death in the French media see André Pierre Colombat's perceptive "November 4, 1995: Deleuze's Death as an Event," Man and World 29 (1996): 235-49. Colombat's essay browses the proliferation of memorial writing in the wake of Deleuze's suicide to activate some of the potentials we likewise explore.
(30) See also Nick Millett's mischievous reading of the Cressole-Deleuze interchange in "The Trick of Singularity," Theory, Culture & Society 14 (1997): 51-66.
(31) Deleuze’s reconceptualization of subjectivity and identity, especially in its relation to the ethical formation of community, is admirably explored by Stephen J. Arnott in “Solipsism and the Possibility of Community in Deleuze's Ethics.”
(32) As evidence that even the most mainstream of GLBTQ activism is finally, after a long detour through the last ten years, starting to realize the limitations of a normalizing and delimiting political project, Kai Wright observes that “[t]hese days, rather than challenging the idea of sexual normality of any sort, we merely want to tweak its definition so that we’re considered appropriate too,” and implicitly calls for a more multiplicitous conception of desire and sexuality ("More Sex, Please," Out [April 2005], 56+).
(33) Titus Lucretius Carus, The Nature of Things, Book VI part IV. This translation by William Ellery Leonard is available online at
(34) Through a different methodology Michael O'Rourke eloquently makes a consonant argument about Derrida and queer theory in "Queer Theory's Loss,” especially 25-39. See also Jacques Derrida's own words on the death of Deleuze, words that like ours here stress the saut sur place and encounter with the Event that was always a part of Deleuze's work: "I'll Have to Wander All Alone" (trans. David Kammerman and available at
(35) For an admittedly sensationalistic account of Reimer’s life, as politically specious as it is illuminating, see John Colapinto’s As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised a Girl (New York: Perennial, 2001). Also relevant here is Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak's rumination over the suicide of Bhuvaneswari Bhaduri and the message it might bear in "Can the Subaltern Speak?" Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, eds. Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988) 307-8.