Delusions of Desire: More questions than answers

Guest post from Davy Marzella

The politics of desire are failing us because they have been colonized, and are channelled into capitalist practices of consumption. Media promotes normative ideas about beauty and desire to sell us products that keep the capitalist system intact. Fat bodies, disabled bodies and racialized bodies do not sell products as effectively as white, skinny and seemingly stable bodies and therefore those bodies often fall outside of normative visual economies of desire and beauty

The Precarious Politics of Desire

While sexuality, gender, and the body are rooted in biology, they cannot be reduced to it. Who is sexual with whom, how gender is defined, and what the body means differ in every culture. And many cultures know nothing of romantic love: It is not the universal basis of marriage. What can humans offer each other in terms of sexual love, kindness, and mutual recognition when so much of social life involves exploitation and deceit?

Richard Lichtman – Sexuality , Gender , Love & The Body

An interesting question is – what is “sexuality” exactly and what are the significancies of desire based on sexual attraction?  We can talk about sexuality and think we know what we are referring to, – but if we stop to question what we are referring to , it might not be so clear.  Other than what could be seen as the superficiality of sexual attraction and sexual activity – what more is there to sexuality?  Who anybody happens to find attractive and what they happen to do physically could almost be insignificant in that context.

Any social order that seriously values relationships must reject hierarchy fornetworks of egalitarian relationships, representation for autonomy, and the overcoding of state-forms and borders for the openness and fluidity of nomadism and negotiable boundaries. It must reject sexual orientation for the freedom to acknowledge and explore diverse forms of (sexual) relationships, desires and practices without fear of violence or shame.

Resisting Orientation: Jamie Heckert

Is sexuality then more about being a vehicle for expressing desires , for better or worse , however it is expressed and to whom?  Our individual internal desires are generally expressed in culturally approved attractions through commonly practised sexual relationships of public identities based on sexual orientations of gender. That is , individual internal desires can have a symbiotic relationship to the social and cultural values of particular societies , influenced and determined collectively through cultural and social norms.  And how we express those desires have been heavily policed and politicised as a means of social control.

Gender and “sexuality” are perceived as the political issues – and in many ways they are significant , I am not dismissing those sites of struggle ………..BUT , I feel there is something deeper , underneath, about how some of our deepest desires are played out by all of us , regardless of gender-sexual orientation , within social/cultural/political imposed restrictions.  I think all/most of us in the West, regardless of designated gender or sexuality, have been brought up with similar narratives of “desire” – though maybe practised and experienced differently according , for example, to our gender and/or sexuality.

From personal experience I can look at complete strangers and feel a strong “desire” towards them.   Superficially it is manifested as physical/sexual desire….. but I feel it also as “something” deeper. In the first instance, physical appearance seems to take precedence for many of us, in that there first has to be physical-sexual attraction before a deeper more significant relationship can even be attempted to develop.

Can DESIRE for relationship be experienced differently in each component of Body , Mind & Soul?

Body :   Desire for physical/sexual gratification  – Sex partner
Mind :   Desire for psycho-emotional engagement & support – ( similar minded ) Kindred Spirit
Soul :   Desire for “spiritual” connection & fulfilment – or that indefinably “chemistry” beyond body & mind – Soul Mate
( Shadow?: All the difficulties , jealousies , insecurities , anxieties that relationships can contain )

Is each component of Body, Mind & Soul equally important and significant?   If I had to choose an order of significance, I would choose Soul-Mind-Body , in that I ( ie. my “rational” mind ? ) would prioritise the finding of a “Soul Mate” over just the physical attraction of a sex partner.  In simplistic popular terms, what usually differentiates a close friendship from a relationship is sex.  Yet all friendships are relationships of some kind.  All sexual encounters are not necessarily “relationships” in those terms – though even where sex is bought or sold there is still some form of “relationship” between buyer and seller.

The physical appearance of a potential “Soul Mate” should be relatively insignificant ……yet I find I can only consider a potntial partner who I find physically attractive to me.  Why can the visible physical attraction for someBODY be SO important?  ( …and how do blind people find partners?)

Physical attraction is likely associated to some degree with evolutionary developments in looking for a good “breeding” partner, which can be largely signalled physically.   Physical-sexual union is the life force that creates us all, and our first experience of life for most of us is an intense relationship with our mothers.  Could adult desire for relationship be related to a regression of desire for an idealised mother , our very first relationship ?  Is kissing , cuddling , sucking and being called “baby” reminiscient of that first intense relationship?  Physical features and characteristics can also re-present and remind us of others who have been significant in our life.

And as the extract at beginning states, we are also influenced by the social/cultural/political world around , and socially constructed hierarchical dynamics between and amongst us – such as gender , class , ethnicity etc – which can contribute to “desire” for or against others based on their real or perceived relative social status.  Physical attraction can feel powerful and difficult to transcend.  It seems that physical-sexual attraction to strangers could be the projection of desires and fantasies onto those bodies of unknown people , and presuambly we can also carry those projected desires and fantasies into the foundations of relationships with new partners.

Is the desire for physical sex , especially amongst many men who have sex with men , connected to these other desires – but many men seem to avoid intimacy and what these other dimensions of desire re-present – just looking for the superficial “next fix” sexually , never fully satisfied?  Best exemplified on one popular website for men who have sex with men Gaydar ( over 6 million subscribers ) “What you want, when you want it” – which can reduce human intimacy to a commodity to be consumed “with no strings attached “, before moving onto the next one.  Not forgetting those in same gender relationships with a desperate desire for normalisation to be allowed to partake in the conservative institution of matrimony.

As Aldous Huxley wrote in his 1946 preface to Brave New World, a novel about a futuristic dystopia in which sexual promiscuity becomes the law  ” as political and economic freedom diminishes, sexual freedom tends compensatingly to increase.   And the dictator . . . will do well to encourage that freedom . . . it will help to reconcile his subjects to the servitude which is their fate.” Sexual liberation, despite its apparent eventual successes, might be interpreted, as the philosopher Michel Foucault suggested (with reference to Reich), as having ushered in “a more devious and discreet form of power”.

Review of “Adventures in the Orgasmatron”

Is some relative sexual freedom, compensation for loss of political and economic freedoms?  Could desire for one exclusive gender, contain a anxiety/phobia towards the other excluded gender? Could the desire among men who have sex with men for the practice of only being penetrator contain a fear/anxiety/phobia of being penetrated?  Do men and women generally experience desire differently. As Jesse Bering said “Many questions about gay self-labels and their relation to development, social behavior, genes and neurological substrates remain to be answered—indeed, they remain to be asked.” , a restatement of Lynne Segals challengeThe question is whether heterosexuals can recognise themselves as part of both a compulsory system and an intrinsic comedy ?

Desire is not determined at birth , we are not born this way or that way – as some would have us believe – but our desires are formed and acquired , internally and externally , individually and collectively – through lived life experiences. Two ( not unsimilar ) quotes spring to mind , regarding “necessary fiction” of sexual identities and “necessary illusions ” of realtionships –

Jeffrey Weeks talking about “gay” identity as a “necessary fiction”, ie. the necessity of forging an identity to assert same gender desire in the face of homophobia – in a sense that homophobia determines homosexual identity . If there was no prejudice against same gender desire then it would not be necessary to have an identity based on that desire , as it would be uncontested  …. and people would be free to just fancy other people , regardless of gender , without having labels attached.

And Lynne Segal in her talk at Birbeck talking about the “necessary illusion” of relationships. Which has similarities with short video clip of Derrida,that in relationships we all participate in illusions of projecting our desires onto what our partners re-present to us , rather than who they actually are. Mostly unconsciously – but if and when we become aware of that , it’s possible to acknowledge that and “play around with it” .


Longing to belong,
belong to a longing.
What is this longing to be
expected of each other….
to need       –  be needed
to want       –  be wanted
to nurture    –  be nurtured
to desire     –  be desired
{ to love      –  be loved ? }

Can we re-create our first awareness
as a baby belongs to a (m)other, or
as a mother belongs to her baby
or later……….. ?
as a daughter belongs to a father , before
he “gives her away” to belong to a husband .

Nobody belongs to anybodyelse ;
just belonging together ,
a part of , not apart from…
families , communities , lovers , friends ,
here, there and everywhere.

Being human…human being
Being together
Being aware , be.ware –
do pefect partners and “happy-ever-after”,
or saviours for “everlasting life”
only exist in fairy tales ?

Be , just Be








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