This was a really thought provoking article. Unfortunately most of the thought is about unpleasant and brutal things, so I’ll put the rest of my comments behind a “read more” break.
This article is a pretty sober and simple description of what sex and sexual identity are actually like in American prisons.
To summarize a bit: in prison there are no “homosexuals” or “heterosexuals” in the sense we use the term in regular ol’ borgeois American society. There are “Men,” (jockers) who penetrate other people, willingly or unwillingly, and will not allow others to penetrate them, “queens,” who act effeminate and court the men, and “punks,” who are one-time would-be Men unfortunate enough to have been gang raped by other Men, thereby reducing their status. Once you’ve lost your manhood, you’re a punk forever, the sexual property of the Men. You can pair off with a Man and be his own private punk. That has the advantage that he will keep others from gang raping you without his permission, which is something I guess.
That’s a bit of a simplification — read the article for the real deal. Part of the point Donaldson makes is that the prison thing is actually a much more common way of looking at sex than “homosexual/heterosexual,” in terms of world history. I can confirm that that’s more or less the way the Romans thought of it, for example.
Anyway, the reason this made me think is:
- You know those French intellectual pomo types like Michel Foucault, who tell us that sexuality is constructed, not a given? Hey, looks like they’re right. Here’s a real life example. If you go to prison, everything you knew about sexuality in free culture is suddenly going to be wrong. You’re going to have to decide whether you’re going to be a rapist or a victim. There’s essentially no other option. “Gay” and “straight” are nonsense terms there. Sexuality is constructed differently in prison than it is outside. Now, a lot of people take that pomo stuff to mean that there is nothing but the constructions, that the social constructions occur over a blank slate, that there is no Human Nature, only what culture makes us. I don’t think I buy that. I think that in fact, human sexual nature is probably more complex than any of the constructions, and that the various social constructions are simplifications or degenerate cases (in the mathematical sense of “degenerate”) of human potential. I suspect that under good conditions we are able to maintain a societal construction of sexuality as a matter of freedom and mutuality, but that under stress it can break down into a worst case scenario of rape and exploitation.
- You know those Wacky Radical Feminists who talk about the way domination, exploitation, and violence have historically been built into male-female relations? Well, if you want a little view inside that world just imagine yourself in prison. Time to rape or be raped! Every sexual encounter reinforces a power and domination relationship! Even “consensual” sex between a punk and a Man partner is something the punk is “choosing” only in that he would rather be raped by one man that he has some choice in than be raped indiscriminately by all the men in the prison. If you look at prison sex it starts to look creepily like the way male-female sexual relations have often been constructed, historically. Suddenly the Wacky Radical Feminists seem like they might be talking about something pretty real.
Anyway, those are the two main reasons this article was so damn thought provoking. Oh, and boy, do I want to stay the hell out of prison now.