This piece was originally published in Issue 3 of Bluestockings Magazine.
On October 19, 2013, The Observer published an article on the increasing disinterest of Japanese citizens in sex and romance, entitled “Why have young people in Japan stopped having sex?” Abigail Haworth, Observer contributor and Marie Claire senior international editor, centers her piece around the figure of a dominatrix-turned-love-doctor, one Ai Aoyama, who helps train the pathologically sexual (or sexually pathological) in human intimacy—a phrase that codifies heterosexual, cisgendered reproduction. Haworth employs such a politically explosive figure to activate the nuclear potential of Japanese extinction and the gravity of “official alarmism” felt by Japanese individuals and government bureaucrats alike. Through terrifying statistics, she redirects our attention away from what I read as an implicit queer politics towards the dire and irrefutable stakes of Japanese survival.
The great irony of a woman who used to defy state intrusions into private, sexual life by performing illegal and non-normative sexual acts (such as sadomasochism, non-genital pleasure) now assuming the agency of state-sponsored and state-interested reproductive politics is seemingly lost on Haworth, whose journalistic interest lies more in painting a statistics-driven, “sociological” narrative of Japanese citizens’ imminent extinction. Although in no way affiliated with the government or family-related political agencies, Aoyama’s therapy reproduces and perpetuates a politicization of private, sexual life.
In Haworth’s depiction of Aoyama, she emphasizes the ‘love doctor’s’ encouragement of “clients,” whom she urges “to stop apologizing for their own physical existence.” Haworth disguises Aoyama’s correction and erasure of non-normative sexualities in terms of body-positivity and self-love; the more Aoyama trains those who fear (heterosexual, normative) intimacy in “proper” love-making, the more she trains them to love and accept themselves. Although Haworth never explicitly valorizes Aoyama’s therapeutic framework, the journalist carefully narrates only positive, healthy, and curative images concerning Aoyama’s relationship to patients.
Aoyama’s complicity in state reproductive force achieves complete transparency in her own self-definition: “She likens her role in these cases to that of the Edo period courtesans, or oiran, who used to initiate samurai sons into the art of erotic pleasure.” Aoyama’s sexual therapy is primarily a mode of training people in “healthy” and “socially viable” sexual activity. However, in her self-comparison to a courtesan, she becomes both a prostitute of the state and a perpetuator of state-approved patriarchy, codes of masculinity, and masculine violence. She’s not just creating sexually viable, heterosexual citizens; she’s creating masculinized and sexualized soldiers.
The major political problematic at work here is most easily relatable in Lee Edelman’s notion of reproductive futurism, an ideological framework in which all political decisions (such as abortion rights, civil rights, and environmentalism) are made on behalf of the figure of the Imminent Child: the child-to-be-born, the product of a singular, heteronormative, procreative sexuality. This brings into question the idea that we should make environmentally conscious life-choices and industry decisions so that our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and so on may live healthily and happily. Lee Edelman’s primary frustration with the terms of repro-futurity are their imposition of “an ideological limit on political discourse… preserving in the process the absolute privilege of heteronormativity by rendering unthinkable, by casting outside the political domain, the possibility of a queer resistance to this organizing principle of communal relations.” Historically and presently, lesbians and gay men are excluded from the political framework that centers on this figure of the Child, as they are “naturally” and “biologically” without the capacity to reproduce.
If the greatest gesture of social-political agency is to author a child who will live, act, and procreate in the political future, then many queer peoples—to put it bluntly—are fucked.
Aoyama’s sexual therapy is just this sort of ideological imposition, the major political potency of which Aoyama achieves through conceptual-intellectual violence: by wiping away “pathological” desires—by making them inconceivable—Aoyama helps clients achieve healthy, sanitized, politically thinkable sexuality. This makes queer, social agency unthinkable.
But from what exactly is Aoyama helping clients turn away? She names their pathological sexualities “Pot Noodle Love”: “easy or instant gratification, in the form of casual sex, short-term trysts and the usual technological suspects: online porn, virtual-reality ‘girlfriends,’ anime cartoons.” These simple and immediate forms of sexual pleasure diverge from a procreative sexuality that prizes the end and not the means. Although “Pot Noodle Love” may contain and reproduce heterosexual, cisgender desires, they can only do so under a queer-inclusive umbrella in which the pleasure of masturbating without climax to virtual representations of transgender cartoons is just as valid as the pleasure of making a baby. “Pot Noodle Love” virtualizes sexuality, and in doing so, draws out its imaginative qualities and agencies. In “Pot Noodle Love,” a queer love, sex becomes a process and not a terminus.
The multiplication of pleasure-expressions in “Pot Noodle Love” is precisely a sexual model that opens up space for queer political agency. By shattering the homogeneity of reproductive, genital sexuality, “Pot Noodle Love” ushers in plural sexualities. In “Pot Noodle Love’s” virtualization, we find a radical political potential.
“Queer” as action and procedure defies definition. In that it always provides a little more room for self-identification [for (self-) queering], queerness denotes a gesture of political inclusivity and solidarity. If we reject Aoyama (and the state’s) violent pathologization of our pleasures, we queer our political-sexual spaces and make room for not just lesbian, gay, bi, and transgender subjects, but also the asexual, the cyber-sexual, the virtually sexual, and the men, women, and phes who simply don’t want children. Queerness is necessary not just for the political and social humanization of LGBTQQIAAP (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Allies and Pansexual) peoples, but also for the very people who want to fuck without making babies. Queerness poses the middle finger to state-sponsored repro-futurity. When we queer, we stop making political decisions in the name of our unborn Children and start politically enfranchising the already living.
Featured Images Courtesy of Tufts University
cisgender: identifying with the gender one was as- signed at birth; assumes both a sex binary and a direct relationship between gender and sex; used to label the privileged identities of those who are not trans*, genderqueer, or gender non-conforming
Edo Period: Japanese society under the rule of Tokugawa military government between 1603 and 1867; period characterized by economic growth, strict social hierarchies, and isolationist foreign policies, as well as explosion of popular art and culture
phe: a gender-neutral pronoun popularized by the Female Sexuality workshop at Brown University