Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Kinky Sunday

Last Sunday I had the good sense to book onto one of the School of Life's Sunday Sermons in London. The 'Sermon', given on a stage which appropriately bore the legend 'To Thine Own Self Be True', was titled Kinky Sex and was delivered by Grayson Perry.

Having just written a paper on transvestism ('Reimagining Transvestism through Queer Theory'), I was excited by the prospect of seeing Perry talk.

And seeing what he would wear.

As tribute to the darker sexual theme he spoke about, Perry wore an incredible leather dress with elaborate cuffs, high shoulders and two pendulous, pierced leather breasts dangling from the front. Happily, I have found a photo online, as it has to be seen to be fully comprehended. He looks rather sweet in the photo I've linked to - he wore it with rather more erotic menace in person.

Whilst Perry is not an academic, and does not claim to be, he comes across as a very likable and deeply thoughtful person. The talk was engaging, funny and moving. A highlight for me was his dismissal of the safe, middle-class commercialisation of fetish - embodied in the form of widely sold fluffy handcuffs (which, he pointed out, don't even lock properly) - something which has always irritated me immensely.

Perry spent some time tracing the origins of fetish - why a person develops such a strong 'atypical' erotic response, whilst many do not. There was talk of certain 'trauma' in childhood (not necessarily parental or abusive) leading onto an arousal response in later life - i.e. the classic transvestite tale of being forced to dress in girls clothes as a child, and subsequently finding feelings of humiliation stimulating.

Whilst finding this all interesting speculation, I still resist the inherently pathologising language found in causation-seeking...It implies something is 'wrong' in a slightly unhelpful way. Heterosexual, vanilla folk don't spend a great deal of energy meticulously tracing the reasons for their orientation, and I don't see why kinky types should tie themselves in a knot doing so.

Still, Perry was not apologetic, and oozed kinky sensuality from the stage.

Whilst chatting to my Dad about the talk (he's an open minded lefty), he questioned weather Perry was actually a transvestite seeing as he often dresses like a doll/little girl rather than an adult woman. Perry explained this, describing those dresses (sissy dresses to all you not aware of the subculture) as the 'crack cocaine of femininity' which I loved!
I also loved Perry revealing that all of us in the audience were in a sense part of, or feeding, his fetish. We were all part of his transvestism as we were the eyes, the gaze on his femininity.

As everyone absorbed this information there was a definite ripple through the crowd...a little Sunday, kinky frisson.

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