Let’s say there’s this guy, C. Let’s say that when we lay in bed, once, he touched my nose with his fingers and he smiled, he actually smiled, he consecrated my big old nose with his smile. He discovered a mole, one others had discovered before him, on my waist, and he said it’s like mine and he showed me his and they were alike. When he stood and stretched and I watched the long muscle up his thigh move under the skin I did a breath that was like, huh and he heard it and he looked at me and in that breath and that look were wanting, our bodies were the vessels of our desire and the mouthpieces, and they listened to each other so that we did not need to speak. That was the language of our wanting: touching and smiling and looking, the cartography of flesh.
There is a certainty to wanting that is almost athletic, born of need, a kind of conviction in your bones that this person has probably, possibly, maybe assessed you, made a broad assessment of you that was like in the ballpark of six to ten out of ten, you are certain of it, or maybe you are just being optimistic. Maybe they are just really horny and it’s more of a three point five but you continue to stare because you want to know, and maybe that is why they, too, are staring, or maybe they are staring at you because you are a starey-eyed creep and you can’t be sure, so you stop doing it on trams and you start doing it on Tinder. We are too afraid to look directly at one another in public spaces: to objectify is to intrude. The wanting gaze is diluted, filtered through a profile whose construction we read as consent, as invitation: it exists to be looked at. Now that we are doing all the staring from behind screens, we need words to hold the stares. Words tether themselves to order, to structure, to meaning and intent: words are antithetical to desire and its intuitive, unspoken language of looks and breaths, of small currents on the skin. Words are not adequate receptacles for bodies and so we are adapting, language is adapting, our desires are adapting to fit into the spaces we create with text.
It is three days after the touching and smiling and looking now, and C has sent me a photo of his dick. Here it is, in the palm of my hand, C’s dick. In the palm of my hand but not really. In the palm of my hand, flat pixels arranged in a way that they signify C’s dick. I can touch it but I cannot actually touch it, so I am not sure how it is supposed to turn me on. C’s hand is wrapped around it and I know that if my hand was wrapped around his dick it would look bigger, because my hand is smaller, and that would please both of us. It would please C to feel big in relation to me and it would please me to please C by making him feel that he were big in relation to me, to my hands, but my hands are here, wrapped around an iPhone that is the same size as the iPhone that C’s hand is wrapped around. The iPhone looks bigger in my hand than it does in his, and maybe there is something in that. I should respond, but how? I choose text. I am a writer and I always choose text. I send C a text that says:
The is a container for all the things I am feeling about C right now. It is a container for surprise and anticipation and also a kind of derisive contempt because of how tacky the whole thing feels. It is a container for how I am biting my lip and squeezing my legs together to hold in the heat that is spreading slow and wide. It is a container for yes please and also a container for what am I doing and also a container for I am really about to trust you big time on this one. It is a container for all of these things and when C receives it he is supposed to take them out and extricate them from one another and hold them and know them and understand them, but I know that he will open it and find only permission, and knowing that, understanding and accepting that, I press send.
Language cannot hold bodies or the things bodies want but the thing it can hold, the thing C and I are using it for is fantasy. Writing about desire, Jacques Lacan argues that the act of sex is so bound in fantasy, so laced with our own idealised images of ourselves and of our lovers that it is ultimately narcissistic. Our reliance on smart devices only allows this narcissism to flourish: by using social media and dating apps we can present idealised versions of ourselves to the outside world and receive idealised versions of other selves in return. These fantasised ideals hide behind or maybe inform our changing language, our absorption with smart devices and our absorption with self. It is reflexive. It is fanciful. When we’re sexting, the remote body of the other, of the lover, exists only in our mind and only as an ideal, and the entire sex encounter plays out in a fantasy space upon our own bodies: bodies touching only themselves, responding to only themselves, pleasuring only themselves.
Our texts are not like streams of consciousness so much as they are small streams of fantasy, and control of the fantasy is mine and then it is not mine, and so I am animate and I am inanimate, and so I am subject and I am object. It is an exquisite corpse. We are playing an absurdist parlour game, our sex is an absurdist parlour game or maybe it is art. The textualised sex act is dual; it takes place twice, simultaneously: structuring itself according to the rules of my disembodied fantasy order, and to the rules of C’s. C would like me on my knees on the floor, blowing, that is the word he uses but he doesn’t mean blowing he means sucking, and he would like to be pulling my hair. This does not seem to me like art but like a bad porn cliché. When I think about fucking C, we have always fucked in ways that were like bad porn clichés. Once when I was on top of him he said something like oh yeah, ride me cowgirl and I thought that was the worst thing he could have said, I thought should I move my arm like I have a lasso, would that be funny or maybe this is a bad time for physical comedy, and I also thought that by reducing me to such an abhorrent cliché he was reducing my desire to fuck him, reducing my desire from a vast thing, a rushing wondrous thing to a signifier of itself, his own idealised version of itself, what he wanted it to be. He read my wanting the same way he read the porn cowgirls’ wanting of the porn rodeo studs. My being on top of him was a signifier that said: porn, and porn framed my desire and made it something that it wasn’t, or might have been but not wholly, or wasn’t but became and my body too, became porn, became passive, became recipient. He entered into fantasy and in fantasy he erased me from my own desire, or maybe he didn’t, or maybe I just think too much, or maybe he was just trying to impress me or maybe he wasn’t thinking anything at all, and all these things were in my mind while C was in my body, and now all of this is in my mind while C is in my phone, and somewhere in C’s mind I am on my knees letting him pull my hair, and this is the game we are playing and it is my turn.
In my mind I am not on my knees, I am never on my knees. I am present in my desire, I am conscious of it almost viscerally. In my text I am not a cowgirl I am a fucking woman, I am myself but all my movements are charged with poetics because I am a writer and I can fuck C with words. In my text I am the best at sex in the whole world, I am so good that I am bursting him without touching him and I do, I burst him and I know this because he sends me a photograph of the evidence.
When we fuck one another using curated texts, sex is sterilised according to the limits of our own imaginations. The tryst is free of the tethering of bodies, the abject otherness of bodies not our own. The body is liberated from itself and exists to the other only as we allow them to perceive it. When operating on a level of fantasy and construction there is very little to separate lust and repulsion, and when we are confronted with a lover’s fantasised body in all its IRL materiality – in all its cellulite and body odour, its pores and gingivitis, cuticles and garlic breath and weirdly long mole hairs and the final, sexual materiality of its fluids, its tasting and smelling of sex – when we are confronted with these things, they puncture the fantasy, enchanting us one minute and grossing us out the next. In a textual foreplay there is no corporeal other on which to enact our passions, nor is there one to interrupt them; there is only the corporeal self. It is this lack, says Lacan, which sits at the heart of human desire: a screen onto which we can project our narcissisms, an empty dissatisfaction. Because desire is expressed as fantasy, it is driven onward and onward forever toward the impossibility of its own fulfilment.
There is a freedom in this narcissism, though. When sex is an act of sharing a carefully chosen and constructed series of texts – linguistic, graphic and otherwise – we are free to exist as our idealised, fantasy selves. We can use these texts and the devices that read them to access this moment of fantasy realisation and, instinctively, we are reaching out to others so that we can access it together. In these spaces, protected by anonymity, invisibility, construction and distance, we are free to name our desires with language, and to normalise them in this way, with words. We are figuring out ways to get as much pleasure as we can from these constructed, textual encounters, and this might not be a bad thing. Sexting, naughty emoji, Snapchat, Skype, dating apps and remote control sex toys all help us to build the tension and release it together, help us to use our smart devices and the languages they speak – the languages we speak through them – in place of expression, gaze and touch.
I look at the photo of C’s dick later, outside of the sex moment. I am rational and C’s boner is not rational. C’s boner speaks a language I do not speak when my body is not hot and humming. I am not reflecting on his passion critically but looking in on it, the unselfconscious heart of it, C’s puffed up dick a symbol of it or not even a symbol of it but it itself, upright and terrible and somehow eternalised like one of those big column memorials, marble, C’s dick is marble and central and permanent, a reminder of something that is fleeting and should probably always be fleeting, should never continue to occur outside of its natural limits: Pleasure. Fucking. Hot mouths uttering hot words that would shame us were we to recall them later, but here they are, verbatim in a small grey bubble on the left hand side of my screen, removed from the hot bright centre of the moment in which they lived and died, were delivered and received and should have been forgotten.
Lacan, Jacques. The Language of the Self: The Function of Language in Psychoanalysis. Trans. Anthony Wilden. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1968. Print.