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jfwright's picture

For this week's posting, I wanted to jump off of a topic that we seemed ready to talk about in class, but ran out of time. On the board when we left was a discussion of the New York Times article, with the names "Butler," "Foucault," and "Barad" listed. While we talked about Butler, I'm also interested in probing into the New York Times article through the diffractive apparatus of Wilchins' summary of Foucault.

In Wilchins' summary of Foucault, I was particularly interested in the idea of dressage: through a fairly grim process of repetition akin to that done by prisoners, we learn to behave and enact gender in a particular, societally accepted way. It seems to me that the therapists are advocating the same position on sexuality: through a dressage of sexuality, people attracted to the same sex (I am purposely refraining from using the words "gay" or "queer" for any idea of community that might annex) may be influenced to behave in a way that is in line with their religious beliefs. In this way, they become prisoners of desire; they must be taught by dogged repetition to be full members of their community by conforming to a "straight" sexual identity, if not a straight sexual orientation.

I'm not sure how different this is from conversion therapy. Surely, the men (and women) who enter into these programs know are allowed to acknowledge their desires, and are taught to work against them in favor of more socially-affirmed options. However, dressage taught prisoners that, even though they might have tendencies towards committing horrible crimes, that because they were always under institutional control, they must change their behavior to be admitted back into the public. The only difference seems to me that in the case of the patients, the warden is their god. While the prisoners fear physical pain, solitary confinement, the eventuality of return to a prison setting or a prolonged sentence, and a host of other horrible outcomes, the people under treatment for changing their sexual actions (if not orientations) are also under immense pressure; they fear the pain of losing their families and communities, and the eventuality of eternal damnation.

I'm interested to see if other people have a similarly bleak idea of these treatments; how much do they smack of conversion? How much do they seem to be an improvement? I'm not sure what other kinds of treatment I would advocate, as it seems clear that religion seems to be most important to the people who enter into these therapies. I simply think that the performance of a dressage of sexual behavior seems cruel.


rachelr's picture

Dressage today

I definitely agree that such treatments are “bleak,” but I’m also left asking myself, “what else can the therapist do?” Of course we (I suppose I’m using we as us in this class) would like a world were people can be themselves without fear of ostracization or persecution, but we aren’t there yet. I guess I would rather see a therapist support a compromise, at least the recognition of an individual’s true sexual feelings, rather than trying to force them into something they aren’t ready yet. But in the end I think it is a lose-lose situation- “bleak,” as you aptly said.


On another note, if anyone knows anything about horses, dressage is a type of military riding still practiced today. The end result is a rider’s control of a horse’s every tiny movement while making it all look effortless, like the horse is performing on its own (youtube example, its an AWESOME VIDEO). One of my friends became the first female (2 years ago I believe) to ever be admitted to the Spanish Riding Academy, the oldest Classical Dressage riding school in the world, featuring the famous Lipizzaner stallions. She left after a year because of the sexual harassment she experienced.