No orgasm without ideology.
—david halPerin, “Historicizing the Sexual Body”
What does queer theory teach us about orgasm? The global roaming sys-
tem that has been the nearest thing to a methodology that queer theory
has espoused to date, the way its attraction to the abject, the subaltern,
the eccentric, and the minoritarian deems no subject so outré as to be al-
together out of bounds, might suggest that orgasm, with its affinities for
sex and those relations, both personal and impersonal, to which sex gives
rise, would fall easily and squarely inside a queer theoretical purview.
And yet queer theory—by which I mean those posthumanist and anti-
identitarian critical approaches that are energized by thinking against
the practices, temporalities, and modes of being through which sexu-
ality has been normatively thought—has had next to nothing to say of
orgasm. I say next to nothing rather than plain nothing since, reading
between the lines, it is possible to detect a whiff of the queer theoreti-
cal dismissal of orgasm, so subtextual and sotto voce I hesitate to call it
a strand, in which orgasm gets aligned with the normal, against which
the queer defines itself.1 It is necessarily difficult to give a citational sense
1. A glaring exception to the rule of queer antipathy toward orgasm is Aaron
Betsky’s bald assertion that “the goal of queer space is orgasm” (Queer Space, 17).
Such a formulation does not long stand uncontested, however, in queer critical con-
introduction
orgasm and the long
twentieth century
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