The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

October 7, 2006

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sat, 7 Oct 2006 16:51:04 -0400 (EDT)
From: Alan Sondheim <>
To: Kali Tal <>
Cc: nettime management system <>
Subject: Re: <nettime> Gender and You

I feel once again I have to respond to this. First of all, I don't masquerade 
or cruise for sex; everyone knows (except on the Jennifer newsgroup - which 
lasted maybe two days) that these are fictitious creations. I don't disguise 
myself and never have and have no interest in doing that and for the most part 
find disguising unethical. Second, it's hardly true that I've just come to 
issues of violence; if you knew
my work in general that would be the last thing you'd say. Most of my activisim 
is obviously off-line. Third, I resent the essentialism you represent here; if 
you turn it on its head - how do you know what I feel or why I'm doing it, 
since you're not male? It's easy to throw the terms sexism around and since 
Nikuko is Japanese, that also obviously implies racism (in spite of the fact 
that Japaenese write into Americans write into Japanese etc.).

What you seem to not understand, is I'm not switching genders - as far as 
writing about this, I have essays (published in a feminist magazine but what 
the hell) on the inconceivability of this going back at least to the 80s. If 
you want to find my work sexist, that's fine - well not fine - at least base it 
on what I'm doing, not what you want to believe I'm doing. The material on 
drag, for me, is besides the point; it's hardly drag performance. What it _is_ 
is an opportunity to write through Heideggerian issues I'm interested in, 
without bringing along, on the surface, the male baggage that characterizes the 
analysis of such issues. Furthermore, most of the material in the essay is 
based on net sex, in which identities, as I try to point out, are mostly 

I'm might add, even the opening sentence: "As a woman writing as a woman" is 
problematic - as a Jew, am I writing as a Jew? As a Jew, what would it mean not 
write not as a Jew? As an atheist? As a Christian? These roles seem strangling 
to me - and the _are_ roles - there is no "a woman" any more than "a male" or 
"a Jew."

Ok, you say "If white, heterosexual men want to know what it's like to be a 
women, ASK US. We'll tell you. We've been telling you for hundreds of years".. 
This is all well and good but does it give a male the experience of being 
attacked online? When a student (I teach on occasion) logs into IRC as a woman 
and sees and feels what's happening (no, not like "a woman" but like someone 
who may be sensitive to attack that can get close to verbal rape), he (or she 
for that matter) learns a lot more than asking you - you in particular - what 
"it's like" - since what it's like for you implies this essentialism - which 
online experience doesn't.

Re: "Identity tourism" - if you've read my work, and you seem to imply that you 
have, you'd realize this is hardly the case. I'm not cruising. If you object 
to, say, Jennifer, you might was well object to any male writing fiction which 
includes any woman, or vice versa, since we can't get into each other's skin.

You say "that a man can inhabit female characters for as long as Alan has" - 
indicates in fact you haven't read much of my work - those characters - except 
for this and one other recent text - haven't appeared in quite a few years. At 
this point I write through myself. So again you're wrong here. You say "after 
years of this adventuring" - and then claim you're following my work. If you 
were, you'd realize the stuff I've done for the past several years has been in 
an entirely different direction; you'd also know I killed them off, both male 
and female (Alan and Travis were two others, as well as the male Doctor Leopold 
Konninger), years ago.

What I really object to is not only a misreading of what I've been doing, but 
also what I see as a PC way of thinking - the essentialism is so deep that to 
experience anything outside oneself, one has to ask the Other directly. So I 
can't write as a Republican (goodbye Steve Colbert) or as a Christian or 
non-Jew, I can't write as animal, etc.

And yes, the sexuality was bad-girl-bad-boy, which I think is at the basis of a 
lot of our cultural sexualism as well as violence. And as for asking - I knew 
Kathy Acker well for example and we talked about this stuff. And I shouldn't 
have to show "credentials" here which is besides the point.

You say things like ""analyses" in peacetime is again a reflection of his 
white, heterosexual, male "location."" - but you, again, don't know who the 
hell I am - you know nothing about me. Should I call you a white middle-class 
woman whose writing reflects that? How the hell should I know?

Then again - "for Alan is based only on the fact that NOW he notices the 
violence, when before he didn't." - How on earth do you know when I've noticed 
anything? You haven't even read my work for years, and misread it when you did 
read it? And how dare you tell me when I notice such-and- such - you have no 
idea. This is essentialism at its worst - as if you have a privilege in regard 
to my own positions on things, and you sure as hell don't.

Finally, and apologies for the rambling nature of this, terms such as 
"blackface" are so overloaded and disgusting - there's no way to combat this. 
It's Lyotard's differend - I'm damned if I do, damned if I don't.

I don't expect everyone to like what I do - I do find support for my work with 
both men and women (the latter presumeably not talking "as a woman")
- and I find a lot of people are uncomfortable with it. That is as it should be 
- the work is about war, violence, and the bedrock of those aspects of western 
culture which produce Britney Spears and Iraq, as well as occasionally healthy 
sexuality. My work for the past 4-5 years has been performance; the texts are 
put online. There's no gender playing but a lot of analysis. So it goes.

I find Kali's post, in other words, as distasteful - and violent -as she finds 

- Alan

On Fri, 6 Oct 2006, Kali Tal wrote:

> As a woman writing as a woman (and as a feminist writing as a
> feminist), it's been an ongoing challenge to inhabit virtual space.
> I've long insisted that practices like Alan's (what Lisa Nakamura
> labels as "identity tourism") are deeply problematic when they are
> undertaken by white men who decide to create and inhabit female and
> non-white personae. Particularly in spaces where women and non-white
> people are minorities, the sheer number of white heterosexual men
> masquerading as the "other" tends to have the effect of reinforcing
> stereotypes and supporting mistaken beliefs about female and non-
> white sexuality, politics, social worlds, etc. I go into this in some
> depth in my review of Julian Dibbell's _My Tiny Life_, when I critique
> his sexual adventuring on LambdaMOO (
> I read Sondheim's post "Gender and You" with an increasing sense of
> distaste. I've watched Alan perform himself online for quite a long
> time now, and although I appreciate some of his insights and his
> writing, I am not at all happy with the unconsidered sexism that I
> feel is reflected throughout his body of work. I've brought this
> up before on lists, including POETICS and Cybermind, but it seems
> important to address it once again. Because Alan writes himself
> simultaneously intimately and publicly, I feel that his online
> personae is open to, and indeed invites, critique.
> That Alan can say, after years of this adventuring, that his
> experience is of little use when considering gender issues, is both
> telling and depressing, as is the Jenifer (sp?) excerpt appended to
> his post. That a man can "inhabit" female characters for as long as
> Alan has, and that he can simultaneously say he's never problematized
> gender is a good indication of how privileged men are; problems
> glaringly apparent to women can simply be ignored or glossed over. Men
> can ignore, sidestep or appropriate female subjectivity; sexism still
> is invisible to them on so many levels. I am, frankly, embarrassed
> when I read Alan's feminine masquerades -- not because sexuality
> embarrasses me, but because they always look and read to me like
> virtual blackface, a man turning a woman into a buffoon for his own
> and others' titillation and gratification. The lack of subtlety bores
> and sometimes disgusts.
> A longtime Lambda-MOOer, I'm more familiar than I'd like to be with
> the result of such heterosexual male posturing. Almost from the
> beginning, sex role stereotyping affected women's experience there and
> in other online social environments. Because so many men correlate
> online female gender identification with the practice of "cruising for
> sex," asserting one's female identity became a trying experience and
> women's time online was constantly interrupted by pages and outright
> requests for sex. The sheer number of adolescent boys playing girls
> so they could attract sexual partners for mutual online masturbation
> sessions ensured that women's sexual identity would be controlled not
> by women, but by the men who played them. When women gathered to talk
> about this, one of the things we discussed was the irony that most
> "lesbian sex" on Lambda and in other virtual environments was actually
> comprised of men stimulating each other by reinforcing their belief
> that women performed their sexuality to please men.
> All of this would be far less complicated and disturbing if it were
> not for the already performative nature of gender roles. Heterosexual
> men support and enforce a sexist system that persuades or coerces
> women to pretend to be the way men suppose women are supposed to be.
> The distinction between "good" (sexually inactive or monogomous in
> marriage) and "bad" (sexually active and non- monogamous) women is
> inherently sexist. It is of course more titillating for men to play
> bad girls, because "good girls don't." But bad girls play bad girls
> too. The sexist system guarantees them some rewards for doing so
> (though it also endangers those women -- for example, "bad girls"
> forfeit, through an unwritten law, even the scant legal protection
> against rape that "good girls" can expect) and the social order makes
> it impossible for at least some women to avoid "falling" into the
> class that services the sexual needs and fulfills the sexual fantasies
> of men.
> Alan's sense that he wrote his "analyses" in peacetime is again a
> reflection of his white, heterosexual, male "location." Violence
> against women and children, and against all people of color, is hardly
> new in the world. The statistics are frightening any way you look at
> them. The difference between "now" and "then" for Alan is based only
> on the fact that NOW he notices the violence, when before he didn't.
> It's all about his threshold of consciousness, and not at all about
> the consciousness of the members of the group that he impersonates.
> I'm still astounded when men claim that they have to impersonate women
> to know "what it's like to be a woman." In terms of race theory, we
> are far beyond the "Black Like Me" days. If white, heterosexual men
> want to know what it's like to be a women, ASK US. We'll tell you.
> We've been telling you for hundreds of years, but you don't bother
> to listen. Playing characters dressed in our skins is hardly going
> to be more informative, since the vast majority of you don't have
> the tools or the life experience to interpret what you see or hear
> (as Alan makes very clear). Dressing in drag doesn't make you a
> woman; it makes you a guy in drag. As any drag queen worth her salt
> already knows, it's internalizing "femininity" (social expectations
> and assumptions that create female gender identity) that makes
> for the gender shift, not getting dressed in women's clothing.
> And as transgendered people understand all too well, switching
> genders for real is not happy-fun-time; it's an uphill struggle
> against a culture where one gender is considered superior to another,
> and where real gender-queer people make members of the "straight"
> majority uncomfortable enough and sometimes terrified enough to enact
> legislation abridging their rights, and, more frequently than anyone
> admits, to kill them.
> Kali
>     _____________________________
>> On Oct 5, 2006, at 10:33 AM, Alan Sondheim wrote:
>> written for Jon Marshall, researching gender, Cybermind)
>> Gender and You
>> Michael Current and I started Cybermind back in 1994; we wanted a forum
>> for discussion of cyberspace theory and practice. That's my background.
>> I found myself exploring any number of Internet venues, most of them
>> ascii at that time (what I've called 'darknet' although that word now
>> seems used otherwise); I also started teaching Net matters, practice or
>> theory, etc. One exercise - I asked people to log on to various IRC
>> channels as 'Susie' or some such, no matter what the gender. Most of the
>> time, the screen would immediately light up with bold-face characters -
>> private messagings - asking for private contact - clearly for sexual
>> purposes. There was always this air of marauding.
> <....>
> #  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
> #  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
> #  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
> #  more info: and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
> #  archive: contact:

blog at - for URLs, DVDs, CDs, books/etc. see - contact, -
general directory of work:
Trace at: - search "Alan Sondheim"

After the Kali Tal nettime blasting and my response, I'm hesitant to send 
this out. But I'm proud of this work, and its association of sexuality, 
dance, freedom and degradation - rendering the reader, at least myself, 
uncomfortable. And this is definitely from a mail viewpoint, or at least a 
ghostly male choreographer's viewpoing? Or is it? There's a whole area of 
performance that's open to question.

I'm responding re: below and in some of the other dance-texts I've written
- to the fundamentally Apollonian / cool nature of western dance, where 
eroticism is buried. Think of gender relations in ballet, or the cool 
efficaceous computerized choreographies of Cunningham, or Rainer's slow 
and steadied presentation. Early dance - what a catastrophic term - often 
involved sexuality re: fertility rites, etc. I apologize for the general- 
ization. Dance, in short, often involved caressing, fucking, rapture, 
frisson, that was seemingly real. What I'm writing into is the Dionysian.

The difference might be between the aesthetics of eroticism and the non- 
aesthetics of pornography, and here I'm on shakier ground, but I'm not 
talking about a pornography which denigrates women or anyone for that 
matter. Eroticism flourishes in the dance, but of course only goes so far 
- the rest might be left up to the strip-club, which serves (if that's the 
right word) a very different purpose. (The ground is falling away.) So 
these are dances which won't be performed but could be - dances which 
would close theaters, ruin reputations. The descriptions are obviously the 
barest outlines; you can fill in the rest yourself.


The Lek

Sex dances for one to four people.

The dancers are nude. There are no props.

Male dances alone while masturbating. He dances until he cums.

Female dances alone while masturbating. She dances until she cums.

Tethered: Male dances with his prick in a partner's mouth. The partner
crouches, mostly immobile.

Tethered: Female dances prone above a male partner with his prick in
her cunt. The dance continues until one or both of them have cum.

Tethered: Female dances prone coupling with a female partner. The dance
ends as above.

Tethered: Male dances prone, coupling with a male partner. The dance
ends when both have cum.

Tethered: Male or female dances with his or her mouth on a partner's
prick. The dances continues until the dancer or partner have cum.

Tethered: Male dances with one hand holding his prick erect.

Tethered: Male dances with his cock in a cunt or asshole. The partner is
on all fours.

Tethered: Female dances with one hand in her cunt.

Tethered: Female dances with one or more  partners' fingers in her cunt.

Variant Tethered: Male dances with one or more partners' fingers in his
asshole. The dance ends when one or both have cum.

Variant Tethered: Female dances with one or more partners' fingers in
her asshole. The dance ends as above.

Tethered: Male or female dances with her partner's cock in her ass. The
partner is vertical holding him or her in front of him.

Pour: Male or female dancer cums on partners watching. The partners are
naked beneath him or her, masturbating. The dance ends when all have cum.

Variant Pour: Male or female dancer cums as in Pour. The dancer then
pisses on the partners beneath him or her. The dance ends when all cum.

Piss: The partners piss on the floor / on the male or female dancer.
The dancer continues until he or she slips. The dancer continues prone
until he or she cums.

Abject: The partners shit and piss on the floor. The male or female
dancer moves in a prone position until he or she is fully covered.
The dance ends when the dance cums.

Puppet: The male or female dancer moves with each hand fingering the
assholes of two partners. The dancer controls the partners. The dance
ends when the partners cum.

Lick: The male or female dancer moves either prone or on all fours,
licking the assholes of one to three partners. The dance ends when the
dancer or one of the partners cums.

Lick variation: The male or female dancers licks the assholes of one
to three partners while the partners shit. Dance ends as in Lick.

Scratch: The dancer masturbates while two partners scratch his or her
breasts and chest. The dance ends with cum and blood simultaneously.

Variant Scratch: The dancer masturbates with one hand, scratching a
male or female partner with the other. The dance ends as in Scratch.

Slap: The dancer masturbates while slapping two or three partners across
the groin. The dance ends with simultaneous bruises and cum.

Variant Slap: As in Slap, but the partners slap the dancer across the

Speech: The male or female dances while one to three partners masturbate
him or her. The dance only ends when the dancer cums.

Variant Speech: As in Speech, but the dancer masturbates one to three
partners, ending only when both dancers and partners have cum.

Life: Four dancers prone move within a small area, engaging each other
sexually. Both males and females cum multiple times. The dance ends with
pain and exhaustion, when no one can continue. If the dance is Arena
Life (see below), the audience decides when the dance ends.

Mine: The male or female dances while mining the holes of the partner
for saliva, lubricant, shit. The dancer eats what he or she finds.

Feed: The male or female dances while two partners mine his or her
holes, eating what they find.

Stop: The male or female dancer masturbates while two partners attempt
to stop him or her. The dance ends when the dancer cums.

Variant Stop: As in stop but the male or female dancer attempts to stop
one to three partners from masturbating. The dance ends when all the
partners cum.

Combinations: Any of the above dances may be danced in combination,
either in series or parallel. In the former, the dances follow each other;
in the latter, two or more dances are enacted simultaneously.

Arena Sex Dance: Any of the above with an audience surrounding the

Variant Arena Sex Dance: As in Arena Sex Dance with the audience naked
and masturbating.

Endpoint: As in Variant Arena Sex Dance, ending only when all members of
the audience have cum.


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