On Control and Hypertrophic Subjects

“We are used to the idea coming from the industrial and the very intelligent post-Enlightenment history that we have, we are used to the idea that the great triumph of humans is their ability to control–and indeed that must be the case to some extent. What we are not so used to is another great gift we have is the talent to surrender and cooperate. Cooperation and surrender are actually parts of the same skill. To be able to surrender is to be able to know when to stop trying to control and to know when to go with things, to be taken along by them. That is a skill that we actually have to start relearning. Our hubrisabout our success in terms of being controllers has made us overlook that side of our abilities. We are so used to dignifying controllers that we forget to dignify surrenderers. The reason I have an a capella group is that it gives me every Tuesday evening the chance to do some surrendering which is, by the way, the reason why people go to church and art galleries. What you want from those experiences is to be reminded to be taken along by something, to be taken, to be lifted up, whatever other words for transcendence are.”

–Brian Eno, Serpentine Gallery


In recent years I have been quite vocal with friends and colleagues about my struggle with what I term my “lesbionic-phobia”. Let me break this term down first: lesbian + bionic (as in robotic, not Lyndsay Wagner) = lesbionic.  My phobia of the lesbionic subject was not a fear of all lesbians, but certainly I have developed a fear of women whom I deem to have certain personality attributes which range from strongly anti-social to extremely controlling and even manipulative patterns for dealing with their intimate other.  I coined this term several years back after realising that most every gay women I dated shared certain troubling similarities. Most I found to be extremely controlling, insecure, dependent upon various intoxicating substances and/or emotionally unavailable. Inevitably, I was troubled with what I perceived to be my own interpretation of lesbians since each experience I had dating lesbians above the age of 35 led me to think there were few women “out there” who were emotionally sorted. As such my lesbionic-phobia was no longer just an idea, it became allegory that was confirmed both by my experiences and by those of other women who shared their stories with me.

Certainly not all these women shared every single one of these issues, but troublingly almost all were controlling, insecure and angry. There I was trying to understand certain behaviours as I was the surrogate for their identity affirmation with each new date. One woman I dated within two weeks had decided how many children we would have, another had decided within one week of knowing her where our children would spend summers and Christmas (ironically she was reading a book entitled Living in the Now), and another was incapable of accepting or even engaging in dialogue without becoming verbally abusive, stating on several occasions “I hate the word ‘dialogue’”. For these women conversation was about “winning” (a similar ethos to Charlie Sheen’s) and not about an exchange of ideas where nobody wins but where knowledge of the other is learned and ideas are simply shared. My having an opinion about anything was problematic since my role was to reaffirm her ideas and conterminously not to express my own such that a discussion would at its roots engage her need to confirm her selfhood through my erasure. Dialogue became about both ascertaining a potential future life together in the first weeks and months and I would inevitably be looking over my shoulder for the U-Haul truck. What all these women shared was the need to control life–their life, mine and our collective coming together. Interacting with such people puts the subject in an awkward position: one must either give into this notion of power which dictates that “agreement” is good and disagreement is “bad” or one must question these very paradigms of control, intractability and rigid notions of “winning” much less having conversations. For those of us who enjoy debate and discussion, conversations are about the process, not the end result. The need to control forms a large part of this aporetic lesbionic space for which anger and denial are its willing accomplices and from which discussion or any healthy under is seemingly hopeless.

While notions of truth have their use–were one to suggest that we do not need oxygen to survive, this would be a hypothesis that could be countered by arguments of science and facticity–some discussions are actually about perception, nuance and personal interactions. Certainly facts are important, but in the passion of discussions over art, politics and even science, there are spaces of subjective renderings whereby there are many positions to consider wherein there is no single “right” or “winning” argument. Or, when there is a “more truthful statement”, this in and of itself should not break down discussion–the mistaken party should be capable of saying, “I wasn’t aware of that fact” or “Let me read up on that.” Dialogue is an art of both maintaining a certain control over one’s knowledge and opinions and it is also the opposite of control–a release of one’s knowledge and grip over sustained notions of absolute truth. Even when we wish to argue our point, no matter what the subject, we need to maintain that skill of listening and suspending our ideas in order to consider other options–in essence, of maintaining a will to be flexible. Yet, lesbionic subjects tend to be fairly obsessed about “winning”, about being right, and about dominating both discourse and their partners in their need to affirm their personhood. I recently had a lover who would walk away from any discussion wherein I did not agree with her, who berated me on the streets for having chosen the “stupid seats” in a movie theatre and who blamed me for her having lost her wallet though I was six hours away (she claimed I made her thoughts drift). These are deeply troubling–if not pathological–behaviours to be certain. But then is such behaviour so difficult to fathom from someone who ends relationships by SMS? What is it about these lesbionic subjects whose anger and rath for the rest of the world–to include their lovers–creates a space of negativity and self-destruction?

The past eight years of dating older lesbians has led me to have discussions with friends and other lesbians about this paradigm of what I perceive to be the “lesbionic”: the lesbian’s need to control, to harness and frame the other, and to plan out a life in the early stages of dating with complete disregard for the other. Indeed, dating women with such afflictions made me feel as if I were in some virtual reality dating game wherein if I answered a question the “wrong way”, I would be voted off the island. Most of these women were planning their future lives irrespective of my person rather than engaging in a genuine  learning about the other in the early days of dating. I have even had one woman whom I had not yet met, get upset at me online because in response to her question, I answered that I found religious upbringing a violence to the child’s freedom from religion. This woman was so incredibly angered that I realised that veering into any form of individuality or difference of ideas brought about grave personal injury and scrutiny. Aside from the personal attack that such gestures invoke, the intellectual side of my brain was wondering constantly why. Why do so many lesbians from their mid-thirties upwards resemble the stereotype that derogatorily rendered their sexuality and personhood abject within mainstream culture during much of the latter half of the twentieth century? The stereotype of the angry, aggressive, hunchbacked, baseball capped, boys-clothes-wearing, rigid, unhappy and negative lesbian was no longer a stereotype I was to find in my late thirties–it was now a reality.

Over the past years I have identified many other women who share my experiences and disillusion regarding dating lesbionic subjects. Recently in central London several friends and I got together–each one with their personal experience of dating lesbionic subjects and the similarities were as shocking to all of us as they were troubling.  We then decided to form a club called the Cunt Club–a club for women who have dated cunts and who are–by virtue for having put up with such abusive behaviour–also cunts. Their stories paralleled my own: cooking a meal for a lover who would go over to her house, eat and then go to sleep without ever saying a word maintaining, when approached by her lover, that such antisocial behaviour is “normal”; having profiles up on dating websites and accusing the lover who says, “Can you at least state that you are in a relationship?” of being “controlling”; cooking dinner for a lover who grabs the plate off the table and goes into the next room leaving her partner at the dining table to eat alone justifying such behaviour with “It’s my house and I eat where and when I like.” And these are small issues compared to some of the phenomenally abusive patterns that many of these lesbionic stories I have both experienced and heard demonstrate not least of which was my brush with a lover who was both violent towards me and who stalked me in a most pernicious manner.   Ideas from these members of the Cunt Club were put forth to attempt to understand why this social phenomena has come to pass and what we are to do about this issue.

It is clear that there are sociological reasons for such behaviour stemming from both the historical trajectories of sexism and homophobia. It is also clear that gay liberation made it taboo for gay men and women to seek therapy for personal issues that were not about sexuality since psychotherapy was relegated the margins of mid-twentieth century methods for dealing with the “illness” of homosexuality. Then came the 1980s and 1990′s gay liberation movements in the West which forced homosexuals to focus more on the social and political injustices and to minimalise personal responsiblity to the self. While we were being “here and queer and proud of it” during the past decades, many gay men and women elided the necessary steps to personal growth that everyone–including heteroseuxals–must undertake: self-critique, analysis, and personal growth. Also the double bind of women who have had to battle sexism and lesbians who have had to battle both sexism and homophobia has largely been untouched in the many gay magazines of late. Historically, homosexuals have allocated blame for their problems to “them”–heteronormative culture–and rarely, if ever us. Yet, just get gay men and women talking about alcohol and drug abuse, physical violence or verbal abuse in same-sex relationships and we can see that the experiences, not to mention statistics for such abuse, are actually more common than within heterosexual communities and more pervasive than many of us are willing to admit  [1]

There are also personal and familial reasons for such aggression stemming from various forms of closeting that happens in families (ie. where the homosexual child becomes the single parent’s de facto–albeit symbolic–partner;  monetary dependence in exchange for familial presence;  and various other forms of closeting which often hijacks the adult child’s life in favour of a certain familial priority for “appearance”). The lesbionic subject is an incomplete subject and her lack is filled by the search for her personhood in the other as the family space has all but taken this from her. She seeks outside this often idealised center to act out the scene of familial (ie. mother, father, etc) abandonment upon her lover in ways that subtly repeat the familial or social patterns of abuse. So while they are measuring up their lover for the potential “lifelong partner” category, they are conterminously sabotaging anything remotely healthy as their control of the other and of discourse will of course ensure that this relationship will end. The U-Haul lesbian needs to be reformulated to include the sad irony of loneliness permutating this figure: the U-Haul lesbionic subject has the truck keys in the one hand and a car bomb in the other and these women have no idea what they want nor who they are.    Or as one lesbionic subject whose lover, upon waking up next to her, attempted to give her a morning hug and kiss barked out, “I don’t have to give you a hug you just because you want one!”  The lesbionic subject is unable to let go of the control she compulsively exerts upon her lover resulting–not so paradoxically–in her radical spiraling out of control over time.  The problem with control is that is does not function like currency in the sense that the more you control, the more control you have. It is quite the opposite: the more you attempt to control the more out of control the subject becomes.

In assessing one lover’s obsessive need not to have breakfast with me just like another lover’s inability to communicate without becoming apoplectic, I realised that these women had no sense of individuality, of their own personhood. These women would express their individuality through their refusal to experience a meal or words with her lover, very basic concepts of sharing which determine the individual’s ability to be caring, participative and empathetic. Also in common was that these lesbionic subjects paradoxically sought out a relationship while conterminously refusing all that goes hand in hand with any healthy relationship: compromise, communication and respect. For one woman, sharing a meal, doing something differently to include eating different foods, threatened her lifelong single lifestyle while for the other merely hearing a different opinion on any subject was grounds for a tantrum.  For these women life was to be a repetition of their childhoods such that any veering from this course would necessarily inculcate her lover. Scenes such as bringing a lover tea in bed one morning only to be reprimanded about the tea’s temperature not being “hot enough” are not uncommon scenes when involved with a lesbionic lover. And the reasoning behind such behaviour is just as troubling as the controlling behaviour: the offended tea-drinking lesbionic responds “because my mother likes her tea hot hot hot, and my grandmother likes her tea hot hot hot.” (She often repeated adjectives thrice.) The unsuspecting lover is trapped in a scene from Psycho and there is sadly no Anthony Perkins to dawn the frock and play the role so that this subject might realise her masturbatory desire for which the lover is truly incidental. Or as I told my last lover who would regularly instruct me how to speak to her, “Buy a blow-up doll.” In the end, these women are having relationships with themselves, or rather projections of their neurosis and nothing you do will ever be good enough. It is not the tea, the sharing the meal or the subject of conversation that offends the lesbionic subject–it is the fact that these women can only experience their own person and subjectivity at the expense of destroying or controlling the other subject all under the guise of protecting her individuality and her freedom. These are extremely lonely if not vapid subjects for whom love is not an option because they simply do not love themselves.

Postmodern criticism of Cartesian thought has tended towards a critique of the perceived hypertrophic subject and the assumption that self-conscious is composed of self-reflection; that the subject possesses an accurate image of herself; that this self-reflection essentialises personhood and that such embrace of the subject imparts identity that is universally true. Difference in both psychoanalytic and deconstructive theoretical fields has become the terrain for understanding the individual’s relation to the world in the past thirty years. Hypertrophic projective identifications contain the subject–she prizes her individuality, protecting it from an outside world perceived as primordial chaos. In this way the subject must perpetually reconstitute herself by refusing “disintegration” and by pushing away social integration–especially that form of integration that can and does take place within romantic relationships. The hypertrophic subject is in many ways a narcissist whose agency is interfered with by the presence of others with other ideas. The fiction of “self-possession” extends outwards to this subject’s surrounds and this self-contained subject issues edicts in the process with the ego casting all that which does not serve its purpose.

Hypertrophism originates hypertrophy (from Greek ὑπέρ “excess” + τροφή “nourishment”) is the increase in the volume of an organ or tissue due to the enlargement of its component cells. These cells remain individualised, they do not allow penetration, they remain incessantly isolated only to expand, but never to interact with other cells as per osmosis, for instance. Hypertrophism was used within German Romanticism and philosophy to designate a certain romantic irony. In reacent years, Jean Luc Nancy has taken up the hypertrophic subject to elaborate the dangers of the community of sovereign self-contained individuals absorbed in their own sublime experience and united in disdain. For Nancy there are dangers of communities which maintain inclusivity, centripetal formations and the will to exclude. For Nancy the community interrupted emphasises our “being in common” and our irreducible state as “singular beings [that] compear” (that come into being through the condition of being with:

Interruption turns community toward the outside instead of gathering it in toward a center–or its center is the geographical focus of an indefinitely multiple exposition. Singular beings compear: their compearance constitutes their being, puts them in communication with one another. But the interruption of community is the very law of compearance. The singular being appears to other singular beings; it is communicated to them in the singular. It is a contact, it is a contagion: a touching, the transmission of a trembling at the edge of being, the communication of a passion that makes us fellows, or the communication of the passion to be fellows, to be in common” (60-61). [2]

For Nancy there is a need to compear and break the contagion of hyper-individuation to such a degree that having a date turns into a medieval practice of answering the questions the right way or else, [buzzer] “you are voted off”. Dialogue is not an option with the hypertrophic/lesbionic subject–there is only the incorporation into this subject’s discourse or there is a systemic shutdown. Needless to say the Internet has added several layers of complexity to this issue whereby dialogue is now “by choice”–if you do not like was Xena587 is saying, you can simply block her, exile her from your future list of contacts or in this wonderfully superficial language of Facebook “defriend” her. No longer is it necessary to disagree, we can now avoid without the necessity for politesse or negotiation.

What keeps emerging from the hypertrophic reality of the lesbionic subject and what is socially reproducible may be literally described as an egoistic way of appropriating, on the background of the societal results generated by the autotelic sovereignty of the emancipatory movement, of its benefits, individually deductible (like all kinds of “liberties” and licenses which the adult of today allows himself in the pursuit of “personal happiness”).

Under the guise of socialisation in the American sense of the word, we are paradoxically experiencing a de-socialisation in a time when the individuals are for the first time in history more exposed than ever to communication, to the circulation of information and to sociability (ie. “networking”). Likewise this attitude of hypertrophism goes hand in hand with a tendency for the individual who cannot resist abandoning everything that, on his way to “self-realisation”, he considers to be a – moral, relational, affective, practical – ballast, belonging to a state of his affiliations past. Finally, hypertrophic subjectivity is both invasive yet at the same time so closed off to the world and to others while it focusses on the narrow circle of the subject’s personal life whose humanity it must underscore and illustrate. There is a deeply-seated narcissism of this self-contained subject which is self-perpetuating; her need for selfhood becomes her ubiquitous dissemination of its monotone effects on the surface of all social relations. For the hypertrophic subject retains herself within her own negativity and refusal of exteriority. In The Sense of the World Nancy writes:

“The Subject, in general, in accordance with its structural and generic law as stated by Hegel, retains within itself its own negativity. It is this self-same appropriation and incorporation of negativity (for example, a becoming, a relation, a spacing) that constitutes a “self” and a “being-self” as such. Thus the political subject–or politics in accordance with the Subject–consists in the appropriation of the constitutive exteriority of the city (just as, doubtless, reciprocally the city consists in the projection, partes extra partes of the interiority of the subject). For the space of the city an identity and substantiality are pre- or postsupposed as its principle or end–as the organic configuration of a “people”, or the “nation”, or as property and production. And this presupposed as its principle or end–as the organic configuration of a “people,” or the “nation,” or as property and production. And this pre-supposition of the self (one ought to say: this presupposition that constitutes self) comes to crystallize identity in a figure, name or myth. Politics becomes the conduct of the history of the subject, its destiny, and its mission. It becomes the revelation or the proclamation of a sense and of an absolute sense (105-106). [3]

Here Nancy discusses empire and the ways in which citizenship and subjectivity buttress one another. These self-contained individuals do not merely distinguish themselves through others who exist outside the city or their nation, but they distinguish themselves though a self-consolidating other which dangerously grounds and identifies a self-constitution that maintains itself–its being in and for itself– as universal.

I return to Brian Eno’s words about relinquishing control for he indicates a missing link in contemporary society that is simply not provided by online chatrooms and virtual worlds: transcendence. How to convey the importance of letting go in order to realise a lifting up of the spirit? How can we discuss this issue of hypertrophic subjectivity within the world and more specifically amongst lesbionic subjects when the general response is a quick negation and a flurry of angry emails (ie. those emails I received in repsonse to a manifesto I wrote on the lesbionic condition years ago on gingerbeer.co.uk)? (By the way that is “Madame Cunt” to those who ponder a monosyllabic response to this article.) It is almost as if the responses are symptomatic of the problem and dialogue could not seem more further off. Or, might this be the advent of the end to identity politics and finitely formed communities wherein we must agree, dress alike, form superficial bonds based on the coincidence of sexuality, while painting “positive” images for the perceived heterosexual monolith, not to mention for ourselves? Like last Saturday’s closing of London’s First Out café/bar after 25 years of operation, perhaps it is time to move on, to be queer everywhere and to embrace death, difference, and self-critique while relinquishing our obsessive need to control?


*To be continued at a later date.


[1] Violent Betrayal: Partner Abuse in Lesbian Relationships by Claire Renzetti. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, Inc., 1992.

Intimate Betrayal: Domestic Violence in Lesbian Relationships (Paperback) by Ellyn Kaschak

Naming the Violence- Speaking out about Lesbian Battering, K. Lobel,Ed., Seal Press, 1986

Turell, S. C. (2000). “A descriptive analysis of same-sex relationship violence for a diverse sample.”Journal of Family Violence, 15(3), 281-293.

McKirnan, D.J. & Peterson, P.L. (1989) “Alcohol and drug use among homosexual men and women: Epidemiology and population characteristics,” Addictive Behaviors, 14, pp. 545-553.

Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile 2006, Statistics Canada.

[2] Jean Luc Nancy, The Inoperative Community (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991).

[3] Jean Luc Nancy, The Sense of the World. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998.