Diaries Magazine

Regulating Desire

By Kategould @kitfinelineedit

Last February academic and social commentator Laura Kipnis wrote a piece for The Chronicle Review about student-academic relationships and the effects of sexual harassment regulations on universities. The piece received a hefty backlash in the form of two Title IX complaints from students, Kipnis’ response to which was also published in The Chronicle Review. Having, at one time, been in a frowned-upon relationship myself, I thought I’d offer my twopence to the debate.

As relationships tend to do, mine had meandered between underwhelming to disastrous with some good times in the mix. Then he came along. He had a certain something, but I let it go thinking that, with him as my doctor, I’d be stuck for quite some time with any awkwardness that might arise from a rebuffed advance. Before you go thinking that it was some misinterpretation of care or white coat worship, I have epilepsy and, as anyone with a long-term condition will tell you, any white-coat-god-complex vibe from a physician wears very thin pretty fast. It’s an across-the-board thing. They don’t even have to be treating you for the condition.

Anyway, a couple of years passed, I moved away from the area so my medical care was transferred elsewhere. Then I met him again at a conference, we got chatting and my advance wasn’t rebuffed. For a few months we were together, meeting when we could and relying on email and text when we couldn’t. We were in love: he made me feel invincible, like I could do anything; I don’t know what I did for him, exactly, but he told me he was completely happy. Then I got a job overseas and he couldn’t come with me. We said we’d keep in touch and we did for a bit, but there’s only so much that emails about your day can keep alive when there’s no end to long-distance in sight.

I’m offering my experience of a relationship that, though not forbidden, is still frowned upon because it serves as an example of two of the important points highlighted by Kipnis’ article: agency and nuance in relationship power dynamics. Denying the agency of the partner in an ostensibly less powerful position reduces them to the role of helpless victim. It ignores their desires, dismissing them as the result of some false consciousness. In my own case, I was in my twenties and knew my own power. I would not have appreciated anyone attempting to police my desires or with whom I was exploring them. As for power dynamics in relationships, if they were uniform and straightforward, we could all be provided with a manual at birth from which there would be no need to deviate. But they’re not. Relationships are nuanced, they’re complex, and they’re built on that most capricious of all things, desire.

None of this is to say that there aren’t predators. Of course there are. They’re to be found pretty much anywhere you can think of – the workplace, the medical profession, educational institutions, and, most commonly, in the home. Nor is it to deny victims the recognition of their experience and support they should receive. It is to suggest is that relationships are as individual as the people in them and they deserve to be considered as such.

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