The Kink of Normaling

Normaling is the kink of conforming to classic gender, sex, and "couple" stereotypes of our culture and getting off on it. Not because you feel you have to, but because you want to. It's edgy and it's dangerous. And it happens to be my own personal kink. Why Normaling is Edgy

Normaling is edgy due to the fact that the "because you want to"  aspect of it requires a very high degree of privilege. Normaling just isn't a kink that's available to everyone, and it's a kink that can be psychologically or physically damaging, not unlike race play or blood play.

In its connection to privilege, the kink of normaling is like its cultural cousin Normcore (the style of ever-adaptable situational style and deliberate eschewing of "authenticity," most famously enacted by James Franco. Normcore is a style that both embodies a kind of wise, fluid nondual emptiness and one that itself relies on privileged appropriation to exist).

Lots of people in the world have to conform to gender stereotypes and roles just in order to have the acceptance of their communities (i.e., to avoid being exiled, starved, ridiculed, abused etc.); and for many people the option of conformity isn't on the table because their internal experience and / or outward expression of their sexuality and gender doesn't line up with cultural expectations.

In other words, normaling not only requires a personal inclination towards conventional gender styling and couplehood, it also requires being in a position of economic, educational, racial, familial, and geographical privilege to the point that you feel that you have freedom in how you express your gender and sex.  Ideally, we would live in a world where absolutely everyone had this freedom of expression - and factually, we do not.  Therefore, to engage in normaling is itself an assertion of privilege, privilege that inevitably relies on the existence of non-privileged people to exist.



And of course, this problematic nature of normaling is part of the very reason why it's kinky.  Kink is all about power dynamics - and normaling, as we noted above, is about a heavy-duty power dynamic - not necessarily between the partners in the normaling couple, but rather between the normaling couple and the world that gives them the power to normal with impunity and showers them with approval for doing so.

I take the term "normaling" from a scene of 30 Rock that struck me as both funny and hot. And then it struck me as culturally complex the more I thought about it.

In this scene, Jenna and Paul realize that they're into normaling. Jenna and Paul are both white, cis-gendered (though Paul's a transvestite), educated, and well off. They're engaged in a heterosexual relationship with each other.  They're both kinky in the classic sense of the term (they like cross-dressing, bondage, pain play, and other fanciful weirdness).

Here's the clip:


It's adorable, of course, that Jenna and Paul love each other, have hot sex, and are able to sexualize their falling asleep together under a quilt.  Their exhibitionist excitement mounts as they realize that they can go normaling in public by shopping for housewares at Bed, Bath, and Beyond - "in front of everybody!"

What makes Jenna and Paul more adorable than the average couple shopping at Bed, Bath, and Beyond and falling asleep together under quilts is that they at least realize the highly kinky (because immensely culturally privileged) nature of their activities.

Jenna and Paul are both societally privileged enough to be flagrantly kinky in the classic BDSM modes (their behavior might garner eye-rolling from their friends but neither of them is in danger of being starved, beaten, arrested, etc.) to the point that they're able to experience their choice to act "normal" as just another option on the erotic table.

Why Normaling is Hot

"Everything is about sex. Except for sex. Sex is about power." - Oscar Wilde

Normaling is hot and naughty for folks like me who are at least somewhat aware of their privilege because when I'm engaging it, I know what I'm doing is based on my power. Power that I didn't earn. Power that's just been given to me. Luxury.

It's a giant luxury to be a straight, cis-gendered, white, educated, healthy and economically stable woman. It means that when I put on a dress and kitten heels and pearls and make-up and hold the arm of my partner who happens to be a straight, cis-gendered, white, educated, healthy and economically stable man we match the image of a powerful archetype that's burned deep into our collective cultural retinas.

People stare at us when we're in public - and not because we look weird, of course - but because we look so very normal. Actually, because we look weirdly normal - it's sometimes strange to see a cultural archetype before your eyes in living color, executed with a slightly exaggerated edge. And that's what we are, me in my kitten heels and pink dress and him in his grey jacket and steel-toed boots.

I've come to think there's even a queerness to this normaling that we do, from the very fact that there's a consciously performative dimension to it. My dress and heels and pearls and make-up are a kind of drag. They're exciting both because they provoke a response from my masculine partner, and because they garner approving attention from the folks around us.

Why Normaling is Dangerous

Normaling is dangerous because in this heady euphoria of old-fashioned sexiness and cultural approval, it can be easy for me to forget that my kink is one that relies on societal distaste for other forms of gender expression.  It can also be easy for me to forget that the drag I'm choosing to adopt is just that - drag, and not an unmediated, "pure" expression of my inner essence or something.

Once, I got so caught up in normaling that I married a man who wasn't a sustainable partner for me in part because we just looked so goddamn good together and we wanted to have a wedding.  With the wedding came a ton of both cultural approval and its wicked twin, cultural expectation. When I realized I couldn't stay with him because of some fundamental incompatibilities I felt horrible shame for letting everyone down. I thought seriously about jumping off a bridge.  That's what normaling without a safeword can do, friends.

So now you know

So now that you know that normaling is edgy, hot, and dangerous I encourage you to engage in it with utmost care, if at all. It can be an intoxication.  Don't let the bubbly fun of it blind you to its real potential consequences.  If you do it, remember you're not an archetype, you're a human being in a historically situated and societally created context.

For those of you who don't engage in normaling due to choice or due to other constraints, I hope this exploration makes a little bit more clear the kinky and performative nature of some types of cis-gendered coupling that goes on.

I can't really say that normaling remotely does anything to bring about freedom for all people, but I can say that it packs a hardcore rush.



Posted on March 25, 2014 and filed under Uncategorized.