And I’m still there in the morning, washing wine glasses in the kitchen while Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 autoplays on the PS3. I’m absorbed in a digital kick-flip when
object verb subject
glass drop i
receptors excite nerves
muscle contract peripheral nervous system
palm open glass
palm-glass is glass-palm
I look at the shape in my palm. I try to identify the boundary between palm and glass. But the skin rips, the distinction between body and not-body is blurred by ooze.
My boundary is always oozing. Whenever I shit or sweat or feed or fuck. Whenever bacteria rearranges itself in my skin. This is
Most definitions focus on the mouth, real ingestion and imagined ingestion. Disgust is like this: “what one feels when one has something in one’s mouth that tastes bad and when one wants to cause it to come to be out of one’s mouth.”
Disgust has a biological function. It protects the body’s boundaries. It has a similar moral function: the rejection impulse that characterises disgust is co-opted to reject boundary-threatening stimuli in the social domain.
World-leading disgust expert Paul Rozin suggests that disgust is itself a boundary: it distinguishes people from animals. Indeed, disgust “brings it to the heart of what it means to be human.”
Disgust happens when we gunk up our distinctions. Vomit (food-waste) and androgyny (man-woman) both challenge the boundaries of
A signifier is a unit of classification. Like disgust, it lives in the mouth. Unlike disgust, it distinguishes things from other things. It does this by creating a subject against which it can position other objects. The signifier unifies the category it seeks to represent and, simultaneously, constitutes that very category.
Signification is an organising principle; disgust is a tool for disorganisation. Each undoes the work of the other. Challenging the subject-object distinction triggers our rejection impulse: our lips curl back, our teeth jut forward, hormones flush from the insula to incite anger and anxiety.,
My mum is a vet surgeon. She rips into bodies and signifies the sub-bodies inside them. Liver. Stomach. Uterus. She herself has been ripped up and signified. Mum is tough: she doesn’t feel challenged when her boundaries ooze. I ask her about this. She says: science is logic. And: some things are necessary. Like when she had surgery for
Her inflammation accreted a number of nasty signifiers. Like fallopian damage and infertility. The words gathered like mould around her internal organs and gummed up her tubes. A few years after her signification, she went to a doctor to confront her infertility, and the doctor injected her with
Iodine-based compounds are used to improve pictures of the inside of the body produced by x-rays. Often, these contrast materials allow the radiologist to distinguish normal from abnormal conditions, as they can help distinguish selected areas of the body from surrounding tissue.
Iodine is a signifier—its role is to distinguish the subject from the object. In some cases, the signifier alters the thing it signifies. Instead of distinguishing my mum’s infertility, iodine-based compounds un-gummed her fallopian tubes.
And a couple of decades later she went into
The general body of wage earners;
The physical activity experienced during parturition—the process of bringing forth a child from the uterus, or womb (etymology: parturitio—parturire—parere—per. per: before, in front, first).
At the boiling-point of February, my body was squeezing out of my mum’s body, slick with indeterminate sweat and slime. New year’s celebrations were sputtering outside the hospital window as the year of the tiger slugged into the year of the rabbit. I was a tiger-rabbit hybrid. I was a feedback loop. Oryctolagus cuniculus and panthera tigris; predator and prey, consumer and consumed.
And then: female. Birth certificate: F. I had already failed my do you have a dick test, because of a
Essentially, an underdeveloped penis. Both the penis and clitoris develop from the ambisexual genital tubercle. The genital tubercle differentiates into a penis under the influence of androgens. Once these androgens develop a tubular urethra, the tubercle classifies as a ‘penis’.
To be female, at the age of zero, is like this:
and so on.
This signifier, female, is not just representational. It’s generative. The word itself creates a female i. To be female is to signify the signifier. Female is a
A circuit is closed if the circle is complete, so that all currents have a path back to where they came from.
The electric current of my femaleness circles my neurological wire. When I grow up, I learn to think, but I’m really just learning to subvocalise to the tiny woman in my head who connects signifiers to signifieds. She’s like a
At the switchboard, a telephone operator plugs connecting cords into the socket of the calling party, and a matching connecting cord into the socket of the called party. Copper wires connect the interested parties.
This tiny brain-woman is me. We constitute and decompose my self. I am an
The snake that eats its own tail: “it is said of the Ouroboros that he slays himself and brings himself to life, fertilises himself and gives birth to himself.” It is round and twisted like a möbius strip.
This neuronal switchboard is scaffolded by Ouroborotic determinism. It births and maintains the feedback loop—keeping me stable by rejecting things that aren’t me from going in my mouth and making me sick. I am a subject—a subject is a habit—a habit is the opposite of
Desire and affect are generated by our various habits of turning and directing the body… To follow a line might be a way of becoming straight, by not deviating at any point.
Straightness is a celebration of the Ouroborotic condition. Heterosexuality doesn’t create anything new. It compulsively consumes its past dispositions, it reproduces its past behaviours. Heterosexuality is autocannibalism. When I think about autocannibalism I think about
THE MONGULU VILLAGE OF PAPUA NEW GUINEA, 1978
My mum was a nineteen- year-old vet school graduate from Central Queensland. When she graduated, believing in God meant believing in colonialism. She was training Biambi people in vet skills so that they could keep their dominant currency (pigs) healthy. Mum was called nogo wandali (pig girl)/(currency girl). She talked to a Biambi woman about cannibalism. She learned that eating somebody is an act of power. That you start by pulling the neck back to stretch the stomach muscles, and then you slice.
Mum tells me this story over a chicken dinner. I ask her: which part’s the tastiest?
She shows me the pad of her hand. The fat fleshy bit between the thumb and the palm. She has since graduated from the evangelical mindset, but the taste of it lingers.
I look at my hand and I think: meat. I look at my meat and I think: body. I feel: disgust.
And I am a vegetarian for the rest of my adolescence. No other bodies are entering this body. No thank you. Adolescence is like disgust is like meat-eating: I want to get all three of them out of my mouth. This is my
RITE OF PASSAGE:
According to van Gennep, the rite is constituted by three distinct phases: separation, liminality, and incorporation. Adolescence is the liminal stage.
Disgust is liminality—it is the dissolution of boundaries. Disgust is inside me and outside me. I feel its fingers pushing up from the back of my throat. I feel my body changing when I’m
Digestion begins in the mouth and ends in the small intestine. As food passes through the GI tract, it mixes with digestive juices, causing large molecules of food to break down into smaller molecules. The body then absorbs these smaller molecules through the walls of the small intestine into the bloodstream, which delivers them to the rest of the body. Excess amino acids and sugars are converted to fat for storage.
Food squeezes from my mouth into my gut and then it seeps back out from the inside. It wiggles out from my colon and my uterus. My body is swollen from the collective mass of the food that stays inside. Bulbs of fat press out of my chest and my ass. I catch signifiers like germs—curvy, feminine, sexy. I am disgusting; I am disgusted with myself. The push-pull of queer adolescence oscillates between these poles:
disgust disgusting body
disgusting body disgust
To be disgusted by the body; to be disgusted by one’s own attraction to the body; to be disgusted by one’s own body; to be disgusted by one’s own sexual relationship with one’s own body. These fault-lines fissure beneath my first attempts at
Masturbation is defined as any sort of bodily self-stimulation that results in excitation of the genitals. It commonly involves handling or rubbing of the sexual organs. For a subject with body dysmorphic disorder, self-stimulation can become enmeshed with body anxiety. For a same-sex attracted subject, self-stimulation can become enmeshed with internalised queerphobia. Many subjects are so conditioned that even the word “masturbation” arouses feelings of shame and disgust. Some subjects adopt discursive strategies to justify engagement in masturbation, e.g. using obscure euphemisms and signifiers.
It happens like this:
object verb subject
clit touches hand
clit ? brain
brain ? clit
? orgasm ?
I am not a lesbian, but I am behaving like a lesbian. Am I indulging in a secret
In ancient times, the word lesbiazein meant ‘to defile.’ For example, in Aristophanes in the Wasps: ‘‘She who already pollutes her drinking companions.’’ The infamous vice, which is performed with the mouth, called fellatio… is said to have originated with the people of Lesbos, and among them it was first of all something which women had to perform.
I am not a lesbian, but I am behaving like a lesbian and I am becoming a lesbian. But I can’t say the word, it is not quite right, I am tonguing it like an ulcer inside my cheek. But I am afraid of becoming a lesbian by accident. I am afraid of creating a lesbian signified through a compulsive re-inscription of lesbian signifiers (oh, oh, oh).
I am afraid of the connective tissue of my hand-clit-hand relationship. My fear is attached to compulsory cisnormativity; I am afraid of becoming a
wīfmon; wif (wife of) + man (human)
I am bound to the matrix of binary gender-sexual linguistics. This means that the alternative to becoming a woman is becoming
trans-gender; trans (on the other side of) + gender
The word is wrong. The transgender person does not transgress the matrix. They transition. They go to another part of the matrix. The other part.
The trans person is not a subject or an object, because the trans person cannot eat themselves. They are coming out of their body, letting it slump like snakeskin around their ankles. They do not consume the public gender identity, and they are not available for its consumption. The trans person is
The existence of abject bodies are downright contradictory. Butler tells us that they are contradictory on purpose: pronounced as performative formulas, they are meant to enforce or invoke an “impossible” existence.
I remember abjection. I remember the men’s bathroom in the club scout hall, dank and gentle, yellow light rubbing up against my outlines and making me soft and strange. I remember the shuffling of heavy feet. Boots demarcated by the gold square beneath the cubicle door.
I remember coming out of the bathroom. I remember coming out in the technicolour glow of a school disco. I remember expanding, uncrumpling, stretching out my surface area to accommodate the expanse of their disgust. My body was dissolving a boundary cherished by the middle-school institution. I was boiling pubescent manhood down to slime.
Middle school disco becomes queer club. Subterranean murk, a wet LED gloss wobbling in teenage sweat and other contraband fluids. Romance moves through the interface of the body:
You look hot
Thanks, you too
Do you have Insta
And then the greasiness of my first kiss. Hairspray gathering slick and brittle in their hair. Our shuffling hands and eyes. Our clinging and holding and collapsing. A mechanical tightening at the back of my throat, the caustic sting of their tongue. Love is indistinguishable from fear.
And then the möbius strip of our goodbye:
Alright see you tomorrow
Nah I’ll wait with you
The next one’s not for another 15
Yeah I’ll wait
But it doesn’t leave for another 15
Nah I’ll wait for 15
But I’ll see you tomorrow
I remember it until I can’t remember it. Somebody (I can’t remember who) tells me that you don’t actually remember your memories, just the last time you remembered them. And when you remember that memory you make a new version and get rid of the last one.
I imagine those pseudo-realities overlaying over one another. I imagine taking a picture and filtering it over and over and over. I imagine some parts going sharp and grainy and other parts fuzzing into incoherence.
Last night I told my boyfriend, I said, apparently you can’t actually remember things, you just remember the last time you remembered them. And he said I wonder how far back it goes.
I wonder if there’s anything to it, to
Mice trained to avoid a smell passed their aversion on to their “grandchildren”. The animals were trained to fear a smell similar to cherry blossoms. The team at the Emory University School of Medicine, in the US, then looked at what was happening inside the sperm. They showed a section of DNA responsible for sensitivity to the cherry blossom scent was made more active in the mice’s sperm. Both the mice’s offspring, and their offspring, were “extremely sensitive” to cherry blossom and would avoid the scent, despite never having experienced it in their lives.
I move quickly in the dark. I have never been chased, not really, but trepidation means that things from the future loop back to the present. There is metallic heat in my mouth. Acid rising in my throat.
In the dark I learn that gender is a
Gender is a project which has cultural survival as its end. The term ‘strategy’ better suggests the situation of duress under which gender performance always and variously occurs. Hence, as a strategy of survival, gender is a performance with clearly punitive consequences. Discrete genders are part of what ‘humanises’ individuals within contemporary culture; indeed, those who fail to do their gender right are regularly punished.
There is safety in masculinity. There is danger in being caught out. The secret fattens the boundary between my inside and my outside. But still my body signifies: feminine.
Two years after my first kiss, my body is eating itself in the more literal sense. Fat shrinks back into my body and gathers around my organs to keep them warm. This is a symptom of
Autopsies of adult victims of starvation were noted to demonstrate severe demineralisation of the cortex and matrix decomposition. That the malnourished body might essentially be eating its own bones. The underweight body is also less likely to produce other bodies, as malnourishment is related to the enhanced risk of infertility.
When I am malnourished, I am not challenged in the men’s bathroom. I am not challenged in the women’s bathroom. My ephemeral skeleton body moves through walls. I lose feeling in my fingers. My blood pressure drops. I see black spots when I move. Like some cosmic child is finger-painting dark ink on the terrarium glass between me and the world. I wonder what is wrong with me. I
weigjt loss, tremor, trouble thinkimg
And maybe I have an
These disorders are often perpetuated by a link between food and the disgust response. When food is imbued with disgusting properties, the subject turns food into a forbidden substance that should not be incorporated into the body. The development of a sense of disgust with body shape and functions is extensively documented in eating disorders.
Or maybe it’s
The molecules that decide whether a cell should repair itself are faulty. For example, a protein called p53 usually checks if the cell can repair its genes, or if the cell should die. But many cancers have a faulty version of p53, so they don’t repair themselves properly. If cells don’t repair damage to their genes, this leads to more problems. New gene faults, or mutations, can make the cancer cells grow faster, spread to other parts of the body, or become resistant to treatment. Cancer cells can ignore the signals that tell them to self-destruct. So, they don’t undergo apoptosis when they should. Scientists call this making themselves immortal.
The subject convinces themselves that they have a condition. This is followed by the actual development of the condition’s symptoms.
I google my way through a multitude of physical ailments, eroding the space between my body and
The body stops consuming, producing, or interacting with the matter outside its boundaries. The boundary collapses in on itself.
In Gertrude Stein’s The Making Of Americans, protagonist David Hersland condenses his tangled net of fragments into a cohesive narrative. He can reduce himself to a single signifier by making a commitment to
EAT ONLY ONE THING
In his daily living he was thinking, he was eating, he was feeling. Any one could be such a one. He was such a one. Not any one could be such a one… He had need of this thing of being one eating something, of being one almost not eating anything.
… David Hersland was one deciding about eating something. David Hersland was one sometimes deciding to be eating only one thing.
Stein never signifies what this one thing is. Her writing is too circular—self-consumptive—to produce a real image, something to sink our teeth into. This state of “being one” is the objective of the Ouroboros. We can pursue this oneness by condensing our fragments into cohesive narratives. More literally, we could condense the food we eat.
Think about it like this: the human body is comprised by the things it consumes. If David reduces his diet to “only one thing,” he will inevitably become that “one thing”. Once he expunges himself of every other object, he will begin to self-consume. This is a pure subject: the transcendent signifier. This is the Ouroboros.
object verb subject
But Stein’s Ouroboros works better in literature than in real life. In practice it would probably look more like:
object verb subject
After they died, I could still see their cheek in my hand. Their death was a kind of logic. Yesterday, I could call and expect them to pick up. Today, I can’t. And, the coffin is not there to signify something. The coffin is there to carry the body. In our living relationship, they were a push-pull, a conversation moving in and out of my mind. But after death there is no in. There is no out. The dead body is permeable. It is worm-eaten and sludgy. It’s disgusting. It transcends disgust—like a roadkill possum with sun-swollen guts. Its stomach is shiny and speckled like a hard-boiled jawbreaker.
When visiting my mum, she tells me about cancer. She says: objectivism is the gift that science gave m—gives a person. But cancer is different. Illogical. Abject? Death comes from contradiction and impossibility, like cells that try to live forever.
She remembers a memory of her body destroying itself. She calls it relentless. She calls the illness relentless. The doctors relentless. She describes the feeling of being poked and prodded… the feeling of being invaded. She says, I would look at people just walking around and realise that I wasn’t like them. I wasn’t part of the organism of civil society.
subject verb object
mum the organism
the organism mum
This is what it’s like. Squeezing meaning through the mesh of signification. It worms out of the other side in long meaty tubes, red and pink.
 Wierzbicka, A 1986, ‘Human Emotions: Universal or Culture‐Specific?’, American Anthropologist, vol 88, no. 3, pp. 584-594.
 Davey, DCL 2011, ‘Disgust: the disease-avoidance emotion and its dysfunctions’, Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences, vol. 366, no. 1583, pp. 3453-3465.
 P. Rozin, J. Haidt, C McCauley, in Handbook of Emotions, M. Lewis, ]. M. Haviland-Jones, Eds. (Guilford, New York, 2000), pp. 637-653.
 Rozin et al 2008, Disgust, in Handbook of Emotions, p 771.
 The Politics of Sex and Gender: Benhabib and Butler Debate Subjectivity. Fiona Webster. Hypatia, Vol. 15, No. 1 (Winter, 2000). pp. 1-22.
 “The naming of the girl…initiates the process by which a certain girling is compelled.” Bodies that matter, Butler, 1993, p 232.
 Talking Wires: The Development of the Telephone, <moah.org/talkingwires/talkingwires.html?
Jung, C. G. “Mysterium coniunctionis: Vol. 14.” The collected works of C. G. Jung (2nd ed.), translated by R. F. C. Hull, edited by H. Read, M. Fordham, G. Adler & W. McGuire., Princeton University Press, NJ, 1963, p 365.
 Crawford LC 2008, Transgender without Organs? Mobilizing a Geo-Affective Theory of Gender Modification, p 135
 Masturbation Practices of Males and Females. Ibtihaj S. Arafat and Wayne L. Cotton. The Journal of Sex Research. Vol. 10, No. 4 (Nov., 1974). pp. 293-307 (p 294).
 Masturbation. Patricia A. Brooks. The American Journal of Nursing, Vol. 67, No. 4 (Apr., 1967). pp. 820-823 (p. 820).
 Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory. Judith Butler. Theatre Journal, Vol. 40, No. 4 (Dec., 1988). pp. 519-531 (p 525).
 The Proverbial “Lesbian”: Queering Etymology in Contemporary Critical Practice. Paula Blank. Modern Philology. Vol. 109, No. 1 (August 2011). pp. 108-134
 How Bodies Come to Matter: An Interview with Judith Butler. Irene Costera Meijer and Baukje Prins. Signs. Vol. 23, No. 2 (Winter, 1998). pp. 275-286 (p. 276).
 Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory. Judith Butler. Theatre Journal, Vol. 40, No. 4 (Dec., 1988). pp. 519-531 (p 522).
 Davey, DCL 2011, ‘Disgust: the disease-avoidance emotion and its dysfunctions’, Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences, vol. 366, no. 1583, pp. 3453-3465 (pp. 3458-9).
Linda Liu is a hungry illustrator with a taste for tactile textures, saucy shapes, and palatable palettes. She has a turbulent but passionate relationship with food, which she sometimes draws.
Website: lindersliu.com Twitter, Instagram, and (neglected) Tumblr: @lindersliu