Male identified same-sex sexual fetish in South Africa: (re)defining sexual relations between people and things
Historical ethnographic and early psychoanalytic epistemologies on 'fetishism' focus primarily on the fetish 'object', whereby the subject of 'fetish practices' was identified, pathologised and/or socioculturally invalidated primarily on the basis of affiliation with a taboo object. Such uncritical reliance on dualist, oppositional thinking and divisive, psychopathologising tendencies attenuates subjectivities and agency, and is inconsistent with contemporary postcolonial and queer scholarship. Contemporary discourses around (gay male sexual) 'fetishism', lodged in the definitions and diagnostic criteria of sexual 'fetishism' in the World Health Organisation's International Classification of Diseases, efface the subjectivities of sexual subjects who incorporate material objects into their sexual scripts. I argue that these classifications should be completely revised, since more appropriate subject-oriented epistemologies on sexuality incorporating material objects should acknowledge the constitution of the subject as phenomenologically taking place through intersections between materiality and discourse. This implies that no separate psychopathology of 'fetishism' can exist, since subjects, material objects and discourse cannot be effectively separated from each other.In contradistinction, a subject-oriented approach should, I suggest, be adopted, oriented around the (non-essentialist) constitution and lived experiences of sexual subjects, rather than on human or inanimate objects of sexual attention. This approach focuses on the necessary role of the human(sexual) body, which is neither entirely discursively nor materially constructed, but rather is engaged in a complex interaction with subjectivities, discourse and the phenomenal world. The(non-unitary) 'self' is him/herself subject, object and part of a cultural environment, experientially delineated through 'embodiment', with the phenomenological paradigm allowing for validation of sexual expression from an inclusive perspective, to develop complex cartographies of subjectivities.Based on this foundation, the thesis argues that the embodied sexual experience of the 'gay male fetishist' subject therefore serves to link him, objects and environments dialectically. Rather than being the 'object' of supervening drives, he is a valid agent, exploring his subjectivity and orienting himself in relation to his environment through his embodied experience. 'Sexual fetish' practices therefore function as connecting (rather than divisive) forces in human relations with the world. At the same time, consensual, non-harmful 'gay male fetish' sexualities are potentially selftransformative and socially transformative practices, called on as resources for recognising personal value.