Research Notes| Future(s) of Love/Sex
By Krizia Puig
Thoughtfeelings about the “Disruptive” Potential of Sex-Robots
The popularization of sexual/romantic relationships among organic and synthetic humans is covered by popular media as if these relationships are something “new” or “about to happen” because of the “unexpected” arrival of the sex robot. There is a historicity behind this topic that gets erased in the subtle ways in which we are currently been set to interact with these “lovable machines.” What is the scandal—the astonishment— when building a “perfect woman” seems to be an ever-present longing of cis-heteropatriarchy? Why do mainstream popular and academic discourses imbue the project of building a sex robot with so much novelty and vanguardism?
There are infinite records that support that sexual/emotional relationships among organic and/or synthetic humans have existed in many western and non-western socio-historical contexts. This is why I have been thinking about the nuances of the word “disrupt” in my own language and the language others use when talking about sex robots. Also, I have been thinking about who is part of that “we” that comes together when we think about the “normal” sexuality that is or will be “disrupted” by the awaited “arrival of the sex robots.”
Most people tend to start to approach the topic of sexual robotics by asserting their “humanity” first, and by situating themselves within an illusory notion of the present that is stable and apprehensible—a notion of the present as a reality permeated by certainty. Most people also tend to situate sex robots as objects (not subjectivities of any kind) of analysis within a vague, fixed, and always unreachable sense of the future. This tells us something important about the effects these kind of devices have on our bodies, minds, and spirits—in what we think and experience as time, space, materiality, agency, and subjectivity.
We need to play with the tenses of the verbs we use in our questions when thinking/imagining sexual robotics to be able to create radical knowledge with, from, and about sex robots. Time is a social construction, like categories of social difference (gender, race, class, ability, sexuality, etc.)—what we understand as time and what we understand as “human sexuality” and as “human” has been defined by Western thought and by the history of colonization that has permeated the world.
In my M.A. thesis about gendered female sex dolls/robots (click here to download) I defined “synthetic hyper femininity” as a sort of performative location of passive resistance from which organic and synthetic humans step in and out (at will) to produce forms of hyper-genderized and hyper-racialized pleasures as commodities. I also defined “the synthetic hyper-femme” as a stable customized, technologically, and performatively produced form of racialized and gendered female techno-humanity. Categories of social difference mediate our politics of desire and the politics of desire that define the sex industry. Also, it is through this process of categorization that humans become intelligible or understandable as subjects within our culture. In my research, I have explained that sexdolls/sex robots allow us to see that the main achievement of the high-end sex industry has been to develop what I call “technologies of humanization”—that is, a system to turn the reinforcement of categories of social difference into a profitable product. I have also explained how/why the potency of the high-end sex doll and the sex robot as performative objects lie in their successful delivery of categories of social difference as cultural effects.
The transformative potential of sex robots lies, firstly, on their latent corrosive effects on Eurocentric Humanism. But is not about the simple emergence of new forms of sexuality. In fact, what people tend to misunderstand as “new forms of sexualities” (e.g. technosexuality, robosexuality, etc) tend to be present manifestations of sexual behaviors previously pathologized (e.g. agalmatophilia). In this sense, limiting the potential of sex robots to the function of the enabler of new forms of sexualities would be to adopt a refreshed assimilationist take on sex-tech: accepting the deviant for the sake of profit and multiculturalism.
What I mean with “latent corrosive effects on Eurocentric Humanism” is that sex robots show that we are not only assigned a gender at birth (like Judith Butler pointed out), but that we are actually assigned “to be humans” or “humans to be” at that moment: a kind of being/subjectivity whose existence will be defined by the categories of social difference and the regimes of physical, emotional, reproductive, and spiritual exploitation that sustain current systems of oppression. Secondly, sex robots are a medium themselves to access, theorize, and experiment with future notions of love that can escape the logics of contemporary, capitalist, white-supremacist cisheteropatriarchy. I think we can use sexual robotics to change the current affective order of the world precisely because of the ways in which they destabilize notions of time, space, materiality, agency, and subjectivity.
But to create transformative sex-tech is imperative to sit down with key questions that will define the fate of the Earth. We need to create/imagine other forms of/to love, other ways of loving that cannot reinforce exploitative forms of relationality: What are the loves we long for? What are the loves we need, as disabled queer/trans people, to sustain our existence in a world that is dying? What are the loves we want to feel without knowing they can yet exist? What are those radically vulnerable connections that we can foster to navigate the “end of the human world”—togetheralone? I am working to find ways to catalyze communal experiences of what I call “radically vulnerable techno-intimacy.” I am trying to rethink the purposes, materiality, forms, and uses of sexual technologies to develop communal practices of care and knowledge production based on the needs, longings, and fantasies of disabled queer/trans folks…