DURING CONTAINMENT, at the time of the coronavirus, between the disorder of time and the reorganization of daily tasks caused by the general shutdown, I acquired a new habit. Every day at 8:30 p.m., after going out on the balcony to applaud or shout, I answer my parents’ videoconference call. They are in a town in northern Castile, Spain, and I am in a district of Paris. Before the coronavirus, we spoke once every two months, during important events, holidays, birthdays. But now the daily call is like an explosion of oxygen. This is what my mother, who has always had a talent for melodrama, says as soon as the screen opens: “Seeing you is like going out and breathing.” My father is ninety years old, a dynamic man who, before being locked up, walked eight kilometers a day. He is also a cold man: a child abandoned by his own father, who grew up without affection, convinced that work was his only reason for existence. Although the elderly are not allowed to go out, my father comes down every day, wearing his gloves and mask, to buy a wand several hundred yards from the house. “No one can deny him that,” my mother said. And when he’s not in the room, she adds, “We may never be able to walk the streets together again. It may be his last spring. He must be able to get out.
My mother sometimes addresses me in the masculine, sometimes in the feminine, but she always calls me Paul. I love when my dad asks, “Who’s calling?” and my mother said, “This is our Pol. This is how she imagines the spelling of my name. With each call, my father inspects my face on the screen as if to examine the changes produced by my gender transition. But also, as if he was looking for his face in mine: “You look more and more like your father,” said my mother. The transition underscored the similarity of our characteristics, as if it brought out a phenotype that estrogen had concealed. I’m not telling him, but this new resemblance bothers me as much as it does to him.
The other day my father asked me, “Why don’t you let your beard grow all over your face?”
“Because it doesn’t grow evenly,” I explain. “I started taking testosterone at the age of thirty-eight, and when the pores of the skin are closed, the hairs cannot grow.”
“Is that true. What hot air!” Answers my father.
“Leave him alone, don’t touch his beard. Does he tell you about yours? my mother retorts.
When I explain that I am rereading a new book that comes out in June, my mother asks me, with an interest that reveals her desire, to whom I am going to dedicate it: to Judith Butler. “Who is this lady? she asks. I explain that she is not a woman, that she is a person who does not identify as a man or a woman, that they just got their non-binary person certificate in California. And that it’s an event, like when I legally changed my sex in 2017. I explain that it was thanks to this philosopher that I knew that even those of us who were considered deviant or degenerate could do philosophy. “But what if it’s neither a man nor a woman?” asks my dad, “what is this?”
“They are free,” I tell him.
“Is that true. What hot air!” He repeats.
The three of us laugh. Before hanging up, my father, who has never told me he loves me, comes very close to the screen and sends me a kiss. I don’t know how to react to his unexpected gesture. “We’ll be waiting for you tomorrow,” my mother said, “for our daily walk together.”
After this meeting, hearing my mother’s subtle petition and seeing them so fragile and suddenly so affectionate, I said to myself that I would one day like to be able to dedicate a book to them. And it occurs to me that in order for them to enjoy this dedication without being offended by the content, I should be able to write a book in which the words homosexual and homosexuality, the words transsexual, transgender, and transsexuality—Where the word sex would not appear. Neither the word sexuality, nor grated, nor sex worker; or prostitution, nor Abortion; or penetration, nor dildo; or anus, nor erection, penis, cock, vagina. No vulva, no clitoris, no breasts, no nipples, no fucking, no ejaculation, no AIDS, no Orgasm, no pipe, no sodomy, no masturbation, no perversion, no queer, no lesbian, no lesbianism, no dike, no gay, no tomboy, no trucker, no whore, no mastectomy, no phalloplasty, no mental illness, no gender dysphoria, no psychosis, no schizophrenia, no depression, no pornography, no pharmacopornography, no Fuck, no addiction, no drugs, no alcoholism, no marijuana, no heroin, no cocaine, methadone, morphine, rift, Trader, suicide, jail, criminal . . . And I think the writing exercise itself would be heroic. The book would be a long Barthesian periphrasis, but also a good distraction for periods of confinement.
Paul B. Preciado is a philosopher, curator and trans activist. An apartment on Uranus: Chronicles of the crossing, a collection of his chronicles between 2013 and 2018 for Release and other media, was published in 2019 by Semiotext (e).