Cult of the Turtle

Joe Tortuga's musing on life,tech and gaming


January 12, 2010

Transgression in its primary sense is the violation of a moral law or duty.  It can also be more generally defined as “the action of going beyond or overstepping some boundary or limit”, according to one of The Free’s sources.  The primary sense, therefore, is a specific case where the boundaries and limits are imposed on us by society.

This interests me because first, I’m a geek, and second I’m a member of many sub-groups which define themselves (or are externally defined) by how they transgress from society.   Geeks by nature seek edge conditions. It lets them know the space they live in and, well, the most interesting stuff is at the edges. As a programmer, I spend most of my time dealing with edge-cases, so finding the borders, and knowing where they are is important to me.  Also important is  knowing when to cross those borders and under what circumstances.  In other words, knowing when to transgress.

At some point my geekiness started getting applied to the social rules and norms around me.  I know that as a high school student, I devoured books in an effort to understand the social rules we live by.  I was too embarrassed to admit I might not know those rules, so I had to find them from a source where I wouldn’t be exposed to ridicule or shame.  As a result I taught myself some odd rules, between Tolkien and Heinlein, and everything in between.

So, I practice polyamory because I realized I could renegotiate the social contracts around marriage.  I’m kinky for a lot of reasons, but I practice BDSM within that same understanding of negotiation, permission and boundary.  Both of these practices transgress on the so-called “normal” society.  Having more than one partner is morally wrong, or at least frowned upon in the US. Certainly the collection of desires wrapped up in BDSM aren’t things we’re supposed to do (or, technically, even want to do.)

Even being a gamer is, or rather, has historically been transgressive to “normal” society, as well.  But more on that later.

I do want to say that another part of my identity that might be considered transgressive, is that I am bisexual.  It certainly led to situations where, when I lived in North Carolina, I did things with consenting adults which would have — if caught and prosecuted — placed me on the sex offender list there.  That’s not true where I live now, which is part of why I live there.  Those actions and desires are considered transgressive in the moral and legal senses in North Carolina.

I don’t consider them to be in the same set of action and choices that I’m going to be talking about here.  I want to discuss  the conscious choice of stepping across boundaries and pushing at limits.  I’m more interested in that that choice, where it puts you and the context it puts you in.  But for things that are not really choices: sexual orientation, gender, race and probably a half-dozen other things I haven’t listed or don’t know about — I believe that society’s decision to consider those things transgressive is just discrimination and the exertion of privilege.

(As an aside, there’s a very good chance that I will exert my own privilege as part of this discussion. If I do, feel free to call me on it, and I’ll attempt to update my essay or ideas where I can.  Hopefully this whole idea has merit without being mere privilege.)

What I’m interested in here when I talk about being a gamer and a geek, or kinky and polyamorous, is that I’ve made a choice to step outside of society’s rules.  I have transgressed upon society.  But in so doing, what I’ve done is stepped into another society.  There is a kinky subculture, or “Lifestyle” that comes with its own rules for behavior and acceptance within the group.  And, of course, these subcultures break down into sub-subcultures, until we get down to the basic size of a village or so, and the number of people an individual can comfortably form bonds with.

Of course there are sub-cultures and groups which do not transgress upon society, and there are sub-subcultures within, say, gamer subculture that do not transgress upon each other. But what I’m intersted in is the space you find yourself when you choose to join a transgressive group.  That act of joining these groups means you accept the social normals of the group — it’s boundaries and limits; but it also means you are crossing a boundary of the society at large.

Thus you are in a contradictory space, both bounded and boundary-breaking.  This puts you in a liminal state, outside of normal reality, when you are actively being part of these groups. It’s why many people belonging to those don’t want to be completely accepted.  (I know many neopagans who hope their religion is never common or widespread, for instance.)  There’s some power for acceptance and creativity here, that lies outside what is normally done.  I think it’s a good thing myself, but that should be obvious based on the groups I voluntarily have joined.

I know, I know, we write about games here.  You’re wondering what all this has to do about games. Quite a bit actually, although perhaps that’s changing.  I’ll talk more about that this week on the blog.