Touching Junk

As we enter the holiday season with a “movement” against “touching junk,” constipated though that movement might be, I cannot help thinking about convergences, less logical than associative, though association has its own logics. After all, the holidays are really about touching junk—packaged affect that still moves us. We invest in touching junk all the time. And perhaps this is a lesson about what sustains the holidays. And, here, of course, I want to suggest affective as well as material proximities: we pick up and drop tons of junk during the holidays.

The question of what it means “to touch junk” strikes me in response to Tavia’s post “Touch the Junk,” an invitation familiar and welcome to habitués of darkened halls with men wrapped in or carrying hand towels or men at gloryholes.

Touch the Junk. Touch the Junk. Touch the junk.

It is possible to speak of the liberation of becoming distanced from one’s body. To refuse the “my.” To question the sacredness of one’s embodiment. To inhabit the violation of public embodidness. I conduct a thought experiment here, not a description of what “is” happening, though it could be. At queer edges, government intrusion can be intruded upon. Touch the Junk.

A queer project: to violate sacral spaces.
In reading the truncated pieces from the ACLU about consumer experiences, one feels the urge to weave undated testimonies into broader histories of bodily integrity and bodily violation, of empathy given and empathy withheld. Of what it might mean to re-experience the past and present.

In a Butlerian vein, one wants to question how touching “produces” junk. But one also wants to ask about what Jane Bennett terms vital materiality—the life of “junk.”


“Only my wife can touch my junk.”
I re-read the ACLU’s truncated reports. Wonder about what it means to be violated. About who gets to feel violated. About what it means to belong to a place and to be protected in that place. About the claims for non-junkiness. But also about memories of trauma.

Whose memories are being claimed, inhabited, performed at sites of en-junkment? And what is being posited against en-junkment? What narratives about bodies and ownership and privacy and publicity? What narratives about intimacy?

One man’s junk.

A stray comment: flying used to be for the privileged. Now, anyone with $200 can fly. It has become junky to fly.

From junket to junky.

Not quite.

But one can be junked.
Who owns our bodies? What guarantees rights? These are legal questions with real-life answers. There are questions that we tend to ignore. I don’t know the answers, but they might surprise us. In movies, governments bomb entire towns to “contain” threats.

Who owns bodies?

And what happens if bodies are genitalized, understood as “junk”? In public?

And how do racial histories produce “junk”? Junk for whom?

I have read, somewhere, that the TSA agents charged with touching junk might be uncomfortable. But classic psychological experiments tell us that being authorized to do something has effects. Boundaries are negotiable. It might be possible to think of new conceptions of the body emerging from these excursions into junkhood.

Histories of race and gender provide us with the best “guides” for thinking about transformations of bodies into and out of junk status, as hyper- and hypo-genitalized, as private and public, as owned by others and owned by selves. And while some people are willing to invoke those histories, many others are not. Indeed, attempts to suture, say, the stop and frisk policies in New York with TSA actions encounter incredibly resistance. In part because, as Sara Ahmed explains in another context, the stranger is one who has been identified in advance as such. The stranger is instantly recognizable. So, too, the bodies that bear crime and thus should be stopped and frisked.

TSA actions make strangers of us all. And also build unlikely alliances. From which race must be absented. Absolutely touch the brown men with beards. When you touch me you create conceptual proximities. Something is junked: an innocence that is produced through the illogic of race.

Strange how we keep losing innocence.
I find it difficult to get over the homosexual panic that, in part, subtends accusations of government “violation.” We should be willing to talk about “disgust.” About the kinds of feeling on display when airline patrons speak of shivering and vomiting and crying.

What is a body?

What is junk?

How is one embodied?

How is one junked?

One thought on “Touching Junk

  1. Thanks for extending and unpacking some more of the associative chains around junk-junkets-junkiness. And great link to / discussion of the ACLU website testimonies.

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