Alon Lischinsky's research and teaching


Shame, desire and the troubling of agency in sissy porn

Conference paper: Lischinsky, A. & Gupta, K. (2022, May 23). 'Tell me you want it, sissy': shame, desire and the troubling of agency in sissy porn [Paper presentation]. Lavender Languages & Linguistics 28 Conference, Catania, Italy

The figure of the sissy has played a central role in anxieties about modernity. Conceived as an overcivilised, spoiled child, it featured prominently in fears about the decay of virility at the turn of the twentieth century (Kuhl & Martino, 2018); as the hypersensitive and underdeveloped product of excessive maternal attachment, it was pathologised by clinicians and child guidance practitioners who viewed it as a precursor of adult homosexuality (Grant, 2004: 836); as a shaming device, it remains pivotal to the behavioural policing through which young children are socialised into the binary, asymmetric system of gendered norms (Adams, 2013; Thorne, 1993).

A considerable body of work has considered the ways in which sissies have been and are stigmatised in the practices and artefacts of contemporary culture (eg, McInnes & Davies, 2008; Rottnek, 1999; Robinson & Davies, 2007). But the revulsion sissiness inspires is often tinged with ambivalent fascination: the sissy’s breach of the norms of compulsory heteromasculinity can be seen not only as failure (Thorne, 1993: 116), but also as an empowering attempt to transcend them (Fernandes Messias, 2011; Thomas, 2014).

Fascination with the sissy is particularly prominent in pornography, where it features not only as an object of desire, but also as a figure for audience identification (Goldman, 2021). The potential “pleasure [of] sissy subjectivity” (Fernandes Messias, 2011: 25) is conspicuously articulated in genres such as training guides that encourage the reader to embrace and enhance their sissiness (Ekins, 2002) or videos that use hypnotic techniques to invoke identification with hyperfeminine subjects (Gilbert, 2020).

In this paper, we explore how sissy identities are constructed in a corpus of approximately 1.4 billion word-tokens collected from (2016), one of the oldest, largest and most widely-read erotic fiction repositories online. We use verbal, nominal and adjectival collocates to characterise the semantic profile of the term and compare it to a range of other common terms for gender-nonconforming characters with which it may co-occur, such as queer, tranny or boi.

Hierarchical clustering and community detection measures show that — despite the occasional interchangeable use — sissy is a semantic outlier among these terms, associated with terminology denoting Dominance/submission play and nonmonogamous relationship dynamics, often with a strong non-consensual element. Through analysis of the narrative context, we show that the term is more often used as an other- than a self-descriptor, often as part of shaming rituals (formalised or not) that have a powerful erotic impact on the protagonist. Drawing on Bamberg’s (2010) concept of “dilemmatic spaces” through which selfhood is navigated, we discuss the complexities of agency and subjecthood in sissy identities.

gender diversity, gender nonconformity, trans, transgender, sissy, trans studies, gender studies, erotica, pornography, online fiction, porn studies, corpus linguistics, corpus stylistics, corpus-assisted discourse analysis