Intimacy and technologies: a pre-history

There have always been technologies of intimacy, they are not the product of our internet age. We think, we learn, we love with people but often through things. The gift, the love letter, the dowry. The romance novel, the lovers’ hideaway, the celebrity crush, the diary, the Grindr profile. Memoirs, rituals, hashtags and funerals. Intimacy is always virtual even when it is at its most sensuously physical. It is mediated by memory, story and hope.

Bernini’s St Teresa and a Grindr profile are both snapshots of longing. Both represent bodies turned towards the other. Both tell us something about virtual intimacy.

Intimacy is a liminal space that connects us to something/someone whether that’s through screens, through falling in love with history, through bodies rubbing up against each other and dissolving, or through believing that an angelic arrow is piercing your insides with mystic fire. It’s also about bodies taking flight, refusing to settle. It’s troubling and wonderful.

But that all sounds too exceptional, because intimacy is also quotidian, it’s what Kathleen Stewart has called ‘ordinary affect’:

a surging, a rubbing, a connection of some kind that has an impact. It’s transpersonal or prepersonal—not about one person’s feeling literally becoming another’s but about bodies literally affecting one another and generating intensities: human bodies, discursive bodies, bodies of thought, bodies of water. (2007:128)

Love, especially queer love, is what some queer theorists have called a public feeling (Cvetkovich, A., 2007). The web and other digital technologies both extend and complicate that publicness, but queer love, has never been a private, self-contained emotion. We have always carried into our private moments both the weight and the possibilities of queer history.

We grapple with love and sex and hope and shame and with our first unexpected gifted moments of joy and pain through the only tools we have. There are the things we are told and the things that we come to know, each edging up against the way it seems things are. Both our personal histories and those public structures of feeling shape that journey to understand and to become intimate. For me this tangle of intimacy has always been about love, sex and religion.

Excerpt from my latest BentStreet piece for their terrific special issue Love from a Distance: Intimacy and technology in the era of COVID19. It’s a meditation on the technology of narrative through the lens of Robert Gluck and Margery Kemp

David Wojnarowicz’s lips

‘Untitled (Face in Dirt) 1990-1993’ | David Wojnarowicz


The Song of Solomon, the bible’s surprisingly erotic master poem, begins with a kiss.

‘Let him kiss me with the kisses of his lips …’

This astounding poem is filled with the sensory world of the lover: the smell of him, the caught sight of his nakedness, the taste of him; but it is here with the kiss that it begins. With the lips.

When our lips part, what is that space between?

What do our lips remember? What do they long for? What do they wet?


David Wojnarowicz had beautiful lips. Full, fleshy, seductive.

In a reverie that might be a dream, a memory, a fiction, Wojnarowicz writes of wandering through a labyrinthine structure following the hint of a boy: first it is the wind at his heels that blows past as a door opens and shuts, then the hum of his red jacket in the distance. Then the lure of his lips:

‘I could feel his lips against mine from across the room, tasting reefer or milk on them as he disappears through the square hole in the ceiling …’

Then he falls right into the taste of him.

‘Like water falls from the sky I leaned in close and slid down and unsnapped his jeans button by button using only my teeth. He was wearing no underwear and I peeled back the flag of his trousers, his dick falling neatly out to rest on my lips …’

What do our lips anticipate? What do they follow? What do they consume?

………… This is an excerpt from a longer meditation on David Wojnarowicz the American writer, visual artists and HIV/AIDS activist. Full piece available at BentStreet