Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

The Prosthetic Pleasures of Guillaume Dustan

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

The Prosthetic Pleasures of Guillaume Dustan

Article excerpt

Guillaume Dustan's autofictional Dans ma chambre unabashedly recounts the HIV positive narrator-protagonist's drug-fueled navigation of Parisian gay sex culture. This essay argues that, despite the narrator's seemingly self- destructive tendencies, the novel offers a wholly life-affirming model of wellness and embodiment based on connectivity and a logic of prosthesis.

It would be an understatement to say that Guillaume Dustan caused a stir during his brief literary career. As David Caron recalls in My Father and I: The Marais and the Queerness of Community, in the months preceding the 1996 release of Dustan's debut novel, Dans ma chambre, the news of the impending release of a gritty, no-holds-barred semi-autobiographical look at Paris' contemporary gay sex culture, complete with depictions of "barebacking," or the practice of unprotected anal intercourse between men, spread through gay circles like wildfire (94-95). Fueling further interest, Dans ma chambre was published under strict anonymity with not so much as an author photo; Guillaume Dustan was the pen name of William Barranes, who finished the novel while working as a magistrate in the overseas territory of French Polynesia. Dustan would attract even more attention from both LGBT communities and the larger French public alike after shedding his cloak of anonymity and establishing himself as a media personality. In the years preceding his death in 2005 from an accidental drug overdose at the age of 39 ("Disparition"), Dustan appeared regularly as a guest on evening television talk shows, shocking audiences with both his attire--he would often accessorize his conspicuously gay, masculine "leather look" with a flamboyant wig--and his impassioned advocacy of individual freedom and sexual liberty, which for Dustan included the right to le bareback. Dustan's staunch, iconoclastic critique of the disciplinary rhetoric of "safe sex" and its effects on gay subjectivities and experience predictably attracted the ire of mainstream HIV/AIDS and LGBT activists in France.

As far as the leadership of prominent HIV/AIDS and LGBT activist group Act Up-Paris were concerned, Dustan was a decadent liberal individualist of the worst sort willing to do harm to "the gay community" in the egotistical pursuit of literary fame and libertine sexual thrills. By representing and discussing bareback sexuality (without discouraging or condemning it), Dustan risked undermining the hard-won accomplishments of HIV/AIDS activists; he would supposedly banalize the practice of "unsafe" sex and provoke a massive resurgence of HIV infections: "Dustan [...] propos[e] une petite religion de la prise de risques. [...] Baiser sans capote, 9a vous fait jouir ? Drole de jouissance, en verite, qui sous des airs de grand defi a la mort, dissimule mal un simple deni de la maladie. [...] Nous n'arrivons pas a jouir sans capote. Le risque de contaminer ou d'etre contamine continue de gacher notre plaisir" (Baiser). To the credit of Act Up-Paris, there was certainly reason for concern. According to a World Health Organization report, the number of self-reported acts of unprotected anal intercourse in France among gay-identified men doubled between 1997 and 2004 (Nielsen and Lazarus 254), and Europe saw a "second wave" of HIV infections beginning in 1999 that reached a peak in 2001 (Matic 10). These statistics would seem to beg the question of what role (if any) Dans ma chambre and Dustan's public endorsement of barebacking had to play in its increased popularity among French gay men as well as in the accompanying spike of European HIV infection rates. Yet, as the oft-repeated social sciences adage goes, correlation does not imply causation. The increase likely had much more to do with the introduction in 1996 of new combination therapy approaches for the treatment of HIV than the words of one novelist. HIV/AIDS had suddenly ceased to be an automatic death sentence, occasioning a radical shift in many gay men's relationships to their bodies; a reduction in the sense of urgency around condom use among gay men is one logical albeit regrettable consequence of this transformation. …

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