You Will Be Humiliated

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Camp Marmalade
by Wayne Koestenbaum
Nightboat Books. 409 pages, $18.95

 

 

Camp Marmalade sounds like a nice place to send gay boys for the summer, but since it is the title of Wayne Koestenbaum’s latest book, I approach it with trepidation. For, like any summer camp, this one—despite the sweetness of its name—is an arena to learn the arts of humiliation. The knots one learns to tie will be later used in BD/SM. And you can earn a prize in elementary waterboarding. “Humiliation,” Koestenbaum admits, “colors the way I see the world.” Camp Marmalade is shot in humiliation’s Technicolor.

            In his book-length essay Humiliation (2011), Koestenbaum distinguishes “humiliation” from its cousin, “shame.” Shame can be experienced in isolation. Only you know, for example, that you peeked at someone else’s exam or shoplifted condoms, or worry about the size of your hands. Humiliation, in contrast, is an “interpersonal process. One is humiliated only in other people’s minds.” He insists that humiliation involves a triangle: the humiliator (abuser), the humiliated (abused), and the witness (who can side with either party or both).

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David Bergman, poetry editor of this magazine, is the author of The Violet Hour: The Violet Quill and the Making of Gay Culture.

 

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