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Bodies beyond binaries

February 19, 2015

I spend a fair amount of time prepping for class, especially new courses like the Introduction to Sexuality Studies grad seminar that I have this term. So might as well share the knowledge. This will serve as my substitute for keeping track of the hours, which I clearly cannot manage to do. Diaries take a daily discipline that I cannot maintain.

For context, our previous meetings focused on theories of sexuality, queer theory, and queer of color critique; histories of sexuality, and histories of racialized and colonized sexualities; sciences of sexuality, sexology, eugenics, sterilization, and the racial/class politics of reproductive technologies. Today’s class is titled “Bodies beyond borders” and has sections on queer disability, intersex, and Two-Spirit/trans studies.

My approach to the course is one I’ve come to think of as “wide reading” (which, it turns out according to the interwebz, is an actual thing in education-think): put lots of stuff on the table, and hope that students find a few ideas worth their while. Here are some things that stick for me.

On desiring disability:

Clare, Eli. “Gawking, Gaping, Staring.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 9.1-2 (2003): 257-61.

Cripples, queers, gimps, freaks: we are looking for teachers and lovers—teachers to stand with us against the gawking; lovers to reach beneath our clothing, beneath the words that attempt to name us, beneath our shame and armor, their eyes and hands helping return us to grace, beauty, passion. He cradles my right hand against his body and says, “Your tremors feel so good.” And says, “I can’t get enough of your shaky touch.” And says, “I love your cerebral palsy.” This man who is my lover. Shame and disbelief flood my body, drowning his words. How do I begin to learn his lustful gaze? (258)

On cultural presumptions about disability and sexuality:

Kafer, Alison. “Compulsory Bodies: Reflections on Heterosexuality and Able-Bodiedness.” Journal of Women’s History 15.3 (2003): 77-89.

For women with disabilities, this lack of recognition [of lesbianism according to Adrienne Rich’s analysis of compulsory heterosexuality] often takes other forms: because of their disabilities, they are perceived as being incapable of finding male partners and thus must have turned to lesbianism as a last resort; their same-sex desires are cast as signs of disability-related confusion; or their same-sex relationships are constructed as platonic due to their perceived asexuality. Indeed, many disabled women, queer and straight alike, have critiqued the pervasive assumption that people with disabilities are either asexual (for those with physical disabilities) or hypersexual (typically those with cognitive or psychiatric disabilities and illnesses). The sexuality of people with disabilities is understood as always already deviant; when queer desires and practices are recognized as such, they merely magnify or exacerbate that deviance. (82)

On African FGM vs. U.S. intersex infant surgery:

Chase, Cheryl. “Hermaphrodites with Attitude: Mapping the Emergence of Intersex Political Activism.” GLQ: Journal of Gay and Lesbian Studies 4.2 (1998): 189-211.

These representations [of African girls in pain] all manifest a profound othering of African clitorectomy that contributes to the silence surrounding similar medicalized practices in the industrialized West. “Their” genital cutting is barbaric ritual; “ours” is scientific. Theirs disfigures; ours normalizes the deviant. The colonialist implications of these representations of genital cutting are even more glaringly obvious when images of intersex surgeries are juxtaposed with images of African FGM. Medical books describing how to perform clitoral surgery on white North American intersex children are almost always illustrated with extreme genital close-ups, disconnecting the genitals not only from the individual intersexed person but from the body itself. Full-body shots always have the eyes blacked out. Why is it considered necessary to black out the eyes of clitorectomized American girls—thus preserving a shred of their privacy and helping ward off the viewer’s identification with the abject image—but not the eyes of the clitorectomized African girls in the pages of American magazines? (206)

On Two-Spirit and sexual colonization:

Driskill, Qwo-li. “Stolen from Our Bodies: First Nations Two-Spirits/Queers and the Journey to a Sovereign Erotic.” Studies in American Indian Literatures 16.2 (2004): 50-64.

The term “Two-Spirit” is a word that resists colonial definitions of who we are. It is an expression of our sexual and gender identities as sovereign from those of white GLBT movements. The coinage of the word was never meant to create a monolithic understanding of the array of Native traditions regarding what dominant European and Euroamerican traditions call “alternative” genders and sexualities. The term came into use in 1990 at a gathering of Native Queer/Two-Spirit people in Winnipeg as a means to resist the use of the word “berdache,” and also as a way to talk about our sexualities and genders from within tribal contexts in English (Jacobs et al. 2). I find myself using both the words “Queer” and “Trans” to try to translate my gendered and sexual realities for those not familiar with Native traditions, but at heart, if there is a term that could possibly describe me in English, I simply consider myself a Two-Spirit person. The process of translating Two Spiritness with terms in white communities becomes very complex. I’m not necessarily “Queer” in Cherokee contexts, because differences are not seen in the same light as they are in Euroamerican contexts. I’m not necessarily “Transgender” in Cherokee contexts, because I’m simply the gender I am. I’m not necessarily “Gay,” because that word rests on the concept of men-loving-men, and ignores the complexity of my gender identity. It is only within the rigid gender regimes of white America that I become Trans or Queer. While homophobia, transphobia, and sexism are problems in Native communities, in many of our tribal realities these forms of oppression are the result of colonization and genocide that cannot accept women as leaders, or people with extraordinary genders and sexualities. As Native people, our erotic lives and identities have been colonized along with our homelands. (52)

On questioning metronormativity:

Halberstam, Judith. “The Brandon Archive.” In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives. New York: New York University Press, 2005. 22-46.

For queers who flee the confines of the rural Midwest and take comfort in urban anonymity, this video [The Brandon Teena Story (1998)] may serve as a justification of their worst fears about the violent effects of failing to flee; closer readings of Brandon’s story, however, reveal the desire shared by many midwestern queers for a way of staying rather than leaving. While some journalists in the wake of Brandon’s murder queried his decision to stay in Falls City, despite having been hounded by the police and raped by the men who went on to murder him, we must consider the condition of “staying put” as part of the production of complex queer subjectivities. Some queers need to leave home in order to become queer, and others need to stay close to home in order to preserve their difference. (27)

On state violence:

Spade, Dean. Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics, and the Limits of Law. Brooklyn: South End Press, 2011.

Social movements engaged in resistance have given us a very different portrayal of the United States than what is taught in most elementary school classrooms and textbooks. The patriotic narrative delivered at school tells us a few key lies about US law and politics: that the United States is a democracy in which law and policy derive from what a majority of people think is best, that the United States used to be racist and sexist but is now fair and neutral thanks to changes in the law, and that if particular groups experience harm, they can appeal to the law for protection. Social movements have challenged this narrative, identifying the United States as a settler colony and a racial project, founded and built through genocide and enslavement. They have shown that the United States has always had laws that arrange people through / categories of indigeneity, race, gender, ability, and national origin to produce populations with different levels of vulnerability to economic exploitation, violence, and poverty. These counter narratives have challenged the notion that violence is a result of private individuals with bad ideas and that the state is where we should look for protection from such violence. Conversely, resistant political theorists and social movements have helped us understand the concept of “state violence,” which has been essential for exposing the central harms faced by native people, women, people of color, people with disabilities, and immigrants. They have exposed that state programs and law enforcement are not the arbiters of justice, protection, and safety but are instead sponsors and sites of violence. Additionally, this work has developed the understanding that power is decentralized and that certain practices, ways of knowing, norms, and technologies of power are distributed in myriad ways rather than only from a single person or institution. It has cautioned us against an overly narrow, simplified vision of power that sees power as a possession primarily held by government officials. This perspective eliminates the false notion that we could win the change people need simply by using the electoral process to vote in certain representatives or pass certain laws. (20-1)

 

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