this journal is so much of my life from 2010 going backwards. must save forever!

for anyone who may be interested in getting to know me~ feel free to leave a comment here, and/or check out my journal from 2011 to early 2013, and/or ask for my current dreamwidth & more active blogs and sites.

i was very active on tumblr from 2010 to 2012-13, and i still post there sometimes though many of my old tumblrs are gone now. i hope to use the backups to add to my 2011+ dreamwidth archive mentioned above, though that's a huge task and who knows when and if i'll even begin.

these days i mostly post on facebook, honestly. i'm trying to get to a point where i blog more actively again, but i don't know if that'll happen. i wish i was as brave as i once used to be.
warnings: pills / medication, suicidality / suicide attempts / suicidal gestures & ideation, knives, roofs, poison, hospitalization / institutionalization, doctor negligence, illness, marginalization on multiple axes

my name is ______. (____ is my pseudonym, but it’s not really false). i am twenty years, three months and nineteen days old today. i still have trouble swallowing my pills sometimes/often (depending on the pill~ the size, the contours, the shape, the crevices, the indentations, et cetera). i am a writer, though i often write pretentiously. i am also a failed writer. maybe i’m more of a poet, but i want to be both. the whole, in general. if there is a whole. (isn’t a poet a whole too? i’m doing a disservice to poetry to consider it a part of the whole of writing..) i have written lots of stories, but they are all beginnings and maybe a couple finished short stories. i have written them less and less over the years. i was my most prolific around the ages of nine to thirteen or so. i switched from handwriting to computers (mostly) around the time when i was about eleven and a half.

i tried to kill myself when i was fifteen and a half. there were the gestures before that, the ideation– the holding of the knife, the checking for the pills, and so on– and i’m not sure if you count the times i went up to the roof (but didn’t jump) before that. or the time i lay on the sofa for a good while and contemplated taking poison when i was twelve. since then i’ve had a fair number of attempts and numerous, numerous gestures. ideation and attempts, ideation and attempts. i suppose it was that (sort of first) time that really defined things, though. i ended up in hospital involuntarily because it was the u.s. and i was new to things.

i grew up mostly in india. don’t ask me what it’s like. i’m biracial and angry. an angry transnational(?) culturally clashing shifting crossing westernized half white half western south asian indian stranded between source(?) and diaspora. i’m also disabled and angry. and queer and angry, complicated pansexual and panromantic and polyamorous and kinky. i’m deaf or i have bilateral moderate to severe hearing loss and i’m hearing-aided and orally assimilated and it’s not congenital though it happened within a few days of my birth due to severe neonatal jaundice and doctors’ negligence the day i was born. i also have a digitally atypical left hand and i might explain that some other time if you don’t understand, or if you ask. i write poems about privilege and marginalization (others’ and mine, the complexity of selfhood(s) and relation(s) and the spaces fragmented, and the battle lines). i have always been crazy and anxious. i have ocd and borderline seems to fit me as well and i’m regularly psychotic (in good, bad, and medium ways).

i also love art.
Women's Rights in Modern Indian History

In her essay, Contentious Traditions: The Debate on Sati in Colonial India, Lata Mani emphasizes that "it is important to write the history of colonial discourse, to trace its effects on the constitution of our systematic and commonsense knowledges of our tradition, culture and identity" (Mani, 120). She critiques at length the view that "tradition... is... a timeless and structuring principle of Indian society" (Mani, 116). This view is very much in keeping with "an official western discourse on India... of moral superiority that acknowledged India's greatness but only in terms of her scriptural past" (Mani, 114). The Indian (cultural) nationalist discourse formed itself perilously from this western (colonial) discourse in its attempt to find a distinctive, spiritually superior culture that constituted the inner domain of Indian society, so it could be upheld and preserved as something that the colonizers could not change (Chatterjee, 239). Such a distinctive culture, or tradition, formed the inner domain of Indian society. In this dichotomous view, only the outer domain of the modern, material world had been colonized (ibid).

keep reading )
ajnabi: cartoonic photomanip of my face (with some body) against a colourful patterned background (Default)
( May. 13th, 2010 11:55 am)
Knowledge and Power

In Orientalism, Edward Said cautions that "systems of thought like Orientalism, discourses of power, ideological fictions—mind-forg'd manacles—are all too easily made, applied and guarded" (328). Systems of thought do not just exist as innocent ideas (23). In the case of Orientalism, it has been created through centuries of western techniques of creating and representing the Orient. Of course, this system of domination of the Orient by the Occidental, or the west, comes out of the power the west had and continues to have to dominate the east. Orientalism is a painful reminder of the "seductive degradation of knowledge, of any knowledge, anywhere, at any time" (328) that occurs when any pretense at acquiring and documenting "objective" knowledge is made. A scholar cannot be detachable from "the circumstances of [their] life, from the fact of [their] involvement (conscious or unconscious) with a class, a set of beliefs, a social position, or from the mere activity of being a member of society" (10). The "absurd [thesis] that [people play] no part in setting up both the material and the processes of knowledge" (300) must be demolished. It must be realized that the writer or the scholar cannot ever act as a nonpolitical, objective truth seeker.

In fact, the assumption that one can know another history or experience or culture, and the desire to know it, so often acts as domination, control and reinvention of that culture (in the knower's eyes). Said emphasizes this dynamic when he defines Orientalism as "a certain will or intention to understand, in some cases to control, manipulate, even to incorporate, what is a manifestly different (or alternative and novel) world" (12). It is thereby "a human [and] intellectual [failure]" (328), because "in having to take up a position of irreducible opposition to a region of the world it considered alien to its own, Orientalism failed to identify with human experience, failed also to see it as human experience" (328). Policy-makers in the colonial administration such as Balfour saw eastern civilizations as simply linear progressions that had died out and now needed to be assimilated into the new, western, modern order of things (32). Balfour's ready acceptance and promulgation of this 'knowledge' of civilization reveals the way in which the Orient was constructed as a "fundamentally, even ontologically stable" fact which the west could decide and control, for "to have such knowledge of a thing is to dominate it, to have authority over it. And authority here means for 'us' to deny autonomy to 'it'—the Oriental country" (32). Said is careful to point out, though, even as he displays the egregious nature of Orientalist cultural and racial stereotypes, "that Balfour and Cromer.. could strip humanity down to such ruthless cultural and racial essences was not at all an indication of their particular viciousness. Rather it was an indication of how streamlined [and effective the doctrine of Orientalism had become]" (36).

continue )
The Subversion of the System by the "Inchoate Ways of Life"

In her article, "(Im)possible Love and Sexual Pleasure in Late-Colonial North India," Charu Gupta argues that "there was no single code of Hindu middle-class morality and no final triumph of sexual conservatism" (195) in the (late) colonial period in India. Even as a refurbished moral order was being ingrained and established by the nationalist movement in the context of colonialism, people "found ways to undermine implicit assumptions about gender systems and to negotiate codified sexual relations" (196). Gupta aims to "explore the individual voices and acts of transgression and love, which precluded the crafting of a master narrative, and how disorder crept into the moral order" (ibid.) Gupta discusses the subversive ways in which three groups of people in North India during this time experienced and explored love and desire.

First, she discusses sexual relationships between men, and how seemingly anti-homosexual texts distributed during this period, such as Chaklet by Pandey Becan Sharma ('Ugra'), actually "threw into doubt the stability of the heterosexual regime, procreative imperatives and modern monogamous ideals of marriage" (200). She goes on to say that "Chaklet brought into public view emergent urban male attachments and alternate sexualities, posing a danger to civilization, at a time when the imagery of a strong, masculine Hindu male was a concern of the nation. It opened an epistemological gap, a void in maleness itself" (201). The critique leveled at Chaklet "was also part of a nationalist critique, as the de-gendered male was one stereotype of colonial domination .... [and homosexuality] ... was a stigma and a disgrace of effeminacy and sexual inversion in male behavior, which was at best unmentioned" (200). It was important to portray the Indian (Hindu) male as strong and virile and pure.

Second, Gupta analyses relationships between the devar (brother-in-law) and the bhabhi (sister-in-law). She mentions how, with increasing industrialization, men migrated to urban areas for work and their wives and families would be far away from them. The wife, or bhabhi, was often forced to live in an even more oppressive household (203), and often the only chance she could have for an equal, positive relationship was with her devar (202). Great effort was put into condemning devar-bhabhi relationships, as is evident in a verse Gupta cites from the magazine Chand: " 'Do not spread amorous desires by keeping such traditions! / Otherwise this vast society will never walk on the path of progress!!' " (204). This indicates how new the nationalist-influenced moral order was, and how resistant people were to following it. As Gupta says, "That such relationships were common may be assumed from the insistence upon their prohibition" (205).

Third, Gupta talks about relationships between Hindu men and Muslim women, and between Muslim men and Hindu women. It was considered a glorious feat for a Hindu man to capture the attention of a Muslim woman. As Gupta says, "a tale of love between a Hindu man and a Muslim woman could reveal the strength of the Hindu male" (206) and "there was a thrill in seeing the Muslim heroine fall at the feet of the Hindu male" (207). It was an accomplishment to convert Muslim women to Hinduism; the idea was that "Hindu males were 'recovering' Muslim women for something better" (ibid.) Relationships between Hindu men and Muslim women were romanticized as heroic, complete with elopements, etc.

Conversely, the portrayal of relationships between Muslim men and Hindu women "easily slipped into the rhetoric of abduction" (208). Gupta explains this, saying that "relations between Hindu women and Muslim men became a way to strengthen the image of the violent and virile Muslim" (ibid.) This portrayal became a justification for Hindu men's campaign of shuddhi, where they 'recovered' Hindu women abducted by Muslim men. In this narrative, "the abducted Hindu woman was metamorphosed into a symbol of both sacredness and humiliation, and hence of the victimization of the Hindu community" (210). Also, "the portrayal of women as victims could... prove to be a way to control them by restricting their movements, as various public places were declared unsafe for them" (ibid.) Thus, "the virility of the [Hindu] community came to hinge upon defending women's honor" (211). In the name of 'defending women's honor," "after construing the image of the ferociously intolerant, sexually predatory Muslim male and of vulnerable Hindu women, Hindu males were now invited to become equally ferocious" (212). Gupta aptly describes this narrative as the production of "the self-image of a community at war" (ibid.) Generalizations, fabrications and assumptions were continually made about the 'abductions' of Hindu women, and the narrative of these 'abductions' was "one of the key factors polarizing Hindu/Muslim politics in the 1920s" (215).

Despite the increasing communalistic polarization developing between Hindus and Muslims, it is also clear that "Hindu women defied community homogeneity through inter-religious love" (216). This was another clear example of how people even within the oppressive moral (and fundamentalist) order being established, "acquiesced in the social order and yet sought to disrupt it" (ibid.) Gupta elaborates on the particular subversive actions and existences of women, saying that "at critical moments, the individual voices and actions of some women questioned the Hindu rhetoric and posited an alternative world" (217). For example, Gupta describes a play performed during this period that "depicted the readiness of Muslims to protect the chastity of a Hindu woman, whereas a Brahmin was ready to rape her," thus reversing and "fracturing the myth of the saintly Hindu and lascivious Muslim" (ibid.)

These personal, sexual and intimate relationships, and the complex and brutal discourses surrounding them, "highlighted the messy complexities of reality and the inchoate ways of life, suggesting a different order of rationality against all efforts to categorize, classify and project a homogenized community identity" (219). Clearly, no matter how oppressive a system is being created, people find ways to subvert it and carve out existences that are more true to their realities.

It is important to note the ways in which nationalist and colonial discourses brutally shut down the "inchoate ways of life" that actually existed in India. It is also important to see how the nationalist discourse emerged along with and out of the colonial discourse. As colonialism destroyed South Asia, within the nationalist politic it became increasingly important to assert some kind of South Asian identity that was still there, still untouched. This is often referred to as the private sphere.

In "Specters of Mother India: The Global Restructuring of an Empire," Mrinalini Sinha explains this more, saying that "the belief in supposedly organic and ancient communities (each with a claim to cultural autonomy) provided the basis for nationalist demands for self-governance" (8). Sinha urges the necessity to see identities as inextricably intertwined with each other and constructed in complicated ways according to power strata. She says, "clearly the pluralizing gesture of merely asserting multiple and alternative modernities is ultimately inadequate; it elides too easily the unequal and asymmetrical effects produced by the intertwined and interconnected history of the modern world" (15). In this vein, the discourses surrounding relationships in North India in the late-colonial period must be seen as arising out of colonialist and nationalist politics-- the power differential that created the need for this dynamic. The subversive acts of people in India must not be seen as somehow "organic" and absolutely "true" but rather as their ways of struggling to live authentically, and their demonstrations of agency.


Works Cited:

Gupta, Charu, “(Im)possible Love and Sexual Pleasure in Late-Colonial North India”, Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 36, No. 1 (Feb., 2002), pp. 195-221

Sinha, Mrinalini, "Spectres of Mother India: The Global Restructuring of an Empire", Duke University Press, 2006.
Response to When Corporations Rule the World, by David C. Korten

In this book, David Korten exposes the exploitative nature of corporate colonialism. He elaborates on the visions, policies and practices of corporate giants and institutions that "regulate" them, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and the World Trade Organization (WTO). He talks about how the vision of this contemporary brand of capitalism, economic globalization, exploits those nations, societies and peoples who are disadvantaged in terms of historical systemic power.

Korten offers the idea of a people-centered development politics in lieu of corporate colonialist capitalism. He defines the people-centered vision as aiming to pursue "policies that create opportunities for people who are experiencing deprivation to produce the things that they need to have a better life" (165). Although his analysis of the oppression so insidiously inherent in the corporate/economic globalist vision is important and useful, this solution (people-centered economics) may not really change the system of capitalism that gives rise to current corporate economics.

It is perhaps more problematic that Korten lists countries such as Japan, (South) Korea and Taiwan as more or less successfully carrying out people-centered development policies. These countries are often listed as economic "successes" in several respects, but their successes are measured in terms of how much they are able to assimilate into the first-world (western, capitalist, privileged bloc of nations).

I would prefer to see Korten recognize the links between the development of liberal democracy, imperialism and capitalism, and how these processes have given rise to corporate hegemony. He does recognize the links between corporate hegemony and colonialism, but does not seem to fully grasp the manner in which liberalism allows for the perhaps more directly assaultive consumerist, corporate culture to exist, or how, similarly, liberalism and its ensuing notions (and impositions) of the model of the nation-state and democracy reinforces and creates imperialism.

Korten does seem to be trying to find a "practical" way to help less privileged (third world, non-western) countries "progress," hopefully more on their terms than on the first-world terms. However, oppressive power dynamics are perpetuated by the rat-race to accumulate more power. So long as the ideas of progress and development, in themselves such exploitative ways of seeing human life, continue to be upheld, I am not sure that global economics can function any way other than oppressively. Of course, the underprivileged (whether cultures, communities, individuals, etc) are justified in wresting power away from the privileged. However, any move on the part of the privileged to "help" the underprivileged "progress" will only be a continued exercise in privilege. It seems like Korten could very easily fall into this trap.
Response to Uncivil Disobedience: Violating the Rules for Breaking the Law

In this article, James J. Lopach and Jean A. Luckowski lament the "improper" teaching of the concept of civil disobedience in secondary school education. They argue that a "correct" teaching of civil disobedience would involve a clear definition of its four main principles: "civil disobedience differs from peaceful and legal protest; .. civil disobedience involves violating a law that a rightly formed conscience determines to be in conflict with a fundamental principle of human dignity; .. civil disobedience is circumscribed by the practitioner's obligation to honor legitimate government by accepting punishment openly and respectfully" (Lopach & Luckowski, 43).

The very subtitle of this article—"Violating the Rules for Breaking the Law"—seems to imply only a superficial breaking of the law. In a sense, civil disobedience is and has only achieved superficial changes in systems. Lopach and Luckowski derive these four principles primarily from Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi's philosophies.

The authors of this text clearly are speaking from a privileged viewpoint. I notice this particularly in the way they speak of Gandhi, probably because I have more knowledge of that context. Gandhi is much credited with bringing independence to India through his strategy of nonviolence (which, actually, really only applied in the specific political context of the nationalist struggle for independence in India). However, colonialism—imperialist hegemony—goes far deeper than merely displacing some superficial state authorities on the scene.

This is evident when one considers, for example, the fact that India constructed its new, "free" government and constitution by drawing on constitutions of other western powers. The very existence of India owes itself to British dominance; for British (now American, and generally western imperialist) dominance to truly end, India would have to cease to exist as a nation-state. Gandhi was involved in an elite nationalist struggle that did not, for the most part, displace structures that came along with and were developed through colonialism. One of the most insidious things about oppression is that it changes, reimagines and distorts the context of the oppressed (hence internalized oppression).

Lopach and Luckowski are rather bothered by the idea of "outrageous" or "unpleasant" civil disobedience; they rather advocate a peaceful and willing submission to the consequences of one's lawbreaking actions. The idea is that it is only through "honourable" action that problems in state structure will truly be seen; even when people are "nice" and "polite," they are punished. Therefore, the public will demand change in the system. There are several problems with such a philosophy. It boils down to a privileged idea that "If you ask nicely, you'd get it! (We'd give it to you)." This is an entirely reprehensible idea. Firstly, oppression is cruel, violent and brutal. Brutality is and has been inflicted regardless of whether the victims were silent, spoke, or just plain existed. As Audre Lorde says, "Your silence will not protect you." The history of racial oppression in the US, for example, includes mob lynchings of black men for the "crimes", among several others, of wishing to be given proper change by white storekeepers, or passing by white women in the street, or dressing in clothing that was too fancy, too white. Basically, just for existing while black. The lynchers were sensible, nice white people living in sensible, nice white society. (These rationales are exposed, for example, in Ida B. Wells' reports, and Langston Hughes' stories in The Ways of White Folks).

It seems to me that civil disobedience, and particularly the policing of civil disobedience that Luckowski and Lopach are involved in, is merely a strategy of learning the language of the oppressor. Naturally, it is only those who are relatively privileged who have access to or can afford to do this. Gandhi had access to western education, the resources of the Indian National Congress, male privilege, etc. In any event, despite the sensationalizing of Gandhi's philosophy of non-violence in the international west-dictated media, it was not civil disobedience, and especially not civil disobedience alone, that won India its "independence".
Response to War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning*, by Chris Hedges
*link to excerpt

In his book, Chris Hedges talks about how war is constructed as culture, myth and necessity. He talks somewhat romantically about how war is a drug, and how it makes us realize the sheer vapidity and tininess of our lives. However, at the same time he clearly recognizes, as a reporter who has been at the frontlines of war, that war is anything but romantic. It is portrayed as romantic in the media, but its reality is destructive, horrific and desolate. Hedges says that each new generation comes forth believing in the same old lie, the same old grand romanticized myth, about war as something that will transform the nation and bring glory to the (rightly) victorious people.

I would add that these populations of people who believe this myth and contribute and maintain the culture of war are also privileged to do so. Although it is true that disprivileged peoples are susceptible to war's appeal, the fact of being oppressed, or warred upon, rather constantly, makes that appeal far more short-lived, I think. The realization of the futility of war comes much quicker for those who don't have systemic power that grants them stability or victory.

I also disagree with Hedges' assertion that there is a killer underneath the surface in every one of us. It is true that as human beings, we are capable of murder and other horrific acts of violence. However, the idea that this capability is some inherent force that lies dormant and can be awakened in certain circumstances takes agency away from human beings and locates it in our biology or culture or some such deterministic context. I think it is much more helpful to recognize that we are participants and agents in our own and other people's lives, and that we can make choices.

Our agency may be limited by lack of systemic power; however, this does not negate it. Rather I think it is more important to look at how people claim their agency in adverse circumstances. Refugees in Gaza or starving populations in African or Asian countries do not lead the most meaningless, pitiable lives. Their circumstances are adverse, and we (as students in this American context) are greatly privileged over them. Ironically, it is my privilege that allows me to pass judgment and make assumptions about the meaning or lack thereof in the lives of "the masses".

It is also possible, though, to see Hedges' statements about our capability to do evil as breaking the popular illusion that murderers, sociopaths, rapists, criminals, etc, are somehow separate and altogether different from the rest of us. It alerts us to the fact that we are all potential culprits and perpetrators. When we start seeing war as culture, we can see how war manifests itself in the form of several different varieties of oppressive cultures. The oppression makes it so that violence becomes normative and/or glorified.

I think Hedges' book is important in that it alerts us to facts about war and its brutality. It shows us the violence that really takes place, and rejects the glorified heroics that are presented by the press. I am not sure how useful his book is for breaking down systemic hierarchies and oppressive structures, but it is informative.
and i am so behind. and this was not worth the grief it caused me to even begin to write. (yeah yeah yeah yeah i should be better, this isn't such a big deal, blahblahblah) but anyway, here it is:

Response to Borders, Boundaries, and Citizenship, by Seyla Benhabib

Seyla Benhabib argues for a liberalism that translates more to what she refers to as cosmopolitan federalism, in the tradition of Kant (674). According to her, this translation is necessary in the modern context of immigration and movement that occurs across borders and boundaries, ever increasing with the advent of globalization. She does not scrap the nation-state model but rather says that "only within a framework of sub- and transnational modes of cooperation, representation, and collaboration is it possible to protect the fundamental values of liberal and republican liberty, that is of private and public autonomy" (676).

The problem with globalization is that it only serves the interests of the most powerful/privileged nation-states, even though it seems to undermine the legitimacy of state governance and authority. Nevertheless, what is actually happening is that these powerful sovereign states are participants in and transformers of the process of globalization. Globalization makes it possible for multinational corporations, fundamentally benefiting only certain western powers and in particular the US, to exploit cheap labour elsewhere, among other things. Globalization is only a new technique of imperialism; a transition from colonialism to systemic hegemony.

Benhabib attempts to provide a solution to the marginalization and oppression experienced by migrants, "illegal aliens," undocumented residents of democratic states, etc. She praises the European Union's system of transnational citizenship, though she also recognizes ways in which it has not quite lived up to its ideals yet. However, she proposes their system as a model. The problem with reforms to strict citizenship criteria without actually critiquing liberalist ideology, though, is that the very nature of liberal ideology necessitates that people get left out of it. By presupposing that there can be a "universal" charter of human rights, room for difference becomes smaller and tighter. Although with several reforms there can be room for difference, and "concessions" to groups that are marginalized, I would argue, again, that the very fact that various groups are and will be marginalized is woven into the fabric of liberal ideology.

People are different, and have different needs, and some of those needs (rights) will not apply to other people. The construction of democratic nation-states is very much based on universal ideology. The rule of the "majority" will always create dialectics of majority and minority, wherein the "majority" may or may not actually be the majority, but will have privilege in decision-making and creating laws. The very idea of majority rule is problematic because people cannot be simply divided up into majorities and minorities. The idea of the individual, predicated on universal ideas of what it means to be a human being, does not recognize the fact of interdependence or that individuals comprise communities and not only that but communities also comprise individuals. I am not just myself; I am made by my context -- the interpenetration of biology, histories, movements, environments, social interactions, communities, etc. Any attempt at separation is artificial, reductionist and exclusionary.

The ideal of the individual isolates human beings and tries to find something fundamental to them. In this process of finding fundamental characteristics that are universal to all individuals, difference gets excluded or marginalized. In order to truly tackle various political problems, including citizenship, I think the links between liberalism (individualism), western colonialism and imperialism, and oppression must be fully realized.
this one is not as good and late (extensioned) and i have been doing notsowell lately so yeah.

Representing the Agency of Sex Workers in South Asia

In her essay, "Lifestyle as Resistance: The Case of the Courtesans of Lucknow, India," Veena Talwar Oldenburg argues that the courtesans, or tawa'if, of Lucknow have been and continue to be "independent and consciously involved in the covert subversion of a male-dominated world" (261). They do this through "[celebrating] womanhood in the privacy of their apartments [and] resisting and inverting the rules of gender of the larger society of which they are part" (ibid.) Although, like many sex workers around the world, they are accused of perpetuating patriarchal norms, they actually challenge and reject patriarchy.

continue reading )

I found myself wondering, throughout this article, about the assumption that sex work is necessarily demeaning unless performed. Oldenburg talks about how it is natural that for sex workers, the heterosexual sex act is seen as more "routine" and "passion and pleasure are simulated or distanced," as it is "an essential mechanism that women, both wives and prostitutes, have universally used to preserve their emotional integrity and dignity" (283). She quotes a sex worker interviewed by Studs Terkel, Roberta Victor, as saying, " 'Of course we faked it... The ethic was: ... You always fake it. You're putting something over on him and he is paying for something he really didn't get. That's the only way you keep any sense of self-respect... You were the lowest of the low if you allowed yourself to feel anything' " (283). I can certainly appreciate and recognize the survival mechanism in play here, necessarily connected to the power structures that are so intimately replicated through sex. However, I find the construction of sex work as necessarily stunting one's emotional integrity, and as solely or primarily something to be resorted to out of desperation, problematic. Oldenburg seems to attempt to tackle this issue to some extent, but her project is more centered on recovering and exposing the voices of the tawa'if, who are so underrepresented in mainstream society.


Works Cited:

Veena Oldenburg, “Lifestyle as Resistance: The Case of the Courtesans of Lucknow” in Feminist Studies, Vol. 16, No. 2, Speaking for Others/Speaking for Self: Women of Color. (Summer, 1990), pp. 259-287.
Towards a South Asian, Not Western, Queerness!

Scott Kugle's article, "Sultan Mahmud's Makeover" reconstructs the various contemporary images of Sultan Mahmud of Ghazna, an important ruler in South Asia who is often popularly cited as "opening the way for waves of invasion by Muslim rulers from the Khyber Pass to the northwest" (42). The current received view of Muslim dynastic rule is very much related to the polarization of Hindus and Muslims in a postcolonial, partitioned South Asia. Therefore, it becomes important to construct a ruler such as Mahmud in particular ways that suggest particular religious and ethnic histories of the subcontinent.

Kugle argues that the erasure and suppression of homoerotic and romantic elements from Mahmud's life and personality functioned as a necessary response to the violence of British colonialism (37). Intellectuals and other members of the Muslim educated class were "forced to remake their cultural orientation in order to survive, find employment, and create meaningful lives in the new colonial regime" (37). In the struggle to contest or transcend the colonial critique of South Asian culture, poets such as Altaf Husayn Hali and Muhammad Husayn Azad had to cater to western standards of civilization and cultivation (37). They "transformed the violence they experienced and the terror they internalized into a self-generated critique, as if their culture 'deserved' the harsh treatment it received from the British due to its own prior decadence and fall from Islamic norms" (38).

These Islamic 'norms' were themselves reformulated and reimagined in the colonial context. Hali, for example, "tried to reject 'Persianate' models in order to revert to an imagined earlier, 'purer' Arabic poetry" (39) that did not contain 'corrupt' influences of homoeroticism. As a result, all traces of Mahmud's love affair with Ayaz, his cupbearer and slave, were erased from canonical representations of the Sultan in poetry. If these references were not erased, and certain terms, phrasings and words repressed (for example, any indication of the genders of the two lovers), as Hali says, " 'we will all be adjudged guilty according to the [British obscenity] law' " (40).

In the nationalist era, representations of Mahmud and Ayaz shifted even further, because it was no longer necessary to deny their love affair, as it had already been erased and could now simply be pronounced obsolete and/or nonexistent (42). Mahmud and Ayaz were now important figures in poetry not because of their love, but because their master-slave relationship was transformed "by Islamic piety into brotherly equality" (42). Such a pronouncement was important to poets of this generation such as Muhammad Iqbal, whose "ideology of modernity .. tried to wrest Islam from the framework of love and refashion it into a metaphor for existential struggle and political activism" (42).

In the postcolonial (current) modern context, as stated earlier, the polarization and fragmentation caused by partition, etc, gives rise to a communalist representation of Islamic rulers like Mahmud. Kugle argues that "communalist narratives do not simply suppress the homoerotic content of Mahmud's image; they convert its sexual energy into the violence of domination and castration" (43). In both the Muslim and Hindu fundamentalist ideologies, emphasis is placed on a virulent, aggressive manhood that "emasculates the other" (43).

While reading this article, I was struck by how extraordinary Mahmud and Ayaz's relationship seemed. On the one hand, I wondered how much of their relationship was idealized in the tradition of Persian/Urdu poetry as Indrani Chatterjee argues in her article, "Alienation, Intimacy, and Gender". Chatterjee says that the posing of the (actual) master as the slave of the (actual) slave is contradictory "because the speaker is always a free adult male while the beautiful boy is usually an 'idealized' slave," but this is a necessary paradox that is maintained in this type of poetry (61). When the master-slave relationship is truly overturned, it gives rise to social disapproval. In a lot of ways, the relationship between Ayaz and Mahmud seems extraordinary because it does seem to overturn the master-slave dynamic, and yet it is important to remember that this is suggested by the very nature (and authorship) of the poetry. I am also reminded of the fact that master-slave dynamics worked very differently in the premodern South Asian context, compared to the contemporary understanding of slavery that I have, as both Kugle and Chatterjee reiterate.

It seems to me that what is most important about Kugle's text is the implications such a reexamination of homoerotic desire in South Asian history has for current queer liberation movements. He seems to suggest this as well, saying that "to acknowledge the homoerotic past of Mahmud and Ayaz would give the movement a well-known historic prototype and also show how recently the communalist portraits of Mahmud were invented, and how far they are from capturing an 'authentic' historical reality" (44). He goes on to say that "reviving the abjected image of Sultan Mahmud as lover of Ayaz could make him a symbol for rejecting the communalist constructions of culture that carefully control sexuality and gender" (45). To realize that the history of queerness in South Asia is very different from that popularly suggested and (post)colonially appropriated would signify a grand shift in activist movement politics.


Works Cited:

Indrani Chatterjee, “Alienation, Intimacy, and Gender: Problems for a History of Love in South Asia,” Queering India: Same-sex love and Eroticism in Indian Culture and Society. Ed. Ruth Vanita. Routledge, 2002. 61-76.

Scott Kugle, “Sultan Mahmud’s Makeover: Colonial Homophobia and the Persian-Urdu Literary Tradition,” Queering India: Same-sex love and Eroticism in Indian Culture and Society. Ed. Ruth Vanita. Routledge, 2002. 30-46.
Anti-Colonialism and Allyship

In his essay, "Colonialism is a System," Jean-Paul Sartre argues that any movement aiming to dismantle colonialist structures must be led by the colonized. For example, reform to any colonial state must be carried out by the colonized, not the colonialists. Sartre's particular reference base is the Algerian struggle for independence from France. He criticizes the beliefs of French neocolonialists who wish to 'improve' Algeria, as this 'improvement' is necessarily predicated on French interests, not Algerian ones. Therefore, Sartre says to his fellow French people, "let us not allow ourselves to be diverted from our task by reformist mystification... The reforms will come in their own good time: the Algerian people will make them" (47).

Sartre's argument is based on his explanation of colonialism as a system that produces the class of the colonized, or 'the masses,' in opposition and subordinated to the class of the colonialists.
Colonialism is the process of acquiring raw materials and cheap labor from overseas markets that will help the "mother" country prosper. Hence, in this case, an overseas market was found in Algeria, exploited and conquered through force, and recreated for French consumers. As Sartre says, "the colonist is above all an artificial consumer, created overseas from nothing by a capitalism which is seeking new markets" (34). The French colonialists buy or obtain raw materials from Algeria, and sell them to the people of France, thereby encouraging the economic prosperity of France. Economic control of the colony is necessarily cemented through social and political control.

For example, in order to thoroughly conquer Algeria and remove any chance for recovery, the French colonialists divided up property structured on old feudal, agricultural and tribal bases. This introduced an individualized system of property, which "suppressed the forces of resistance" because it "replaced collective strength with a handful of individuals" who competed against each other for ownership rights (36). This colonial history perpetuates itself in the form of a reality "embodied in a million colonists, children and grandchildren of colonists, who have been shaped by colonialism and who think, speak and act according to the very principles of the colonial system" (44).

It is important, however, to realize that colonialism is not carried out by individual undertakings; it is systemic and historical (31). Sartre is vehement that there can be no possibility of "good" colonialists and "bad" colonialists (32); once the systemic nature of colonialism is realized, it becomes evident that a dialectic exists wherein the colonialist class holds power over the colonized class. Hence, "there are colons and that is it" (32). Sartre does distinguish between different classes of people among the colonialist class, however; he says that he "[does] not consider as colonists either the minor public officials or the European workers who are at the same time innocent victims and beneficiaries of the system" (32).

Nevertheless, individual French people cannot 'help' the Algerians through 'reform' of the colonial political structure without feeding back into the system of colonialism. The system requires that the Algerians be subordinated to the French, and any attempts by the French to change this system without addressing the root structures of colonialism will only reinforce it. This reinforcement will not help Algerians; it will perpetuate their power-disadvantaged position.

Because of the colonially restructured nature of Algerian society, the nationalist Algerian personality too is born out of this colonized framework (46). In introducing a western ideology of liberal individualism, property and ownership, French colonialism distorted, misinterpreted and reimagined Algerian history. This created a sensibility that Algerian structures before colonialism were somehow archaic and frozen in time. In this way, "a necessary aspect of the colonial system is that it attempts to bar the colonized people from the road of history" (41). As discussed earlier, the denial of history to the colonized is implemented through sociopolitical means. Another such example is how the French denied the Algerian Muslims the use of their own language (41).

However, according to Sartre, "the radically negative attitude [of colonialism] must have the necessary concomitant of producing an awakening among the masses" (46). This awakening develops as colonialism becomes increasingly entrenched and insidious. As the inhumane effects, i.e. the suffering of 'the masses,' increase, so too does this awakening. It becomes clear that the only way to become liberated is to destroy the colonial structure altogether.

Therefore, if the French truly wish to help Algerians, they will help in allowing their liberation. They will welcome the Algerian struggle for independence, and "fight alongside them to deliver both the Algerians and the French from colonial tyranny" (47). This is the only way French and Algerian people will be able to communicate on equal terrain.


Work Cited:

"Colonialism Is A System." Sartre, Jean-Paul. Colonialism and Neocolonialism. Trans. Azzedine Haddour, Steve Brewer and Terry McWilliams. New York: Routledge, n.d. 30-47.
ajnabi: my lips red out; text over: "conquer this smile" (oh yeah?)
( Feb. 22nd, 2010 03:59 am)
so, uh, somehow i managed to get this done. and yes, i know it's not very well organized, and the title sucks, but i have no heart or brainpower/energy to edit or look through this. i'm just going to submit it and hope for the best. i do have this vague sense of victory at being able to write it at all, i guess. sort of. but.


On the Need to Transcend Privilege Justification in Critiques of Civilization

The central problem of Ishmael is that it offers a critique of civilization that gives privileged people more reasons to feel justified in having their power. This would seem to be a rather paradoxical problem, since Quinn clearly wishes to dismantle all ideas about humans being justified in their power over the natural world. However, his earnest call to change is thwarted by his assumptions about how humans have come to acquire the power to change and destroy their natural environments and, ultimately, themselves. Quinn believes that although "it's true that power and wealth within the prison should be equitably redistributed... what is crucial to your survival as a race is not the redistribution of power and wealth within the prison but rather the destruction of the prison itself" (252-253). Therefore, reforms within the system are insufficient; the entire system must come crashing down, and become replaced by a new system, one that makes peace with "leaver" ideology. Although Quinn does make an important point here, in the sense that reforms may only entrench systems further; in the context of his novel, the destruction of the "prison" that he speaks of is not more crucial than, or extricable from, the destruction of systems of power inequities. Nor will it automatically lead to a destruction of the latter.

continue )
Love And Necessity In Langston Hughes' Poetry

Love in Langston Hughes' poems takes on several forms, always running on the undercurrent of immediacy. This immediacy is rooted in black people's struggle for survival in the historically oppressive context of slavery, lynching, and racism. In this paper I will examine two of Hughes' poems in particular, Song For A Dark Girl (Hughes, 104), and Lenox Avenue: Midnight (Hughes, 92). Through my analysis of these poems, I will demonstrate that love in black experience is also connected to black people's search for language, religion and power.

continue )
Reconstructing Mughal Historiography

Ruby Lal's "The question of the archive: the challenge of a princess's memoir" challenges the canonical view in historiography that documents only "official" administrative and political accounts of the establishment and workings of empires (55). Her challenge is posited through her examination of the memoir of Mughal Emperor Humayun's sister, Gulbadan Banu Begum. Gulbadan's memoir is important in undertaking a reconstruction of Mughal historiography because "her writing points to the history of a subjectivity and a culture, of political power and of social relationships, struggling to be born" (68). She chooses a significant genre of writing for her memoir – Ahval, which means "conditions, state, circumstances, or situations" (58). Gulbadan's memoir does not assume an empire that is already in place, as the Akbarnama (one of the most often cited sources in the canon) does (66). Lal refuses to subscribe to the common notion of privileging the "hard politics" of state, administration, bureaucracy, etc (56), recognizing that "it is necessary for us to ask about the imbrication of the Mughal domestic world in the everyday life of the courts and kings, or equally, the imbrication of courts and kings in the everyday life of the domestic world" (60).

Lal's article challenges fundamental assumptions I have about elite power structures. Often I tend to think that too much focus is placed on the lives and histories of the rulers, and that therefore history ought to document the subjects' lives instead. However, Lal's writing makes me realize that class is not the only sociopolitical axis that is important to consider when undertaking historical research. The western notion of top-down hierarchy oversimplifies or dismisses the intersections and interactions between women and men (as well as the construction of gender itself), peasants and workers and landlords and various strata of rulers, racial and caste politics, etc. It is also important, as Lal notes, to reexamine the received view of Mughal society and politics that is very much rooted in the context of European colonialism. This is evident in Lal's discussion of how Annette Beveridge, the English translator of Gulbadan's memoir, distorts the meanings of words and titles that, in their true Persian/Turkish form, have "complex histories and associations" (62). I am beginning to understand that it is not only a subaltern history that must be constructed, but also a different kind of elite history that is liberated from the biases of Victorianism and other western imperialist structures. The two will necessarily inform each other.

Lal illustrates the problem of Beveridge's translation by analyzing the way in which Beveridge describes women such as Maham, an older woman instructing younger women on their duties to produce heirs, as possessing a uniquely "rarefied and singular position" (63). Such a description ignores the fact that such behavior was not unique, and that Gulbadan described many women in her memoir as having powerful roles in the hierarchy of Mughal empire. Lal's discussion of Beveridge's Victorian biases reminds me of Chandra Talpade Mohanty's article, "Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses," and how in constructing the "third world woman" as a monolith, cultural contexts and histories are ignored. Too often western women – feminists as well as Victorians! – rush to appropriate an understanding of the "oppression" that women in third world countries face.

Lal's article is important for the creation of a new kind of historiography that truly tackles the complex nature of historical sources. She does not refuse to "take on the task of looking anew at sources" (56), and in attempting to investigate deeper and further, she illuminates aspects of Mughal history that are often overlooked.


Works Cited:

Lal, Ruby. Chapter 3, "The Question of the Archive: The Challenge of a Princess's Memoir." Lal, Ruby. Domesticity and Power in the Early Mughal World. 2005. 51-68.

Mohanty, Chandra. "Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses." Feminist Review 30 (1988): 61-88.
Response to Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn

Ishmael proposes an end to the tyranny of human civilization. Through Ishmael, the gorilla and teacher in the book, Quinn describes the ways in which civilization goes against the natural order of things. Ishmael's theories are interesting because they make a distinction between civilized and uncivilized cultures, thereby assuming that such a division exists and that civilization has not become quite completely a hegemonic force. The civilized, or the Takers, must be taught to accept the ways of the Leavers, or the uncivilized. According to Ishmael, the ways of the Leavers represent the true natural order of things. In such an order, members of a species may compete with each other for resources, but cannot wage war or deny resources altogether to each other. This seems to propagate a sort of more "benevolent" capitalism. It also oversimplifies theories of evolution around the idea of "survival of the fittest".

Although the novel does acknowledge the problems of technological and agricultural revolutions, and questions the necessity or benefits of civilization, Ishmael ultimately does not offer a radical critique of civilization. This is evident in the insufficient critique of capitalism as a cornerstone of (the hegemony of western) civilization, and correlating it with evolution, as mentioned above. Also, it is impossible to "return" to a past where people did not manipulate nature for their own convenience. Although Ishmael does say that it is inane to consider going back to a society of hunter-gatherers, at the same time in proposing a reversal of the story of the Takers, he is proposing a simplistic return to a place where that story could be reinvented. He talks about destroying the prison rather than reforming it, but it is several different kinds of oppression that create the prison, not one central idea of humans as above all other species. The whole notion of destroying the prison oversimplifies the cultural and physical complexity of our current existence. Ishmael reiterates that in the end, we are all prisoners, but that is a dangerous line to tread, as it often excuses oppression on axes of race, gender, class, ability, etc that may seem to take place only between humans.

Quinn's reinterpretation of religious tenets of civilization is also problematic. He chooses the stories that perhaps he is the most familiar with, i.e. The Garden of Eden and Cain & Abel, for example, and it is in the reinterpretation of these select stories that the problems with his ideas begin to emerge. If the Leavers really are the supposedly uncivilized peoples of the world, then Quinn should not have chosen fundamental western texts as originally being their story to explain the Takers. Again, the idea that there could ever have been a conscious split as such ignores the systemic ways in which human society has come to be what it is today. Although Quinn raises important ideas about the ways in which we think of predominant religious stories today, it is still problematic that he chose those particular texts. It illustrates the problem with destroying the "overall" prison, because Quinn's very conception of that prison is rooted in the context of his present. It is because of that that he has to choose these Biblical stories (and if he chose others, it would probably be in an appropriative context).

Both wishing to return to a past or hoping to invent a new future are fanciful goals. To truly challenge and destroy current structures of civilization, we need to hold ourselves accountable for what we are and what we have done, not attempt to recreate ourselves.
warnings: medicalization of bodies (intersex, homosexuality), sexual abuse/harassment/assault, othering, privacy and science

Privacy In The Context Of Power

In her memoir, Intersex (for lack of a better word), Thea Hillman tells stories about her life and the challenges she poses to the sex binaried system. At one point, she decides:
I'm not going to tell people about my genitals anymore. It's no one's business what my genitals look like. And it doesn't make a difference. ... Let them guess, assume, imagine, fantasize... Some of them will get off on [those images]. Others may think [I'm a] freak. Others may be disgusted. And that's why I don't even want to wonder in the first place what others are wondering. Let them keep their thoughts private.
This raises important questions about privacy and personal information. Is it possible to challenge the sex binary through advocating acceptance and an attitude of 'minding your own business'? For that matter, to what extent should one mind one's own business? I argue here that the clinical disregard for privacy functions within the context of othering those who do not fit the 'normal' standard.

A concern for privacy and a spirit of acceptance have often worked against each other in sexual revolutions. A great deal of sex-positive activism centers around bringing the personal or private into the public sphere. In addition, the field of scientific inquiry would seem to work very definitely against any regard for privacy or minding one's own business. According to Alfred Kinsey, it is necessary to counter bigotry on the subject of sex through general sex education, and by debunking popular myths. The scientific data amassed in the field of sexology is relatively limited compared to other areas of science, as Kinsey noted. He argues that one of the main reasons for this lack is because of a popular unwillingness to have a "thoroughly objective, fact-finding investigation of sex." Again, this relates to the influence of prejudice and ancient mores (predominantly western and/or elite) on present attitudes about sexuality.

In undertaking massive surveys and studies of human sexual behavior, scientists such as Kinsey, William Masters and Virginia Johnson did not have great concerns for privacy. Sex experts have traditionally rationalized their work in the name of helping people. Hillman challenges this, though, referencing the intense amount of damage that has been and continues to be done to anyone who does not fit certain experts' definition of "normal". Kinsey may have aspired to a completely objective investigation of sex, but this has not often transpired very well in practice. It is questionable as to what extent this scientific objectivity is even possible.

Kinsey suggested that in researching sex, it is necessary to steer clear of all judgments about what is normal and abnormal. As he says, "Nothing has done more to block the free investigation of sexual behavior than the almost universal acceptance... of certain aspects of that behavior as normal, and of other aspects... as abnormal." One wonders, though, whether it is possible to completely break free of any preconceptions about normality. In her book, Sexing The Body, Anne Fausto-Sterling says that "components of our political, social, and moral struggles become, quite literally, embodied, incorporated into our very physiological being." If this is true, then there is no way to attempt to collect 'objective data' about sex without first recognizing that " 'experience... is not individual and fixed, but irredeemably social and processual.' " For example, medical research helped to give an identity and a name to people who engaged in sexual acts with the same sex. They became defined as 'homosexuals,' and homosexuality was created as a new disease, a new species of person, and a new identity category. Therefore, the experiences of 'homosexuals' were and continue to be affected and influenced by the discourse surrounding homosexuality. When queer people speak about our experiences, we are affected by the history surrounding the terms 'gay', 'queer', and 'homosexual'. Therefore, is not possible to study sex without realizing how social and historical forces have shaped sexual acts, experiences and identities.

Sexual science, as a discipline, emerged in the context of the ongoing drive in western society to classify human beings. This drive became especially pronounced from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries onwards, and focused on "debates not only about who was different and how they were different, but also about what would count as the ideal standard against which a panoply of Others ... would be measured." It is important to remember that classification has been and continues to be situated in the context of western imperialism. This demonstrates very clearly the power dynamic inherent in any discussions on classification or 'objective' differences between human beings.

It is not only in the classification between human beings that this power dynamic is visible, however. In her book, Nature's Body, Londa Schiebinger discusses how the classification of plants too was affected by eighteenth-century mores. She says, "One of the most striking elements of Linnaeus' system is that plant sexuality took place almost exclusively within the bonds of marriage." She goes on to say that:
Eighteenth-century interest in plant sexuality coincided with a keen interest in the exact differentiation of sexual character in animals and humans ... both were subject to the imperative to find and analyze sex (and gender) differences that dominated scientific communities in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Clearly, the tradition of sex expertise is rooted in oppressive, othering notions about bodies, people, desires and behaviors. Although Kinsey wished to separate and move beyond any prejudices and judgments about 'normal' and 'abnormal' behaviors, these judgments are imbued in the very language of sexual science.

For example, the language of the medical drive to 'study' and 'quantify' sexual (and other) behavior is fraught with assumptions. Using terms such as 'studying' and 'collecting data' imply that sex is something that can be quantified and explained. Kinsey mentions that often scientists have been reluctant to study sex because "human sex behavior was primarily a question of the emotions, [and] that no scientific study had ever succeeded in measuring the emotions". Can emotions be studied? Does 'studying' automatically imply 'measuring'? Scientists often try to 'measure' sexual behavior on a strictly material, physical basis because it is the only way in which 'data' can be amassed. This is indicative of the dichotomy between biology and social environment that is often created in scientific disciplines. This dichotomy is not true to life, though. As R.C. Lewontin et al argue in their book, Not In Our Genes:
... Mental states have an effect on the external world through human conscious action. While it may be true that at some instant the environment poses a problem or challenge to the organism, in the process of response to that challenge the organism alters the terms of its relation to the outer world and recreates the relevant aspects of that world. The relation between organism and environment is not simply one of interaction of internal and external factors, but of a dialectical development of organism and milieu in response to each other.

Though curiosity and fascination are necessary parts of human life, it is more important to recognize how a desire for knowledge is impacted by the power we have to access any such knowledge, i.e. our privilege or lack thereof. Scientists have traditionally ignored this problem. Fausto-Sterling tries to address this problem, "[exhorting] scholars to examine the personal and political components of their scholarly viewpoints". In a medical setting, doctors and scientists inevitably have more power over their patients, especially considering the (particularly western) social homage paid to scientific and medical fields. Hillman talks a great deal about this power dynamic. As a child, while she was being examined for any 'discrepancies' in her 'normal' sexual development, she would feel unbearably ticklish every time the doctor touched her stomach. She says:
And I felt bad. I would worry before each appointment that I wouldn't be able to stop myself from being ticklish. I would say sorry to him that I couldn't sit still. Only now do I see that this is the same little girl who apologized to the child molester, whom I was sure I had disappointed because I couldn't climb the tree in my skirt as he asked me to.
This is important because Hillman is recognizing a very frightening aspect of medical science: the 'trust' that patients are supposed to place in their doctors. Conventionally, we are supposed to trust our doctors because they know how to treat our problems -- they supposedly understand our bodies, desires and behaviors better than we do. If, however, doctors are affected by the political complexity surrounding bodies just as much as we (patients and/or laypeople) are, then this can no longer be true. Hillman realizes, as an adult, "The doctor was a nice man. I know this is true. But what I didn't know until now is that somewhere, hidden ... was ... a terrified little girl." She realizes finally that she had a right to be afraid. As patients, we have a right to be afraid when doctors and scientists 'examine' our bodies. Hillman was perfectly healthy, but she was 'treated' so that she would become more 'normal'. It was explained to her that she had a 'condition', a word that implies "something wrong, most likely uncorrectable, with the desire for normalcy implicit. ... Condition is also to train, groom, lick into shape. To habituate."

Our curiosities and fascinations often function within a process of 'othering'. As mentioned at the beginning of this essay, when Hillman thinks about the possible ways in which people will react to her identifying as intersex, and the possible implications they will construe in their minds, she is treated as an object. She comments, "I picture some of them thinking I have a huge clitoris, dicklet, micropenis on my 'femme' body." Such curiosities, fascinations, possible constructions, are loaded with assumptions and judgments. It is not merely curiosity that leads people to wonder what Hillman's genitals may or may not be like. It is also part of the process of turning her (a child, a human being) "into a freak". Suddenly people's bodies are turned into objects, displays, strange anomalous facts.

This is not merely simple exploration. This is part of what Lewontin et al. call the "subject-object dichotomy" of hierarchical human social organization. This dichotomy produces alienation, and "that alienation is ... of direct political relevance. The alienated organism must accommodate itself to the facts of life. ... Thus, psychic maturation is seen as learning to replace wishes about the world with acceptance of its actual nature." In the scenario of 'anomalous' genital and sexual structure, this alienation occurs when people, such as Hillman, are forced to believe that they are not 'normal' men and women, and that there are, in fact, specific truths about maleness and femaleness. Hillman is told over and over that she is a 'success' because her 'condition' was detected so early on, and treated. Because her biology conforms to what a 'woman' is supposed to have (and not have).

The power dynamic between doctor and patient, 'normal' and 'abnormal' person, results in the imposed silence of the patient, of the 'abnormal' person. Hillman discusses this silence, remarking:
... They just don't want to hear the real stories... who wants the everyday details of someone's life when you can use people with intersex to fulfill erotic fantasies, narrative requirements, and research programs? People with intersex continue to be used to satisfy the interests of others... few of them [researchers, etc] are actually talking to people with intersex. ... What we have to say may shock and surprise you: We're not actually all that different. ... We like to decide what happens to our bodies and like to be asked about our lives, rather than told.
It is easier to believe that people with intersex, or people with any kind of 'difference', are 'abnormal'. This relates to how "individual scientists are inclined to believe one or another claim about biology based in part ... on whether the claim confirms some aspect of life that seems personally familiar." It is much easier to produce scientific 'evidence' that ratifies the sex and gender binaries and other oppressive systems, rather than evidence that challenges these systems. For such a challenge would also necessarily challenge the scientists' own lives.

In the context of power inequality, the desire for privacy cannot be seen as a reactionary social force. Hillman is a sex-positive activist, but she is also a survivor. She has realized that "being comfortable with sex doesn't mean sex is comfortable, and ... [there are] layers of shame hiding ... where only the sharp, cool tools of a doctor have been." So when she is asked to tell her story, asked to talk about intersex, sometimes "there's this raw aversion. ... this quiet no." The instinctual refusal that Hillman feels must be understood as a necessary defense against a system that will objectify and other her for being intersex. At the same time as she is an activist, educating people about intersex and trans issues, she is also profoundly vulnerable.

When asked to envision a world without violence against women, Hillman says:
I dream of women who hold their heads high because they live in a world where difference is embraced, rather than corrected, fixed, obliterated, or erased. A world where I learn from the women and girls around me about the myriad, multiple, varied and beautiful ways of being alive: joyful, silly, loving, and light.
To create such a world, it is necessary for scientists and other 'experts' to check their privilege. It is necessary for us as members of a capitalist, sexist, heterosexist, racist and ableist system to respect the intense vulnerability that comes from sharing private information that can be and often is systematically used against oneself. Only through recognizing the violence of systemic power structures can we truly allow our biology to free us.

bibliography )
warnings: globalization/imperialism, racism, ethnocentrism, othering, terrorism, violence, war

Contexts of Terrorism

In his essay, "The Clash or Dialogue of Civilizations?" Joseph Prabhu describes "globalization and the associated challenge of multiculturalism" as the "two distinctive phenomena [that] characterize the beginning of the twenty-first century" (Prabhu, 14). He also says that globalization is "marked ... by two seemingly contradictory tendencies: a centripetal movement toward greater economic and technological integration... and an opposite centrifugal movement toward ethnic nationalism and cultural particularisms" (ibid.) It is interesting that the challenge of multiculturalism is correlated with ethnic nationalism and cultural particularisms, and that this is described as an opposing phenomenon to the general goal globalization. I argue here that this particularism, often correlated with terrorism, takes place in the context of globalization, the newest development in the continuing history of western imperialism. Therefore, "particularism" can never vie with globalization; it has been created and is continually reinforced by it.

continue )
warnings: AIDS, discussion of ab/normality, sex/frivolity/intimacy, drugs, disassociation during sex/noncon?, polyphobia

A [Unique and Solitary] Home at the End of the World

The film A Home At The End Of The World (2004) deals with themes of identity, belonging, modernity and relationships. Michael Cunningham, who wrote a novel with the same name, prepared the script for the film. Before beginning the novel, he presents a poem by Wallace Stevens, The Poem That Took The Place Of A Mountain. The last stanza includes the lines: "He could... recognize his unique and solitary home." A Home At The End Of The World consistently tries to give an answer to the question of finding a home, as the title suggests. Cunningham explores the idea of a "unique and solitary home" in depth through the characters in this novel/film, who struggle to find a home that is truly theirs. I will argue that the central characters in this story – Bobby, Jonathan and Clare – do find their unique, solitary homes. However, it is the marginalization, restriction and isolation of their identities that forces each of them to find a home. The uniqueness and solitariness of the homes they find does not make any of them happy, or allow them to experience their lives fully. They struggle to make a "life" for themselves, together, but are constantly relegated to the territory of a "lifestyle".

continue )
.