This week we read three works and looked at a selection of slam poetry performances by queer artists that provided us with more concepts and embodied ideas to get at the question of the course — which bodies? which spaces?
Two of the readings assigned from the 1990s may seem outdated, but I assigned them because it’s important to have a history of when these issues and problems finally entered academia on a larger scale. Both Valentine and Knopp challenge the city/public space/the street as heterosexual. We used those two pieces as frameworks to think with Melissa Gira Grant’s evocative and high-speed Playing the Whore, which was released last year.
First we reviewed the concept of gender performance to tie into a discussion on queer identity. “Gender is the repeated stylization of the body, a set of repeated acts within a highly rigid regulatory framework that congeal over time to produce the appearance of substance, of a natural sort of being” (Butler, 1990, 33).
We focused on the malleability of the boundary between private and public recognizing that space is multi-layered and often disputed physically and politically. In its basic form, public is often used to define the spaces of hegemonic social interaction (see Habermas, and Fraser’s critique), while private refers to personal space and intimate encounter. Note how these don’t necessarily coincide with indoors and outdoors. By claiming space in public, by creating public spaces, social groups themselves become public. Performances are also part of this — as they show how bodies that are generally excluded from this particular space trespass and turn a public space into an arena for activities that are forcibly usually relegated to the private sphere. The importance of space is something that has particularly been seized by queer activists. This is also done in nuanced ways by sex workers.
This week we also explored the ways in which the body is actively produced, and the ways, in turn, bodies re-inscribe and project themselves onto their sociocultural environment. This results in the environment both producing and reflecting the forms and interests of the normative ideological body. Remember Bell’s example about queer white men reproducing power relations? This is where the idea of intersectionality helps us.
Further, Ahmed in Queer Phenomenology tells us: “Sexuality itself can be considered a spatial formation not only in the sense that bodies inhabit sexual spaces, but also in the sense that bodies are sexualized through how they inhabit space.” For example, Gil Valentine notes that ‘lesbians are only allowed to be gay in specific spaced and places’, and, as a response, employ tactics for renegotiating this normative milieu, and resisting the heterosexual sphere.
We then spent time, thinking with Melissa Gira Grant, discussing the discourse of sex work and interrogating notions of what the sex industry looks like. We specifically looked at the ways in which sex work is not considered ‘real work’ yet marks the sex worker as ‘always on duty’. We discussed the economic and political implications sex workers have to contend with. We recognized that the most dangerous forces to sex workers are those in power refusing to acknowledge sex worker bodies as bodies that matter, for whatever moral political agenda they need to buttress. For example, PayPal refusing to function as a money exchange service for sex workers.
We also spent time discussing Bill C-36 and Steph Harper’s misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia…
To end, we watched Kai Davis again, in which she dismantles stereotypes about black people and intelligence. Her ideas can move us into thinking about any body that feels excluded by dominant forces in academia and the ways in which we perform our identities and orient our bodies in the classroom. Some of our mis-guides dealt with different forms of exclusion on campus.
Questions to Consider
- What sorts of bodies and activities complicate the private/public binary?
- How can you re-imagine/re-produce a heteronormative site into a queer site?
- Valentine explains that she has chosen the term “the street” to characterize “everyday publicly accessible places” because the common phrase “public space” is inconsistent with contemporary experience for three reasons. Explain them and give examples of each.
- In class we tried to get at some explanations to Melissa Gira Grant’s undergirding question as why is it so hard for us to approach sex work as a form of labour. Given what you now know and tying in other readings about the body, particularly the ways in which history has shaped the body, provide more explanations.
- Julia Beazley, policy analyst with The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada says: “The law recognizes the vast majority of prostituted persons are not there by choice: they are to be seen as victims of exploitation. The law also clearly identifies the demand for paid sex as the driving force behind prostitution and sex trafficking.” In short, she believes the passing of Bill C-36 is a historic moment in Canada, calling it a “victory for women’s equality.” Argue for or against this. Examine her quote in your answer.