Vol. 3, Is. 3: Bodies of Identity
Winter Issue 3, 2011
“If one really thinks about the body as such, there is no possible outline of the body as such.” - Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
The YU Free Press is pleased to introduce our final issue of the 2010-11 academic year: ‘Bodies of Identity.’
What is a body? What can a body do? What kinds of relationships do we have with our own bodies and those of others? As the above quote from Gayatri Spivak suggests, there is no body as such that we can successfully conceptualize without prioritizing a particular kind of body, no body that can be represented that is not, at one and the same time, a politicized body. The types of bodies that continue to be the most privileged in a white supremacist capitalist patriarchy such as ours are those which reflect its dominant ideologies about gender, sexuality, racialization, ability, and class.
When it comes to representations of non-normative bodies (and our desire for those bodies) in the culture industry, there is indeed a degree of truth to those who say that we should be celebrating the increased visibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ) musicians, actors, and characters. From the enormous support of the ‘It Gets Better’ campaign, to Degrassi’s introduction of a trans character, to the popularity of shows like Glee, more overt forms of heterosexism appear to have fallen out of fashion in mainstream entertainment. But as Leo Bersani pointed out about America in his 1995 book Homos, the bitterness and hatred expressed toward homosexuals “increased in direct proportion to the wider acceptance of homosexuals” in the public sphere. One need only recall the reason for the ‘It Gets Better’ campaign, which was the epidemic of queer teen suicides in the United States.
And the story isn’t much different here. According to a recent survey by Trans PULSE, an estimated 77% of trans people in Ontario have seriously considered suicide, with 43% having attempted suicide. Egale Canada’s major 2009 survey of Canadian high school students, entitled ‘Youth Speak Up about Homophobia and Transphobia,’ found that 75% of LGBTQ students and 95% of transgender students feel unsafe at school, with 60% of LGBTQ students reporting being verbally harassed about their sexual orientation. In terms of gender, 90% of transgender students, 60% of LGB students, and 30% of straight students report being verbally harassed because of their expression of gender.
With a critical eye on bodies and gender assumptions, our Features section brings together a collection of works that challenge oppression and highlight struggle. A number of articles in the section tackle the contested nature of the body directly. In ‘Do You Get Anything from Sex?’, Samantha Walsh makes a public commentary on the intrusion of the private body while also discussing the intersectional identity of women with disabilities. Liam O’Ceallaigh confronts the biological determinism lurking within Lady Gaga’s hit song, Born This Way, through his rebuttal, ‘We Weren’t Born This Way.’ Dean Spade looks to dispel the compulsory gender assignment of body parts, and rejects the notion that binary gender is ‘natural’ in “Purportedly Gendered Body.’ In ‘Penetration: the Hierarchy of sex,’ Andrea Sevigny challenges the prescription of the heterosexual active/passive dichotomy between partners, and disputes the ways in which heteronormative reproductive sexual behaviour often trumps other forms of human connection.
Moving from the gendered body to manifestations of injustice and resistance, Daniel Faranda’s ‘Forget Singing, Just Slushie’ describes recent homophobic attacks in Toronto’s Church-Wellesly Village, and their connection to the musical comedy-drama series, Glee. Anastasia Mandziuk and Christine Hakim express their outrage at the incessant inequalities faced by Canadian women in a critical look at International Women’s Day in ‘What Exactly are we Celebrating?’. Climate Justice Montreal discuss the environmental injustices inherent in capitalism in ‘10 Indigenous Struggles,’ while also highlighting varied forms of community responses across occupied Turtle Island. Finally, Sean Starrs reports back from the streets of Madison, Wisconsin with a photo essay on the creative mobilization against labour restructuring that has brought more people out to the streets – and into the halls of legislative power – than ever before in Wisconsin’s history.
In our News section, Amy Saunders gives readers an account of the Undergraduate Sexuality Studies Association’s (USSA) Second Annual Symposium in ‘TRANSgressing the Boundaries at York,’ where students and activists gathered to discuss their joys, concerns, and curiosities about sexuality and gender. In ‘Rendezvous of Victory,’ Amil Shivji describes the sold-out lecture by Norman Finkelstein that took place at York on Feb. 16, and provides us with an account of Dr. Finkelstein’s views on current developments in the Middle East. On a similar topic, we also feature ‘Judith Butler Speaks During Israeli Apartheid Week’ by Sean Braune, which details renowned American philosopher Judith Butler’s recent visit to Toronto, where she spoke on the cultural and academic boycott of Israel.
Our Comments section showcases Lisa Kadey’s article about Bill C-389, a bill that would prohibit discrimination against people based on their gender identity and make such discrimination a hate crime. Kadey explores the effects of institutional repression and labeling on bodies that are not recognized as ‘normal,’ and questions the reasons behind the vehement opposition to the passing to the bill by some parties. In ‘Rethinking Safety: Sexist Police on York Campus,’ the Centre for Women and Trans People respond to the recent statement by Constable Sanguinetti and construct a community alternative for making safety a reality on our campus.
In ‘The Global Food Crisis,’ Jenelle Regnier-Davies offers a critique about the globalization of our food system and examines recent political uprisings within this context. On that note, Troy Dixon speculates about the negative impacts of Gaddafi’s use of Black African mercenaries on the local ‘dark skinned’ population in Libya, and how state propaganda is shaping the lives of future Libyans.
In our struggles against capitalism and colonialism, culture has always been one of the most important battle fields as it is where the hearts and minds of the people lie. Our Arts and Culture section in this issue is dedicated to film – one of the most accessible and powerful media of social change. Reviewing three very different films – the Hollywood Black Swan, the propagandistic Iranium, and the Canadian saga Incendies – the articles converge on unpacking the very same notion of violence. In the article ‘Black Swan, Feminism, and Desire,’ Shaunga Tagore refutes the film’s idea that violence and desire are interconnected. Vida Setoudeh explicates on how such propaganda films as Iranium serve as a call to violence. Victoria Moufawad-Paul courageously tackles the emotionally taxing Incendies about the violence of memory, history, and war.
As the rise of capitalism leads to the erosion of public spaces where people can gather to exchange ideas, develop new forms of relationships, put visions into practice, and be free from capitalistic values of consumerism and competition, we are in need more than ever of such cultural/social/intellectual centres as a women’s centre, a union hall, a gay community centre, a progressive bookstore, or an artist-run centre. Beit Zatoun, a culture and art venue from downtown Toronto, is one such space. We thus also dedicate some of our newspaper space to celebrating Beit Zatoun’s one year anniversary.
The YUFP would also like to introduce our newest Editorial Collective members: Gordon Shean, our new Photo editor; and Simon Granovsky-Larsen, our new Features editor.
YU Free Press Editorial Collective