Final Blog--Bodies and Material Experiences

| 2 Comments

The term "Bodies and Material Experiences" can be described as the intersection of bodies, including everything from physical body structures to psychological experiences contained within our bodies, with external, societal structures, policies, ways of living, norms, and more that produces an individualized material experience (of or relating to the outside world, respective to our individual bodies) for each of us. In order to understand this term and how it applies to each of us, one must ask questions such as
+What laws and policies affect my body and life, and how?
+What social norms affect my body and life, and how?
+How does the construction of my body, as an entity, interact with the greater world, and what experience does that bring me to living in/through?

and more. Subsequently, it is easy to see how individualized this term can become, and why it's important to take into consideration in queering theory--a theory based on understanding minority experiences, frames of mind, points of view and more and how the larger society can be queered based on those such things would only be responsibly explored if it were actively exploring and understanding such individualized experiences.
The brilliant part about this term is that it has the potential to be so comprehensive that you can really explore a lot with it. You can explore everything from how an identity (queer or not) interacts with laws and policies that proclaim to protect people by looking at how "the system" fails queer bodies, as I have done in looking at Kate Moennig's My Address, to how the medical world seeks to normalize queer bodies and how that inevitable failure to do so affects both directly affected individuals and everyone else, as Judith Butler explored in her discussion of the case of David Reimer, to how the mass media assesses and deals with queer bodies and their experiences/representation, as I have done in looking at Adam Lambert and Nip/Tuck, and an endless number of additional options.
That sort of comprehensive outlook is integral to asking what queering is (and legitimately exploring it), as well. While one could argue that discussions of gender, sexuality and rejection/refusal are the most important parts of discussing queering (and I won't deny that they are required parts of such a discussion) simply because they are the first to come to mind, it seems to me that queering is not necessarily doing or looking at things differently, but it is doing things with a raw and inconsiderate point of view that forces you to be completely honest. Too often queering is a reactionary practice to what is interpreted as "the norm" or heteronormativity or heterosexuality, but is such a blanket approach really that unpredictable? Not at all; in fact, if queering is to be constantly posited (as it often is) as the polar opposite of the norm, it's not really as creative and outlandish as it's supposed to be.
In a world where we take so much time and give so much effort to understanding ourselves in relation to others (perfectly epitomized by the negative connotation too often given to words such as "inconsiderate" or "selfish"), I propose that the queer thing to do (or the proper way to perform queering) isn't something that can be prescribed, and the only prerequisites are that whatever it is must be raw, inconsiderate, and selfish, with no consideration given to anyone else but the performer. Queering is along the lines of giving the complete amount of deserved credence to individual desires in a way that both understands and acknowledges others and/or society without letting anything other than pure, raw, personal desire influence actions and decisions.
In terms of tracking my term and using this blog, I have to wonder if I would've been as successful at tracking my term if I didn't have the opportunity to see what everyone else was thinking and how they were engaging with their own terms. While I could objectively define what the term "bodies and material experiences" meant, I had a very hard time connecting it to our materials and the idea of queer/queering itself. Being able to see how others (including the instructor) were using course materials to understand their own terms made things easier for me, and the blog became an increasingly regular resource for me.
Additionally, having the blog here allowed me to learn an immeasurable amount more about class subjects (queering, overall) than I would've in a more traditional class because it allowed for both constant and casual contact with both my peers and course content in a manner that wasn't at all forceful or overbearing. I learned that queer theory can take an infinite amount of directions--it just depends on the players involved, which is a very exciting prospect. And while writing on the blog seemed a little intimidating at times, I soon realized that having the blog as a tool and resource created a sort of safer space for learning--because we weren't so pressured with academic tones or styles and were allowed to discuss whatever we wanted in whatever style we wanted (basically), we took those freedoms and ran with them, and I think it soon became apparent that the blog would end up being what we made it, and that created a welcome sense of responsibility, I feel. All of this created a definitely queer space for us to learn in a way that I hadn't encountered before.
As for future students, my biggest recommendation with using a course blog would be to not be so intimidated by it--it is a space that you make your own, and if you don't participate in that creation it'll be even harder to use as time goes on. If you get rid of that fear of doing something wrong and just go for it, you'll probably learn more about both the course and the blogging experience itself than you would to just sit and watch others post.

2 Comments

Great post. Your discussion of queer as being completely honest and "raw, inconsiderate, and selfish" is really intriguing. I like how you contrast it with an emphasis on responsibility (and connection) to others. I am really interested in queer ethics. What would it mean to think of a queer ethic that is focused on one's own desires/feelings/experiences instead of one's responsibility/accountability to others? What might it mean to be ethically selfish? Hmmm... I would really enjoy hearing more about what it means to be raw (free of cultural constraints or unfiltered or what?) and completely honest (what sort of truth are you accessing/expressing and from where does it come)?

On another note: My daughter Rosie and I watched Adam Lambert on the "So you think you can dance" finale. We had a great discussion about how awesome his make-up, high-up shoes (Rosie's word for shoes with high heels) and black nail polish were. There was something powerful about her seeing this queer body/queer performance. It seemed normal to her. How queer (or not queer) is that?

I have an example of what I'm talking about that relates to both Adam Lambert AND my definition of queering all in one, so I wanted to share. It may be rant-y and a little unorganized, but hopefully it makes sense.

At work earlier I was talking about Adam Lambert to my co-workers (none of whom had heard of him, which was surprising because I thought I was the last person on earth to become aware of him) and my program director told me to plug my iPhone into the radio with Adam Lambert on so we could listen. When I brought his album up on the screen, she saw the album cover:
[click for album cover]
and gasped "He looks like a WOMAN!"

I was pretty struck by this; she's literally put the fear of god into people who haven't been supportive of me as a transman in the past year and a half that I've known her, and I know that, for a very gender-conforming individual, she knows her trans stuff way more than anyone would expect. I pretended to give her shit about it for a minute or so, but made it apparent that I thought her reaction was funny more than anything else and wasn't bothered at all.
Still, she felt compelled to have a good 15 minute "discussion" (i.e. anxious talking at me) with me about how she challenges the blue/pink game pieces in the board game Life and other examples of how she's been supportive of challenging the gender binary recently. Finally I just had to say "That's great, but I really, REALLY don't care about what just happened! Quit stressing about it!"


So, this all relates to ethics, my definition, and its contrast with communal responsibility to me. It's pretty clear to me that she was trying to force some sort of communal responsibility for taking care of queer bodies to balance out her pointing out that Adam looks like a woman on his album cover in such a fearful way by engaging everyone in the room in this discussion about advocating for gender blurring where the subject she's advocating for was obviously me, right? That seems like the sort of thing that typically gets posited when you hear people speaking of queering--we've all got to work together and put our own desires aside to help the people we care about. Why?!

Her reaction is a perfect example of why that doesn't work--obviously she meant what she was saying (both times), but would she have even felt the need to explain herself and force all of that gender conversation had I not been there? Absolutely not. My presence made her feel like apologizing for a raw, honest reaction she had, when you get down to it. I don't think it's fair that she should have to feel that way.

I mean...maybe at the end of the line I'll end up eating my words, but I really think that everyone in our society likes to think they're less selfish than they really are (I don't need to point out MN Nice here). It only takes simple concepts like the bystander effect to make it apparent to me that human nature is completely hedonistic and selfish.

...but that doesn't have to be a bad thing; that negative connotation that goes with the words selfish, inconsiderate and others is unnecessary. I'm selfish. You're selfish. Barack Obama is selfish. Kate Bornstein is selfish. Mother Teresa was selfish. I hate to break it to everyone, but that's human nature, and I think that this weird urge everyone has to pretend like we're not selfish is both unethical and detrimental to the sort of community building lots of people want to see happen.
I'm selfish because I want to be happy. I'm selfish because I want to take care of myself. I'm selfish because I don't want to censor myself. I'm selfish because I want to put myself first. I'm selfish because I know that if I don't advocate for myself and put myself first, I know that no one else will, because it's not their responsibility. I'm selfish because I know that if I don't give a shit about myself, I will give even less of a shit about other people.

And so my program director shouldn't have to feel like she has to censor herself just to support my presence; she can be honest and uncensored and still supportive of who I am at the same time. These sort of connections that make up the current type of community building we see are SO feigned and censored that I don't want to be a part of such communities, and that's why I really reject a lot of the things I think people assume I should associate with just because I'm apparently this thing they like to call transgender.
This sounds cheesy, but we really can't love one another until we love ourselves--so we need to be truly selfish, raw, honest about ourselves, and inconsiderate of others before we can open up some energy for taking care of one another. It would be unethical of me to completely ignore being honest with myself and ignore what I want to make myself happy just so that I can take care of someone else--if I can't even take the time to take care of myself, how good could I really be at taking care of others?
It's almost easier to think of it structurally, like we're building a house, right? And this ideal community where we're all interconnected is the top floor, and we're all at the base as individuals. If we ignore ourselves as individuals just to we can build to the top, how strong is that house going to be? Shouldn't we work on strengthening the base (ourselves) as much as possible before we proceed?

It seems to me as though we're made to feel bad if we don't hurry up and get over ourselves so that we can build the entire thing just to say we did. I mean, I guess that way when the thing crashes to the ground we can start blaming everyone else, at least (since that's what always happens). But in my eyes, the queer thing to do is to be honest with yourself, allow yourself to be raw and uncensored, allow yourself to be inconsiderate of others, so that you can be a part of a stronger structure and eventually take care of others in a way that's actually genuine and ethical.