Ethics of the Archive; WOC Activism

This is the first year that I have started to think critically about queer archives. I watched Watermelon Woman last semester in my Intro to Queer Studies class, and it was great to watch it again for this class though a different lens. I am really interested in why queer people have such a attraction to the archive. From Watermelon Woman and Q.U.E.E.N., Celluloid Closet, to much of Susan Stryker’s work including Screaming Queens and a podcast I have recently stated listening to, One from the Vaults which talks about Western trans historical figures, queer people do a lot of thinking about, exploring of, and living in the archives. What is it about the queer archive, or our current queer moment, that draws queer people to the archive? What is the importance of remembering histories—often times ones that are filled with violence and pain? I think we have touched upon this a little bit in class already, but I would love to continue this conversation.

In another class I am taking this semester, Critical History of Asian America, we are also doing a lot of thinking about the archive, and what I am learning in that class has informed how I interacted with this week’s texts. Since so much of the archive available today is about dominant hegemonic narratives, marginalized people and narratives are often erased. This often leads marginalized people to go back to try to find evidence of people who hold their identities within the archive and to “fill” the archive with personal accounts and histories that have been left untold. The issue with this, potentially, is that it erases the violence that the archive enacts onto marginalized people. How do marginalized people write their own histories, create their own archives, and work within the dominant hegemonic archives without forgetting about the violence within it? If we “fill” the archive with material that wouldn’t be there otherwise, do we forget about the violence of erasure? Furthermore, is the past safer than our present? Do we need the past to validate our present? I think that this is an important ethical conversation that we should engaging with, so that we are doing justice to those that have been erased through the archives and to those who are fighting to create change today.

Another piece that I am thinking about from this week’s texts is the importance of activism from people of color, specifically black women. Last night I read a tweet by writer Bill Werde (didn’t know of him before, Liv Bruce from PWR BTTM retweeted this): “Beyonce shifted a whole culture, IMO. Katy Perry isn’t putting out political pop if Beyonce doesn’t make it okay. No shade. #grammys” White women who have taken things from black women—Katy Perry’s “activism”, Adele’s entire musical genre and style—were celebrated by the Grammy’s last night. I think we can see a similarity in this week’s viewings. In Q.U.E.E.N., Janelle Monae raps, “She who writes the movie owns the script and the sequel./So why ain’t the stealing of my rights made illegal?/They keep us underground working hard for the greedy,/But when it’s time pay they turn around and call us needy.” Monae speaks to the slave labor industry that persists today to generate massive wealth for the 1%, and also to the intellectual and emotional work that black people, especially black women, have done without nearly enough credit or renumeration (the biggest understatement ever). The success of white artists such as Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, and Adele is predicated on the genius of black woman artists like Janelle Monae, Erykah Badu, and Beyonce. In our conversation about archives, it is important to keep the women and femmes of color that have pioneered our ability to have these discussions— Cheryl Dunye, Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera— in the forefront of our collective mind.

The Little Mermaid and Reinforcing Binaried Logics of Bodies

Watching “Poor Unfortunate Souls” made me consider how relationships of power are constructed and reified in narratives meant for children. In “Poor Unfortunate Souls” we see Ursula show how bodies that are marked as deviant can be changed to inhabit normative definitions of attraction. Ariel is coerced into subscribing to these ideals— trading her voice for a pair of legs. Thinking in terms of the title for Tuesday’s class “Narrative Expectations”—The Little Mermaid is reifying the expectations that a narrative goes from undesirability to desirability and from deviant to normal. The snippet of Ariel’s narrative in “Poor Unfortunate Souls” made me think about the relationship between trans bodies and the state. Ariel is manipulated by Ursula, who holds an uneven power relationship over her, into changing her body and giving up her voice (which can be read as giving up her agency and her “voice” in the broader sense— her ability to speak out against oppression). The state, which is committed to reinforcing normative binaried expectations for bodies, continually coerces trans people into undergoing sexual reassignment surgery (SRS).

Reinforcing binaried logics of bodies assists the state in the creation and reinforcement of gendered, raced, and class hierarchies. Writer Andrea Smith outlines in her work, Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy, that the reinforcement of heteropatriarchy as the basis for the home structure reifies hierarchies of power in the intimate setting of the home so that racial oppression and hierarchy goes uncontested within our larger political, cultural, and social institutions. Judith Roof echoes this concept in Come as You Are, when she write about Freud’s binary premise, “The binarism of these life dynamics exists not only at the expense of other possibilities…but also as a result of a narrative of completion and wholeness that can result only from having all the of the parts and none too many” (Roof, 29). The state needs the narrative of completion and wholeness, as Roof writes, in order to create the fallacy that there are no other possibilities outside of a binaried model of gender and no possibilities outside of the US nation state and its gender, raced, and classed hierarchies. It is fascinating to think of just how important the materiality of our physical bodies is to upholding racialized cisheteropatriarchy– how can we give freedom for trans and gnc people to have agency over their bodies while also refusing and resisting the narrative of a “whole” and “correct” body? The state’s apparent anxieties over order and completion are played out on trans bodies, and the successful upholding of such structures is contingent on policing deviant bodies into binaries.