Trans-cendental trauma: Public bathrooms as panoptic sites of gender policing, violence, and trauma in trans and gender non-conforming people

What’s in a bathroom? Indeed, who’s in a bathroom? Many politicians, legislators, and members of the general population will tell us that the referential signs on bathroom doors must match the referential signs for gender located in one’s pants. As a result of their gender-nonconforming identities and because of the inherent power structures latent in cisgendered heterosexuality, trans and gender non-conforming people are disproportionately affected by institutional structures and experience interpersonal and collective trauma at rates higher than their cisgender counterparts. This paper will take up how public bathrooms function as panoptic sites that surveil and police trans and gender non-conforming bodies and ultimately act as perpetrators of interpersonal and collective trauma. Continue reading “Trans-cendental trauma: Public bathrooms as panoptic sites of gender policing, violence, and trauma in trans and gender non-conforming people”

Phallic phanaticism: Men’s sexuality and its relationship to the superweapon and security discourse as tools of oppression

Nuclear weapons are plagued by paradox. The most fundamental paradox of nuclear weapons—the paradox from which all others are derived—is that they complete the logic of maintaining national security through force while at the same time leaving the United States more vulnerable than ever before. The superweapon continues to exist since its creation during World War II, and will continue existing forever—after all, the possession of nuclear power is one of the major ways we assess a country’s power, status, and security. Discourse about nuclear weapons is infused with a series of false dichotomies which underpin the primary signifiers of masculine/feminine, favouring masculinity over femininity in almost all respects.1 We obfuscate the language of the military to distract ourselves from the devastation and calamity that armed conflict and warfare actually inflicts. This paper will take up the ways in which the language of the bomb, nuclear warfare, and national security reifies stereotypes of men’s sexuality as dominating and conquering of women across various media, travelling through time from the Cold War era to our current, post–9/11 existence. Continue reading “Phallic phanaticism: Men’s sexuality and its relationship to the superweapon and security discourse as tools of oppression”

  1.  Claire Duncanson and Catherine Eschle, “Gender and the Nuclear Weapons State: A Feminist Critique of the UK Government’s White Paper on Trident,” New Political Science 30, no. 4 (December 1, 2008): 546, doi:10.1080/07393140802518120.

Virtually queer: the cyborg body and sexuality

What constitutes a body? Feminist, queer, and trans studies have placed notions of gender, sex, and the body under critical review (Salamon 2010, Prosser 1998, and Stryker 2006). The body is essential to the patriarchal conception of our selves, which plays out across all media. The internalization of the social constructs of gender and our biological valuation of the body further complicates our ideas of what it means to identify with the self. The digital–virtual era calls into question even further the degree to which we value our physiological imprints on the world. What, then, does it mean to lose the body? The space that the disposability of the body holds in cyberpunk and postcyberpunk texts opens up discussions about body politics as they relate to gendered sexual intercourse—and cyborg sex. Indeed, when talking about the disposability of the body, it’s necessary to tread lightly into posthumanism and its relationship to cyberpunk (Hayles 1999, Badmington 2003, and Foster 2005). I argue that, while cyberbodies appear to cost us a great deal, there may be a welcome exchange in empowering the marginal being of queer or trans sexuality.

Specifically, I am interested in the way that these ideologies proliferate through film and television, comics, and video games. Potential cultural texts on which I plan to conduct my research include Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 film (and subsequent franchise) Ghost in the Shell, Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, and Hiroshi Hamasaki’s 2003 television series Texhnolyze, as they all fall under the rough cyberpunk categorization of ‘high-tech, low-life’. Donna Haraway’s discussions on cyberfeminism (1996 and 1997) and her recent transition into ecofeminist work (2016) also provide the theoretical underpinnings that may help to answer some of my questions. As well, Michel Foucault’s works about sexuality, surveillance, and power can all be applied to these cultural texts (1990, 1995, and his work on the techniques of self), as can Judith Butler’s discussions about gender, performativity, and sex (2004 and 2011). Continue reading “Virtually queer: the cyborg body and sexuality”

Hummus-ide: Israeli appropriation of Arab–Palestinian food culture

Where in the world is Palestine? A year ago, I probably wouldn’t have been able to locate it on a map or answer basic questions about the region’s politics or people. But I could probably tell you a little bit about Israel. Or, rather, I could tell you about the image that Israel projects of itself, free of flaws and faults, and certainly not engaged in the oppression of entire groups of people. This paper will explore Arab cuisine (or, as I prefer, ‘food culture’) in the context of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and its political complexities, as well as the barriers that Arab–Palestinian people face with respect to maintaining their culture and identity; for, as I strongly believe, we must always learn about history, conflict, and hegemony from the perspective of the oppressed. The Israeli appropriation of Arab–Palestinian food culture—and subsequent cultural codification of foods (like hummus and falafel) as iconographic of Israeli national identity—serves as a form of colonization, and ultimately, de-Palestinianization.
Continue reading “Hummus-ide: Israeli appropriation of Arab–Palestinian food culture”

The body sheds: Motoko Kusanagi’s body without organs in the world of Ghost in the Shell

What happens when we lose ownership of the body? The mind? We think about the body and mind as inextricably linked, but what about when we shift that paradigm? What, then, happens when the mind and body become fundamentally disconnected from one another? Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell engages in several parallel conversations about identity politics, and asks, ‘what does it mean to own the body?’ The Major’s body and mind belong to Public Sector Section 9, but through the course of this film, she co-opts them and reclaims ownership over herself through a process of reconsideration, reidentification, and ultimately, redefinition—but this does not come without a cost.

At minute 64 of the film, the Major encounters the tank that is protecting the Puppet Master’s body. At first glance, this is the climax for which viewers have been waiting (the Major’s erotic climax notwithstanding): human-machine versus machine-machine—the showdown to end all cybernetic showdowns. This is not the case. The battle that the Major fights here is not an external one, but one where her own body and mind go to war. She is naked atop the tank and is trying to pull it apart with her bare hands. The tank represents the Major’s relationship with her mind—her ghost. We see her struggle, and try, with all her synthetic might, to break the tank down into each component part. The musculature on her body is immensely articulated, stressed. She is struggling. Her mind is winning.

Earlier in the film, at minute 42, the Major experiences an existential crisis: “I guess cyborgs like myself have a tendency to be paranoid about our origins. Sometimes I suspect I’m not who I think I am. Like maybe I died a long time ago, and somebody took my brain and stuck it in this body. Maybe there never was a real me in the first place, and I’m completely synthetic.”1 Batou goes on to suggest that she may be “doubting [her] own ghost,”2 and he is right on the money. The fight between the Major and the tank—the battle for the Puppet Master, and therefore, the answers—is the Major’s way of interrogating her own ghost. Who am I? What does it mean to be ‘me’?

As the battle continues, the Major’s cybernetic arms are torn from her body. The remnants—nuts, bolts, and wire; flesh, skin, and blood—fly everywhere as the tank throws her off its back. The Major is effectively defenceless without her arms. She falls to the floor and struggles to get up. The tank is winning. Her mind is winning. The tank grabs her by her head and lifts her. It is about to crush her head; however, the prolonged physical life of her head does not matter, because her mind is outside of her body—with the tank.

Later in this scene, once the Puppet Master has taken control of her ghost, he3 proposes a radical idea: “I want us to merge… a unification. A complete commingling and fusion of our separate beings to create a new and unique identity.”4 The Major’s mind is still fighting: “You’re talking about redefining my identity. I want a guarantee that I can still be myself.”5 She knows that this is not possible. They will become each other. An entirely new identity. The Puppet Master says, “We resemble each other’s essence, mirror images of one another’s psyche … We have been subordinate to our limitations until now. The time has come to cast aside our bonds and to elevate our consciousness to a higher plane. It is time to become a part of all things.”6 His proposal to become one—and become all—tempts the Major. She wants to be the best. But at what cost? She is, after all, human—flawed.

Earlier in the film, at minute 28, we see the Major resurfacing from a body of water.7 As she approaches the surface, we see the horizon splitting the screen diagonally, from top-left to bottom-right: the sky and water divide her consciousness. She sees her reflection in the sky, almost lifeless. At the last moment, we see over the Major’s shoulder as she breaks the water barrier. Her reflection ripples away before her eyes. This filmic representation of the body versus mind struggle constructs for us this notion that even cybernetic bodies are ephemeral. Shortly after she resurfaces, at minute 32, the Major becomes hypnotic and quotes the Bible: “What we see now is like a dim image in a mirror. Then we shall see face-to-face.”8 These are not her words, and she does not realize what she has spoken. The Major’s unconscious reference to 1 Corinthians is almost introspective—and again, telling of what is to come. Near the very end of the film, she realizes the context of the quotation and rattles off the remainder: “When I was a child, my speech, feelings, and thinking were all those of a child. Now that I am a man, I have no more use for childish ways.” 9 Motoko has accepted her new identity as an amalgamation of the Major and the Puppet Master. Bodies are disposable. Bodies ripple away.

What, then, does it mean to lose the body? Our protagonist’s shift from ‘the Major’ to ‘Motoko’—her reclamation of her mind—allows her to reclaim her body. By becoming one with the Puppet Master, Motoko ‘solves’ one identity crisis—but enters into another. She asks us, teasingly, in the last spoken line of the film, “And where does the newborn go from here?”10 She is speaking not only of her new mind as ‘newborn’, but also of her black-market body. What does Motoko constitute as ‘birth’? In what ways does this deviate from our constructions of birth and life? Motoko is also navigating these existential issues. With a new body and a new mind, she is grappling with the same questions we are. Motoko is now, ultimately, just a ghost in a shell.

  1.  Oshii, Mamoru. Ghost in the Shell. Animation, Action, Mystery, 1996.
  2. Ibid.
  3.  I’m gendering the Puppet Master for cogency’s sake—not because I think that the Puppet Master necessarily takes on a gender. More on that in another paper, though.
  4.  Oshii, Mamoru. Ghost in the Shell. Animation, Action, Mystery, 1996.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8.  Ibid.; 1 Cor. 13:12 New International Version (paraphrased and/or mistranslated)
  9.  1 Cor. 13:11 New International Version (paraphrased and/or mistranslated)
  10.  Oshii, Mamoru. Ghost in the Shell. Animation, Action, Mystery, 1996.

Deserted schoolyards: an analysis of wartime melancholy in Grave of the Fireflies

In this film scene analysis, I want to talk specifically about the scene in Grave of the Fireflies at minute 16, where Seita and Setsuko are in the schoolyard after the air raids destroy their hometown and fatally injure their mother.

The schoolyard in which the children are ‘playing’ is deserted, not only in terms of the lack of activity, but also in terms of the scenery. There is a single set of hanging bars (like monkey-bars) on a piece of land that seems to stretch on forever. The schoolyard’s surroundings have been completely demolished by the Allied Forces’ bombs. All that remains is rubble. The colours used—yellow and orange—all have undertones of grey that make the landscape look like it’s had all the life sucked out of it.

Until now, most scenes have not been set to a score. The lack of background music in this scene is representative of the struggles that our main characters are facing. As we know, filmmakers often use background music to help viewers understand emotional undertones. But what if there is no emotion? What if there’s nothing to feel? I suspect that Seita is so overwhelmed with emotion that he feels nothing. Just as being ‘apolitical’ doesn’t absolve oneself of a political stance, this lack of music certainly does not remove any emotional ties to which it is associated.

In this scene, we see the role of caregiver transfer to Seita, as he realizes that his mother’s life is coming to an end. Seita starts spinning himself around the bars in an effort to entertain Setsuko. I would posit that the cyclical nature of this spinning represents life ahead for Seita and Setsuko: repetitive and arduous. At this moment, the score starts up, and the sad tone of the music really sends the message to viewers that life must go on—but it certainly won’t be easy for these two orphaned children. As this scene comes to a close, we must ask: is Seita the one keeping Setusko alive, or is Setsuko the only reason for Seita to keep going?