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).

Works Cited

  • Badmington, Neil. “Theorizing Posthumanism.” Cultural Critique, no. 53 (2003): 10–27.
  • Butler, Judith. Bodies that Matter. Routledge, 2011.
  • Butler, Judith. Undoing Gender. Routledge, 2004.
  • Foster, Thomas. The Souls of Cyberfolk. Minnesota UP, 2005.
  • Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality. Vintage, 1990.
  • Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish. Vintage, 1995.
  • Haraway, Donna. Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium. Routledge, 1997.
  • Haraway, Donna. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women. Free Association Books, 1996.
  • Haraway, Donna. Staying with the Trouble. Duke UP, 2016.
  • Hayles, N. Kathryn. How We Became Posthuman. Chicago UP, 1999.
  • Prosser, Jay. Second Skins. Columbia UP, 1998.
  • Salamon, Gayle. Assuming a Body. Columbia UP, 2010.
  • Stryker, Susan and Stephen Whittle (eds.). The Transgender Studies Reader. Routledge, 2006.