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THE POVERTY OF BODIES: Commodities, Fetishism, and Nationalism

Updated: Jul 6, 2022




 

Introduction


In this essay we will discuss the issue of the body in relation to nationalistic ideology and human rights, with a focus on the US government and two recent events in history. We will be discussing the Pulse shooting and the murder of a Filipina woman in light of these matters. In relation to transgender bodies and nationalism, I will use the Marxist conceptual tools of commodity and fetishism. This may be a form of ‘post-Marxism’, since Marx did not speak of transgender issues - Laclau and Mouffe define post-Marxism ‘as the process of reappropriation of an intellectual tradition,’ wherein reappropriation means to apply Marxism to ‘contemporary problems’ and also to deconstruct Marxism to go ‘beyond it.’[1]


There are areas in Marx where we may find incredibly useful theory. For example, in The German Ideology, Marx writes that production is required for us to live. Once we have produced our requirements, we may then produce culture and other commodities. Eagleton notes that, in Marx, ‘the basis of culture is labour.’[2] For a transgender Marxist, this proposition might seem hasty. If gender is a cultural product, as we can see with many cultures differing in their definitions of gender – what are the terms of production that came before gender? One might say ‘vagina’ and ‘penis’, though the relations of human production are far more complicated than this (chromosomal, etc.). One might say that the act of re-production was entirely more to do with climaxing as much as possible, than to do with knowing which hole to put something in. After all, if one attempts to put two pieces of a jigsaw together, one is bound to find the right combination eventually. With extensive analysis of such issues as this, we may find more understanding of how – if at all – Capitalism (under the Marxist lens) has constructed transgender oppression.



 

Commodities and Fetishism


The first thing we must do is explain the concept of the commodity.


‘A commodity appears at first sight an extremely obvious, trivial thing. But its analysis brings out that it is a very tricky thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties.’[3]

For Marx, a commodity is some thing that holds within its being something more than itself. For example:


A table is a thing which has the use-value (is used, the value of its use) of a table – though this use-value may fluctuate depending on how well it performs its use as a table for the people that require it. When a table becomes a commodity, its use-value falls below its exchange-value (the amount that it is exchanged for on the market), and this is because it has somehow gained some importance that is outside of its being-table, or outside of its use-value. As Balibar points out, commodities have a ‘dual character’: they have both ‘utility’ (the table itself) and ‘value’ (how much the table will sell for).[4] Often, under modern capitalism, things become commodities because they are ‘in fashion’, because they are ‘rare’, because someone with a lot of money has bought either all of the means-of-producing-the-commodity or merely the-commodity-itself, and so on and so forth.

The object becomes a commodity because it has something other-than-itself attached to it. And so, we might find the same form of ‘commodification’ in many areas of the Universe. For example, we may apply it to the commodification of human beings, of bodies, and even on the commodity of their commodification. Lukacs maintained that individuals were commodified subjects, a theory that Marx applied only to the relation of the individual to a commodity - not regarding the individual as commodity themselves.[5]


Now, we may speak about commodity fetishism, and then we shall go on to analyse this in relation to how Trump commodified, fetishised the victims of the Pulse shooting, how the U.S. state/media commodify and fetishise queer people as queer, and how they determine what specifically to commodify about queer people in and outside of the U.S.. Cohen has two incredibly useful summaries of fetishism that will help us in this endeavour.


Firstly, Cohen defines ‘commodity fetishism’ as: (1) physical production and other human labours creates ‘exchange-value’; (2) ‘things have exchange-value;’ (3) things do not have exchange-value autonomously; (4) things ‘appear to have [exchange-value] autonomously,’ and; (5) exchange-value is ‘not permanent, but peculiar to a determinate form of society.’[6] In other words, human labour creates exchange-value through specific, impermanent societal mechanisms. The point of Cohen’s explanation of commodity fetishism is to evaluate whether or not things have exchange-value in and of themselves, for which a Marxist answer would be ‘no’. Point (3), that things do not have exchange-value without someone attaching this value to them, forms point (4): that they appear to have it autonomously because of point (5), which references the ‘determinate form of society’, also known as Capitalism, that assigns a value of capital to something that is produced by (1), human labour.


‘Capital fetishism’ is then defined by Cohen through five points: (1) physical production via human labour is the ‘productivity of capital’, (2) ‘capital is productive’, (3) capital ‘is not autonomously productive’, (4) capital ‘appears to be autonomously productive’ and, (5) capital is ‘not permanent, but peculiar to a determinate form of society.’[7] Taking the five points of Cohen’s commodity fetishism, we can reformulate this in perhaps more basic terms. Capital is thought to be inherently productive because exchange-value is adhered to the products of human labour: that is to say, (1) exchange-value is the productivity of capital. The following points from (2) to (5) are essentially the same as within commodity fetishism, but for capital fetishism it is the idea that exchange-value is inherently productive – that it is the ‘productivity of capital’ – and not the physical production via human labour that is productive of objects unto which capital (exchange-value) may be assigned.



 

The Trans Body as Nationalist Commodity


On the 12th June 2016, after the massacre of 49 people (and the injuries of 53 people) at the Pulse gay club in Orlando, FL., U.S. news media publicly stated its discontent with terrorism – a Muslim individual murdering 49 of its queer citizens on American soil. Media pushed the need for state intervention at gay clubs, e.g. stating a police watch, whilst discussing the ‘safe spaces’ that gay clubs maintain.[8]The U.S. is intended to be a safe space for queer people, and if queer people cannot protect themselves, then the state will protect them. This is the message that U.S. media seemingly wanted to push out in response to the events. We speak of nationality in this light because of the U.S. reaction to the murder of a Filipina (trans) woman in 2014. Jennifer Laude was murdered by a U.S. Marine named Joseph Scott Pemberton, whilst he was on tour in the Philippines.


‘Jennifer Laude was a 26-year-old trans Filipina woman who met U.S. Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton at a bar in Olongapo, Philippines, on October 11, 2014. Laude left with Pemberton to a motel, where she was later found dead of asphyxiation, with strangulation marks on her neck and her head in the bathroom toilet. Pemberton was convicted of murder by a Philippine court in 2015, and was sentenced to ten years in prison in the Philippines. On September 7, 2020, Pemberton was pardoned by Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte, despite serving less than six years of his ten-year prison sentence.’[9]

Velasco analyses how capitalist nations often attempt to present themselves as ‘queer-friendly’, arguing that ‘homonationalism for queer necropolitical ends is rooted in histories of colonialism and imperialism.’ [10] Of course, for the U.S. to respond to the Pulse shooting as something that the state must deal with – to protect gay people within U.S. borders, as their gay clubs are not safe, by sending police squads; or to enact a ‘Muslim ban’ alongside stating that ‘Islam is homophobic’, when the U.S. has created, and creates, an incredulously hostile environment for queer people both inside the U.S. and through both cultural and traditional colonialism (much like the U.K., and other colonialist powers) – is not only a form of national, ‘historical amnesia’[11] that is purposed for furthering the homonationalist power, but also a form of national, ‘contemporary amnesia’, as we see with the murder of Jennifer Laude at the hands of a U.S. Marine. The U.S., in enacting this amnesia, is also re-inforcing the (comparably microscopic) culturally patriarchal issue of, to put it in simple terms, blissful ignorance. The U.S., we may argue – if we follow Andrew Anastasia’s proposal of ‘voice’ – does not use a ‘voice’ to speak to its subjects, nor its non-subjects, to the human commodity and about the human commodity: it uses cultural productions, as we will discuss in relation to Barthes, and Adorno and Horkheimer. The point of analysing these areas of speaking-to-others is so that we may establish thereafter the argument that states may fetishise and/or commodify those it has power over – ergo, it is important that we analyse the ‘voice’ of the state in conjunction with whom it ‘speaks’ to, and why.


Andrew Anastasia proposes that we should be using ‘voice’ to describe listening alongside hearing, not the ‘expression’ of a person. ‘Listening alongside hearing’ being the act of (1) listening as detecting the peculiarities of the voice, and (2) ‘hearing’ as understanding what those peculiarities mean. Often, the way a voice is heard affects the listener’s physical perceptions of a person; for example the ‘trans voice’ may influence the way the listener views the ‘trans’ person’s physical gender – in other words, the ‘voice [is] a trace of the body’. [12] Clearly, the US government allows itself to be affected by the ‘trans/gay voice’, most certainly in instances where the trans/gay person is not ‘American’, as we see with victims of cisgender colonialism, such as Jennifer Laude. The process of Western fetishisation of the Other sustains itself by replacing ‘natural’ (the human being in themselves) categories by ideological categories (the human being that is objectified, fetishised, commodified, and Othered).[13] If we accept that the body of the object, and all things attached to it (its traces etc.), may be transformed by the listener – the spectator, the audience, or the subject – then we must accept that the body can be fetishised. ‘Fetishised’ here means that this transformation of voice is twisted by (cisangloamericanheteronormative) cultural and experiential ideas – rather than directly upon those things we might call materialities, true Realities. When we speak of fetishism towards human beings, we are likening them to the Marxist view of the commodity fetish – that is to say, we are likening them to objects produced under capitalism. Apter writes of the fetish that it is a ‘historical object’, ‘territorialised’ or ‘marked’ on the human body - it is ‘personal’, and therefore relates socially as ‘other’; the person relates their ‘living self’ through the ‘fetish object’, therefore ‘the fetish might be identified as the site of both the formation and the revelation of ideology and value-consciousness.’[14] The ‘fetish’ is always a concept that echoes Western society’s Othering.[15]We could provoke the idea that use-value is the Marxist application of these materialities, and then provide the analysis of the transgender as fetishised through objectification of capital. The problem here is that the human is no object, no table, and does not provide a simple form of use-value that is set out in the previously discussed areas of Marxist theory. The use-value of a person would already be a form of commodification, as it applies to the human something that is not there: an object. A human does not have, and is not, an object because they are sentient beings – therefore, to propose that humans have use-value before they are commodified is likely to propose that they are not human in themselves (outside of capitalist ideology). However, the objectification of human beings by capitalism and by nationalism maintains an important appliance of the Marxist concept of the commodity.


To further analyse how humans may be fetishised and used to mean something other than themselves, we may look towards what Roland Barthes called ‘subliminal messages’. This is intended to shed some light on the fetishisation of the human object (of the body), and on how the U.S. created a specific narrative in ignoring the identities of victims. In Mythologies, Roland Barthes establishes ‘subliminal messaging’ through concrete terms (the ‘language-object’, the ‘metalanguage’, the ‘signifier’, and so on). Myth, Barthes states, ‘is a type of speech [...] a mode of signification [...] Myth is not defined by the object of its message, but by the way in which it utters this message,’[16] - it is a ‘second-order semiological system’[17] - which is, in a word, a form of subliminal (unconscious) messaging system. He goes on to state that writing and pictures may be treated in the same way when analysing signifiers, ‘they constitute, one just as much as the other, a language-object,’ (an appropriation of language).[18] ‘Signification’ consequentially refers to the ‘sign’ of the ‘myth’, in its ‘second-order systemicity’: it is an immaterial object or sign that ‘points out’, ‘notifies’, and ‘imposes’.[19] Form is distinct from concept, as the form may be abstract, where the concept is ‘filled with a situation,’ and may ‘implant’ ‘new’ histories into the myth.[20] In the end, ‘myth hides nothing: its function is to distort, not to make disappear,’ the myth is the signification, or the meaning itself.[21] Now that we have set out some foundations for the subliminal and for the myth, we can analyse how this reflects in contemporary areas.


Feminist theorist Laura Mulvey notes that ‘femininity’ is often related to ‘secrecy’, that this secrecy stems from ‘male anxiety’ as projection of the fear of the ‘other gender’ (woman) - therefore creating social roles such as the ‘femme fatale’ (a woman with intelligence and owning her own sexuality, or body).[22] These social roles are created for all objectified beings, as we have found with how the U.S. creates social roles for the queer victims of the Pulse shooting – to represent the idea that the U.S. is a safe place for queer people (the state and media support for the families and friends of the victims, a message supposed to mean ‘we support homosexuality’), and then creates subliminal social roles in this ‘support’ (for queer people to let the state protect them, for the victims to serve as martyrs in the war against the Middle East, and against all facets of Islam). Despite the woman’s ‘mystery’ (for the patriarch), she is a very predictable male fantasy (for the other) – the fetish is a metaphor that displaces the ‘meaning behind representation in history,’ though not eradicating the ‘real world’ behind it. If a fetish is predominant in society, so is that which hides behind it – ‘the presence of a traumatic past event,’ something which we must ‘decode,’ as it has been ‘distorted into the symptom’.[23] The fetish object replaces the role of the sign, blurring the original sign behind the fetish object.[24] That is the importance and purpose of understanding the contemporary events of the Pulse shooting, of the murder of Jennifer Laude, of Trump’s ‘Muslim Ban’, and so on. However, in order to decode these fetishes of the human body, Mulvey states that we may have to attain ‘new economic and social conditions,’ – for example, we had to wait for cinema to progress from ‘dominating the entertainment industry’ to merely another form of entertainment.[25] In the case of the Pulse shooting, we are stuck waiting for something that will render us free from nationalism, from international war, from cultural colonialism, and from all other areas that impose the commodity fetishism of bodies. Balibar believes that there is no point to believing in the eradication of ‘fetishism’, insofar as we will always require some rate of exchange to ‘reward’ people for their labour.[26]On fetishism as objectifying social relations Balibar writes: fetishism is an ‘entirely historical’ act - having derived from, and developed alongside, the dialectic of consumption.[27] In other words, fetishism is ‘in one sense, a constituting of the world,’ as fetishism may determine the mode in which we are able to relate to each other in a society.[28]In a similar sense, Adorno and Horkheimer note that ‘myth’ is supposed to be ‘the projection onto nature of the subjective,’[29] rather than the projection of nature onto the subjective. If it is that the subjective is idealised as natural, then we must admit that ‘there is no radical distinction between thoughts and reality.’[30]



 

Cultural Production


We must now apply this same idea of ‘subliminal messaging’, signification, and ‘myth’ to the analysis of those aforementioned cultural productions – news media, film, and the public persona of the US government. For example, despite the fact that the majority of the victims in Orlando were Puerto Rican and Latinx, the key point of discussion – both amongst academics and general media – was about the fact that a 29-year-old Muslim murdered and intended to murder the attendees of a gay club on American soil. [31] As Velasco states, the message behind this silence on only one group – the victims – ‘bolstered the growing Islamophobia of the United States […] Less than a year after the Pulse shooting, the Trump administration instituted a “Muslim ban” against travellers from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen.’ [32] Ultimately, this means that we might question the purpose for which an institution performs an act, or a reaction. For example: what is the hidden purpose behind the government’s actions when it publicises previously-secret information (historical or contemporary)? As Zizek writes, ‘the act of not mentioning or concealing something can [also] create additional meaning,’[33] and this is the importance we find in Barthesian subliminal messaging, or myth. And commodity fetishism, through Barthes, allows us to see how capitalism and authoritarian state powers may utilise the queer body as a commodity – through societal-wide fetishisation – to further sublimate these subliminal messages in action.


Of course, one of the chief affectations of the ‘fetish’ as ‘myth’ (false ‘sign’) is the economic domination of purpose: the ‘fetish’ as a ‘symptom’ of a pseudo-historico-facticity, of capitalism and colonial (enlightenment) ideologies.[34] Much in the same way that film, now replacing the word ‘fetish’, is a ‘symptom’ of the capitalist economy - film is ‘therefore part of an ideological system.’[35] Mulvey theorises that the only reason other categories of people are ‘taken into account’ within the entertainment industry is because of their economic and sexual independence.[36] This raises at least two questions, however: (1) what about these people is ‘taken into account’, and (2) is it truly independence? Or is it merely involvement in capital, economic independence? Furthermore, if we accept that the body of the object is fetishised, then we must accept that bodies can be commodified (that there is something attached to the body that is not there, the fetishability) – such as we see with the ignorance and commodification of the Latinx victims of the Pulse shooting. For example, that an object is presented with a choice: to attempt to attain a body outside of commodification, or to be commodified. Of course, we would be neglect to think that it is possible (at least for many) to attain a body outside of commodification. We would also be neglect to automatically suppose that the object may be able to make this choice. For example, when an object cannot gain the means to attain even a commodified body: instead, the object is less-than-human. The less-than-human object is not human due to their inability to make choices.


We can further this analysis by reading Adorno and Horkheimer, who suggest that media is a business utilised to ‘justify the rubbish they [cultural powers] deliberately produce,’[37] that the culture industry controls and disciplines the needs of the consumer,[38] and that consumers are ‘cheated’ of the ‘promises’ that media and its related capitalist products make: the ‘promises’ made are truly messages of what cannot be obtained by the average person.[39] Perhaps the ‘secrecy’ of the woman relates to Adorno and Horkheimer’s proposal that consumers are cheated of their promises – insofar as the woman, or the Other, is ‘sold’ (ideologically and/or materially) to the consumer; whether this be in concrete or complicated terms. It is this proposal, that the U.S. media ‘sell’ the victims of the Pulse shooting to a wide audience, that we may find in result of this essay. This, of course, would mean that the U.S. media promises (at least specific) consumers that they are entitled either to dehumanise other bodies, or that they are protected by the U.S. government because they are a minority in a country that cares about freedom, liberation, and so on. When we speak of ‘reality’, we are speaking of the reality that has been established by these promises – by the myth, by the idea of capital, and by the multitude of intricate areas in which all forms of analysis may intersect. Film is one of the easiest ways to analyse or metaphorise these intricacies, and the effects of these areas of cultural production. Some film studies scholars propose that ‘reality’ is created in film, as it reflects the entirety of the process of how ‘reality’ is created in modern life:[40] similarly to the aforementioned theory that ‘myth’ is a form of reified reality that which has been blurred, twisted, and/or corrupted by the mythological process itself.


Copier and Steinbock echo Susan Stryker (2013) in that the editing of a film (as they often splice scenes together, cutting out parts of the lives of characters, or cutting to others), can be compared to the editing of the body - a representation of the flesh to signify someone or something else.[41] Trans* people are often displayed, in much the same way as we have established the ‘woman’: as the ‘helper’, the ‘mysterious’, or the ‘damsel in distress’. For example, Copier and Steinbock quote Parker Marie Molloy in arguing that, in Dallas Buyers Club, the trans feminine character (Rayon) signifies the ‘industry where Rayon is the only trans woman allowed to exist.’[42] When one watches the film, the audience is assumedly supposed to align with the protagonist Ron Woodroof – a previously ignorant, hateful straight man who is transformed for the better by Rayon and her kindness. However, as Copier and Steinbock poetically wrote:


‘A last dialogue between Rayon and Ron produces this dizzying inversion: as she gives him the cash from her life insurance, he formally extends his hand, she then pulls him in for a hug and whispers into his ear, “thank you”.’[43]

This portrayal of trans femininity is, rather unsurprisingly, an almost direct parallel of cisgender ‘femininity’: the eternal worship of the patriarch, the (omni)innocence of white masculinity, and the acceptance of characteristic weakness. The trans woman is acceptable to cisgender cinema only if she is mimicking a Hitchcockian damsel, which echoes Anastasia’s idea that the trans ‘voice’ is infringed upon by the cisgender idea of what this voice should be like. Filmic apparatus may not only reify cultural phenomena (such as transgender expectation), but it is also be an effect of cultural phenomena. We must, therefore, not allow ourselves to get hung up on the idea that culture is a technology whereas gender is not – gender may be explored as an apparatus ‘that might operate via specific cinematic aesthetics, designs, or processes.’[44]In reflection of this, though immediately less important, it is integral to queer cultural analysis to mention those queer films produced that – instead of promoting violence against the state, of an armed revolution – promote bureaucratic liberation, fighting for queer rights through politics and paperwork; or on the other hand, suffering and martyrdom for the generations to come, where Rayon dies through the neglect of the state and donates all her money to the patriarch; or even better, the films that ‘promote’ suicide, quietly and on their own, instead of self-immolation, in front of the White House, yelling for the liberation of all people, of revolution and peace.[45] These films seem to adhere to this same ideology – the capitalist ‘promise’ that queer people may liberate themselves (only if they use the right system, and wait patiently!), or the capitalist ‘promise’ that queer people are respected (look, we have allowed a film to be published about how we pursued your collective suffering! Or, we’re sympathetic to your options of (1) suicide or (2) suffering, indeed, we hear you). ‘Hear’ – what do they hear? A voice that is detached from its speaker.


Velasco quotes Robert Diaz in analysing the film Call Her Ganda, a film about Jennifer Laude, when explaining nationalist cultural colonialism. Call Her Ganda produces ‘familiar nationalist and anticolonial tropes seeking to save women from foreign duress,’ and the film highlights ‘anti-imperialist Filipina/o/x diasporic political culture [which therefore] risks the reproduction of heteronorms in its pursuit of liberal LGBT inclusion.’[46] Even supposedly ‘inclusive’ films may only be inclusive towards this ‘liberal LGBT inclusion’ – oftentimes, due to establishing a narrative that the trans woman needs to be ‘saved’ by some Western power: in the case of Call Her Ganda, great attention is paid towards the interruption of her marriage to her German fiancée, which could be read as ‘the Western saviour’. In her transness, and in her victimhood, Call Her Ganda risks depicting Laude in reflection of ‘the right way to be transgender’ – as not just a victim, but as a damsel in distress, and as a martyr towards ‘awakening’ the coloniser to their cisheteronormative nightmare, just as Rayon is depicted as saviour to Ron.


The idea that there is a ‘correct’ way to be transgender is reflective of aspects of commodification – the capitalist’s use-value of a transgender person is only proportionate to the capitalist’s understanding of how to use said transgender person – a murdered transgender person is, for all intents and purposes, much more useful to the capitalist, transphobic state: they are docile, they are not provocative, and the state may use their murder to perpetuate whatever mythological story they wish. That is not to say that the U.S. state wishes for all transgender people to die – if transgender people are utilisable, understandable, then the sovereign is stripped of all need to alienate them; after all, if the state understands a person, then they understand how to manipulate them. Adorno and Horkheimer write that the Enlightenment and enlightenment ideology is purposed to eliminate threats to the sovereignty of man.[47] The ‘threat’ in this case of the Pulse shooting was not gay American liberation – which is the ‘enlightenment’ ideology – it was the Puerto Rican aspect. The threat was not the shooter even, a person who gave the US government a chance to speak on its ‘enlightened’ ideology. The threat was, and is, those who do not feel safe under the ‘enlightened’ ideology of the US – those who know the subliminal messaging behind the US government’s reaction to this shooting. Adorno and Horkheimer elaborate: ‘technology is the essence of this [enlightened] knowledge [...] what men want to learn from nature is how to use it in order wholly to determine it and other men.’[48] The US government utilise the knowledge of the ‘natural’ being of what it thinks are average people – those who does not have the time, nor the ability, to situate subliminal messages behind whatever they stay silent on – in this case, it is the nationality of LGBTQIA+ individuals. The threat to the sovereign is the analyst, those aware and capable of sharing awareness (consciousness-raising). This gestures towards the idea that capitalist knowledge is, among other things, (1) the appropriation of nature: the material realities of average Americans, and also (2) the appropriation of homosexuality: utilising the historical oppression of homosexual people to seem enlightened. As Gayle Rubin states on the ‘male-female’ overlap in traits, there are overlaps in the traits of ‘cisgender’ and ‘transgender’ people.[49] It is apparent that transgender categories of the body, sex, gender, and health confuse cisgender institutional practices in many areas. Many transgender people do not wish to transition in a regard that cisgender categories dictate as ‘binary’, or ‘real transition’ (much like the idea of the real homosexual). Butler argues, in Bodies that Matter, that trans-exclusionary radical feminist categorisations of ‘woman’ (a person with a vagina) do not provide useful outcomes. In fact, trans, non-normative, and other (non)gendered deconstructions of ‘woman’, can liberate those who are categorised as women - considering that binary gendered definitions of ‘woman’ are ‘constituted through an exclusion and degradation of the feminine that is profoundly problematic for feminism.’[50] When enforcing the idea that the ‘imagined’ body is material, one is also enforcing the idea that there is a materiality in gender at all - instead of seeing the categorised, material, ‘sexed’ body as material and not, in itself, ‘imaginary’. Ergo, the idea that a transgender person is performing towards something other than themselves reinforces the idea that gender is a concrete materiality.[51] In analysis we must not simply recognise the ‘self’ as relating to others, but also how those others relate to the ‘self’: how they impact our conceptions of the ‘self’, and how they might impact materialities surrounding this. Trans studies scholars such as Gherovici propose for trans people to improve psychoanalysis, rather than use its ideas on gender. Gherovici, in particular, proposes Lacan’s analyses – for example, his ‘separation of penis (as material organ) from phallus (as symbolic marker of gender).’[52]


Otherwise, capitalist knowledge is control itself: ‘enlightenment behaves toward things as a dictator toward men. He knows them in so far as he can manipulate them. The man of science knows things in so far as he can make them.’[53] The US government manipulate homosexual people, along with allies and other non-homophobic groups, to create an aura of moral correctness, or enlightenment. General Catapang, retired boss of the Philippine Armed Forces, refused to allow the murder of Jennifer Laude to mar Filipino-American relations – despite stating that she was ‘still a Filipino, and we have to fight for his [sic] rights and for justice.’[54] The ‘threat to the sovereign’, the Filipino state, was determined to be transgender rights – rather than the U.S. marines deployed in the country. In this way, one may prove the neglect of the individual - as the ‘manipulated collective’ are ‘enthralled’ by the culture industry and ideas of ‘enlightenment’. Some people may feel themselves to be free from the homophobic state – that they are a part of, or a ‘result of the Enlightenment.’[55] What cannot be obtained by the average homosexual foreigner is obvious – the right to their nationality before their homosexual descriptor. The foreign homosexual is always merely homosexual if they are murdered on US soil: not just homosexual, but a precious commodity if they are ever murdered by an enemy of the state, to be used for propaganda in the fight against ‘those out there’, outside of the borders of the US. For the US government to say: ‘we are the best, you are safe here,’ and for them to truly mean everything opposite.



 

Conclusion


The historic events, and the cisnormative response, of the Pulse shooting and the murder of Jennifer Laude may lead us in analysis to recognise the strategic commodification of the transgender/queer/foreign body. After years, in some cases centuries, of gendered oppression we may find it incredibly difficult to establish a self – and a non-commodified one at that – in the face of gendered alienation. We may be able to develop ideas of the self, and freedoms of the self, over time – having been left some breadcrumbs of potential by events, individuals, material opportunities, and so on. However, gender categories are always derivative – they rely upon an historic existence to justify themselves. ‘Transgender’ will always be risking potential freedom, not only because it will be socially applicable to events and cultural products such as the ones discussed – but because it will always be a form of communicating the ‘abnormal’ self with the ‘normal’, cisgender institution. Yet, it may be true that this communication is necessary to transgender liberation, in order to communicate experience and oppression with those who may be sympathetic, and yet who are unknowing of the cultural aspects by which we are forced to divide ourselves. The irony being that this same order dictates the premise we transgender people are shoved into in the first place – the premise of ‘abnormality’. In a word, transgender people restrict themselves into categories in order to retrieve themselves from inside cisgender, oppressive categories.[56] Transgender analytic discourse allows us to deconstruct the categories inflicted upon our identities by the gender binary. Transgender analytic discourse also reflects ‘conjunctural knowledge’, a form of knowledge that applies itself to ‘immediate political/historical circumstances; as well as an awareness that the structure of representations which form culture's alphabet and grammar are instruments of social power, requiring critical and activist examination.’[57] We may ‘undo gender’[58] by understanding how the gender binary creates a facile socio-scientific gaze on both the material and immaterial world. For transgender people, the empowerment of the body and self-choice is a liberating process – in reflection to the rigid boundaries set between ‘male’ and ‘female’ as biological necessities, intrinsic to genitalia. In relation to this ‘biological necessity’, transgender analytic discourse is not only liberating for transgender people themselves, but also to the progression of all (binary) gendered oppression. The binary gendered view of the world dictates that all bodies are either (in totality) male or female – and that this binary must dictate, in the very least, how ‘our societies are organised and function’.[59] Transgender studies currently holds no widely-recognised discipline. It analyses ways in which societies enforce or liberate gender normalities and stories, and attempts to reflect and/or explain transgender experiences onto such social organisations. As Nordmarken wrote, ‘transgender community is a [both] construct and an achievement.’[60] Regardless of liberatory divides, transgender studies always ‘contests’ the masters discourse of the gender binary, and attempts to ‘negotiate’, or translate, the humanity of transgender people.[61] Ultimately, no matter how gender non-normative people fight for a right to dictate their own narratives, we will still be making progress towards something other than the past.




 

Bibliography


1.) Adorno, Theodor and Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. by John Cumming (London: Verso, 2016).

2.) Agon, Hamza, Althusser and Pasolini. Philosophy, Marxism and Film (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).

3.) Apter, Emily, ‘Introduction’, in Fetishism as Cultural Discourse, ed. by Emily Apter and William Pietz (London: Cornell University Press, 1993), pp. 1–9.

4.) Apter, Emily and Willian Pietz, ‘Preface’, in Fetishism as Cultural Discourse, ed. by Emily Apter and William Pietz (London: Cornell University Press, 1993), pp. ix–xi.

5.) Balibar, Etienne, The Philosophy of Marx, trans. by Chris Turner (London: Verso, 2014).

6.) Barthes, Roland, Mythologies (New York: Nooday Press, 1988).

7.) Butler, Judith, Bodies that Matter (London: Routledge, 2011).

8.) Cohen, G. A., Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence, (Princeton University Press, 2000).

9.) Copier, Laura and Eliza Steinbock, ‘On Not Really Being There. Trans* Presence/Absence in Dallas Buyers Club’, in Feminist Media Studies, 18.5 (2017), 923–941.

10.) Eagleton, Terry, Why Marx Was Right (Yale University Press, 2011).

11.) Hall, Stuart, ‘Cultural Studies and its Theoretical Legacies’, in The Cultural Studies Reader. 3rd ed., ed. by Simon During (London: Routledge, 1993) pp. 33–44.

12.) Keegan, Cáel M., Laura Horak, and Eliza Steinbock, ‘Cinematic/Trans*/Bodies Now (and Then, and to Come)’, in Somatechnics, Edinburgh University Press, 2018, 8.1 (2018), 1-13.

13.) Laclau, Ernesto and Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radican Democratic Politics, 2nd ed. (London: Verso, 2014).

14.) Marx, Karl, Capital: Volume 1, trans. by Ben Fowkes (London: Penguin Books Ltd., 2018).

15.) Mulvey, Laura, Fetishism and Curiosity, (London: British Film Institute Publishing, 1996).

16.) Nordmarken, Sonny, ‘Queering Gendering: Trans Epistemologies and the Disruption and Production of Gender Accomplishment Practices’, in Feminist Studies, 45.1 (2019), pp. 36–66.

17.) Rubin, Gayle, ‘The Traffic in Women: Notes on the "Political Economy" of Sex’, in Towards an Anthropology of Women, ed. Rayna R. Reiter, (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1975) pp. 157–210.

18.) Velasco, Gina K., ‘Queer and Trans Necropolitics in the Afterlife of U.S. Empire’, in Amerasia Journal, 46.2, (2020) pp. 238–252.

19.) Verloo, Mieke; and Anna van der Vleuten ‘Trans Politics: Current Challenges and Contestations Regarding Bodies, Recognition, and Trans Organising’, in Politics and Governance, 8.3, (2020) pp. 223–230.

20.) Xiang, Zairong, ‘Transdualism. Toward a Materio-Discursive Embodiment’, in Transgender Studies Quarterly, 5.3, (2018) pp. 425–442.

21.) Zizek, Slavoj, How to Read Lacan, (London: Granta Books, 2006).



 

[1] Laclau, Ernesto and Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radican Democratic Politics, 2nd ed. (London: Verso, 2014), p. ix. [2] Eagleton, Terry, Why Marx Was Right (Yale University Press, 2011), p. 107. [3] Marx, Karl, Capital: Volume 1, trans. by Ben Fowkes (London: Penguin Books Ltd., 2018) p. 163. [4] Balibar, Etienne, The Philosophy of Marx, trans. by Chris Turner (London: Verso, 2014) p. 62. [5] Ibid., pp. 69-70. [6] Cohen, G. A., Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence, (Princeton University Press, 2000) p. 116. [7] Ibid., p. 118. [8] Velasco, Gina K., ‘Queer and Trans Necropolitics in the Afterlife of U.S. Empire’, in Amerasia Journal, 46.2, (2020) 238–252, p. 239. [9] Ibid., p. 240. [10] Ibid. [11] Ibid.,, pp. 242–243. [12] Copier, Laura and Eliza Steinbock, ‘On Not Really Being There. Trans* Presence/Absence in Dallas Buyers Club’, in Feminist Media Studies, 18.5 (2017), 923–941, p. 927. [13] Apter, Emily, ‘Introduction’, in Fetishism as Cultural Discourse, ed. by Emily Apter and William Pietz (London: Cornell University Press, 1993), 1–9, p. 7. [14] Ibid., p. 3. [15] Apter, Emily and Willian Pietz, ‘Preface’, in Fetishism as Cultural Discourse, ed. by Emily Apter and William Pietz (London: Cornell University Press, 1993), ix–xi, p. ix. [16] Barthes, Roland, Mythologies (New York: Nooday Press, 1988) p. 109. [17] Ibid., p.114. [18] Ibid., p. 115. [19] Ibid., p. 117. [20] Ibid., p. 119. [21] Ibid., p. 121. [22] Mulvey, Laura, Fetishism and Curiosity, (London: British Film Institute Publishing, 1996), p. 46. [23] Ibid., p. xiv. [24] Ibid., p. 5. [25] Ibid., p. 3. [26] Balibar, Etienne, The Philosophy of Marx, trans. by Chris Turner (London: Verso, 2014) p. 61. [27] Ibid., p. 64. [28] Ibid., p. 66. [29] Adorno, Theodor and Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. by John Cumming (London: Verso, 2016) p. 6. [30] Ibid., p. 11. [31] Velasco, Gina K., ‘Queer and Trans Necropolitics in the Afterlife of U.S. Empire’, in Amerasia Journal, 46.2, (2020) 238–252., pp. 241–242. [32] Ibid. [33] Zizek, Slavoj, How to Read Lacan, (London: Granta Books, 2006, p. 19. [34] Mulvey, op. cit., p. 11. [35] Agon, Hamza, Althusser and Pasolini. Philosophy, Marxism and Film (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015) p. 119. [36] Mulvey, op. cit., p. 41. [37] Adorno, Theodor and Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. by John Cumming (London: Verso, 2016) p. 121. [38] Ibid., p. 144. [39] Ibid., p. 139. [40] Keegan, Cáel M., Laura Horak, and Eliza Steinbock, ‘Cinematic/Trans*/Bodies Now (and Then, and to Come)’, in Somatechnics, Edinburgh University Press, 2018, 8.1 (2018), 1-13, p. 4. [41] Copier and Steinbock, op. cit., p. 926. [42] Ibid., p. 929. [43] Ibid. [44] Keegan, op. cit., p. 5. [45] Just as many individuals do, and yet news outlets, films, and so on neglect to mention. One instance in 2022: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/24/us/politics/climate-activist-self-immolation-supreme-court.html [46] Velasco, op. cit., p. 247. [47] Adorno, Theodor and Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. by John Cumming (London: Verso, 2016) pp. 3-4. [48] Ibid., p. 4. [49] Rubin, Gayle, ‘The Traffic in Women: Notes on the "Political Economy" of Sex’, in Towards an Anthropology of Women, ed. Rayna R. Reiter, (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1975) pp. 157–210, p. 179. [50] Butler, Judith, Bodies that Matter (London: Routledge, 2011) p. 5. [51] Xiang, Zairong, ‘Transdualism. Toward a Materio-Discursive Embodiment’, in Transgender Studies Quarterly, 5.3, (2018) 425–442, p. 437. [52] Evans, Elliot, ‘Transforming Theory: Innovations in Critical Trans Studies’, in Paragraph, iss. 42, vol. 2, Edinburgh University Press, 2019, pp. 255-268. P. 259. [53] Adorno, Theodor and Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. by John Cumming (London: Verso, 2016) p. 9. [54] Velasco, op. cit., p. 247. [55] Adorno, Theodor and Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. by John Cumming (London: Verso, 2016) p. 13. [56] We might posit that, in the discourse of the ‘self’, the first cognition/ification of the ‘self’ is the action (reaction in the first instance), and then all that comes after is a reaction to that ‘self’ - a reaction to that version, that idea, or something such. The way we recognise ourselves, if this is true, is by constantly re-acting to versions of ourselves. [57] Hall, Stuart, ‘Cultural Studies and its Theoretical Legacies’, in The Cultural Studies Reader. 3rd ed., ed. by Simon During (London: Routledge, 1993) pp. 33–44. p. 33. [58] Nordmarken, Sonny, ‘Queering Gendering: Trans Epistemologies and the Disruption and Production of Gender Accomplishment Practices’, in Feminist Studies, 45.1 (2019), 36–66, p. 38. [59] Verloo, Mieke, and Anna van der Vleuten ‘Trans Politics: Current Challenges and Contestations Regarding Bodies, Recognition, and Trans Organising’, in Politics and Governance, 8.3, (2020) 223–230, p. 225. [60] Nordmarken, op. cit., p. 50. [61] Keegan, op. cit., p. 6.

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