non-coercive alliances

Jaded's picture

Making Our Bodies Matter

friend and I started talking about communities, alliances and feminism(s) a few months ago — this conversation is a brief culmination of our identities and ideologies.

Me: Writing about bodies isn’t too difficult for me, that was until I realised “writing about bodies” meant writing of bodies other than mine, or even if I were to write about myself, the language automatically becomes clinical, my gaze objective and the talk goes to whatever is ailing me — it’s never about how I feel about my body, my relationship with my scars or what I see when I look in the mirror. As I am now living in a new city and adjusting to the weather patterns here, I have to take more care of my skin here than in I did in Mumbai, I have to leave myself notes to apply [x] cream before my heels crack and bleed — it’s such a jarring experience to see that my body has carried on without me (in a sense), has already started cracking, started healing in some parts while I have gone on and done something else. It all came to a head when I was thinking of Suheir Hammad‘s words — when she says “What am I saying when I say I sit in this body, dream in this body, expel in this body, inherit in this body” — where she posits the body as a start to all experiences, and here I was forgetting to take care of my body altogether, even in the most routine and seemingly trivial ways. I’ve often complained to friends that I feel ‘bound’ in this city — as public transport systems are irregular and auto rickshaws are a luxury I cannot always afford — so most of my ‘movement’ is between my apartment, the massive Uni campus and its libraries. Now that I re-think what I mean when I say ‘bound’, I mean more than just physical limits to where I can go or am kept from, I find limits in my syllables and expressions — precisely because my body feels those limits more intimately and primarily, as if my body translates these borders in the silences that creep up everywhere, from my thoughts to my academic writing. It’s only when I completely stopped producing words and syllables a week ago, went for a three-hour long walk, felt my words come back to me as I described to my guardian just why were my heels bleeding this time I realised how closely my body felt limited here*

*This isn’t to say there weren’t other barriers in Mumbai, just that navigating these particular changes is an entirely new experience for me.

Renee: It’s equally jarring to see your body stopped in time, unable to keep up with you, and trying to formulate contingencies for when it starts to slide backwards in time. This has been my experience since losing my job just more than a year ago.

My teeth hurt all the time now; one has eroded almost to the gum line, and I touch them constantly with my tongue and my fingers to make sure none are loose. I waited out a UTI two months ago, but an ear infection still lingers (and makes my teeth ache even more). There is no money for a doctor or dentist to attend to current ills, never mind the dreams I once had for my body. Most upsetting, when my current stash of hormone pills runs out, in perhaps a month or so, I may not be able to afford more, and at that point the person I know as me officially begins to disintegrate. I never really knew myself before starting hormones, and the threat of losing that is terrifying beyond what I can describe. Already I find myself glancing in the mirror more often, touching my face, to make sure I still exist.

But it’s not just the physical degradation I feel. For now, I’m staying in a friend’s spare room, sleeping upon a mattress on the floor, with all my worldly possessions piled in boxes around me. My days are lived largely in the space between my bed and the downstairs basement, where the household television is. I have few reasons to go anywhere else, and fewer resources to do so. I wear the same clothes most days, because to do anything else means doing more laundry, which inevitably costs someone money, even if that someone isn’t me. I don’t shower every day, or moisturize, or shave, or wear makeup, because all of those things are an expense too…and so again my body suffers.

It’s apropos that my body gets neglected first and most, as it’s the rejection of my body by others that led me here. Slowly it decays, out of sight and forgotten.

Me: Right, we’ve discussed this before. It’s not so strange, when you connect this ‘disappearance’ of any marginalised body (or in our specific contexts: a trans body and a third world woman’s body) to the larger theoretical hyper-visibility in academia, where you have theories on our bodies but empirical absence of our bodies. We’re still people who need “welfare”, we are still debating whether “woman” as a category can be made inclusive — basically, we don’t go beyond the boundaries our bodies set for us in academia, these ‘bodies’ (the way we see and live them) are wholly absent within mainstream feminist discourse. At the same time, there are people voicing us, fixing who we are and who we should be like, either they’re making theory for us or about us. Your bit about ghosts makes me think of our theoretical ghosts in academia. Sometimes I just don’t understand how to counter most theory I find about “third world” people(s) in any field. Recently I came across a study that talks about the dire condition of transgender people in Bangalore done by [x] European academic institution, where the entire focus was to show how pitiful and “unlivable” their lives are — the lives they’re leading sitting in their third worldly bodies as we talk and will continue to do so long after we’re done talking too —  and for a week and a half, I kept on going over their words, unable to respond in any manner at all. There is no denying that people here need help, specifically speaking, I would love help in [x] areas of my life too. But only if you see how much help you need too, how we can both help build each other’s identities. I’m not that interested in “self-sufficiency” as much I’d like to build alliances and common ground where there is little to go by, you know? Especially within theory, [as I’ve often ranted to you] I feel like a lot of my work, or the work the organisations put in, comes to signify very little change, if perceivable at all. There is, often a literal and a metaphorical wall when it comes to the subjects of development policies, between us and the people we are allied with, between my different selves (of different racial and gendered molds), that quite honestly I wonder if my body and voice exist, if anyone is listening at all.

And it’s not just recently I’ve started feeling invisible within academia — I remember reading things like “India is a backward and orthodox third world country” as a child in my geography text books and I’d mouth the words in my mouth, to see if the iteration of the word would somehow make them more believable — where in our daily lives we’re constructing “national pride” (at the cost of someone else’s border, always) and in school I was taught a different tale of India — but it’s now that I am beginning to learn the terms with which this exclusion in academia is accessible to me. Feeling isolated but not having the terms to legitimise your experiences — there’s something to be said about that, no?

Syndicate content
Powered by Drupal, an open source content management system