Harry Styles at the Grammy Awards in 2021. Boas are a fashion must-have at Styles’ concerts.(Jordan Strauss / Invision / AP)
In “Bodies with New Organs” Jasbir Puar examines the neoliberal appropriation of the trans body to reconstitute the pool of able bodied individuals for economic productivity and the development of the national economy. According to Puar, drafting trans individuals as rights-bearing citizens overshoots issues of gender and sexuality in discussions of neoliberalism because of the necessity to conform and normalize erstwhile deviances for the purposes of compulsory able-bodiedness. In her footnotes she presents how The Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) can be read as a moral code according to which bodies are sorted as the ‘good disabled’ and those who are seen as too disabled for recuperation as good citizens (68).
The intersection of trans and the disabled therefore is not just about the schizophrenic phobia of the repressive state but about the capacitation of viable neoliberal subjects. Puar calls this recognition within the body politic as “piecing,” or the process through which “the body becomes a terrain of definable localities, each colonized by its particular pathologies” (45). In piecing, the body is identified in terms of maimable and malleable parts where the dictum is not just to pass as cis but can also be to “pass as trans.” We see this more palpably in 2023 when the likes of Harry Styles are quoted in a Rolling Stone interview as becoming “comfortable talking about his sexuality.” The trans-passing appearance of the former boyband member pole vaults over the transgression that such coming-out parties entailed in the past. Instead, the declaration is read as a power move; hailed as future-forward that is easily translated into marketability.
Puar’s intervention brings to mind Gilles Deleuze who once said in a 1972 interview that “We may still not know what power is (…), this so enigmatic thing, both visible and invisible, present and hidden, invested everywhere”. Michel Foucault’s work on the History of Sexuality follows up on this enigma by redefining our notion of power which no longer means the set of institutions, apparatuses or laws to which the citizens of a given state are subject. Opposing the notion of a centralized localizable power, emanating from a single center constituted by all the leaders who hold it, Foucault presents us an idea of power which can be fragmented and extended to the whole social body and exercised differently by authorities through complex strategies that operate elusively. Puar’s intervention allows us to examine the motility of this power network through the nexus of debility-disability-capacity. Her operative analytics can be applied with some modification to infinitesimal nodes of neoliberalism and its spawn of tiny and convergent acts that form the monsterhead of our zeitgeist. Puar’s analysis is almost Foucauldian in the way it applies his historical investigations on medicine and informs the current scholarship on sexuality. The nuancing of the constitution of modern power has become a heavy cloud that threatens to rain over the parade of unhampered capitalism which unfortunately is not as refined as what the latest theories stemming from Foucault would like us to believe. Gender-violence still exhibits the primordial attributes such as censorship, prohibition and mass murder. Perhaps, and somewhat ironically, the more urgent maneuver is to ocalize the discourse while also being fully Foucauldian in moving the discussion towards creativity, stimulation, organization, and incitation. In other words, some space for contradiction: to take stock and be delighted by the progress but also depressed, jaded and suspicious.
Jasbir K. Puar; Bodies with New Organs: Becoming Trans, Becoming Disabled. Social Text 1 September 2015; 33 (3 (124)): 45–73. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01642472-3125698