Platonic Love by Hannah Höch (1930)
Here comes the fiftieth Funambulist Paper! This gives me the opportunity to say a huge thank you to the fifty-two contributors who greatly enriched the content of the Funambulist that would otherwise be suffocate from my only writing.
Today’s contributor is law and political theorist Elena Loizidou who continues the series of texts about the body by inviting us to look at the way dreams of flying are being interpreted by Sigmund Freud on the one hand, and Gaston Bachelard, on the other hand. Elena demonstrates that Freud, by reducing the realms of interpretation of the dream to the field of sexuality limits considerably the spectrum of means to question the very definition of the body. On the contrary, Elena argues, Bachelard, by refusing to “interpret” such dreams of flying, and rather by insisting on the experience of the sleeping body itself, contributes to the understanding of what a body is and what a body can do.
Dreams of Flying-Flying Bodies
by Elena Loizidou
Two months ago, London mayor Boris Johnson declared its support to the water cannon as a potential anti-riot weapon for the London police. This comes as an additional step toward the universal militarization of the police (see past article) conveniently combined to a capitalist arm market in which too many have too much to loose not to encourage the conditions that require their use. In an article entitled “White-washing the water cannon: salesmen, scientific experts and human rights abuses” for Open Democracy, Anna Feigenbaum establishes a short history of the use of this weapon in the United Kingdom as well as points out a lack of research on its effects on the bodies affected by it.
It was only last year that the hundreds of thousands occupiers of Gezi/Taksim and other public spaces of Turkey were violently attacked by zealous policemen — so zealous sometimes that they would hide their matriculation — often armed with these water cannons. The latter had the particularity not to be loaded with plain water but with water mixed with chemicals that triggered burns on the bodies targeted (sometimes even inside buildings) by them. Associated to the ubiquitous teargas canisters, the Turkish modified water cannons were paradigmatic of the will to control the atmosphere of the public space by acting on its toxicity as Philippe Theophanidis brilliantly pointed-out in his Funambulist Paper, “Caught in the Cloud: The Biopolitics of Tear Gas Warfare.”
Trayvon Martin’s hoodie shown as a piece of evidence by the prosecution at George Zimmerman’s trial (July 2013)
It has now been a few articles that I attempt to describe how clothing has such an important role in the social interactions of bodies and their positioning toward the norm in terms of gender, race, sexual orientation etc. It is correct to assume that the various interpretations that are made of the public bodies through (or complemented by) their clothing is a subjective (and therefore under the influence) interpretation of society. However, this subjectivity can be the object of an investigation with an objective claim like in the case of judicial prosecution. This article is therefore a short and far too incomplete examination of clothes used as a piece of evidence in trials (if anyone knows some additional information, I would be very interested to hear about it!).
Often, clothes introduced in court rooms are not so much presented as evidence for what they incarnate, but rather, they are received as receptacle for an outside matter: DNA, blood, and other parts/products of the body can be thus collected to prove the interaction between two or more bodies. This is how, for example, one of Monica Lewinsky’s dresses was received as piece of evidence in the procedure of US Presidential impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998, since this dress was still carrying Clinton’s sperm on it, and was thus proving the existence of sexual relation between them that he had been denying at first. Some other time, clothes are considered as judicial evidence as logical elements of the narrative of the crime. This is how we learned these last days that the clothes worn by Reeva Steenkamp when she was killed by her partner, Oscar Pistorius on February 14, 2013, will be introduced in the latter’s trial to deny the logic of his defending narrative. However, these cases do not tell us anything about the way clothing plays a tremendous role in the social interpretation of otherness to the point that it can actually be part of a sort of judicial fashion forensic in which this interpretation has to be unfolded.
One recent and illustrative example of the use of a piece of clothing as evidence of such an interpretation in a trial was presented during the prosecution of George Zimmerman in July 2013 (State of Florida v. George Zimmerman). The piece of clothing introduced then was the hoodie that Trayvon Martin was wearing when he got murdered by Zimmerman on February 26, 2012 in Sanford, Florida. The evidence was used to show where the clothe had been penetrated by the deadly bullet but, more importantly, it was presented to the jury for it to determine if the hoodie — implicitly complemented by Martin’s black body — could present sufficiently suspicious characteristics for Zimmerman to legitimately confront Martin in his claimed expectation that “he was up to no good” (for more on this topic and the underlying racism it reveals, you can listen to the conversation I had with Mimi Thi Nguyen for Archipelago). This evidence, presented by the prosecution was probably expected to illustrate how only a racist interpretation of this piece of clothe worn by a black body could justify Zimmerman’s behavior. but the almost unanimously white jury decided otherwise — and thus became complicit of this racist interpretation — since Zimmerman walked free from his trial.
Photographs from the exhibition “A Queer History of Fashion” at the New York Fashion Institute of Technology (2013) / Suit worn by Marlene Dietrich – Skirt by Jean-Paul Gaultier
This article is based on two books (only in French) written by feminist historian Christine Bard in 2010. The first one is Une histoire politique du pantalon (A Political History of Trousers) and its immediate ‘sequel’ is Ce que soulève la jupe (What Brings up the Skirt). Both books focus on the specific case of historical and contemporary France; however, the detailed documentation of Bard’s research allows a deeper questioning about the relationships between clothing and gender that can be extended, at least to the Western World in general.
Bard starts her political history of trousers with the 1789 French revolution and the quest for a shift of paradigm vis-a-vis the ancient regime combined to the medical observation than the old trousers (culotte in old French) tend to make men sterile. On the second year of the first French Republic, a decree stipulates that “nobody of any sex could constraint any male or female citizen [citoyen ou citoyenne] to dress in a particular manner,” as well as the fact that “each is free to wear any clothing of his or her own sex per his or her preference.” The etiquette of the monarchy is thus destroyed and any body becomes free to wear anything (s)he might want providing that this clothing belongs to his or her respective gender.
Before even addressing the relations of power unfolded by this division of society into two genders, we can note a few functional characteristics inherent to clothing that prevent the female body from the liberty of movement given to the male one (my translation):
The thirty-eighth issue of Volume entitled The Shape of Law has been recently released and I have the great chance to have a paper in it, in company of many friends (Daniel Fernandez Pascual, Nina Kolowratnik, Pedro Gadanho, Ethel Baraona Pohl, Brendan Cornier, Cristina Goberna, Urtzi Grau, Dubravka Sekulic and Paula Alvarez). This issue is very useful as an introduction to problems of space in relation to the legal system that produces it. My own contribution is entitled “The Law Turned into Walls,” and despite the fact that it does not really bring any new element to the essays gathered in The Funambulist Pamphlets: Volume 04: Legal Theory, the articulation of the ideas developed in various texts written in the past was a useful exercise and constitutes a synthesis for this book:
THE LAW TURNED INTO WALLS ///
originally written for Volume 38: The Shape of Law (February 2014)
01. The lines of the law
Law and architecture are two instruments in the same toolset of political power. Law provides the diagram, while architecture embodies its imperfect violent concretization. Each wall is the crystallization of a law. One of the most immediate examples is the materialization of private property. Someone traces a line in the soil: this is the first act of this legal-architectural union. The architectural act is rather limited (a simple line), but its legal consequences are great: it delimits a territory that now belongs to the person who traced it, and so do the fruits of production made there.
Rarely an image would have known how to express the potential for a city to become a battlefield than this photomontage of Kiev’s Maidan Square before and after its occupation started (see below for a zoomable version). Similar photographs have emerged to show the extents of the tragic damages produced by the current civil war in Syria (see below). I won’t be addressing the specificity of Ukraine or Syria, about which I know very little, but rather, I would like to insist on this potentiality for any city “at peace” — the notion of peace is an illusion of course — to become, not only the scene for war operations, but also an actor in it.
As written above, the very fact of thinking that a city might be at peace is already part of a problem that can sometimes degenerates into civil war. The city intensifies the relationships between the bodies of a given society. Isolating the aggressions between bodies at a micro-level is forgetting that this aggressions are produced by a normalized, ideological and urban context that needs to be addressed at a macro-level. Thinking of a city as being at peace is usually an interpretation of it made by bodies that dominate (voluntarily or not, it does not matter) this normalized, ideological and urban context. These bodies are therefore the most surprised to see a city that they thought was at peace turning into a battlefield where the relationships of power could not be more expressively operating.
As the image above illustrates, the very fabric of the city thus becomes an explicit weapon. On Maidan Square, all cobble stones have been withdrawn from the floor and either thrown at the police bodies and vehicles, or used to construct defensive barricades with other movable objects that can act as a physical barrier when aggregated together. The width of the street, the height of the buildings, the various points of access, all these elements that were not necessarily thought — or so we think — within a logic of political urban antagonism, become fundamental components in the way the city is an undeniable participating agent to the conflict.
In her work, Ariella Azoulay regularly attempts to describe photographs according to two events: the first one when the photograph is taken, often within the illusion that the presence of the camera does not influence the action — physical laws describe nevertheless the contrary — and the event of the reception of the photograph. In a conversation at the Contemporary Art Museum of Barcelona (MACBA), she shows a picture of two young Palestinian women displaced out of Palestine (in this article I will use the term of Palestine to define the region where both Israeli and Palestinians live) in 1948, and describes the obvious violence of the first event, but also the one that makes us, viewers, as complicit as this event by calling these women “refugees,” and thus essentializing them through a historical process that did not end yet.
In 2012, Ariella Azoulay published a booklet with Fillip Editions entitled Different Ways Not to Say Deportation: Unshowable Photographs (there also was a piece at Paris’s Palais de Tokyo for the French triennale) from which I insert some excerpts at the end of this article (I wish that I could simply make the PDF available but it is not creative commons and the printed version can be purchased here). The documents shown in this booklet are not photographs but drawings that Azoulay herself drew based on photographs she consulted at the International Committee of the Red Cross (CICR) archive in Geneva. These photographs showed some of the 750,000 Palestinians deported between 1948 and 1950, and the reason why Azoulay had to draw them is that the CICR authorizes only certain narratives to be associated with them. The unauthorized narrative that Azoulay wanted to associate with them is one that she regularly describes: the pre-Nakba Palestine where jews and arabs — who could technically be both called Palestinians — were living on the same land. Such a narrative prevents a bi-nationalistic history — that seems to be the only one used both to address “problems” and “solutions” — and considers the deportation as a national catastrophe (nakba means catastrophe in Arabic) that split a population into two, perpetrators and refugees.
Many guest writers essays these days! In today’s text, Joanne Pouzenc, who is a Berlin-based architect and the organizer of post-capitalist architecture competitions at CollageLab (along with Philine Schneider), offers us a contemplation of the waiting body and the forces in which it find itself entangled. As she points out, there is a strong relation of power between the waiting body and the body that can end that wait. I recently had a close look at this strange relationship that can quickly turn to irrational love or hate when applying for a visa. While my situation was a privileged one for many reasons, the “act of waiting” is best incarnated by the asylum seeker, whose fate is determined administratively (and subjectively), and whose body is condemned to wait sometimes for years to know whether its body will be authorized to remain on this territory or not. Nevertheless, as Joanne points out, the act of waiting is also breaking with the productivity system, and thus allows a relationship to the otherness (also waiting) that would not be possible otherwise.
The act of waiting
by Joanne Pouzenc
After a few years of existence, Twitter has already acquired a certain mythology that gives it the ability to start revolutions among other arguable characteristics. Without caricaturing what Twitter can do or cannot do, we can however acknowledge how it is currently used as a platform of questions around the various ostracist mechanisms of our societies (racism, misogyny, homophobia etc.). In this matter, I particularly recommend the read of the text “In Defense of Twitter Feminism” written by tireless Suey Park and David J. Leonard who develop the urban metaphor of the internet as a city, where Twitter and its accessibility constitute a non-gentrified district where thinkers who embody a dominant position in the relations of power has to renounce to the “privilege of comfort.”
A good example of Twitter becoming a platform to ask important questions can be seen through the recent development of a conversation around the hashtag #SAFEDANSLARUE (safe in the street) that describes the gendered violence that female bodies have to face in the public space, in particular when walking alone at night. First of all, it is important to consider that whether an aggression occurs or not, fear is fully integrated to this violence. This fear is not the fear that is daily cultivated by various stories recounted by the (bad) media and that eventually gives votes to the populist securitarian political parties. The question of the fear felt by a female body when walking alone at night does not call for more police presence — one element of the phallocratic society involves the police not taking seriously victims of gendered aggressions — but is rather the production of a deeply anchored misogyny in the social interactions of the bodies.
Image by Alexander Schneider for Neon Dance featuring Jennifer Essex.
The second volume of The Funambulist Papers (see here for the first one) will be dedicated to questions surrounding the body. As regular readers might have already noticed, there have been already a few approaches to these questions in the past essays of this series, and there will continue to be more. Today’s guest, Adrienne Hart, is particularly competent to talk about bodies as she uses them as primary matter of her art: choreography. In 2003, she founded the Neon Dance company and created several shows since then. In her text “A Sensing Body | A Networked Mind,” she approach the body through a rather unusual take on this platform, the “cartesian dualism” between body and mind, although this is only to reassemble them in the production of dance.
A Sensing Body | A Networked Mind
by Adrienne Hart
Geological analyses of coastal soil to establish the coast line location (courtesy of Daniel Fernández Pascual)
Daniel Fernández Pascual is no ordinary architect. His online platform, Deconcrete, is a cabinet of architectural curiosities, an inventory of structures that find their peculiarity not so much through their form, but rather through their ambiguous legal properties. His academic status of PhD candidate at Goldsmiths University of London and his participation to the fascinating collective Forensic Architecture could make us think of him as a scholar. However, he also talks about territories, culture and economics through another activity at which he excels and that he sometimes publically perform, cooking. As he writes himself, “food shapes markets, and markets shape flows of capital, and capital shapes territories, futures and speculation; but also because territories shape governmentality, and governmentality shapes sovereignty, and sovereignty ultimately constructs living space.” (The Funambulist Papers Volume 1, Punctum Books, 2013.)
The Funambulist now has 3,000 followers on facebook (as well as, 1,200 followers on wordpress and 1,700 on twitter)! Thank you very much for following the blog, as well as Archipelago its new podcast platform. The Funambulist started in January 2011, based on the archives of boiteaoutils and it has provided me since then with great encounters with talented people around the world. Thank you very much for being part of it.
I try to organize the archive of the blog as well as possible, but there are more than a thousand articles existing. Here is a small selection of one archived article by category written in the past four years (most of them can be found in the past and upcoming Funambulist Pamphlets published by Punctum Books):
Today’s guest writer is Gastón Gordillo, professor in anthropology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, to whom we owe the great work on Space and Politics, as well as a forthcoming book, Rubble (Duke University Press, 2014) about the narrative power contained in the figure of the ruin. In the following text, entitled “Nazi Architecture as Affective Weapon,” Gastón uses Third Reich main architect Albert Speer’s memoirs to examine Adolf Hitler’s relationship with architecture, and to which extent this relationship may have influenced his political and military strategies — Gastón goes as far as writing that the competition between Berlin’s projected People’s Hall and Moscow’s Palace of the Soviets might have had a weight in the creation of the Nazi Russian front in 1941. The text also describes Hitler’s admiration for the Baron Haussmann’s transformation — or as I often write, weaponization — of Paris. Although Gastón’s essay focuses on the monumentality and the aesthetics that such a transformation created, it would be hard to believe that Hitler was not also recognizing to the Hausmannian city a genius sense of militarized urbanism. As the text points out, Hitler expressed his regret not to be an architect. When we think of his insatiable will for power, we should start wondering about the relations that architects have with questions of power in the transcendental control they exercise through their design at all scales.
Nazi Architecture as Affective Weapon
by Gastón Gordillo
Excerpt of the book “Let’s Take Back our Space”: ‘Female’ and ‘Male’ Body Language as a Result of Patriarchal Structures by Marianne Wex (Frauenliteraturverlag Hermine Fees, 1979).
Regular readers of the Funambulist will have probably noticed the recent recurrence of articles dedicated to questions of body. This finds an explanation in the nature of my current research for an upcoming book that French publisher D-Fiction was kind enough to propose as a project. This book should be called The Colonized Body and will explore the political relationships a body develops with design (more on that soon).
For once, this article will be more graphic than discursive since the visual power unfolded by German artist Marianne Wex‘s 1979 book, “Let’s Take Back our Space”: ‘Female’ and ‘Male’ Body Language as a Result of Patriarchal Structures, speaks for itself. I also recommend reading Andi Zeisler’s 2012 article for Bitch Magazine about Wex’s work. In the late 1970s, Wex took more than 6,000 photographs of bodies in the street and established an inventory based on the context in which the photographs have been taken and dividing men from women on each side of a virtual line that cuts the totality of the book into two parts. The contrast between genders is graphically striking between the comfortable positions of the male body that clearly attempts to occupy as much space as it is physically possible, while female bodies, on the contrary, — particularly in the presence of male counterparts as Wex points out — adopt positions that minimizes their occupation. Understood in the logic of a unique occupation for each body that exists (the scheme of the radical-necessity of occupying one and only space at a given moment, and that this space can be occupied only by one body at a time), Wex’s photographs provides us with a clear demonstration that the male body adopts a colonial attitude in the optimization of the space it can physically occupy — and therefore prevents another body to occupy it too — whereas the female body adopts a self-restraining attitude in its reduction to the minimum of space that it can physically occupy.
In terms of visibility, and if we go back to the image of the body as a topological surface (see past article), we can also say that the female bodies on these numerous photographs present a surface folded in such a way that minimizes its appearance, while male bodies, on the contrary expands this surface in a maximization of the visible area — Wex notes that the only time she saw an iconography with female bodies adopting the same positions, it was always addressed to a male audience and a sexual objectification of the female body. A brief look at these recent photographs in Swedish collective transportation (referred in Zeisler’s article) is enough to understand it. As the title of this book implies, Wex attributes such a dichotomy of body language to Western societies’ patriarchal structures that captures a body and places it within normative processes early on in life.
Exemplary photograph on Diane Torr’s “Man for a Day” workshop’s website
The principle of the drag king consists for a body recognized normatively as a woman to embody archetypical male characteristics to experience society from the point of view of a body closer to the norm. This transformation involves a change in fashion, accessories, facial hair, haircut, but also in the very behavior and posture of the body. Workshops proposing to female bodies to embody a male one exist in different versions. The “Man for a Day” workshop created by artist Diane Torr have been organized in many cities of the world, allowing many female bodies to experience the unusual absence of scrutiny on their body, as well as the freedom to behave more confidently. It is introduced by Torr herself as such:
Maybe during a lifetime of observing men in your neighborhood, on the subway, in the office, in cars, in your home, etc., you have a curiosity about how men “get away” with certain behaviors that would be considered undesirable or socially unacceptable in women. You might want to experience the transformation from female to male as a way to intercept your so-called “normal” behavior as a woman, and discover new responses. (http://dianetorr.com/workshops/man-for-a-day-workshop/)
Still from the film Roots of Love by Harjant Gill (2011)
This article follows the previous one about the hijab as a complex cultural wearable object. This time, a similar complexity is examined in another wearable object: the turban, wore by men in Sikhism. Similarly than for the hijab, this piece of garment establishes a clear separation of genders within the religious community, but even more importantly, it allows its members to “be counted” within a society that counts members of other communities (Sikhs represent 60% of the Punjab population, and only 2% of the population in India). In order to explore this complexity materialized into a long piece of fabric folded numerous times around one’s head, we should look at Harjant Gill‘s short film Roots of Love (2011).
Hana Tajima, a designer that creates apparels that include hijab for some of them, and not for some others (courtesy of the artist)
In 2004, the French government presided by Jacques Chirac designed a law that obtained one of the largest majority of his administration in Parliament (494 votes for, 36 votes against). This piece of legislation was forbidding any sign or cloth that manifests “ostensibly” the religion to which the body wearing it belong at school. French politicians all spoke together when they say that it was not specifically subjecting Muslim young women’s hijab but also all other religious signs — they also say that “discreet” Christian crosses were tolerated! The debate that occurred through this law — again, not in Parliament that was not far from unanimity — revealed an intelligentsia in France that used the sacred secularity (oxymoron used purposely!) as a flag and targeted every one who disagreed as “anti-feminist.” Now the fact that these people proclaim themselves feminist while forcing some women to unveil can appear paradoxical. The refusal to integrate any complexity to their way of thinking reveals that their arguments were more based on the visceral islamophobia that currently animates the Western world, rather than a true will to understand what lies in this piece of fabric.
The first mental operation that a reflection on a object like the hijab is consists precisely in starting from its objective characteristics: it is a designed object, a piece of clothe that can be wore just like a hat, a cap or a hood. In a cold day like the one New Yorkers just lived (sorry for the geocentrism!), almost all the bodies you see in the street are wearing something on their head, thus minimizing the surface of bare skin that is accessible to cold air. Let’s insist on the fact that the hijab, as a piece of clothe, does not hurt physically the body in any way. Now, let’s intensify this object by attributing it a religious value, that means, a group of people who form of community through their common faith choose a set of rules for their community. One of these rules can consist in the recognition of two genders within — I insist on “within” — this community and determine an appropriate apparel or dressing code for each of these genders. In the case that each body concerned by these rules is willing to accept them for his/her own way of living, it seems difficult for someone from outside the community to have a problem with it. After all, I do not remember hearing any criticisms about the way Christian nuns dress within their own community. Now you have a religion called Islam that the Western intelligentsia and politics do not to even make the effort to learn about the different communities that this religion regroups and that are sufficiently different that some of them are sometimes at war with each other.
Last Friday, Beatriz Preciado (see the several past articles) wrote a column in French newspaper Libération calling for a “strike of the uterus” in Spain in reaction to the law that will soon be voted (and likely approved) by the Spanish government to limit the right to abortion to only extreme cases. I translated this text at the end of this article but I would like to talk about it first. Although Preciado does not talk about it as Libération’s readers might have been slightly puzzled by this depth of theory — it used to be a good newspaper — she certainly attributes this return to the legislation before 1985 to a dimension of what she calls the “pharmacopornographic society.” Generated from Michel Foucault’s “society of control,” the pharmacopornographic society corresponds to a biopolotical mode of governmentality in which the sexuality of its bodies is controlled through the capitalist production of drugs and spectacle.
The Spanish legislation is a Church-backed act of colonialism on the female body as it considers the uterus as a strict organ of reproduction of bodies to form the manpower and consumers of tomorrow. Higher social classes will have indeed not too much trouble receiving an abortion abroad, while the lower social classes won’t have this luxury and will have to go through extremely risky clandestine methods that used to be exercised before the struggled pieces of legislation legalizing abortion. As usual in contemporary colonialism, the communication made around it insists on a supposed protection of what is under attack. Thus, this new law is entitled “Law on the Protection of the Conceived Life and Rights of Pregnant Woman,” as if the rights of the pregnant woman had been enhanced. Similarly the hypocrisy expressed through this law is blatant when one discovers that there is two cases of legal abortion, when endangering of the pregnant woman’s life and in the specificity of rape, that both anticipate different terms to accomplish the abortion: respectively twenty-two weeks and twelve weeks. The very existence of these two cases proves the Spanish government’s demagogy since a human life could not possibly be the object of legal calculations of this kind if the fetus was indeed recognized as a full human subject of rights.
Royal Air Force Nimrod XV230 named after the biblical character of Nimrod
The forty-sixth Funambulist Papers comes from one of the most important current thinkers in political geography: Stuart Elden who is the author of five books, as well as the editor of seven others (see the photo) including the very useful Space, Knowledge and Power: Foucault and Geography (Ashgate, 2007.). In the following text he interprets and critique the notion of territory — he recently wrote a book entitled The Birth of Territory (University of Chicago Press, 2013.) — in the philosophical-historical work of Grégoire Chamayou, and more specifically in the book Manhunts (Princeton University Press, 2012.). The reader is invited to also consult the two articles dedicated to Chamayou on The Funambulist: “The Body as a Terrain of Experiments: Medicine and Vile Bodies” and “The Body of the Prey is the Battlefield.” The three books written by Chamayou, Vile Bodies, Manhunts and Drone Theory are indeed centered on the question of body and the “genealogy” — to use Michel Foucault’s terminology — of the mechanisms of power that surrounds it. Stuart’s text helps us to place this body within a legal and physical territory where these mechanisms operate.
The Funambulist Papers 46 /// Chamayou’s Manhunts: From Territory to Space?
by Stuart Elden
This brief article discusses Grégoire Chamayou’s Manhunts, a powerful account of human inhumanity, the tracking down and killing of other humans. As he says in his second paragraph:
The 1991 documentary Paris Is Burning by Jennie Livingston shows an important aspect of African-American and Latino gay and transgender life in New York in the 1980s: the balls. Organized in Harlem, these balls consist in competitions to judge which body can perform in the “realest” manner, something for which it is not recognized by society. For example, a ball jury would determine which one of the two dark and gay bodies can perform the best as rich heterosexual white body. Similarly, transgenders are judged on their ability to perform as “real” — term used by the jury itself — women.
Fashion is an important component of balls. Some contestants create their own clothes, others struggle to gather enough money to purchase remarkable clothing in relation to the category for which they compete. In this matter, a brief inventory of these categories says much about the variety of the social labels performed: “pretty girl,” “high fashion winter sportswear,” “luscious body,” “schoolboy schoolgirl,” “town and country,” “businessman of the 80′s,” “high fashion Parisian,” “butch queen,” “military,” “high fashion eveningwear…” The balls also invented a new dance at the crossroad of homage and parody of fashion magazines like Vogue: they called it “voguing.” This dance consists in the fast succession of poses systematically adopted by models when being photographed for fashion magazines.
In a quote I used in a past article, Judith Butler describes gender as an act, a repeated performance accomplished in the public realm as a recognizable semiotics: