Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Always: the Queerness of a Reproductive Frame

The Combahee River Collective Statement, Kitchen Table Press (1977)
Need: A Chorale for Black Women's Voices, Audre Lorde, Kitchen Table Press (1979, 1991)
I am Your Sister: Black Women Organizing Across Sexualities , Audre Lorde, Kitchen Table Press(1984)
Cultural Identity and Diaspora, Stuart Hall (1990)
Piece of My Heart: A Lesbian of Colour Anthology (Introduction), Makeda Silvera, SisterVision Press (1991)
Punishing Drug Addicts who Have Babies: Women of Color, Equality and the Right to Privacy, Dorothy Roberts, Harvard Law Review, (1991)
Big Boots Zine (2001-2003)

Always. Like the word between love and your name in a love letter. Always. Like the pastel plastic promise that your period can become cute. Always. Like an ahistorical historicization. Like the production of eternity without witnesses. Like a recurring nightmare of hoping you exist.

This essay, informed by the works above is the place where "always" splits. Always become all ways and family, heritage and reproduction become an appropraited means for photocopying the zine quality black print of the new world in the basement of the university at 3 o'clock in the morning.

Seriously. I have been tripped up by the meaning of "reproduction" and the persistance of models of family and heritage that show up in works that I find to be foundational to my queer reading practice. What to make of this? Well...why not make what I usually make...an illegally printed freely distrubuted copyright defiant interactive publication. (click on the brokenbeautiful press link to your right). That is to say what if the central metaphor for reproduction was not the heteronormative biology of predictable birth into property and was not mechanism through which capital generated blindness and a surplus...but was rather (in a very Benjaminian "Author as Producer" type of way) a photocopy machine, illegally used for a purpose against capital. A performative mechanism, making multiplicity that called into question the unity and coherence of the status quo and that had the lovely biproduct of making words and images defer/difffer (yes. in the Derridian sense as Hall mentions) from themselves...becoming ever darker, ever grainer, ever less able to refer back to something true...because of their relationship to darkness and light and the means of production.

Can that machine that is used to make the status quo again and again be used to make something else? And that machine is the photocopier and that machine is also the idea of ancestry (hear Etheridge Knight...on ancestry...on Me'shell Ndgeocello's Cookie the Anthropological Mixtape...and while you're at it think of the burned CD as reproductive theft...and while you're there remember that the references in this essay are a glass bottle family tree) and family and the possibility of producing a future, and the idea of being connected to a past.

In other words, what does it mean that Big Boots, my favorite women/transfolk of color post-punk zine starts with an issue (that I love) on mother's and daughters called (so that I cannot avoid this) "ancestry"? What does it mean that in Audre Lorde's "I am Your Sister" the lesbian warrior poet frames her entire analysis in the structue of family? What does it mean for the Combahee River Collective, foundational black lesbian activists, warn against biological determinism in terms of gender while being able to claim what "Black women have ALWAYS embodied...resisted"? And what does it mean for Makeda Silvera, founder of SisterVision Press to come along about 15 years later and agree "We have always existed" and "our children will know who we are"? Race, motherhood, generations and the production of the future are central to each of these queer projects...so are they...not queer?

And what about Alexis? Radical queer girl to the core who is avowedly obsessed with her mother and grandmothers and who even dreams about bald pregnancy and waterimmersed childbirth at least tri-weekly. Is she not...queer? What to make of the way she claims the very texts she is writing about now as legacy, roots....even inheritance. (I saw her buy some out of print original copies of the Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press Feminist Organizing Pamphlets Series just this week!)

Well. Since unqueering my whole world is absolutely out of the question let's try this. Remember the photocopier. What if always split into all ways makes a way out. In I am Your Sister, I would argue, Lorde frames herself as reproductive not only through her status as a biological mother of black children, but also through her mentoring of poets, her publication of books, her illegal "public art" vandalist fieldtrips with other black lesbian mothers. So what if this approach to making...to producing art out of opposition towards a liveable future by embattled and indeed often illegal means is also reproduction. Stolen. That is to say, since reproduction is a means of theft to begin with (a means of making property, a means of owning the bodies of women, a means of reinforcing an existing labour hierarchy) does the stealing of reproduction (a context from which queers are excluded from and by) reveal something fundamental, a switch on which flip the script of power? Think of this especially in the contexts of Roberts essay which argues that for black women's reproduction...their actual choice to ever give birth...is criminalized under the law in this coundtry. Reproduction in this sense is not something other than reproduction but rather the repetitive performative act based on a long lost, repressed, supressed past and looking towards a future of unlikely liberation, the proof of the lie of an eternal status quo in which we are oppressed and owned.

If so what does this have to say about the function of reproduction in the narratives of nation and diaspora? What does it mean for Audre Lorde to write "Need", strongest statement I can find against the consequences of the way that women are used and owned and raped and beaten and killed towards the building of a masculinist black subjectivity (that i would call nationalist) and frame the statement as one that enables black women to build nation. What would nation have to mean for that to make sense? (asha bandele spoke about nationalism in similar terms at the Urban Tea Party during the 2005 National Black Arts Festival in ATL GA) Ferguson might be interested in this idea of nation that refuses the heteropatriarchal.

But do you see what I mean about this pressure on words...this distance from originality? So when Stuart Hall defines diaspora as that which produces and reproduces itself again and again while at the same time insisting on Derridain differance and arguing that diaspora cannot be an attachment to a unitary past, what can he mean. Aside from his schematic constructions (scarily close to that of the creolistes) of the Americas as the child of/land of the procreative meeting of Africa and Europe I think he means diaspora can be a process of zine production and distrubution...through which the violence of dispersal becomes a relationship to the means of production that suggests an alternative.


lex said...

hi alexis!

i checked out your blog today...cool stuff...and i wanted to post a
comment to your most recent musings on reproduction and
queerness...but the link is broken. and before i forget, i thought
i'd just email ya.

if i've got this right...this particular project takes the directive
from queer black feminism to renegotiate/disrupt the terms upon which
"reproduction" is conceptualized...as something antiqueer or
heteronormative...as something that queer folks of color, particular
women, seemingly need in their understandings of change, growth,
generatoin... and to provide a working model for how reproduction does
not necessarily reproduce the status quo or the maintenance of
property and lineage, you've employed the copy machine or photocopier
to allow you to think reproduction alongside/apart from these other

if that's right...my question is have you thought about your
investment in the machine itself? so what is your inclination to
disrupt this framework with technology? and a technology that is
branded in a particular way (xerox)....this seems very different than
the initial directive from lorde, etc. so moving reproduction out of
or off of the body or out of or off the earth (property) to the little
glass screen...with the lid and the light and the power source. what
could that offer you in thinking the connection between queerness and
reproduction...particulary when at the level of bodies queerness and
reproduction are oft thought to need some form of technomediation
("what do you mean you [two women] are having a baby? don't think i'm
going to become grandfather to this biological impossibility" to quote
ossie davis's character on the l word)...the implants, the surrogates,
the turkey baster, the sperm held between our legs to keep it warm,
the adoptions, the legality of same sex adoptions (or should i say the

love to hear your thoughts!

student advisor

lex said...

(the previous comment came over email from my beloved student advisor when the comment link wasn't working...so now it looks even more like I'm talking to myself...but here was my response)

interesting that you send this email today...as i'm reading Dorothy
Roberts Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction and the Meaning of
Liberty (1997).

I think my suggestion might be that the use of the machine isn't
confined to queers...but that queer appropriation of the machine
reveals the obscured techno-mediation already at work...nahmean? the
narrative itself is a technology that either produces the status
quo...or not. so the photocopier is a convenient way of linking the
process of narrative making and the process of publication...but
whether the technological link is spraypaint or the pen or the voice
box the narrative is a machine that makes something.

So Roberts has a whole chapter on "new reproduction" and makes a
convincing argument that the most common use of in virtro
fertilization is to provide married men with predictably genetic
offspring that they wouldn't be able to have under other
circumstances. I think it is important to make it clear that these
mediated reproductive forms and their economic viability are driven by
white couples wanting to be able to circumvent adoptions
(racially/genetically unknown kids) and to be able to create "pure"
white babies that ARE transmissions of their father's genetic
material. (indeed the way that the law has related to surrogacy
cases, lesbian/unmarried women's claims for custody supports this

the queer use of this technology to make family is actually an
appropriation of a reproductive machine that is inbedded in the
reproduction of a racial myth at the deepest level. how queer is

so basically the point is that maybe a queer relationship to narrative
(as I'm proposing it) is appropriative...not moreso than a normative
relationship to narrative but rather in a way that reveals the way
that the "normals" have hijacked the technology of language to
(re)produce sameness and oppression again and again.

thanks so much for the comment...i want to continue the conversation.
i wish that link wasn't broken...