Omar Z. Robles
Courtesy of the artist.

Sexualities and Politics in the Americas

Sexuality is everywhere, blurring the boundaries of the private and the public spheres. More than ever before, it assaults or/and seduces us from diverse fronts: the media, political debates, and the virtual space in which this journal is published. The omnipresence of sexuality, its unprecedented visibility, speaks to the way it has exploded from the realm of (public) secrecy and into the light of day, so to speak. But this does not mean sexuality is now "liberated". Far from that, today it is exposed to more sophisticated technologies of surveillance and regulation. In spite of feminism and queer theory, women and people with "deviant sexualities" throughout the Americas are still vulnerable to physical violence and subject to repressive policies because of their gender.

As omnipresent as sexuality might appear to be, it's nevertheless still in a process of definition. Taking cue from the early studies on human sexuality spearheaded by Freud and later theorized by Foucault, scholars like Gayle Rubin, Marta Lamas, Harriet Whitehead, and Jeffrey Weeks have posited different approaches to its social and historical construction. While gender as a category has been profitably used to explain the arbitrary division of labor based on sexual distinction (role playing), sexuality is usually associated with the erotic. It is thus not only linked to issues of intimacy and relationality, but also to display and performance. The performance of sexuality, however, is tied to a host of value systems and also to questions of ethics and morality, and thus to institutional policies that are designed to harness its unstable qualities.

Gender and sexuality work together towards the construction of subject identities, and the way these are performed in the midst of particular sociopolitical contexts is what interests us here. Sexuality in this issue of e-misférica is understood as a discourse and as a performative practice subject to multiple negotiations. Insofar as it is, following Foucault, bound to the power/knowledge matrix, sexuality is a key issue of political mobilizations from both conservative and progressive groups. What kinds of performances are political? How does the subject gain agency by means of performing a sexuality that subverts normative regulations? What forms of political violence are exerted on the sexed body? How do visual representations work to challenge current definitions of gender and sexuality? How do sexuality, gender, race, ethnicity and class intersect in performance? These are some of the questions addressed in the essays and articles to be found in the following cyber-pages, written by scholars and artists from Mexico, Canada, Brazil, and the U.S. While e-misférica has, as its name suggests, a hemispheric scope, the geographical origin these voices come from ground this issue's topics to specific locations and agents. And, while the performative strategies of the artists discussed may be similar, there are also important distinctions linked to their particular subject-positions and the communities to which they belong.

Most of the collaborator's names may not have a familiar ring to the general or even specialized reader, as we feature voices of little-known authors from a new generation of academic and cultural workers. They bring innovative perspectives to issues of sexual politics as enacted through the visual and performing arts. In the essay section, Deb Levine, Kerry Swanson, Cynthia Bodenhorst, and Amy Sara Carroll address the work of diverse artists, all of whom not only resist heteronormative dictum but also, and importantly, gesture towards new ways of performing the body politic.

As discussed by Levine, the work of Chicano artist Ray Navarro enacts a new kind of "prosthetic politics" insofar as it enables activist communities working with AIDS patients to channel the political vision of sick bodies. In this case, as in the work of Brazilian artist Cris Bierrenbach, sexuality is above all a relational field of caring and commitment. If anger has fueled important political movements fighting injustice, authors Deb Levine and Cynthia Bodenhorst posit love as a force field that is both affective and political. While Bierrenbach distorts her body in her video installation Through the Looking Glass in order to compel the viewer to consider the vulnerability and subjectivity of the "naked woman", Kent Monkman, a Cree artist from Canada, stylishly deploys his body in performances that display a half-breed, drag-queen alterego. As Kerry Swanson explains, Monkman is proposing an alternative view of Native American identity, one not grounded in essentialist stereotypes, but one that acknowledges the suppressed history of Two-Spirited people. On the other hand, Amy Sara Carroll addresses the media interventions of Mexican Performance artists Mónica Mayer, Maris Bustamante, Jesusa Rodríguez, and Liliana Felipe. These artists, working in pairs during two different historical moments, subvert mainstream representations of motherhood and matrimony through their televised performances.

Two other essays discuss sexuality in different arenas: those of violence exerted to working-class women in northern Mexico (Verónica Zebadúa), and the political effects that derive from the literary and visual representations of a fictitious indigenous heroine on horseback (Ana Cristina Ramírez).

The artist's section of e-misférica features two testimonial narratives: Eduardo Flores from Mexico explains how his collaborative performances with Ema Villanueva worked to place sexuality as a political intervention in the public sphere, while Helena Vieira from Brazil speaks about her work as a feminist performer preoccupied with the body's representation in the age of "silicone implant dictatorship".

The multimedia presentations provide a virtual portal into the challenging work of Carmen Oquendo-Villar who, with Richard Ruiz, produced the video Boquita, about a Dominican transgender performer; Tracie Morris, with an excerpt from her performance Afrofuturism; and Cris Bierrenbach, with her video installation Through the Looking Glass.

The round table section is a first for e-misférica as it's not merely a collection of position papers sent via e-mail, but an actual discussion that took place between nine scholars, activists, and artists who met in Mexico City National University to debate the topic at hand. Some of the issues addressed were the subaltern body before the law, the performance of lesbian and gay politics in the "Marchas de Orgullo" that take place in Mexico City, the new hibridity of Mayan women in Yucatán, and the artist's body subjected to institutional violence. The report we publish will provide readers with an idea of how performance theories are presently discussed in Mexican academia.

Laughter can also be both performative and political, and for that reason we're thrilled to include once again the work of the Argentine playwright and cartoonist Diana Raznovich, whose drawings bring wit, irony, and parody to the notion of gender role-playing.

I cannot end this editorial remark without acknowledging the extreme duress under which this issue was produced. Laura G. Gutiérrrez, who worked as co-editor during the early stages, was unable to continue due to circumstances beyond her control, while I suffered the painful loss of my mother. Marcela Alejandra Fuentes, e-misférica's managing editor, was patient and understanding throughout, and we're sure the results are well worth the effort. We're also grateful to all of this issue's collaborators, including the anonymous reviewers, who worked very hard to meet the deadlines. e-misférica 2.2 brings together the talents of nearly forty people who are convinced it's imperative to continue articulating new ways of performing the body politic.

Antonio Prieto Stambaugh Mérida, Yucatán , Nov. 1, 2005

Antonio Prieto Stambaugh is director of the Center of Performing Arts Research of Yucatán (Centro de Investigaciones Escénicas de Yucatán) and member of Mexico's National System of Researchers (SNI). He holds an MA in Performance Studies from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, and a PhD in Latin American Studies from the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters of Mexico's National University (UNAM). He has published many essays on Chicano and Mexican performance art, as well as on issues of gender and border studies, in diverse anthologies and journals such as Cuadernos Americanos, debate feminista, Gestos, Theatre Journal, Frontera norte, and Conjunto.

References

Freud, Sigmund. 1976. "Tres ensayos sobre la teoría sexual." Obras completas, t. VII, Buenos Aires: Amorrortu.

Foucault, Michael. 1977. Historia de la sexualidad, three volumes, I. La voluntad de saber; 2. El uso de los placeres; 3. La inquietud de sí. México: Siglo XXI.

Lamas, Marta. 2002. Cuerpo: Diferencia sexual y género. México: Taurus.

Rubin, Gayle. 1984. "Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality." Pleasure and Danger. Comp. Carole S. Vance, London and New York: Routledge-Kegan Paul.

Ortner, Sherry B. and Harriet Whitehead, Eds. 1981. Sexual Meanings: The Cultural Construction of Gender and Sexuality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Weeks, Jeffrey. 2003. Sexuality. Second edition. London and New York: Routledge.

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