Can a mestizo asshole speak?

A collection of essays, artistic contributions, and two inserted zines, “Cidade Queer, uma Leitora” was developed as part of an 18-month inquiry in São Paulo. Initiated by and ArtsEverywhere/Musagetes, the Cidade Queer program was a broad collective inquiry into how can we understand the contemporary city through a queer, intersectional, non-normative lens. The program included a series of encounters, dinners, residencies, and performances, and “Cidade Queer, uma Leitora” reconfigures these moments into a new form, extending the inquiry trans-nationally. The Reader was edited by Júlia Ayerbe and designed by Laura Daviña of Edições Aurora/Publication Studio São Paulo. Order a copy in Portuguese or English online. The following essay is a complementary, web-only contribution by one of the authors in the Reader.

“I will no longer be made to feel ashamed of existing. I will have my voice. Indian, Spanish, white. I will have my serpent’s tongue—my woman’s voice, my sexual voice, my poet’s voice. I will overcome the tradition of silence.”

—Gloria Anzaldúa[1]

In her essay “The Mask: Colonialism, Memory, Trauma and Decolonization,” Grada Kilomba seeks politically to retell a repeatedly reproduced childhood memory of hers regarding a mask used by enslaved Black people on order of their white owners so as to hinder them from eating cocoa and sugarcane in the plantations: “It was composed of a bit, placed inside the mouth of the Black subject, clamped between the tongue and the jaw, and fixed behind the head with two strings: one surrounding the chin and the second surrounding the nose and the forehead.”[2]

Yet, Kilomba continues, more than the control of a white owner over the cocoa or sugarcane plantations, the mask unveils a much more violent effect: that of muting the tongues of enslaved Black subjects, thus territorializing this organ as a place of torture. In this sense, it is rather a mask of speechlessness symbolizing the ever-brutal regime of silencing Black people in the context of colonial domination and, therefore, white colonization as a whole.

It is by territorializing the mouths of slaves as the place of speech taboo that the white colonizer ensures his control over the concept of enslavement. In other words, silencing Black subjects allows white colonial speech to consolidate itself as truth, without the interference of diverging speeches. The unfeasibility of Black speech is the condition through which the white subject reproduces itself. In such a way that, through racism, a white subject in becoming depends on the arbitrary production of a Black subject as a silenced “Other”, hence updating a wide range of binary formulas that ensue, including the white/black binomial, such as good/bad, right/wrong, human/inhuman, rational/wild, in which the Black subject does not cease to be represented as bad, wrong, inhuman, and wild. Therefore, the Black subject is never at stake, instead being replaced by the dominating images and narratives on him/herself from a colonial perspective.

In another essay, “Who Can Speak: Speaking at the Centre, Decolonizing Knowledge,” Kilomba links the speechlessness of enslaved Black people to academic knowledge-making regimes, which have historically produced an epistemological landmark in the humanities, engendering some sort of knowledge about African people without ever taking into account their own knowledge. Such landmark consists of a wide range of consolidated paradigms and methodologies aiming to define which knowledges are recognized as such and which are not; which ones compose the academic agenda; who can be recognized or not as a knowledge bearer; who can teach; and, ultimately, who can speak. Walter Mignolo states that “geo- and body-politics of knowledge have been hidden from the self-serving interests of Western epistemology,” and that the very concealing of political implications in this knowledge-making of Eurocentric traditions allows for the construction of a colonial knowledge, which “maps the world and its problems, classifies people and projects into what is good for them” from an allegedly neutral position.[3] Therefore, it consists of an operation directed at forging a subject from knowledge supposedly neither affected by the geopolitical dispositions of a world organized by colonial hierarchies nor by the effects of societies characterized by a body-politics, which privileges determined subjects to the detriment of others.

Regarding the presence of Africans in academia, Kilomba writes that: “Historically, it is a space where we have been voiceless and where white scholars have developed theoretical discourses that formally constructed us as the inferior ‘Other,’ placing Africans in absolute subordination to the white subject.”[4] In the wake of Kilomba, we must try critically to acknowledge the fact that science is not neutral and universal as claimed by modern Eurocentric projects, which conceal their partiality and local character so as to induce a certain truth regime that does not cease to de-realize alternative theories and knowledge-making forms, enrolling non-hegemonic subjects and their deviating ways of knowledge-making with subaltern effects.…the university reveals itself to be a space for violence and the propagation of domineering content, always taking certain voices as absent in order to echo its preferred ones…

As an intersectional approach of the academy as a space of violence, I here invoke the touching manifesto of American anthropologist Esther Newton, concerning her experience of academic lesbophobia throughout her career. From an account of the numerous situations in which her work was excluded from editorial projects and devalued by the departments she was part of, the author considers how institutional lesbophobia furtively manifests itself through a silent articulation, mobilizing jargons of the consolidated scientific speech in order to accomplish an exclusion that is more expressed by the unsaid than by what was actually said:

I was denied tenure on my first job. The rejection felled me like a dumb ox. The process was secret, but privately and as a favor, the woman department head told me some people had trouble with my ‘personality.’ There was also a question about my ‘commitment to anthropology.’ It was like the menacing encounter I’d had with the college dean: You’re doing something wrong and I won’t say what, but we know about it.[5]

From a decentralization that guides our position, to a spot until then produced as blind, the university reveals itself to be a space for violence and the propagation of domineering content, always taking certain voices as absent in order to echo its preferred ones, overcasting alternative ways of conceiving knowledge and its relation with the world to favor the consolidation of truth regimes in which subalternity can only come up as room for powerlessness—where knowledge and speech do not exist.

In order to place this approach in the Brazilian context, we must take into consideration the teaching environment as a space for normative, violent reiterations and, therefore, as a silencing of differences. Taking gender dissidence as a mark of difference, in her text “Na escola se aprende que a diferença faz a diferença” [“In school we learn that difference makes a difference”], from 2011, Berenice Bento coins the term “hetero-terrorism” to show how the politic regime of heterosexuality continuously releases bodies outside of this appraisal in a world of exclusion and violence—of which the school is one of the main spaces reproducing such behavior—producing two intelligible genders, at most:

The school, by presenting itself as an institution incapable of handling difference and plurality, works as one of the main institutions warding gender norms and producing heterosexuality. In cases when kids end up quitting school due to not standing such a hostile environment, it is limiting to talk about ‘evasion.’[6]

If we consider that, for trans* people, attending school oftentimes proves to be unfeasible due to the countless physical and symbolic violences they are subject to in their study spaces, which implies high school evasion rates (or rather “expulsion” rates) among subjects non-conforming to the binary gender ideal, how could we measure the absence of these people in academia?

Whether measurable or not, the absence of trans* voices in colleges is reiterated continually and actively reproduced by academic-political procedures. In a Facebook discussion where I suggested viviane v. read and comment on the previous paragraphs (regarding gender-dissident experiences in teaching environments), she showed her agreement to it, despite her reluctance towards the exclusive use of the prefix “hetero-” where she observes the presence of “cis-normativity” and “cis-terrorism,” since what is at stake in these circumstances is more related to gender performances than to sexuality. This way, v. demonstrates her option for an analytical category marginalized within the academic debates on transgenderism—as she observes in her essay “De uma renúncia e de resistências trans anticoloniais” [“On renouncing and resisting from a trans, anti-colonial approach”]:

There are trans* people making theory around the world, although here in Brazil, due to all exclusionary social conditionings we know, these presences are yet very sparse and have little decision-making power: yet, where are they in the bibliographical references when it comes to approaching trans* issues? On their turn, a few people brag about their abilities in colonial+imperialist languages, such as French and English: where are the translations of contents produced by trans* people all over the world? After all, where are the references I mention when translating Katherine Cross talking about transphobia in theory: Riki Wilchins, Susan Stryker, Sylvia Rivera, Julia Serano, Vivian Namaste, Dean Spade, Paisley Currah, Pat Califa, Stephen Whittle, Carol Riddell, Lou Sullivan, Jay Prosser, Tobi Hill Meyer, Emi Koyama, Joelle Ruby Ryan?

What about when we point to these shortcomings, and when we point to exotification of trans* and gender-insubordinate people in the most diverse surroundings (especially the academia, in my case), and when we seek to use cis-genderism as an analytical category to think about the normativity of gender identities (similarly to how we use heterosexuality), and when we complain about misused pronouns, our critics seem to be covered in some sort of ‘all or nothing,’ ‘too much aggression,’ ‘emotiveness,’ ‘picking the wrong enemies.’[7]

Taking viviane v.’s aforementioned essay as well as her Facebook comment, one can realize how this dispute around the use of concepts is one of the many spaces of stress in which, despite the increasing efforts in the opposite direction, the absence of trans* people in academia is produced repeatedly. After all, the conceptual option of a travesti[8] pursuing her master’s degree, articulated through an informal channel (talking about Facebook, but also about, a disqualified source, since it is not comprised in the official Brazilian rating Qualis), has no scientific value and, therefore, is unable to bring forth consistency by herself inside an academic debate, thus being incorporated in a subaltern effect within the very scope of research regarding trans* experiences.

Concerning the after effects of the racial quota system in the composition of the student body in Brazilian public universities, Sales Augusto dos Santos highlights an academic-political dispute around the control of knowledge production on the racial issue in Brazil implied by this public policy. The author seeks to demonstrate how “white intellectuals involved in research and studies about racial issues in Brazil have historically controlled the agenda on this matter,” thus latently imposing “to a minority of Black intellectuals (in this domain) what to research and how to disclose their related researches.”[9]

The emergence of a significant number of Black intellectuals in national universities, especially in the realms of social sciences, education, and history, allowed for different perspectives on the racial issue in Brazil. It has equally provided the emergence of new research comprising new themes, questionings, and interests, such as racism in schools. The monopoly of white people over the representation of the Black population in Brazil started to be questioned, which entailed a process of looking for the decolonization of Eurocentric knowledge, of intellectual autonomy, as well as the rupture of control or monopoly of studies and research regarding Black people from the standpoint of intellectuals of the ‘white world,’ to use the expression coined by Florestan Fernandes. Rephrasing the rap group Racionais MC’s, this was and still is ‘violently pacific,’ and has not only ‘sabotaged the rationality,’ but also ‘shaken the central nervous system’ of the academic knowledge-making regarding studies and research on racial issues in Brazil.[10]

At this point, it is possible to trace a path connecting both approaches, that of Sales Augusto dos Santos on the dispute between intellectuals of the “white world” and Black people around the production of knowledge involving racial issues in Brazil, as well as the theoretical venting of viviane v. regarding power devices that have frequently represented her speech as “intellectually despicable” and “politically short-sighted” in the intellectual debates she takes part in. In both cases, it is a matter of disputing control over a certain regime of knowledge-making implied in the real lives of real people, and in rendering subaltern the speeches pronounced from decentralized places of speech when compared to academic normativity.

What happens when the subaltern speaks?

It is consensual among the readers of Spivak[11] that, when the author responds negatively to the question “Can the subaltern speak?”, it is not an allusion to the physical ability of speaking nor to the intellectual ability of articulating a speech. The answer should not be taken literally. It is rather an allusion to the impossibility of forging an enunciation space from which a subaltern can express oneself and be heard as a subject. According to Santiago Giraldo:

Of course a subaltern ‘speaks’ physically; one’s ‘speech,’ however, does not acquire a dialogic status—in the sense proposed by Bakhtin—i.e. the subaltern is not a subject occupying a discursive position from which one can speak or respond.[12]

In order to illustrate her theory on the silence of the subaltern, Spivak takes as symbol the self-immolation ritual of Indian widows (sati or suttee), considering the effects of British colonial dominance over Hindi laws regulating such practice. Ironically, she uses the jargon “white men, seeking to save brown women from brown men”[13] to unveil the twofold subaltern situation of women between the Indian patriarchate and British imperialism, constantly invested of a consciousness fabricated from their silence.

Spivak’s text was of major importance to enrich debates regarding the difference, for it states the essential task of de-romanticizing the resistance to oppressive regimes, thus rendering more complex the approaches that seek to work from standpoints socially construed as subaltern. Nevertheless, once amidst this movement, we must be careful not to incur in the reproduction of narratives that find most of their power in the de-potentiation of such standpoints.

In this regard, I would like to recall one of Spivak’s crucial formulations to the development of a perspective that takes the subaltern silence more as the result of colonial non-listening rather than the subaltern unsaid: “The subaltern (…) cannot be heard or read.”[14]

This formulation appears in a moment of the text where Spivak alludes to the suicide of Bhuvaneswari Bhaduri, a young woman found dead in her father’s apartment in Calcutta, circa 1926. It was only ten years after her suicide when information surfaced that Bhuvaneswari was actually a participating activist of one of the several armed groups fighting for the independence of India, thus making her suicide probably the result of a feeling of incapacity regarding a mission assigned to her. Yet, what caught the attention was the fact that she had her period when she was found, as if she had expected this specific moment to accomplish her act. For Spivak, this element points to “a reversal of the interdict against a menstruating widow’s right to immolate herself,” even “an emphatic, ad hoc, subaltern rewriting of the social text of sati-suicide,”[15] which simply became invisible, considering that the participation of women in the Indian independence movement was documented heavily and transmitted by the speech of its male leaders.

It would be possible to find a wide range of political dimensions unregistered by hegemonic historiographic speeches around the world. It is a fact that such silencing of voices and gestures of the subaltern has been, to a great extent, responsible for the construction of transparent versions of historical facts associated to geographically, racially, and sexually non-hegemonic subjects. Which does not mean that these subjects did not want to mark their difference by their own means in the wefts of history. What actually happens seems to be rather what Spivak formulated: the subaltern cannot be heard or read.

As a coordinator of the Decoloniality Europe network, Julia Suarez-Krabbe wrote an article ironically titled “Can Europeans Be Rational?,”[16] starting from a few questions that have been crucial in numerous philosophical debates back in the 16th century, helping to set the grounds for international law and contemporary thought on human rights, such as: “Are the indigenous populations human?” and “Can non-Europeans think?” In this text, the author emphasizes that these questions cannot be formulated outside of a system of thought that considers the European subjects as superior beings; moreover, she states that, despite the answer, the fact of merely being formulated already configures these sentences into an act of violence.

While the inversion game present in the title of Krabbe’s essay might seem like a revenge act and unfitting to the “scientific spirit” for some, when taken from a decolonial regard it denotes an act of epistemological disobedience, relocating the target of such a critical interpellation. Instead of positively responding to the ethnocentric question about the ability of thought of non-European peoples, the author redirects the question, thus making noticeable for the subjects of this hegemonically-constituted knowledge the very epistemological violence underpinning their system of thought.Can a domineering knowledge listen to a subaltern speech when it comes up?

In what concerns the subaltern silence, I would like to propose a movement inspired by Krabbe. Instead of asking whether the subaltern can or cannot speak, I invoke another one: what happens when a subaltern speaks? This way, I intend to relocate a longstanding crisis that de-potentiates us, the subjects not comprised in knowledge-making grammars. Rather than questioning our ability of forging speeches and knowledges from our subaltern standpoint, I choose to interrogate the capacity these hegemonically consolidated landmarks have to acknowledge our differences. In such a manner that in the borders of my own question, another one hints: can a domineering knowledge listen to a subaltern speech when it comes up?

Decolonizing the listening: knowledge and noise

If we consider physics’ basic theory of sound, there is a “sound spectrum” comprising a set of frequencies that can be produced by different sources, of which the human ear can only perceive a small fraction, going precisely from 20 to 20,000 Hz. Elementary physics calls this fraction the “audible sounds.” Below 20 Hz there are the infrasounds, and above it, the ultrasounds. Inaudible, both infra- and ultrasounds cannot be sensed by the human ear, which makes us all somewhat deaf towards them. This doesn’t mean, in absolute terms, that they do not exist, do not manifest themselves, nor compose the world’s soundscape.[17]

In order to establish a metaphorical parallel with the issues developed throughout this essay, it is possible to say that subaltern speeches resonate for the domineering ears just like the infra- and ultrasounds do for the human ear: out of its audible reach. In this sense, to question the landmark of what can be heard in terms of the Euro-American, colonial, hetero-centered, and cis-normative domineering culture, sets itself as a political-theoretical gesture towards decolonization, a new mapping of the sound spectrum that takes into consideration the noise and the escape lines it cracks in the superimposed harmony.

Jacques Attali, in a chapter about listening in his book Noise: The Political Economy of Music, observes that “the organization of noise (…) constitutes the audible waveband of the vibrations and signs that make up society.”[18] This way, the author defends that “any theory of power today must include a theory of the localization of noise,”[19] thus evidencing how the noise control, by means of identification, localization, and banishment of subversive noise, is connected to the production of cohesion based on the indifferentiation of subjects. In this sense, Attali states:

Eavesdropping, censorship, recording, and surveillance are weapons of power. The technology of listening in on, ordering, transmitting, and recording noise is at the heart of this apparatus. (…) Who among us is free of the feeling that this process, taken to an extreme, is turning the modern State into a gigantic, monopolizing noise emitter, and at the same time, a generalized eavesdropping device. Eavesdropping on what? In order to silence whom?[20]

Therefore, the auditory perception materializing our listening is the result of investing a wide range of tonal constructs, from which we can access only a given and socially established sound organization that, by projecting a certain audibility regime, de-realizes a series of noises, thus representing them as inaudible. The superimposed harmony silences the uninscribed sounds, just like the domineering epistemologies operate towards subaltern knowledges. In both cases, it is a matter of controlling noise and producing a politically regulated listening. Despite the arbitrary harmony, noise manifests itself, and, by doing so, it can infect the audibility regime, then disorganizing the “sound spectrum” that conforms the listening. “Noise is not music,” as Fabiane Borges and Hilan Bensusan wrote, “it is rather a displacement out of the borders of the canons of music history; a shake, a step out of the shaft.”[21] Maybe the noise-knowledges, rendered subaltern by truth regimes established by the academic-scientific canons, are not readable as knowledge, yet, the displacements from which they ensue infectiously cross the shades of knowledge, thus causing disturbance to the canonic listening with its uninscribed stridencies.

In her essay “O terceiro som e a diáspora nos interstícios” [“The third sound and the interstitial diaspora”], Leandra Lambert seeks to excite the potentialities of “an imaginative and inter-sensorial listening,” an expanded listening that sprawls towards “uncolonized borders, no-man’s-lands;” spaces that power endeavors to “strike, influence, control, and conform,” yet they remain “uncertain, secretive, and unfathomable,” despite these attempts:

Carl Einstein, just as Georges Bataille, stated that, by transforming plastic forms, vision is transformed; and once vision is transformed, all coordinates of thought undergo the same transformation. To expand this reasoning towards other forms, directed at other senses, might be a means to broaden the scope of such transformation of the coordinates of thought. It is possible to think about an ‘expanded, multifocal, invasive’ approach of the sound phenomenon, and the potentially transformative possibilities of sonic reinvention towards standards of thought, perception, and feeling. By altering the sensations, modes, and movements of our intertwined senses, we can always alter the way we produce senses.[22]

A subaltern speech manifested through the asshole

In the sixth episode of a series of podcasts produced by [SSEX BBOX],[23] discussing the unfolding of the questions “Que significa ser queer? É queer nosso futuro?” [What does it mean to be queer? Is our future queer?], when approaching a Brazilian intellectualism, Pêdra Costa elicits “another thought,” mixing different forms of knowledge under a 40°C weather; an intellectualism that “has to pass through the hips” in order to develop itself. Such decentralization regarding hegemonic conceptions of knowledge becomes clear in both the artist’s work and academic path, marked by the inadequacy of disciplinary ruling and deviation of routes.

With Grada Kilomba, Esther Newton, and viviane v., we observed that, more than a neutral space for scientific knowledge-making, the academy must be understood as a space of violence and exclusion. Yet, it is not necessary to anchor their texts to talk about this issue, given that my very own academic experience is marked by excluding procedures, which account for the representation of my theoretical ideas and articulations as necessarily immature, inconsistent, and subtheoretical. Empathetically, yet not equally, Pêdra Costa also seems to inhabit a place where the speech is situated on the sidelines of academic-scientific speech, which does not hinder him/her from inventing new ways to express her thought and step into this sphere.

I will never become Judith Butler; yet, being closer to Nísia Floresta, I am content with the cultural translation I am capable of making regarding Butler and her theories, in a spirit of creative infidelity that surprises me and comes up with something new.[24]

But it turns out that knowledge, in order to obtain legitimacy as such, needs to give in to a series of normative investments that aim to rule every step of it, from the primal inquiry moving the researcher to the ways a text is organized and the tone of voice that must be used when reading it. In this knowledge-making regime, a nasal voice using the slang of pajubá[25] when speaking will certainly sound dissonant; just as an incarnate writing, moved by its own rhythm, and admittedly authorial, might seem unreadable. Despite these definitions, the very strength of such failed gestures towards the hegemonic knowledge-making and the breaches to which they address themselves tend to stress—at times molecularly, at others more like a boom—the political regime that establishes what can be heard and read. The nasal voices, the pajubá expressions, the incarnate and admittedly authorial writing claim their position in the construction of possibilities, and they do so not by following the traditional methods, but because they need to produce a major gash, allowing for degenerate thoughts (not necessarily written as an article, essay, or treatise, nor pronounced as a defense, communication, or lecture) to overcome the tradition of silence, just like the poetic endeavor of Gloria Anzaldúa’s How to Tame a Wild Tongue.

Verarschung[26] is a video piece that Pêdra Costa sent from Berlin to be a part of the event “Que pode o korpo?”, organized by myself at UFRN in April 2013. In this work, the artist articulates a web of apparently disconnected quotations that superimpose, for instance, lyrics of American rapper Azaelia Banks and the song “O Bandido” by Tetine, passing through Ludditas Sexxxuales, Audre Lorde, and João W. Nery, mingled with personal quotes and reflections to build a plural speech pronounced in several languages, and having as backdrop the image of her own asshole in rhythmic movements of contraction and expansion.

Still from Verarschung by Pêdra Costa

In the program of “Que pode o korpo?,” an event created to explore the possibilities of intervention of a bodily speech in the fields of knowledge-making and contemporary politics, this work was announced as “Verarschung: a video-lecture by Pêdra Costa,” which got people waiting for a regular videoconference, with her face in the forefront and the speech coming out of her mouth. Even if it was an independent activity, parallel to the academic canon, and counting with an audience fairly accustomed to such spaces, Verarschung caused astonishment and aroused all sorts of reactions, from “laid-back jokes” to blunt gestures of disapproval.

When resorting back to Grada Kilomba’s “The Mask,” in which the author builds an analysis of the interdict of the mouth as the interdict of speech, we start to envisage a possible connection. If, from her standpoint, the slavery regime produces the territorialization of the mouth as a place of torture and non-speechlessness, the compulsory heterosexual norm produced the asshole as the place of excretion and non-pleasure. In both cases, we observe an arbitrary territorialization of the body, seeking to reduce drastically the possibilities of experimenting with such organs.

Mouth and asshole, two ends of the same tube, when faced as interdict organs, reveal the bodily-political dimension of the construction of reality. Still in the wake of Kilomba, we can infer that, since the interdiction of the mouth of biologically designated Black bodies was linked to the constitution of a non-Black hegemonic speech in the context of slavery, the interdiction of the asshole in bodies suited to the hetero-cis-sexist norm makes it possible to maintain gender as the regulatory ideal attached to heterosexuality as a political regime.

In this politically regulated realm, the asshole is left aside of the calculation: the counter-genital that misinforms gender, for it passes through the binary sexual distinction. Using the words of Solange, tô aberta!, it is “the hole everyone has.” In the Countersexual Manifesto, Paul B. Preciado, elaborates a political fiction centered in the dissolution of genders as correspondences to the biological categories of male/female, forging a notion of masculine/feminine as “open records at the disposal of cuerpos parlantes [talking bodies],”[27] which are bodies free of the hetero-cis-sexist normalization. Faced with Pêdra Costa’s anal video-lecture, it is not safe to state that the subject of that speech is a man or a woman: the hetero-cis-sexual intelligibility matrix simply cannot classify such body. And when the matrix gets confused, the artist’s cuerpo parlante manifests hers as subaltern speech. Through the asshole.

In such a manner that the anal lecture ruptures not only with gender as the regulatory ideal, but also with a body-politics of knowledge that seeks to territorialize the bodily organs used to think (head), write (hands), or speak (mouth), and those unable of mobilizing any thought (the asshole itself, for instance). Even more: it seeks to territorialize the bodies themselves as organs, as biological designations attached to knowledges elaborated in accordance with the constitutive principles of the modern colonial sciences. Yet, when choosing to speak through the asshole, Pêdra places herself in a political space of counter-hegemonic enunciation, out of the domineering axe of scientific production, and for this very reason, not harmonized with such canonic principles so that, when speaking, s/he necessarily redefines, both locally and molecularly, the grammars ruling how and what to speak.As if this fat, mestizo, faggot, and revolting body, this cannibal asshole and its atrocious politics couldn’t find their place in the knowledge-making realm…

With regard to Guy Hocquenghem, Preciado writes that he became the first French intellectual to articulate publicly a political identity of “faggot,” unlike Foucault who, at the same time, seldom declared his homosexuality, stating a resistance to “instigation techniques to confess the truth of sex,” still without ever considering “a set of techniques to produce silence and preclude a subject of homosexual enunciation, producer of critical knowledge on oneself and the society, from articulating his or her position.”[28] This way, according to Preciado’s historical fiction, the emergence of Hocquenghem marks the moment when “the homosexual anus speaks and produces knowledge about itself for the very first time.”[29]

Just like Guy Hocquenghem, Pêdra Costa is part of a radical tradition of subject decentralization in the theoretical enunciation. Even if her work is not focused on “theory itself” (whatever this might mean!), it is undeniable that some of her works, and Verarschung above all, prove an intellectual investment around the making of an “anal knowledge” that instills the theoretical domain with a first-person knowledge, composed on the reverse of “scientific detachment;” a knowledge inevitably implied in political ruptures, moving in an expanded circuit, passing through the academy without letting itself be enclosed by its boundaries.

From my own academic experience as a guerrilla fag, I can talk about numerous situations in which my speech was devalued intellectually due to the political content of my remarks. In numerous situations, the summoning of strategic, clearly positioned, dynamic, and unruly knowledge, earned me advice on how to choose a scientific attitude apart from my political practice, touching the movements of my own life in between the lines. As if this fat, mestizo, faggot, and revolting body, this cannibal asshole and its atrocious politics couldn’t find their place in the knowledge-making realm; as if this bodily-political knowledge couldn’t acquire the status of knowledge, or, at most, a least truthful knowledge than the scientific, which is supposedly neutral in political terms.

In this sense, Pêdra Costa’s video-lecture smuggles into the academy the noises the academic-scientific rationality considers absent, thus contaminating the hegemonic enunciation space with her anal thinking. The diverse languages interpolated in her speech manage to manifest a thought whose movements perforate the borders, whether they are physical or symbolic ones. Pêdra writes: “I place no obstacle on myself when it comes to living exotic adventures with other limits of thought.”[30] And a limit of thought is something material, dense, it imposes a body. The grammar of a language is a limit of thought. That is why Pêdra exceeds it, rubbing one grammar against the other, wandering between languages with which s/he is somewhat familiar. I could compare that to the imposing self-representation of Paul B. Preciado’s Testo Junkie, who states: “I live in several [western] metropolises” and “travel among three languages that I think of neither as mine nor as foreign to me.”[31] But it’s different. Pêdra is no transnational, academically well-succeeded citizen. S/he is, above all, a Brazilian immigrant in Germany.

In the text published on the Cena Queer blog, titled “O Corpo Nu, Aqui, É o Corpo Imigrante” [“Here, the Naked Body Is the Immigrant Body”], Pêdra narrates a situation in which the use of German language by immigrants, in the context of a political-artistic event held in Linz, Austria, was the target of racist comments by the local police. In the occasion, a group of artists “from the borders of the world,” upon invitation of Maiz Kultur, an organization that works with migrant women to fight racism and sexism, was participating in an action proposed by Maria Galindo and Danitza Luna (from the Bolivian collective Mujeres Creando) in the square where the event was taking place, outdoors. It consisted of writing “nuestra venganza es ser felices” [“our revenge is to be happy”] on the walls with washable paint. According to Pêdra, “a tall, blonde, white man started a series of verbal attacks,” which ended up in widespread confusion involving the Austrian police. Since the event was legally backed, the man who started the quarrel saw himself cornered and tried to apologize. Faced with that, the police tried to appease the spirits and “stated, in one of the conferences, that what caused the trouble was the fact that the women didn’t speak German well.”[32]

I remember a discussion we had over Facebook, when Pêdra was already living in Berlin for three years, and s/he talked about the satisfaction of defending herself from the accusations of a German man responding in fluent German for the very first time. Apparently, being resourceful in a language is the condition sine qua non for a migrant person to acquire the status of subject. However, if we consider the position of the Austrian police towards migrant women, we can easily realize how a hierarchy is constructed, based on representing the appropriation of a native language by a migrant person as necessarily precarious and subaltern. “Deslenguadas,” the migrant speeches manifest a “lengua huérfana,” devoid of country, borderer. Just like the chicano Spanish and the Tex-Mex of Gloria Anzaldúa. A variation of languages, a wild patois cheating on the languages it appropriates, thus engendering new grammars.

Yet, this cheating is not harmonic, because “to live in the borderlands means you… [are] burra” and speak a “bastard language.” Still on the tracks of Anzaldúa, this is how the mestiza needs to fight with her own skin, an internal war that makes the depreciation of one’s language one of the main vectors of disempowerment. We are then back to the mask about which Kilomba wrote, precisely in what concerns the silencing effect materialized by this object. Considering that the mask of non-speechlessness here means the representation of the migrant person’s language as incomprehensible, the linguistic miscegenation as degrading, and, to the limit, of the migrant body as unable to produce an audible voice.

In Verarschung, however, we are less faced with this disempowered subject than with an active speech, capable of mobilizing life powers towards the overcoming of this war of borders, thus making the linguistic miscegenation a weapon to fight its dissidence for the rationality of the nation-state. This way, Pêdra Costa’s asshole comes closer to Anzaldúa’s new mestiza. And her speech gives life to what the latter called the “mestiza consciousness,” to the extent it is placed in-between worlds, mixing apparently contradictory elements, and comprising the ambiguities of a “divergent thought” whose creative energy “keeps breaking down the unitary aspect of each new paradigm.”[33]

Once again, I’d like to suggest a displacement. The same one suggested previously, when I discussed Spivak’s “Can the subaltern speak?” If the author answers negatively to the title question in a more physical than political way, I choose to repeat the movement of sense, yet change the answer to it. Can a mestizo asshole speak? Yes. Maybe not physically (at least if we take the body’s current biopolitical setting), but yes, indeed, in a political sense—and Verarschung is undoubtedly one of the most plausible points to emanate this mestizo speech enunciated by the asshole.


This text was first published in 2014 and is available at Medium.

The references that have non-English sources were translated by us.

[1] Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1999, p. 81.

[2] Grada Kilomba, “The Mask: Colonialism, Memory, Trauma and Decolonization,” in Plantation Memories: Episodes of Everyday Racism, Münster: Unrast, 2010, p. 16.

[3] Walter Mignolo, Epistemic Disobedience, Independent Thought and De-Colonial Freedom, available at <>, accessed on December 14, 2016.

[4] Grada Kilomba, “Who Can Speak: Speaking at the Centre, Decolonizing Knowledge,” op. cit., p. 27.

[5] Esther Newton, “Too Queer for College: Notes on Homophobia 1987,” in Margaret Mead Made Me Gay: Personal Essays, Public Ideas, Durham: Duke University Press Books, 2000, p. 221.

[6] Berenice Bento, “Na escola se aprende que a diferença faz a diferença,” in Revista Estudos Feministas, Florianópolis, 19(2): 336, May-August 2011.

[7] viviane v., “De uma renúncia e de resistências trans anticoloniais,” available at <>, accessed on December 14,2016.

[8] Travesti is a trans-female gender identity politically claimed and widely used in Brazil.

[9] Sales Augusto dos Santos, “Universidades públicas, sistemas de cotas para negros e disputas acadêmico-políticas no Brasil contemporâneo,” in Política & Trabalho — Revista de Ciências Sociais, n. 33, October 2010, p. 65.

[10] Idem, pp. 66-7.

[11] Gayatri Chacravorty Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?,” in Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg (eds.), Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, London: Macmillan, 1988.

[12] Santiago Giraldo, foreword to Gayatri Chacravorty Spivak, “¿Puede hablar el subalterno?”, in Revista Colombiana de Antropologia, v. 39, January-December 2003, p. 298.

[13] Spivak, op. cit., p. 297.

[14] Idem, p. 308.

[15] Ibidem.

[16] Julia Suarez-Krabbe, “Can Europeans be rational?,” in Decolonial Thinking, available at <>, accessed on March 30, 2017.

[17] Information available on the website <>, accessed on December 14, 2016.

[18] Jacques Attali, Noise: The Political Economy of Music, Minneapolis: University of Minessota Press, 1985, p. 4.

[19] Idem, p. 6.

[20] Idem, p. 7.

[21] Fabiane Borges and Hilan Bensusan, “Queer: política sexual do noise,” in Le monde diplomatique, 2008. Available at <>, accessed on March 30, 2017.

[22] Leandra Lambert, “O terceiro som e a diáspora nos interstícios,” in Seminário Vômito e Não –  Caderno de Comunicações, Rio de Janeiro: Azougue, 2012, p. 190.

[23] About [SSEX BBOX]: “The project consists of revealing some of the various sides of sexuality in our time, in different societies and cities like São Paulo, San Francisco, Berlin, and Barcelona.” Available at <>, accessed on December 14, 2016.

[24] Pêdra Costa, “Periferiacentroperiferia,” in Sub — O que há onde ninguém pode enxergar?, 2010, available at <>, accessed on December 14, 2016. Regarding Judith Butler, see her Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, New York: Routledge, 2006.

[25] Pajubá is a slang composed of words ensued from several African dialects mixed with Portuguese words, mostly used by trans* people and followers of Creole Afro-Brazilian religions, the povo de santo.

[26] Verarschung is a colloquial German expression equivalent to “piss-take, put-on, or spoof.”

[27] Beatriz Preciado, Manifiesto contrasexual, Madrid: Opera Prima, 2002.

[28] Beatriz Preciado, “Terror anal,” in Guy Hocquenghem, El deseo homossexual, Santa Cruz de Tenerife: Melusina, 2009, p. 152.

[29] Idem, p. 155.

[30] Pêdra Costa, op cit., 2010.

[31] Paul Preciado, Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era, New York: The Feminist Press at CUNY, p. 93.

[32] Pêdra Costa, “O Corpo Nu, aqui, é o Corpo Imigrante,” in Cena Queer, 2013. Available at <>, accessed on December 14, 2016.

[33] Gloria Anzaldúa, op. cit., p. 102.

Article published on ArtsEverywhere, on March 30th, 2017.