theory and practice: transnational conversations on gender and sexuality

Theory and Practice (TAP) features scholars and activists from around the world who can speak with one another about ideas of gender and sexuality from both East and West. This series is in collaboration with the Centre for Studies in Gender and Sexuality, New York University, U.S. and brings together a range of thinkers to address global questions of politics, rhetoric and history. The series is aimed at TAP-ing into critical and creative energies from around the world.

Bodies and Spaces

The webinar focussed on Bodies and Spaces. Urban spaces dictate the parameters of access and the spatial demarcations of desire in relation to bodies, sex and sexuality. What used to be a cruising site at a park in New Delhi is now a national monument with gated entries and exits, and well-manicured lawns. What used to be pornographic theatres in New York from the 60s to the 90s are now morally sanitized spaces. How do bodies and spaces map onto one another in terms of moral and sexual hygiene? What is a sanitary space in the metropolis, and whose is a healthy body? 

The Covid-19 pandemic has not only foregrounded the question of what counts as a diseased body, but it has also circumscribed which bodies can go where. This panel will think about these spatial frameworks within which bodies find themselves in the world today, and ask about the histories that have gone into bringing us here. For this session, we were joined by Svati Shah, who is an Associate Professor of Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies at University of Massachusetts Amherst, and Dhiren Borisa, who is an Assistant Professor at O.P. Jindal Global University, India.

Crisis Ordinariness

A relation of cruel optimism exists when something you desire is actually an obstacle to your flourishing.” So writes feminist/queer scholar Lauren Berlant in the opening of their groundbreaking book Cruel Optimism. On the tenth anniversary of its publication, and in the wake of Berlant’s untimely passing, this panel invites scholars from India, Hong Kong, the US, and the UK to reflect on the meaning and relevance of “cruel optimism” in a transnational frame. Berlant incisively analyzes the exhaustion of life under late capitalism within liberal democracies, and the toxic effects of “good life fantasies” within the context of precarity that marks the present moment.

How do Berlant’s trenchant critiques of psychic attachments in the context of the ordinariness of crisis resonate today both within and beyond the borders of the US and Europe, in light of the devastations wrought by the multiple and converging crises of climate catastrophe, global pandemics, unfettered capitalism, and the entrenchment of authoritarian regimes? For this session, we were joined by Brinda Bose, Professor at the Centre for English Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi; María Josefina Saldaña-Portillo, affiliated with the Social & Cultural Analysis Department & the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at NYU & Alvin Wong, Assistant Professor in Comparative Literature at the University of Hong Kong.

(Trans-) Bodies and Cultures

This webinar focused on questions related to the umbrella term of ‘trans’ with respect to sexualities, cultures and borders. ‘Trans-,’ as a prefix suggests movement and boundary-crossing. Most productively, it has also come to denote the mobility and transitions across genders and sexualities. How can we think about trans-ness trans-nationally and trans-culturally? 

The panel focused on multiple ways of thinking about cross-border embodiments and movements through gender and sexuality by putting US and Indic understandings of transgendered and transsexual lives in conversation with one another. The session featured C. Riley Snorton, Anindya Hajra and Sayan Bhattacharya

Bodies, Sexualities, and the Law

This webinar focused on questions related to the tensions between bodies, sexualities and the law. Any expression of desire and sexuality, in theory and lived experiences, across time and culture, is haunted by the spectre of the law. The laws, supported by the socio-political enforcement of stringent norms, constantly produce bodies and sexualities that become “deviant” and “undesirable.” The most recent manifestations of such laws include one against cross-religious desire in India (commonly referred to as “love jihad”), and the ongoing struggle against abortion bans, and for transgender rights, in the U.S.

At the same time, there has also been an expansion of legal recognition to previously marginalized groups, such as the decriminalization of homosexuality in 2018, and the 2014 judgement regarding transgender persons, in India, and the recent recognition of same-sex marriage in the U.S. How do we make sense of these struggles with the law? This session featured Flavia Agnes, Dean Spade and Rahul Rao.

Colonialism, Sex, Disease

This webinar focused on questions  related to the complex intermeshings of colonialism and sex in relation to the notion of disease. Given the cultural politics surrounding Covid-19 – the racialized health disparities it lays bare, the anxieties around intimacy and contact that it generates – this session sought to provide a longer historical arc through which to view the pandemic crisis. We explored the complex ways in which understandings of health, disease and contagion have been inextricable from anxieties around race and sex, and the sex of the ‘other’ in particular. 

In doing so, we contextualized the pandemic crisis and traced its pre-history to earlier moments of cultural anxiety around race, sex, disease and contagion. The session featured Sadia Abbas, Charu Gupta and Nayan Shah in conversation. 

Engendering Caste, Sexualizing Race

This webinar focused on questions around Engendering Caste, Sexualizing Race. Race and caste have been described both as being similar and dissimilar. What the two structures share are long histories of violence that have also been gendered and sexualized. Simultaneously effeminised and hyper-masculinised, both caste and race have made evident the illogics of their governing structures. 

This session addressed the broad and complex intersections among caste, race, gender and sex as these concepts continue to inform the cultures and politics of our time. The session featured Sameena Dalwai, Sumit Baudh and Thenmozhi Soundarajan in conversation.