IDENTITIES AND NORMS: HOW TO ACHIEVE THE POTENTIAL OF NOT BEING

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To emancipate human beings we must reevaluate everything we do not consider to be determining factors for constructing identity. Identity is built from traits that act not only as a guide, but also as a cage.

by Valdir de Oliveira Jr. cover image Matthew Stone translated by Pronoia Tradutória

Identity is a branching term that brings with it a flood of concepts and tends to generate heated discussions. Today there a lot of talk about gender identity, but there also are identities linked to social and economic classes, race, consumption, nationality, sexuality, and many others. The term identity permeates these concepts and many others: there is no such thing as a single identity, but instead a puzzle that ends up creating what we call the “SELF”.

What we do not realize, however, is that the “SELF” is not necessarily the real expression of what we are, but instead a systematic creation that relies on several measures that are external to us. In other words, different identities that, whether they are imposed or not, end up segmenting and framing us. It is necessary to understand that identity is built from traits in our “being” that serve not only as a guide, but also as a cage.

Heterosexual norm and identity

One of the greatest materializations of this identity dynamic is represented by heterosexuality and differing sexualities such as homosexuality. Sexual attraction to and romantic interest in an individual of the same sex is usually associated with a homosexual identity, which helps guide the lives of individuals and grants them a sense of community while at the same time limiting them.

Although homosexual people are freed from  the heterosexual norm in their sexual and romantic lives, they still live within the norm, because society is heteronormative.

“I believe that being gay is not identifying with the psychological traits and visible masks of the homosexual, but rather seeking to define and develop a way of life.” – Michel Foucault

How, for instance, is gender-free fashion supposed to exist in a heteronormative society? The gender-free will always run up against the norm, which will never allow it to achieve its real expression. When we talk about fashion or style, we usually forget to ask who has access to these concepts, how these people have access and in what situation they express themselves. As a result, we are faced with collections that in spite of their claim to be gender-free, seem more like costumes from dystopian movies where everything is gray and graceless.

collage moda freegender
Clockwise: Också (Brand); Divergent (Movie); Zara (Brand); Ender’s Game (Movie); Fckt (Brand); The Hunger Games (Movie); Rad Ready to Wear Unisex Collection by Rad Houran (Brand); The Giver (Movie).

It is easy to think that we truly express ourselves when we live inside closed environments where the right to be who we are has already been achieved, like in a group of friends.

Now imagine a person who lives in a poorer neighborhood of the city and decides to use their clothes to express themselves outside the norm and go to a party in a fancier area downtown. They must walk a few blocks to the bus stop, catch another bus, and then maybe take a subway before walking a little farther to get to the party. During this trip where the heterosexual norm prevails, our imaginary person is vulnerable to all kinds of oppression, which causes their expression to differ from the one that is romanticized in articles, advertisements and music videos, but instead is a march for survival. For non-binary people, using a product that they feel is suitable for their identity is not a matter of expression, but of self-preservation.

Adam Lupton
Adam Lupton

That’s when pieces of the identity puzzle start to come up missing. The expression of this identity has limitations that vary from individual to individual and from place to place. To abolish heteronormativity, for example, everything that sustains it would also have to be abolished, including prisons, bathrooms, schools, national borders, and all the countless institutions in which we are confined, and which carry a logic of binary gender and sexuality inside them.

“We act as if being a man or being a woman is actually an internal reality or something that is simply true about us, a fact about us, but actually it’s a phenomenon that is being produced all the time and reproduced all the time, so to say gender is performative is to say that nobody is really one gender from the start.” — Judith Butler

Is emancipation possible in a normative world?

Easy discourse will not do this work. To emancipate human beings it is necessary to reevaluate everything we do not consider a determining factor for the construction of identity.

Let’s consider the example of machismo: how can we destroy the idea that men are superior to women without first rethinking the entire logic of consumption divided into genders and how this consumption is widespread?

As long as the communication directed at men is that of the "alpha male", men will desire to position themselves in the world as strong, emotionless, and violent. To be accepted, they need to emulate what being a man is like.

Men and women are equal; what divides us are stereotypes (gender roles) that are taught and reinforced every day, even before we are born. So how can we expect women or men to not carry out what they learn? And where do these stereotypes come from? In addition to the abovementioned logic of consumption and means of communication, we once again return to the structures where we are located: schools, prisons, borders, labor, classes.

To better understand the confinement in which we live, I will turn to the concept of a body without organs coined by Antonin Artaud and explored by the philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. In summary, this theory explains that from the moment we are born, our organs and our body are given purposes so that we can fit into society and produce what the environment supposedly needs. This leads to the obliteration of everything we could possibly have become, since our wishes and desires and our lives are channeled toward a purpose that ultimately is not ours.

Fernando Vicente
Fernando Vicente

In other words, society steals your body to transform it into a machine for production: production of desires and of mechanical life. In response, the philosophers propose a body without organs, which runs contrary to the organism, and contrary to the instrumentalization of our lives for pre-determined purposes. This body seeks to produce new realities considered unproductive, which challenge the status quo and refuse to be trained.

Bearing this in mind, we can see that self-expression is only possible if we can get rid of all the logic created for our body, if we can be counterproductive and have a body without organs. This means rethinking social and economic classes and how they utilize the logic of work to survive. It means rethinking children’s education so that the logic of gender, which has nothing to do with biology, is not imposed on them. It means ceasing to be speech to be action; ceasing to have transgender people in advertising while they do not appear in leadership positions, ceasing to create sustainable collections that do not pay employees well.

Youth culture and the power of change

The power of change, the power of being an unrestricted body, is in the hands of young men and women; the hunger of today’s youth for revolution is what will give rise to the innovation of bodies, bodies that work to satisfy sensations rather than social purposes, bodies that do not respond to money, time, deadlines, products, or labels, but to pleasures and experiences.

Freedom is only possible if we put aside the anesthetized body that has been imposed upon us. Existence has no end, as used to be thought. It has a medium, and this medium only exists in the essence of what is good for us, whether this means sleeping, swimming, eating, working, traveling, getting intoxicated, having sex, meditating, playing the violin, or spending days on end just contemplating nature.

What is important is escaping from the social logic and routine, seeking new associations for life and reality, and generating intensity for our bodies, exploring new limits. Only then, when our bodies are free from the rules, will we find the confluence of identities (or even the denial of all of them) and live our existential potential, even if this potential is not being. There is power in repose within a society that does not stop. Therefore, only the pursuit of a free body will allow us to emancipate ourselves, but we must always remember that breaking the rules in a society guided by such rules has consequences. So that’s the question: how far would you go to achieve a free body and not be what is expected from you? To the end!

“I am a fanatic lover of liberty, considering it as the unique condition under which intelligence, dignity and human happiness can develop and grow.” – Mikhail Bakunin

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