CARTOGRAPHY OF VULNERABILITY
If we really think about vulnerability during the pandemic period of COVID-19, we should say that this feeling is widespread. Every single person feels vulnerable to the virus. It is a sort of becoming trans* of the world. However, it is necessary to sketch out a cartography of vulnerability in Latin America. Because if the tragedy is widespread, it affects mostly certain kinds of people. So, to get to the point, in Latin America everyone is more or less exposed, but trans* people are more at risk, and it is possible to understand this through the concepts of a disciplinary society, a society of control and the pharmacopornographic society.
Michel Foucault, in his book Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, wrote not just one history of the prison, but a genealogy of the modern subject as it was created by multiple forms of discipline. Foucault understood society as a disciplinary society and after Foucault, Gilles Deleuze went further. Deleuze understood society as a society of control.
We are now between these two kinds of society. We dwell in the ruins of the disciplinary society, but we have started to live in the society of control and the pharmacopornographic era. The first society should be understood as an enclosure society, so, we are talking about spaces like the family, school, factory, hospital and prison. All of these places are environments of discipline. They apprehend the subject as a docile body or a mold to be built and rebuilt with disciplinary technologies of the self.
When we think of the society of control, the question is not just of discipline in environments of enclosure, but also of control over open environments. Control is made by computers, by surveillance and big data. The individual is not one kind of mold anymore, but she is controlled and formed by modulation. However, what should be pointed out is that every single place in a disciplinary society or in a control society is dangerous for trans people, even more so in this pandemic crisis.
Let us remember that the family is an unsafe place, because it is a place of violence. The factory or the corporation is also a problematic environment for trans people to enter, because of the strong manacles of prejudice, so trans people usually are underemployed or work on the streets as sex workers - both possibilities are even worse in the pandemic crisis. Hospitals or prisons, most of the time, do not even recognize the trans experience or, at the legal level, the trans identity.
In return, the apparatus of the society of control is not used in pro of trans people, but rather to exclude them and to create a normalization founded upon a confessional matrix or a heterosexual matrix (1). For example, in Peru and Panamá during the quarantine, a policy was established forbidding men and women from going out on the same day. It caused brutal police violence when trans people were on the streets. Moreover, this violence was within the law, it was an institutionalized violence and redistributed by the State.
In the essay La realidad de mujeres transexuales y sus movimientos sociales en Sudamérica en tiempos de covid-19, we can see how the State works by excluding trans people. The struggle to pass the Gender Identity law - which would allow individuals to change their name and gender in national registries, as well as receive medical support for transitioning - in Latin America is just an example of how the relationship of the State to queer and trans activism is difficult. So, even this fundamental right is not recognized in all Latin American countries. The law is just the tip of the iceberg, once we realize how institutions and politicians make the distinction between which lives are valuable and which ones are not, we could say that there is an apparatus of transphagy in the Brazilian society.
Consequently, our next theoretical step is to understand this apparatus of transphagy, it is to understand the systemic violence against trans people or against any single minority. In the case of trans people it is furthermore necessary to say that vulnerability is not an essential attribute or an identity, but just a social condition at this moment, since the trans experience should be understood also as a potency constrained (2).
However, our background is not just the disciplinary society, the control society and the pharmacopornographic society. It is also the idea of a sort of sadean neoliberalism. This sadean or predatory neoliberalism is a device of psychic mutation. It produces the emergence of the microentrepreneur of the self and his soul crafted by a theology of prosperity.
This last topic is potent in helping us understand the current politics in the Brazilian context, it is potent in helping us understand the bolsonarism and his toxic-subjectivities: 1) the Viagra-subject, the relation between Viagra and masculinity/virility; 2) and also the Chloroquine-subject, the relation between Chloroquine and politics/religion.
Paul Beatriz Preciado is the theorist of the pharmacopornographic society. When Preciado analyzes the disciplinary society (Foucault) and the control society (Deleuze), he tries to go further and comes up with a complex notion in order to understand the vicissitudes of the contemporary world. Hence, the first step is to clarify what this concept brings within itself, so that it can be moved to another point in order to produce a viagrology, in other words, a way to understand the relation between the Viagra-subject and a type of masculinity/virility (3).
Michel Foucault on one hand wrote about disciplinary capitalism and how it emphasizes the body of the individual, the disciplinary society and how it changes the docile body; but on the other hand, he also wrote about biopower and how it emphasizes the body as the body of the species. So, with biopower there is an art of governing life, understanding the population, statistical tables and demographic calculations. There is, for Foucault and Preciado, a centrality of sex and sexuality in the modern art of government. It is possible to comprehend a critique of the techniques of normalizing sexual identity and the standardization of life.
What Preciado points out is a little different from what Foucault and Deleuze do, as he writes about a pharmacopornographic way of governing life, particularly after the Second World War. Preciado identifies in the pharmacopornographic era or in technocapitalism a strong relation between biotechnologies (pharmacos) and global media/semiotic-technologies (pornography).
The first point – biotechnologies – shows us a vast laboratory for molding the body, sex and sexuality. The biotechnologies or the necropolitical technologies in the Second World War and Cold War are methods for controlling sexual subjectivities. It should be understood that every technology of war is probably going to be popularized and will become part of our daily lives. Our mobiles are great examples, as we can find inside them technologies of war such as the Internet or GPS (Global Positioning System). But, let us remember also that sexual surgeries or cosmetic surgeries were popularized for a middle-class consumer after the war. If in the beginning this sort of technique was to recover a body wounded by the war, today it is to change or to enhance the body (4) to a better life in a normalizing society. Nowadays body modification is a simple process done quite regularly.
The second point – global media/pornography – shows us how pornography is a dominant visual technology in pharmacopornographic era. Preciado highlights two main examples of this semiotic technology:
1) Hugh Hefner founded the first porn magazine to be sold at newspaper stands in 1957. He created Playboy which portrayed Marylin Monroe on its first cover;
2) and Gerard Damiano produced the movie Deep Throat in 1975. It was widely commercialized in North America. At the same time, the pharmaceutical industry was searching for ways of triggering erections and sexual responses. What Preciado indicates is a sort of toxic-pornographic subjectivity when the technoscientific industry transforms depression into Prozac, fertility/sterility into the Pill, and also, masculinity into testosterone or Sildenafil. It is the last pharmaco – commercialized as Viagra by Pfizer laboratories since 1988 – that should be analyzed specially. Viagra lets us go straight to the notion of masculinity/virility and how it is used as a gender performance tool with a pharmacopolitical value.
Gender should not be understood as natural/innate or something in an essential sense because gender is a social-construction and the effect of systems of power and knowledge. Butler in Gender Trouble comprehends gender as stylization and repetition of acts. We call it technological performativity. However, what we are calling technological performativity is a rigid regulatory frame. One important conclusion of it is to see the construction of a “natural” and then an “unnatural” identity. The first is the heteronormative model. The second is an error in the model. The first is related to the pharmacomasculinity and his hegemonic model the Viagra-subject. The second, is every single masculinity (male or female) created in relation to or outside of this matrix (5).
However, what queer theory points us towards is the impossibility of a true gender identity (hetero, homo, trans etc.). If gender/identity is produced by technological performativity, then there is not a true gender, in other words, there is nothing which we should call “natural” or “unnatural”. The stylization of the body is produced by this technology, by those acts repeated over and over again.
Hence, when we think about Bolsonaro, we are pointing at two things: 1) his gender is produced by this technological performativity; 2) and his masculinity/virility is a sort of pharmacomasculinity and it is used as a pharmacopolitical value. In both points, nothing is understood as natural or innate. Bolsonaro uses both elements as a way of doing politics. About his gender: he is aligned to the heterosexual matrix. About his masculinity: he tries to show up and show off a political masculinity as an instrument of reactionary union.
In one speech Bolsonaro used a neologism in Portuguese to address, at the same time, politics and masculinity/virility. The word used by Bolsonaro is “imbrochável”. This neologism in English is something close to “unlimpable”. Bolsonaro says: “In politics I’m unlimpable! But not only in politics, I have a 9-years-old daughter, and I made her with no supplements”. Despite this, the journalist Thaís Oyama in her book, Tormenta, wrote about Bolsonaro’s use of Tadalafil – commercialized as Cialis – a drug that is prescribed for sexual dysfunction.
Hence, Cialis works in two ways: the first is gender as a performance for the sake of a political argument; the second is also gender as a performance for the production of an ideal of virility. Viagrology is an understanding of masculinity/virility production as a pharmacopolitical value and a pharmacopolitical ideal. In both elements we can see the invention of this Viagra-subject.
When the gap between Bolsonaro’s pharmacomasculinity and his speech come forth, it is clear that he knows, in a certain way, what gender performance is as queer theory understands it. He is not talking about his gender/masculinity as a true experience, a putative essence of masculinity. There is no such thing as true gender or true masculinity and Bolsonaro used both (gender and masculinity) as a political construct. As much as Drag plays with gender roles, Bolsonaro plays with masculinity/virility.
Finally, what does it mean to be “unlimpable” in politics? It is the affirmation of the Brazilian ideal of the nuclear family as the primary unit of society. The nuclear family is constituted by a father, a mother and their children. Every person in this elementary family has their own place. The father, with physical and economical power in the public space; the mother, in silence in the domestic space; the children, represent the future reproduction of this nuclear cell. The conjugal family is also profoundly religious, extremely racist (do not accept interracial relationships) and strongly classist (do not accept cross-class relationships).
The sociologist and anthropologist Gilberto Freyre in his work The Master and the Slaves: a Study in the Development of Brazilian Civilization shows us an old saying that unifies in one phrase our legacy of religiosity, racism and classism: “white woman for marriage, mulatto woman for a fuck, negro woman for work”. Hence, the traditional family is the patriarchal family which Bolsonaro fights for. About this father-figure’s family, there is a traditional relation between him and the Father of the Nation (politics) and God the Father (religion). Politicians in the right-wing spectrum usually know quite well how to manipulate these images.
When we think about the pharmacopolitical use of chloroquine by Bolsonaro, we enter into some elements of Brazilian culture related to religion. These elements are: 1) Brazilian Christofascism; 2) and the religious microentrepreneur of the self. Moreover, both components, in our view, are profoundly related and characterize what we can call a Chloroquine-subject.
In view of this situation, we should approach Fábio Py’s (2020) concept of Brazilian Christofascism. Py writes that the term “Christofascism” was used by Dorothee Solle to describe two historical moments. The first is the relations of members of the Nationalsozialistische Deutsch Arbeiterpartei (the Nazi party) within Christian churches. The second is the relationship of white supremacist groups in the USA with an authoritarian political theology.
Hence, Py thinks about a Brazilian christofascism when he sees the function of religion in Bolsonaro’s government. But he restructures his concept with questions about the oppressive theology linked to coloniality, fascism understood as political machinery used to create the constitution’s state of exception, and the growth of authoritarian governments in South America, evoking Christian discourse to impose ultraliberal agendas. In addition to Py’s concept, what we highlight is the Brazilian christofascism linked to the microentrepreneur of the self.
In this apocalyptic environment of coronavirus, it is possible to see the emergence of Brazilian Christofascism and the new Chloroquine-subject, the pharmacoenterpreneur of the self. At this moment, we understand the economy as an “ethical horizon”, as a process of subjectivation, and labor as ‘working on the self’. In sadean neoliberalism, this phenomenon takes the form of the microentrepreneur of the self. This microentrepreneur puts the logic of the enterprise into his personal life. He makes himself an enterprise.
When the individual is produced as an enterprise two things result: 1) a new kind of individualism; 2) the brutal absence of alterity. These two characteristics are important, since they display the ways bolsonarism understands mortality under the context of the pandemic.
What is perceived in bolsonarism is sometimes a sort of indifference to others, and at other times a sadistic pleasure in jumping into the disease; we perceive sometimes complete apathy, and at other times the sadistic desire for contact. In fact, we can see this in bolsonarism because he understands himself as a sadean neoliberal monad. Consequently, there is no process of identification, neither mourning nor melancholia. The enterprise does not mourn his employees but replaces them.
Nevertheless, the microentrepreneur of the self is also connected with a theology of prosperity. So, we can understand the hard-core of bolsonarism as an individual with faith in business (positive thinking) and faith in the gospel of success (wishful thinking). Both sides of this microentrepreneur prefer her beliefs and illusions rather than rationality and reality. The bolsonarists are not political animals, but faith-based animals. This faith lets us deep inside of the Chloroquine case.
In Brazil there is an institutional denialism of COVID-19, and when there is an affirmation of it, the solution is a cocktail of chloroquine mixed with religion. There is a polarized opposition between the federal government (specifically President Bolsonaro) associated with religion and the municipal governments. The federal government and religious groups oscillate between denialism and misinformation (at one point, Bolsonaro said that COVID-19 was “just the sniffles” and after it he linked the vaccine with the possibility of being infected with HIV/Aids); some clear-headed municipal governments try to deal with the pandemic gazing at global health leaders and the World Health Organization (WHO).
While in Europe the political topic is a critique of authoritarian form of public health governance, in Brazil President Bolsonaro refuses to use the authority of the state to enforce lockdowns. He has made a sort of micro-politic of the unknown, a micro-politic of ignorance. This micro-politic of the unknown is governance without government. Hence, the solution for the coronavirus is not aligned with strong measures of politics, with attention to the WHO or Public Health, but with the religious microentrepreneur of the self and his faith.
In this context the pharmaco chloroquine is not just a medical question, but, above all, it is a religious question. COVID-19 has been seen as a spiritual battle, good against the evil, prayers against its enemies. It is just a matter of how strong your faith is: the faith of the religious man and the faith of the businessman. So, it does not matter if it is chloroquine or m&m’s chocolate. The point is that with your faith you can have health and wealth. At this moment, we can understand this micro-politic of the unknown as related to religion and how it frames a public issue as an individual one. The bolsonarism is this becoming Viagra-subject (pharmacomasculinity) and also this becoming Chloroquine-subject (pharmacoreligiosity).
1 - When we highlight the heterosexual matrix the main point is not the sexual practice but the understanding of heterosexuality as a political regime. The question is not about the sexual practice in one’s intimacy but, for example, how heterosexuality comes up in the law, in medicine, in pedagogy etc. It is also should be understood as Butler calls it, a “grid of cultural intelligibility,” where sexes, genders and desires are maintained and naturalized under a binary heterosexual logic. Moreover, the heterosexual matrix is the compulsory order of sex, gender and desire.
2 - The work by the psychoanalyst Eduardo Leal Cunha goes in this direction. He thinks about the pure potency of trans experience (2020).
3 - We are using the notion of masculinity/virility, but it should be clarified in a simple conceptual distinction. When we think about the difference between masculinity and virility it is necessary to emphasize succinctly that the first is a norm and the second is an ideal. Also, when it is used the notion of masculinity we are not just talking about men, because we can think of a female masculinity – as in Judith Halberstam’s work – or even a pharmaco female masculinity. In politics it is easy to see the way norms appear to be against women, how women must perform a certain kind of masculinity to join in the political game. The heterosexuality in politics is the norm and the deviation from this matrix is understood as unusual or a risk for the sane political body, a body usually sexualized as heterosexual and racialized as white.
4 - The change between recovery and enhancement can be clearly seen through the Brazilian plastic surgeon Ivo Pitanguy (1926 – 2016). He used to treat burn victims at first and afterwards he started to think about how appearance was critical to living, therefore plastic surgeries changed from recovery to enhancing bodies with beauty.
5 - We are not assuming a romantic perspective of the “abnormal” or the “unnatural”. The body that does not fit in the system is not an innate revolutionary openness to freedom. It might be understood through history how the “abnormal”, sometimes, aligns with oppressive systems. Moreover, Paulo Freire reminds us, in his seminal text Pedagogy of the Oppressed, that almost always the oppressed have a “fear of freedom”, instead of striving for liberation, they tend themselves to become oppressors or a sort of “sub-oppressor''. The oppressed who is adapted to a structure of domination must discover their own freedom in order to emerge as a new person (neither oppressor nor the oppressed, neither victim nor executioner).
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Alessandra Mawu Defendi Oliveira is from Foz do Iguaçu, Paraná, Brazil. She is an undergraduate student in Anthropology at the University for Latin American Integration (UNILA). She integrates the editorial board of the Boletim Kultrun (https://www.boletimkultrun.com/). The main research field is transfeminism, social movements, symbolic anthropology, colonialism and narratives.
Rafael Leopoldo is a Brazilian researcher and essayist from Minas Gerais. He holds a master’s degree in Psychology at the Federal University of Juiz de Fora (UFJF). He is the author of “Tango: o baile dos corpos dóceis” (2019, Letramento), “Cartografia do Pensamento Queer” (2020, Devires) and “Transhumanismo: por uma antropologia do futuro” (2021, Dialética).