Bodies in the Borderlands: Gloria Anzaldua's and David Wojnarowicz's Mobility Machines

By Ramlow, Todd R. | MELUS, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview

Bodies in the Borderlands: Gloria Anzaldua's and David Wojnarowicz's Mobility Machines


Ramlow, Todd R., MELUS


In "Chicana tejana lesbian-feminist poet and fiction writer" Gloria Anzaldua's classic work of border(lands) theory, Borderlands/La Frontera, she remarks that "[t]he work of the mestiza consciousness is to break down the subject-object duality that keeps her a prisoner and to show in the flesh and through the images in her work how duality is transcended" (80). (1) Like Anzaldua's mestiza consciousness, disability studies and queer theory have been motivated by this critique of the binary discourses and social policies that condition subjectivity and structure society. But all these fields go further than mere critique. To use Anzaldua's words, one of the radical possibilities of mestiza consciousness, disability studies, and queer theory, is that all show "how duality is transcended," how we might create discourses that dismantle the disciplinary entanglements of racism, heteronormativity, and compulsory able-bodiedness. (2)

I take this critique of dualism as a starting point for a return to Anzaldua's figure and politics of the "borderlands"; more specifically, I consider how these liminal spaces/states might produce a new consciousness that undermines the normative structure and coherence of both sides of the binary. I complicate Anzaldua's border theory by examining the work of artist and AIDS activist David Wojnarowicz, whose own borderlands extend Anzaldua's to encompass the liminal spaces between dominant (white, class-privileged, heteronormative) culture and mainstream (white, class-privileged, lesbian, and gay) sexual minority cultures, among others.

I bring Wojnarowicz and Anzaldua together through border theory, queer theory, and disability studies for several reasons. First, they share an alliance in terms of sexuality and disability. Throughout Anzaldua's Borderlands/La Frontera and Wojnorowicz's Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration, both authors detail their lives on the sexual periphery and, as we shall see, both authors' experiences of sexual difference are tied to larger notions of bodily difference that connect to the work of disability studies and activism. Second, their connection to disability is not merely one of metaphor or political coalition. When Anzaldua died of "diabetes related complications" on May 15, 2004, she was certainly intimate with long-term illness, chronic pain, and disability, just as Wojnarowicz was before he died of AIDS related illnesses on July 22, 1992. (3) Wojnarowicz, in particular, dealt explicitly with disability in regards to HIV/AIDS throughout his visual arts and writings. In Close to the Knives Wojnarowicz details the disabilities brought on by AIDS in his descriptions of the death of his mentor and former lover Peter Hujar; this anticipates Wojnarowicz's own illness and disability, and the text ends with an increasingly disabled David haunted by Hujar's death. Third, despite, or perhaps because of, their vast differences of life, identity, and embodiment, bringing Anzaldua and Wojnarowicz together through the conjunction of border theory, queer theory, and disability studies will enact and demonstrate the possibility of precisely the kinds of alliance across, through, and within the borderlands that Anzaldua calls for in Borderlands/La Frontera.

A seemingly unlikely, certainly non-Latina/o, ally, Wojnarowicz's life in an abstracted borderlands fulfills Anzaldua's assertion that "[w]e have come to realize that we are not alone in our struggles nor separate nor autonomous but that we--white black straight queer female male--are connected and interdependent" ("Forward" iv). (4) The life and work of Wojnarowicz amply demonstrates the sort of alliance building, or "bridging," called for in Anzaldua's text, as well as the two radical anthologies that bookend it. (5) Through the use of border theory, queer theory, and disability studies I show how both artists/activists engage in an ongoing and mobile revisioning of subjectivity, consciousness, and embodiment through their experiences of the borderlands. …

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