photo credit: Manzel Bowman
“NEVER AGAIN applaud poems about progress while your people die at the hands of the state
NEVER AGAIN allow people to assert a lack of intersections between experimentation and people of color.
experimentation is fundamentally rooted in blackness and wounded life: they don’t get to tell you otherwise
your body is an experiment.
your memories: an experiment
your life: an experiment
every minute is an experiment in survival
everyday is an experiment toward liberation”
The other day I was minding my own business on the Internet when I found this article:
In this article, Rose Eveleth, a “producer, designer, writer and animator based in Brooklyn who explores how humans tangle with science and technology”, establishes an analogy between her IUD and her RFID microchip. One of them lets her control her fertility and the other one unlocks phones and doors by waving at them.
She explains how the uterine device is never frowned upon, but the RFID microchip implant is looked at with suspicion, as if it was a dystopic device of surveillance: “No one has ever jolted backwards and said, “You have a what in your uterus?” They have at the news of my chip. I call them both cyborg implants, but most people would only consider one of them cyborgian at all.” From then on, she analyses how we think about bodyhacking as the realm of men.
A hormone releasing IUD, according to Eveleth, is the most significant bodyhacking device she uses, because ”(…)the ability to control when I conceive is a power unheard of for thousands of years of human history”, making of her a cyborg. Yet, she says, it is not thought about it as such because it is not a “manly technology”.
(disclaimer: this is not, under any circumstance, a critique of no one’s contraceptive methods. It is a critique, however, of modern gynecology and the agency it enables, as well as the systematic erasure of Black and Indigenous knowledges)
The notion of modern gynecology being the pinnacle of fertility management is racist, erasing, colonial and patriarchal. Womxn have been in control of their fertility since the dawn of times. Womxn have been in control of their fertility much more often, in societies that worship khunt, where khunt epistemologies are allowed to cell divide in the womb of a fearless Black mother. This determinist frame of mind about fertility management as a 21st century western scientific prowess purposefully omits that modern gynecology (the praxis, the tools, the protocols, the language) was born as a tool to ensure seamless production of forced labourers, and is intimately linked with colonialism, slavery and settler capitalism.
If we are examining how technology and how we think about it is oppressive, it seems ridiculous to stop at the gender reading and further a blurry notion that biohackers have been around us under the shape of the womxn on the right side of the barbed wire fence safeguarded by the extractive pharmaceutical complex, that have an IUD.
The invention of modern gynecology, such as practiced today in mainstream medical spaces, rests on the thorough study of how to make Black and indigenous womxn produce and reproduce in captivity, be it physical and/or institutional. Sexual and reproductive trauma, intently caused by the settler, was then dissected, explained and validated scientifically in medical plantations. To a great extent, modern gynecology still exists traumatically embedded in public hospitals, reservations, free clinics, prisons, detention camps, schools, etc. Weather it is forced sterilisation, forced STD/STI inoculation, non consensual drug testing, criminalisation of abortion, discriminatory laws, and inadequate social protection, gynecological violence still regulates Black and Indigenous womxn’s bodies. This traumatic inheritance also regulates motherhood on a larger level, and the whole conceptualisation of the womb as an inherently painful space. Pain is deemed normal through the lense of modern gynecology, be it during the menses, birthing, going through menopause, and all over an active sexual life.
Stating that the unseen bodyhackers are the womxn that have a copper IUD is a way of not so subtly erasing the history of gynecological torture and sexual warfare on Black and indigenous womxn. It is also an unforgivable act of erasure of the long herstory of fertility management, contraceptive, and abortive knowledge Black and Indigenous womxn have protected and transmitted from the margins. These particular knowledges have been purposefully burnt, its recipients persecuted and hunted down, for economic reasons: an autonomous womxn in control of her fertility does not a good slave make.
If we are talking about cyborg capacities and biohackers, we could for example talk about Black womxn forced to birth yearly offspring for 20 years, birthing in the field and continuing to work on the field, still dancing to drums and receiving orixás that safeguarded their health. How did they survive? And how did they not? We can mention Mammies that lived until 125 years old to tell the story of how they protected their 30 plus year forcibly extracted milk: when breast feeding the master’s children they called upon loa to slow down the oxytocin and prolactin release, so coming back to their own lactating children they still had some of the thick milk that was otherwise destined to strengthen white babies.
Can we talk about the descendants of the settlers in places of power, fed with Black breast milk, as a form of bio-hacking too? Can we talk about Harriet Tubman and her invisibility cloak, or how she used her Black womxn embodiment -deemed illiterate, submissive, and disabled- serving at the master’s table, to develop a cross-state abolitionist network? Can we discuss Blackness as a superpower? And can we formulate why the beyond-human character popularised for Black narratives is a less-than-human threatening personhood, the Zombie? Why is the cyborg white? Ain’t I a superhuman?
Moving on and around, let’s talk about the use of phytohormones to hack gender by non binary indigeneity. We could be talking about the practice of burying the placenta/mxnstrual blood near the gardens of the village. The DNA contained in the endometrial tissue is absorbed by the ground, making several plants customise their properties to respond to the needs of this DNA. This ensures food sovereignty and unites all the members of the community on a cellular level as they eat the food customised to best feed the mothers of the clan.
Maybe also let’s mention how mxnstruating people living in physical proximity synchronise their cycles? What about the womb as a bodyhacking technology? Can this lead us to talk about the practice of co-mothering by mutualizing breast-milk amongst the clan’s lactating children as a social bonding rite? The term “sisterhood” becomes much more concrete when you have received care and breast milk from several people, building empathetic pathways transversally across the community. Thinking about this could lead us to remember a consensual Mammie: sharing her breast milk as a way to build kinship and alliances.
Let me remind you, Rose Eveleth from Brooklyn, that before your ancestors went through a mutation that made them white, there were matriarchs that build their progeny, or their lack of, in consent from the womb to their graves. They consented sexual encounters with a partner of their choice, they asked their community and themselves if now was the right time to bring forth life, and then they nested the consensual foetus in their pleasurable womb, until it came out consensually -orgasmically- to further a life based on thriving, in symbiosis with nature.
Do not try to fool yourself and us telling us that your IUD brings you “freedom”, adopting yet another level of colonial imagination to how we understand khunt. Your IUD was built on our back. You have a dystopian surveillance device sunk in your womb. The analogy between your RFID microchip and your hormone releasing IUD is sadly accurate. They are both cyborgian. But this article misses an entire and very important point: they are both surveillance devices, built on the back of Black and Indigenous womxn, serving a (re)productive capitalist agenda, and constituting an extractive cyborg body that I reject.
This particular use of the cyborgian status by the colonial imagination, disengaged from any racial/colonial/climate justice critical reading, is part of the oppressive epistemologies that reinforce white supremacist patriarchy. You cannot address cyborg as male without addressing it as white, cis-gender, able and extractive. Cyborg personhood was born from a critical impulse, as a way to re-think rights based on personhood rather than “humanity”. This critical impulse of enlarging who gets to be considered a person, also present in animal rights, companion species manifestos, dis/ability studies, and queer theory, was fueled, modeled and led by Black and Indigenous womxn’s organised resistance, yet we never see cyborgs as a Black or Indigenous womxn, neuro-atypical folx, non-human people, etc.
Weather cyborg personhood is presented as something critical or uncritical, it is always dystopian when it is not conceived intersectionally all the way to inter-species alliances. The so called post-colonial, post racial, gentrifying, RFID microchip, hormone releasing IUD carrying human body who is cut from the cycles is not the body I aspire to bring forth. It’s not the body of progress. It’s not the body of freedom. It’s not the body of choice. It’s not the default body. It’s not the cyborg body that I imagine when talking about Black futurities. And it certainly is not the cyborg body that I inherited.