Co-Presenters Pris Nasrat, Communications and Ava Kim, English
Pris Nasrat (Annenberg School of Communication)
Performing Indecency: Interruptions of Orientalized Dancing in Coney Island Courtrooms
Within the United States, the coochee-coochee dance grew to fame and notoriety at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition at the “A Street in Cairo” exhibit which placed it midway along a spatio-temporal mapping of white fantasies of “cultural progress.” After the close of the fair it spread to New York and other cities. During one trial of dancers charged with immoral and indecent conduct a policeman performed a repetition of the dance. The courtroom became temporarily transformed into a Coney Island Oriental theatre and the courtroom proceedings were interrupted to allow for raucous responses. This dancing detective’s courtroom performance of Orientalized dance sets the stage to examine a plurality of late 19th Century constructions of gender, race, and sexuality in conversation with the growing body of works examining histories of sexuality in cross-cultural contexts. Through queer reading of the public discourse of carnivalesque reversal around the policing and performance of the dance by dancers of different race and gender I reveal a contradictory set of audience responses. These include a variety of white masculinities on display, and how the moral register shifts with different women performers, and how this points to limits in how performances by racialized dancers can be read as orientalist through considering the ambiguities of ethnic drag. The repeated performances that are seen through the Coney Island courtroom-stage create a rich spectacle to analyze how moral policing is racialized and gendered in the United States at the end of the nineteenth century.
Ava Kim (Department of English)
An Improper Grief: Transitional Justice and Trans Opacity in Sebastián Lelio’s Una mujer fantástica
This essay, taken from a chapter of my dissertation, analyzes two seemingly disparate uses of “transition”: first, to describe a person’s shift from one gender to another, and second, to narrate a nation’s political change through key terms like “democratization” and “development.” Rarely considered together, these invocations of transition form a unified history of state management from the 1970s to the present, masking neoliberal violence and promoting one “proper” path to prosperity for both individuals and nations. In “An Improper Grief,” I argue that trans protagonist Marina Vidal in Sebastián Lelio’s film, Una mujer fantástica, reformulates grief over the death of her lover to reject narratives of democratization in Chile. Instead, Vidal connects state kidnappings under Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship (1973-1990) to ongoing violence against trans people. Ultimately, the film shifts safety away from passing as cisgender to an alternative form of safety in ambiguity and presenting as multiple genders in different spaces. Inspired by Édouard Glissant’s notion of opacity, I describe these strategies of ambiguity as a “trans opacity,” a set of tactics that combat imperialism by prioritizing material support for the nation’s most vulnerable populations.