Body + a million
This article: written, read, edited, uploaded on to the internet, heard using assistive software, converted into slides for Instagram and LinkedIn, by Body.
Each activity: undertaken by Body, is being undertaken through that Body, by a family of bodies, millions of individual bodies in one. That is a planet sized Body plus one.
Those eyes and ears, the brain, nervous system, hands, fingers, the butt in the chair or lounging in bed, the penis clutched by the one who can’t aim straight, spine, breasts pushed up with socks in the bra. Each and every cell out of over 30 trillion in the human body (more about this ahead), DNA, “a molecule that carries genetic information”, a protein study that traced Homo antecessor back to 800,000 years ago, just these, are the consequence of the bodies of biological fathers and mothers from a million years ago, and mitochondrial Eve. About mitochondrial Eve, no, not an individual: “a “mitochondrial Eve” refers to mitochondrial DNA”, and even more interesting, “the single cell organism that is our oldest ancestor engulfed another bacteria, and eventually the two slowly developed a symbiotic relationship that continues to this day. That bacteria became the first mitochondria.” By no stretch of the imagination can anyone remember that experience, but it is a part of an ancient history of the body. It counts.
Genealogical mapping by scientists from Oxford, MIT and Harvard has produced a tree of 27 million ancestors tracing human evolution and migration back one million years. Anthony Wilder Wohns, who led this study says: “These ancestors lived up to and over 1 million years ago”, and so, “bits of our genome have been inherited from individuals who we wouldn’t recognize as modern humans.” Going back a bit further, Homo erectus in “Africa’s limited fossil record around 2 million years ago” is “thought to be a human ancestor”
Did any part of these eyes and ears look at or hear a dinosaur, or live on a planet that still had Pangaea? Does this genetic inheritance include memories we do not consciously access of night skies, huddled around a fire with mother or mate, child or sibling, or orphaned wolf-cub, a thousand or perhaps a million years before WhatsApp and Sheru, or Dusty, the dog?
Can anyone separate what of an individual body is also that, of a million other bodies, biologically? For a moment, play devil’s advocate and ask, in the emphasis on ownership understood as this-is-mine, are we losing the value inherent to this-is-ours?
And, is biology the only space inhabited by Body and the million bodies in one?
Body, Person and Sexuality
Body. Pick any. Give it what shape and features you will. Choose numbers of body parts, remove an organ, graft something, add a scar, insert a microchip, colour it black, white or brown, age it, shave-pierce-tattoo it. Bathe it, feed, clothe, exercise it. Send it to school, the park, office, beach, metro station.
- Add a profession, an income group, a social setting, a cultural background, political affiliation, religious beliefs, educational level. Then sprinkle on spiritual seeking, emotional state, intellectual activity, mood of the moment.
- Finally, patch together some life experiences for Body. Include a little bullying, or a little appreciation, some power, or take away some, love if you like, or indignity if that resonates.
Now, Body becomes a Person. Put Person into a room. If a hundred readers of this article each put a person into the same room, 100 persons are here now. Each with a Body + a million.
These persons are in one room, but each inhabits a different space, or multiple different spaces. The person who experiences discomfort in crowds or enclosed places is in an unsafe space. The person who loves attention is on display clicking selfies. The person used to power is already herding together a group, and depending on their sensitivity, this herding may be democratic, dictatorial, or a third concoction of power dynamics. The Body + a million that is integral to each person could be supportive, obstructive, visible, invisible, communicative, going into parasympathetic or sympathetic nervous system mode, working up to a decision to leave the room, focusing on art on the walls or listening to the sound of birds outside.
Sexuality, which is an integral aspect of human life experiences, becomes kaleidoscopic as each of the 101, as each body + a million, sees and experiences this just a little bit differently.
What, in such case, is majority or minority?
Is queer the norm, if queer isn’t being able to raise a hand or voice?
Is the gender binary, and heterosexual marriage with its laws, insurance, economic and banking systems an adequate blanket that keeps us all safe, our lives, our rights protected?
When will we learn to respect that identifying as asexual is really important even if so many persons who are asexual may not even know that they are?
The tree in the forest, nobody was there when it fell to hear the crash. So was there a sound? Or does it matter? It depends on who is answering those questions and, importantly, who is listening to the questions and the answers.
Biology, to answer one of the two questions we began with, is just one space inhabited by Body + a million. A person is the result of multiple spaces, relationships, experiences and bodies, visible and invisible.
So the other question about ownership of Body is now absolutely critical.
Body, mine or ours?
If the rallying cry of the day is that the body belongs to the person who resides in it, then that person, now alone, bears the unbearable weight of a million others, and that person, singled out, must identify and cut every root and rootlet that is anchored in the existing soil. A soil comprising generations of life experiences, socio-cultural norms, religious beliefs, political turmoil, economic and material circumstances, family legacies, and community pressures.
It is increasingly apparent that we are very deeply connected to one another, and that ownership is part of an ill-fitting paradigm that we continue to use past it’s sell-by date. The energy of a foul mood or fear, is contagious. The energy of deep respect, a willingness to support and understand, is also contagious.
It seems far more likely that Body and each Person live in necessary cooperative co-existence, in a room full of others. There are more than 99 others, and the room is glocal, in-person and online.
In this space there are conflicts and collective systemic forces that – over time and generations – have used Body as weapon, tool and fuel, in war, in state-sponsored political agendas furthering injustice, in divisive and discriminatory acts of violence against individuals, communities and nations. Nothing in this statement or concept is new, but it is important to reiterate this in strategies for restoring justice, addressing inequity, nurturing and respecting Body and Personhood. In Manipur India, even as the state is in the news for conflict and violence that is displacing people and destroying lives, a little step back into the past reveals a different kind of turmoil and trauma. Kumam Davidson speaks of the culture of “keinakatpa” (forced marriage) saying “If a man and woman are caught in a ‘compromising position’, suspected to have been intimate, be it in a public or private space (private space is also liable to intrusion), then they are forced into marriage by the local Meira Paibi (women’s group). Also, vigilante groups, in collaboration with Meira Paibis, conduct ‘restaurant drives’ where they hunt down lovers probably being intimate inside restaurants and punish them through forced marriage or by defaming them in public. This doesn’t mean that people are not having sex at all; there are other spaces, such as hotels exclusively accessible only to the rich.” Not confined to Manipur alone, in case a reader thinks this in error, just trot down to a Karnataka beach as these youngsters did but do it carefully.
While this article focuses on the human experience of life, the relevance of reflecting on the Body and Personhood of non-human beings is as crucial, though difficult to include in the space and time that there is for this writing. Still, here is a direction for thought. While we are busy working in our silos, living in our shoes and rubber chappals, our feet remember the earth as a seed does, when they walk barefoot in the grass. Our bodies know trees. We are composed of water, wind, oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and other earth elements, including sodium, potassium, chlorine, sulphur. Fertilizers have some of this stuff! The planet’s non-human residents have lots of it.
And finally, our bodies may at any point have 30 to 40 trillion cells, but they also have another 30 to 40 trillion cells that are not classified as human, but as microbial. That’s a little bit of the planet in our bodies. Tell me this is not magic! Indigenous communities around the world know this, “the rivers are our sisters” … “the rivers are also our fathers” which puts a very different spin on the father as patriarch, a social construct, and not the only construct.
Then there’s this: “not only do we each have hundreds of billions of atoms that were once in everyone else’s bodies, but we have approximately 1 atom in our body from every breath that every human has ever taken.” (The writer of this article read that a couple of times over to allow the magnitude of it to sink in. It still hasn’t fully settled in.)
Given the weight of collective influences on Body and Person, individual ownership, choices, and decision-making provide restricted avenues for change and resistance.
How do we take collective responsibility for creating spaces that affirm the value, dignity, integrity, equality and rights inherent to Body and Person, not only in elevated circles of the converted, and NGOs, but expanded to our homes, playgrounds, schools, colleges, hospitals, PHCs, offices, streets, buses and the binary toilet?
Sexuality and this Body
TARSHI conducted a random survey earlier this month, using social media to ask people two questions. To the question:
(1) At exactly this moment as you read this question, what is your state of awareness of your body? Please describe the immediate thoughts and feelings that come to you.
Out of 30 respondents, 12 did not use the word ‘body’ or any words for any physical parts of themselves.
Four of these 12 respondents spoke of states of only emotional and not physical being
Could this mean that state of awareness of one’s body is on the low-ish side? Without putting a value to this, is it worth thinking about this just a bit more? Considering how crucial the body is to life and the way we experience it.
(2) Please share and describe the first words and images, or concepts that come to your mind when you read this: Body and Sexuality. If the words you think of are in another language, not English, we request you to write the word, identify the language it is from, and translate it into English for us to understand. We do not require a formal dictionary translation, but what the word means to you.
Out of 30 respondents, 14 used the words ‘sex’, ‘sexual’, or variants of these two words, 15 referred to the body in different ways, and 11 used the words, ‘body’ as well as ‘sex’ / ‘sexuality’ in their answers but most respondents did not.
Some of the things people said include:
“Annoyance at social limitations upon experiencing our own body, having conversations around our bodies and sexuality.”
“something I never really thought about for myself even if i think I did coz I thought in the vocabulary of others, something that happens to others and may never be experienced by me in the same way, knotty, guilt, something I want to connect with in my own way”
“attractions which are constructed by the ideals of what an able bodied person appears to be”
“I pictured my own nude body! I don’t know why, I visualized my body nude when I read Body and Sexuality. Maybe ingrained patriarchy!”
At the immediate surface level, people tend perhaps to think of body and sexuality in terms of body parts, sex, relationships, love, erotica, desire, fantasy, fat, genitals, choices, and gender and sexual identity.
It may be more useful to expand this understanding to the Body + a million. Sexuality and the body are commonly intertwined, in word, image, acceptance and concepts of inclusion and exclusion. Sexuality too is rooted in the existing soil, in those generations of life experiences, socio-cultural norms, religious beliefs, political turmoil, economic and material circumstances, family legacies, and community pressures. To take the path of collective responsibility is to choose value, dignity, integrity, equality and rights inherent to Body and Person. It is to shift the burden of responsibility from the individual or the minority, and redistribute it, as is just, amongst all those who play a role in shaping what we accept and do not accept, in law, in the playground, in the couple that lives next door, or the person looking for romance at the age of 63.
Body and Sexuality now begin to rearrange themselves into a comprehensive picture.