Reassessing Health Practices
The third issue of The Against Nature Journal is a critical review of the role medical knowledge has played in shaping common understandings of what is considered “natural.” Historically, the theory and practice of medicine has pathologized non-procreative sexual desire, as well as those bodies that challenge gender binarism or expose different abilities. Along with religion and law, medicine is well established as a moral authority that draws distinctions between the natural and the supposedly deviant. In light of this, the journal opens with writing on reproductive justice and queer procreation. It is followed by a focus on trans and intersex politics, and features a section oriented toward “plural healing” and the need to decolonize health practices and institutions. As usual our Against Nature section closes the issue with a reprint that has informed our research project at large.
Throughout the nineteenth century “homosexuality” was established as a medical category to de ne non-reproductive desire and deem it abnormal. The institution of medicine included a whole set of techniques of control, such as involuntary confinement or conversion therapies. In the late twentieth century, with the emergence of the gay liberation fronts, the medical pathologizing of queer desire was challenged, first in the United States and Europe, then in the latter’s former colonies—a critical process that is still ongoing. To this day, the institutions supposedly taking care of the physical and mental health of LGBTQI+ folks are still too often the first sites of discrimination.
It has only been three decades since the World Health Organization removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses; transnational queer activists are now focused on the depathologization of trans and intersex bodies, while providing equal access to reproductive rights and spaces of nondiscrimination. Yet, too often the colonial origins of reproductive policies, derived from racial hierarchies and population control, is overlooked on a global level.
Thus in addressing this issue, the first section of the journal considers reproductive justice and questions of pro- creation through a transnational questionnaire and a com- missioned science-fiction story. We celebrate individuals and organizations from Argentina, Italy, Kenya, Poland, and South Korea who work in reproductive justice activism. And Lambda Literary Award winner INDRAPRAMIT DAS speculates on other fertility models and forms of kinship in a story about a genderless android surrogate.
Section two presents trans and intersex poetry and writing. We reprint “Intersex in Prison” by Ugandan medical anthropologist, queer rights activist, and author STELLA NYANZI, which is included in her most recent book written from prison. Her poem points to the violence that the pris- on-industrial complex (among other structures of oppression) exerts on nonnormative bodies. And as a prompt to thinking about medical pluralism, we also republish a chapter from the autobiography of the late South African sangoma (traditional healer) NKUNZI ZANDILE NKABINDE, whom for the last years of his life identified as a trans man. In his book—now out of print—Nkabinde narrates the complex connections between traditional healing and same-sex relations with a strong and passionate voice. The text is beautifully introduced by scholar and former GALA Queer Archive director RUTH MORGAN, who candidly recalls their longtime friendship and collaboration.
Importantly, the issue also questions the centrality given to Western biomedicine. We advocate to decolonize health, its practices and institutions, by recognizing the barriers some groups face in the delivery of health services because of their sex, gender, and race. To decolonize health means opening up the discourse on healing. We should refrain from any reverse essentialism in which traditional medicine prevails over biomedicine. Rather our understanding of decolonization embraces a pluralism of healing and the coexistence of various forms of medicine, grounded in divergent epistemological positions and practices. Section three of the journal brings these efforts together through both poetic and pragmatic reflections on how to ensure pluralist decolonization endeavors. WHAT WOULD AN HIV DOULA DO? shares their twenty-one questions addressed to cultural workers interested in the ongoing HIV crisis. Based on collective research, the questions are a document to return to often, a tool to use that calls on a continuous rethinking of how and by whom sickness and wellness are de ned. In the updated introduction for T.A.N.J., the group highlights the presence of colonial knowledge in AIDS work and suggests that this awareness is a significant starting point from which to act differently. Likewise, broadening our vision of what healing is and can be, poet and traditional healer ROSA CHÁVEZ offers a poem written during the pandemic. It is an invocation “to take back our breath” from a Maya worldview, published in its original Spanish and translated in English.
Issue three ends with the section dedicated to research findings on the notion of “against nature.” The reprinted article by ANDIL GOSINE, “Non-white Reproduction and Same-Sex Eroticism: Queer Acts against Nature,” combines historical reflections on sodomy, racial reproduction, and environmental justice in an original way. And the issue would not be complete without the invaluable reports from Brazil, India, Kenya, Lebanon, Malaysia, Morocco, and the UK: MARIAH RAFAELA SILVA, PAWAN DHALL, KARI MUGO, DAYNA ASH, NIZA, SOUFIANE HENNANI, and ELIEL JONES respectively review debates on trans rights, mental health, care work, and medicine animating their queer activist circles.
Finally, the issue features a commissioned work by artists CANDICE LIN and P. STAFF. They have collaboratively produced a series of urine-based, heat-activated paintings of both abstract and figurative motifs, such as cells, insects, and medical herbs, to evoke some of the central concerns of the issue in subtle and unexpected ways.
As a publication that became an object in the midst of pandemic chaos, we wish to acknowledge those contributors who could not join this issue due to health matters or care work for their families or communities. The regular features that investigate legal cases on LGBTQI+ rights and discuss the potential meanings of a “queer we” will resume in the next issue. To be continued.
Aimar Arriola and Giulia Tognon