This article was originally published in Parole de Queer
Translation: Zara Simans
People often say to me that my writing is not affective enough. I have thus decided to talk about the only piece of feminist theory I have found in recent years in the global north that made me feel something. That is, Xenofeminism (XF). And, no. This is not about teenage queer fantasies with the Warrior Princess. In the 2015 manifest “Xenofeminism: A Politics for Alienation” the promoter collective Laboria Cuboniks injected contemporary feminism with the radical possibilities given by the strange, the foreign and the culturally antinatural (i.e. “xeno”). The result is “a feminism of unprecedented cunning, scale, and vision” (0x00).
XF is premised on three fundamental ideas: technomaterialism, antinaturalism and gender abolitionism. Despite such big and controversial words, the ideas at its basis are quite simple. Technomaterialism can be here understood as the rejection of the dominant feminist tendency of conceiving science and technology as inherently patriarchal. XF certainly acknowledges the complex network of power dynamics in which technoscientific production is embedded and its propensity for “imbalance, abuse, and exploitation of the weak” (0x02). Yet, “rather than pretending to risk nothing” (0x02), it advocates for its appropriation and redistribution. Once again, technology bears the promise of feminist liberation or, more precisely, of reengineering the world “linked to a collective theoretical and political thinking in which women, queers, and the gender non-conforming play an unparalleled role” (0x00).
From this, antinaturalism follows almost automatically. That is, a vehement rejection of the identification between the natural, the normal and the good. As they point out “[a]nyone who’s been deemed ‘unnatural’ in the face of reigning biological norms, anyone who’s experienced injustices wrought in the name of natural order (…) –the queer and trans among us, the differently-abled (…)-will realize that the glorification of ‘nature’ has nothing to offer us” (0x01). Nature, understood as a space of conflict of interests which conditions and limits lived experiences, must therefore be corrected by technoscientific innovation put at the service of the common good and against power imbalance. As the manifesto concludes “If nature is unjust, change nature” (0x1A).
But how to combine all this with an unexpected gender abolitionism? By proposing to abolish with scalpel like precision the only thing that truly matters to abolish — gender as an axis of oppression and discrimination — while at the same time leaving it open the possibility of conformity, ‘deviation’ and sexuated diversity of individuals. The abolitionism envisioned by XF is thus “a shorthand for the ambition to construct a society where traits currently assembled under the rubric of gender, no longer furnish a grid for the asymmetric operation of power” (0x0E). This does not imply opposing the existence of genders or fighting for gender variation to be eradicated. In the words of Helen Hester, one of the founding members of the collective, “[f]ar from producing a genderless world (…) this form of abolition through proliferation is suggestive of a multiply gendered world.” (2018:30). This means that any expectations placed in the transexclusionary potential of XF will come out spectacularly dashed.
Regarding scale, the manifesto reads “XF is an affirmative creature on the offensive, fiercely insisting on the possibility of large-scale social change for all of our alien kin” (0x0A). Yet, who exactly is our alien kin? How far are we willing to extend the alien category and raise the dismantling of an oppressive status quo? The answer is lukewarm. Despite the closeness of XF with posthumanist ideas, in particular, its deconstruction of the human as the white, cis, hetero, and able bodied male, the alien, within this context, is made surprisingly and inconsistently coincident with the limits of the human species. Given that the antispeciesist promises of theorists like Harraway, Braidotti or other posthumanists have also been unable to offer full protection to other animals, it would be expectable that XF presented itself precisely on this front as a less metaphorical and potentially more robust alternative to account for nonhuman interests.
If, as Hester claims, the dismantling of gender is to be directed with the same intensity towards “various other structures that come to act as a (frequently naturalised — and thus rigidified) basis of oppression” (Hester 2018: 29), such as race, class, capacities, and so on., species, also naturalised, loaded with stigma and rigidity, operates as an axis of oppression and discrimination of the overwhelming majority of creatures on the planet. For such reason, species should be incorporated as a target to be dismantled in any project of structural social change, even more so within the xenofeminist macrovision. If XF intends to properly affirm the prefix that characterises itself, by filling the ‘xeno’ with normative content as the alien that should be considered despite not being so, it must expand its scale so as to include our true alien kin — nonhuman animals.
Xenozoopolis is the xenofeminist vision stripped of species bias. An egalitarian political community based on antinatural solidarity, supported by a tecnho-science hacker of its own ends: built from and to the margins. By breaking down the human-alien binary, it rejects the naturalisation of all oppressive and discriminatory structures, including speciesism, both at the level of animal exploitation and at the level of the idealising ‘laissez-faire’ towards the lives of wild animals. A countless number of nonhuman animals are currently confined, being tortured and killed by human beings. Others are freezing to death, starved, wounded, sick, being devoured by parasites and predators, terrified in nature. If “nothing is so sacred that it cannot be reengineered and transformed so as to widen our aperture of freedom”, the xenofeminist offensive is directed towards the redesign of freedom for all aliens without exception, beyond any arbitrary limits imposed either by human or natural tyranny. XF thus engenders the xenozoopolis: a future scenario in which “feminist emancipation contribute to a universalist politics assembled from the needs of every [sentient being], cutting across race, ability, economic standing, [species], and geographical position” (0x00).
Helen Hester, 2018, Xenofeminism, Cambridge: Polity Press.
Laboria Cuboniks, 2015,Xenofeminism: A Politics for Alienation, https://laboriacuboniks.net/manifesto/xenofeminism-a-politics-for-alienation/