Beyond Sexual Classifications by Filipe Canha

The dubiousness of power is very well digested theoretically by Michel Foucault and Judith Buttler but is regrettably being dismissed or ignored. The patterns of behavior and the relationship in correlation with each other (us) are not having its advancement owing to the fact that, ever since the beginning of time, society has been shaping and controlling the behaviour of individuals. Having said that, discrimination has been continuously a society’s backbone, so social structures duplicate it and so do binary systems.

‘The question of power remains a total enigma. Who exercises power? And in what sphere? … We should investigate the limits imposed on the exercise of power – the relays through which it operates and the extent of its influence on the often insignificant aspects of the hierarchy and the forms of control, surveillance, prohibition, and constraint… No one … has an official right to power.’

(Michel Foucault 1977, “Selected Essays and Interviews”, Blackwell, Oxford, p. 213)

The complication is that this is the only way we can cooperate because we have been accustomed to that. Having said that, it is important to underline that power through an hierarchical observation has been a mechanism by way of power is being produced which makes individuals circulate in an enduring domain. As duplicate, symbolic figures have been covering an historical change and this has not been progressive. Language, Intellect and Communal Faculties are what redefines the State and Society and those are not being applied and by that affecting contemporary mentalities. Throughout history the body became subjugated to power and methods of supervision were constant as a discipline of controlling a certain/specific behaviour. As a way of power, monarchy used forms of control in living bodies in order to exhibit what is “right”, displaying punishment as a way of manifesting normalization. ‘Discipline is a technique of power which provides procedures for training or for coercing bodies.’ (Barry Smart 1985, “Michel Faucault”, Ellis Horwood Publications, p. 85.)

By the nineteenth century several repressions on sexuality started occurring by psychiatric institutions which began to define normality and abnormality and commenced implanting the notion of perversions. Perverse notions were then applied in order to control ways and ‘varieties’ of body manifestations within pleasure. Rapidly, the discriminatory and taboo discourses begun to be categorized and applied as sexual subjects. In Western civilization men were addressed differently from than women and children in what concerns sexuality and relationships between men and women provided a ‘norm’ for male in order to guarantee their heterosexual conduct. Women were, in this case as in many other situations, seen as negative, powerless and forgotten on account of emphasizing stereotypes of the male gender, its preconceived notions on masculinity and additionally to male favouritism. Having affirmed that, Hélène Cixous reacts against that atrocious discrimination upon women and underlines heterogeneous binary oppositions of Superior/Inferior within discriminatory systems: Activity/Passivity; Sun/Moon; Culture/Nature; Father/Mother; Head/Heart; Lagos/Pathos… (Toril Moi 1985, “Sexual, Textual, Politics”, Methuen & Co., p. 104). Additionally, It can also be perceived in Salla Tykkä’s photography "American Dream", dated from 1999, a femininity in context with a virile activity when she portraits herself as an injured women boxer. Her breasts are flattened by a gauze band with two spots of blood at her nipple level.

Even shaped by social discourses, which practically constrain us to accept the masculine and feminine as an inevitable binary system, it is not possible anymore to affirm one’s manhood, one’s womanhood or one’s gender role. The individual gender roles complexity became a larger spectrum, than the imposed binary ones, and may even blend with each other. By gender roles one must include Female, Male, Transgender M2F and F2M, intersex or neither. Masculinity and Femininity are then realized as an interchange of emotions and intellectual factors implicating a variety of genders and furthermore involving race, sexuality, nationality and class. Moreover, it is to state that binary gender identity portraits an idea in order to protect the heterosexuality as ‘norm’.

‘… power flows through a network of disciplinary codes and institutions. Norms and standards are replicated and disseminated through schools, medicine, law, prisons, religion, even art; and in their circulation and reinforcement they actively determine social relations and create subject positions.’

(Maurice Berger, Brian Wallis, Simon Watson 1995, “Constructing Masculinity”, Routledge, p. 5.)

As affirmed by Foucault, (Maurice Berger, Brian Wallis, Simon Watson, 1995, “Constructing Masculinity”, Routledge, p. 5.) identity is not a stabilized characteristic but rather ruptures and alters. Nevertheless, the obstacle, as Eve Ksofsky Sedgwick expressed, (Maurice Berger, Brian Wallis, Simon Watson, 1995, “Constructing Masculinity”, Routledge, p.18-19.) is that most of the individuals with gender-“inappropriate” that conduct oneself masculine when feminine or feminine when masculine experienced his or her body as atypical. This feeling occurs because one has to be recognized in the masculinity's and femininity's that have been stylised and imposed throughout times. Moreover, a collective sexual experience and an impact on sexual identities were submitted in the eighties with a new approach on sexual identities, definitions and new regulations. The object of choice within sexual orientation broadened from heterosexual, homosexual, asexual, bisexual to a more polymorphous possibility incorporating polysexual and pansexual. Ideologies and sexual programs were implanted in order to alter what has been the history of sexuality construction and its deconstruction. Mass movements politically encouraged issues such as venereal diseases, prostitution, masturbation organizing demonstrations and interventions. Minorities, progressivists and sex radicals challenged interfering and bringing forward a new thinking and a new reorganization on sexuality. Constructionists brought other political struggles to define sexuality in public spaces which expressed new sexual forms, behaviours and sensibilities. This endeavor to politically push ideologies and a new knowledge base on sexuality produced innovative interdisciplinary conversations between historians, anthropologists, sociologists and artists. However, one must also acknowledge that the body also has a capacity, due to psychological functioning and sensation, to construct ordinary sexual impulses, sexual drive and lusts and as expressed by most radical constructionists the object of choice must be accredited (Maurice Berger, Brian Wallis, Simon Watson, 1995, “Constructing Masculinity”, Routledge, p. 43.). Moreover, the Post Porn performance artist Mouse uses her body to destabilize any normative sexual inductions of life in ‘The Naughty Poodle’ performance. Mouse states that “holes are to be field like pokets” in which confronts and challenges feminists and feminist theories.

To condense, it is an unfortunate fact that up to this extent what has been expressed in this essay would come through a complete incomprehension or “ignoratio elenchi” by political party leaders and voters. This occurs because, as said before, power is being produced in order to make individuals circulate in an enduring domain. Having said that, I believe that art, artists, activists, historians, anthropologists, sociologists have an immense and effective work to accomplish. Moreover, binary systems; masculine and feminine; heterosexuality, homosexuality, asexuality, bisexuality, polysexuality and pansexuality must start to be considered beyond classification as to the criteria of usage. One must look at the others as individuals avoiding the determination of sexual orientation or gender as a crucial pinpoint.


Berger M. & Wallis B. & Watson S. 1995, Constructing Masculinity, Routledge, New York.

Butler J. 1990 Gender Trouble, 2nd ed., Routledge, New York.

Foucault, M. (1977) Selected Essays and Interviews. Blackwell, Oxford.

Hart L. 1998 Between the body and the Flesh Performing Sadomasochism, Columbia Univerity Press, New York.

L’Art Fab – L’Art, La Femme, L’europe 2006, L’Été Culturel de Saint – Tropez, 2006, Paris.

Moi, T. 1985 Sexual, Textual, Politics, Methuen & Co., New York.

Pearman L. 2009 Performing the Explicit Queer Body, Visual Cultures and Screening Series Autumn 2009, Goldsmiths University of London, RHB Cinema, Goldsmiths University of London
Lewisham Way
New Cross
London SE14 6NW
England, UK.

Smart, B. (1985) Michael Faucault, Ellis Horwood Publications, New York.

Host | Filipe Canha
Event | Video Installation and Performance
Date | December 4th
Time | Video Installation 2 pm to 8 pm - Performance 4 pm to 5 pm
Location | Video Installation at Lecture Theatre - Performance at Observatory
Street | Wimbledon College of Art Merton Hall Road, London SW19 3QA
Phone | 07554973325
Email |