Redefining Sexual Boundaries

Oct 28, 2018 | 10:45 AM - 12:15 PM | Main Loft

Desmond O'Doherty, MA   York University

Chinese Filial Biopolitics in Post-Colonial Hong Kong

This paper aims to illustrate the influence of Foucauldian biopolitics and the Chinese concept of filial piety on tongzhi identity as well as the effects biopolitics and filial piety have on the homosexual community following the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997 when Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China and effectively entered a new era. By adopting Michel Foucault’s theory of biopolitics and linking it with the Chinese concept of filial piety, the lens ‘Chinese filial biopolitics’ is constructed making it possible to identify the source of reasoning that characterizes homosexuality as a threat in post-colonial Hong Kong. Chinese filial biopolitics identifies tongzhi individuals as inherently non-procreative and thus a danger to Chinese families in Hong Kong as the continuation of lineage is contingent on procreation. Post-colonial Hong Kong is a highly competitive economic and social environment meaning that familial support is required to succeed in society leaving tongzhi individuals on unstable ground as they cannot risk aggravating their families and are left with no choice but to separate themselves from lesbian and gay politics. As most tongzhi are unable to challenge the heteronormative family structures in Hong Kong, their only option is to reproduce their marginalization and invisibility through the organization of Chinese filial biopolitics.

Maria Diakantoniou, MA   University of Windsor

From Fallen Woman to Heroine: The Possibility of Redemption for Oliver Twist’s Nancy

When Charles Dickens finished writing Oliver Twist in 1838, the Victorian society in which he lived classified female prostitutes as “fallen women.” Amanda Anderson notes that fallenness suggests that one’s morals are predetermined and that “no amount of remorse or repentance enables us to transcend our fallen state through our own resolution” (3). The common Victorian view of prostitutes is exhibited in Oliver Twist by the housemaids at the “family hotel” who call Nancy a “disgrace to her sex” (320). In addition, many Victorians believed that prostitutes were destined for “disease, decay, despair, and death” (Anderson 7). However, Dickens expands the dialogue surrounding prostitutes, morphing Nancy into a complex character who possesses both morality and carnality (Garnett 502). She is no angel in the house, but instead subverts the notion of proper womanly behaviour by leading the life of a public woman. By describing Nancy as a victim worthy of sympathy, portraying her as a Christ-like figure who helps Oliver escape harm, and giving her an honourable death, Charles Dickens suggests the possibility of redemption for penitent individuals—particularly women—immersed in the criminal underworld. Dickens's sympathetic portrayal of Nancy effectively shifts the linguistic paradigm regarding prostitutes, establishing a meaningful identity for those trapped in these difficult circumstances.

 A feminist approach will allow for the examination of Dickens’s uniquely positive portrayal of a prostitute, greatly contrasting the conventional Victorian attitude toward fallen women. Furthermore, a mythological approach will highlight Nancy’s heroic role in the novel, emphasizing her ability to transcend the societal boundaries typically placed upon prostitutes. Dickens ultimately creates a new linguistic space for prostitutes, defying their traditional literary representation as unredeemable sinners.

Alice Hinchliffe, BA   McGill University

Languages of Sexual Identity in Mark Ravenhill's "Mother Clap's Molly House"

The terminology around gender and sexuality is a constantly changing one. Terms used in the eighteenth century have disappeared now, the way we understand gender and sexual identities has changed over the years and is still in movement. Mark Ravenhill identifies on-going evolution in his 2001 play "Mother Clap's Molly House," a play which goes back and forth between the eighteenth century and the twenty-first century to represent the evolution of the gay subculture in England.

This paper explores the use of rituals and representations of sexual and gender identities in the play as well as in eighteenth century historical accounts of what went on in real molly houses. I argue that in his play, Ravenhill demonstrates that the language surrounding sexuality is more fluid and complex that one would think and that this starts in the eighteenth century (the century in which the switch from the one-sex model to the two-sex model really occurs). Ravenhill presents us with a nuanced portrayal of sexuality, one that he knows is never going to become fixed and well defined. By going back and forth between two temporalities, he shows his audience that the language around gender and sexual identities can easily be misconstrued and manipulated. This play —and by association this paper, emphasize the importance of language in the representation of fluid and free gendered and sexual identities, in the eighteenth century, in 2001, now and in the years to come.


Desmond O'Doherty, MA

Desmond O’Doherty is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Humanities, specializing in religion, cultures, and values at York University. His theoretical interests include: Sexuality and Performance, Power, Christianity, (Post)colonialism, Nationalism, Culture, Citizenship, and Queer Theory. His work examines religion, specifically Christianity, as a cultural byproduct influenced by social and economic change that is implicated in manufacturing sexual discourse for tongzhi (LGBTQ+) identifying individuals within the context of Hong Kong.

Publications: O’Doherty, Desmond A. D. (In Revision). Citizenship in Transition: Tongzhi Identity in Hong Kong. Left History, (2017). O’Doherty, Desmond A. D. The Religious Right and the Politics of Sex Education in the United States. Symposia 8, (2017): 16-32.

Maria Diakantoniou, MA

Maria Diakantoniou recently completed her MA in English Language and Literature at the University of Windsor. Her primary research interest is ecocriticism, and her thesis focused on John Clare's bird poetry. Maria is also passionate about grammar; she works as an editor and teaches writing part-time at her local college. Publications: 1. Diakantoniou, Maria Theodora. "'Where Wild Women Grow': Nature, Wildness, and the Search for Identity in Toni Morrison's Jazz." The Scattered Pelican, vol. 3, no. 1, 2018, pp. 80-94. 2. Diakantoniou, Maria Theodora. "The Notes of a Peasant Poet’s Life: Rootedness, Emotion, and Identity in John Clare’s Bird Poetry" (2018).

Alice Hinchliffe, BA

Alice Hinchliffe is a student in the second year of her MA degree in English literature at McGill University. To complete her BA at McGill University she wrote a thesis about language and performativity in William Shakespeare's second historical tetralogy. Shakespeare and language seem to be the leitmotivs of her studies since she is currently working on her MA thesis about the language of sexuality and desire in Shakespeare's "Titus Andronicus" and "Anthony and Cleopatra." She is also currently working on a publication about the relationship between some of Margaret Atwood's short stories and William Shakespeare's "Sonnets."