The other day, I was having coffee with a friend. We laughed and talked, and as our conversation took many turns, we found ourselves mucking through the subject of bodies. I don’t mean bodies in a necromantic sort of way, but as a philosopher would talk about bodies. The body in relationship to the Self. The conversation took another turn when I mentioned a word that is so often used without thought: ownership. What does ownership have to do with the body? Is it a concept that should be in relationship to bodies?
At once, I defended my position, but now I’m not entirely sure. I fancy myself a feminist so it’s hard to think about what it means to own my body without thinking about the direct opposite. The concept of ownership has a negative meaning in this way: it is defined by what it is not. To own something puts me in direct control over it, which implies struggle with another and eventual recognition. I own my body because no one else does or can. Others recognize that I own it, and therefore, it is solely mine. In cases where recognition is not won, I do not own my body and another can take control. (This is all Hegel right here) Minorities and women do not own their bodies because they are still subject to dominance and control. With this, ownership means freedom from dominance and control.
My body is not property. I have family a few generations back for whom this was not the case. They were very familiar with the concept of ownership because they knew that they were not in control over their bodies, which is something that is necessary to be considered a person. After almost 150 years, black folks are still not free from domination. I know that a routine traffic stop could easily turn deadly. I fear for my life when I see a cop beelining towards me even though I don’t do anything to get her attention. In those moments, I fear that I will not be recognized as an owner, but as a subject in need of correction (literally and figuratively). In those moments, I fear the exertion of dominance over me.
The one reason I like the idea of “owning” my body is because it reconnects me with what my dysphoria keeps at a distance. My mind and my body are so disconnected at times that my physical appearance is jarring in the mirror. Less so now that I’ve undertaken physical transition, but before I started the process I ignored my body to the point of not being able to recognize it when I saw it. At this point in my life, I’m reclaiming my body. I’m fighting to own my body through the ability to recognize my body. The concept of ownership, in this light, makes it seem as if my body as MY body is a quest where at the end I am free. I like the idea of freedom. On the other hand, “freedom” is also a loaded concept.
What would the world look like defined by concepts outside of economics and property? If I weren’t concerned with “ownership” what would I think about? I mean really… I go to school and work hard so I can own things. OWN. THINGS! Bodies are not things. It seems as if they should just exist and merit respect by means of existing. But respect is recognition and with recognition comes ownership. With ownership comes power and with power comes… a number of things when used differently in context.
I am a man in a constant process of reclamation. I think that’s why I’m drawn to use the word “ownership.” I can’t abolish a term that I don’t own in myself. So I have to own it, then destroy it. It’s a step in a process towards liberation. It’s not the end goal. I am reclaiming myself as MY self so that eventually, I won’t need to say that I own anything.
I’ll just be able to be.