Bodies beyond Labels: Q&A with Daniel Holcombe and Frederick A. de Armas

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Bodies beyond Labels explores moments of joy and joyful expressions of self-identity, intimacy, sexuality, affect, friendship, social relationships, and religiosity in imperial Spanish cultures, a period when embodiments of such joy were shadowed by comparatively more constrictive social conventions. Read the full Q&A about the book with the authors Daniel Holcombe and Frederick A. de Armas.

Tell us about when the idea for Bodies beyond Labels first came to fruition. Is there a story behind it? How did this topic get fleshed out? 

Bodies beyond Labels began in the summer of 2019 with a conversation. While enjoying the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina, we reflected upon current criticism that analyzes gender and sexuality in early modern Spain. We also reviewed the various theoretical approximations to such studies, including queer theories, feminisms, and women and gender studies. When we noticed a recent pause in Iberian studies of gender and sexuality, especially as regards early modernity in the Iberian Peninsula and its interactions with the world, we asked ourselves how we could contribute new scholarship to engage with current and future scholars. Despite the global COVID-19 pandemic, we organized the Symposium on Gender and Sexuality in Early Modern Spain to explore this theme. The symposium was hosted by the Department of world languages and cultures at Georgia College & State University and was held in Milledgeville, Georgia on November 5, 2021. Invited scholars presented their perspectives and, when combined with incredibly insightful interactions with the public, a unifying theme of joy was revealed to underlie the expressions of gender and sexuality we had chosen to explore. The diversity of presentations was inspiring, with analyses on early modern Spanish literature, historic figures, myth and mythology, book illustrations, art, sexuality issues of medieval Spain, and sexual traditions in trans-Pacific Spain. After meeting again to further discuss the book project, we developed a working title and identified other contributing authors. By adding scholars of early modern Latin America, we expanded our scope to a trans-oceanic one, further contributing to the diversity of the edited collection. We are very proud of Bodies beyond Labels and hope that readers share the joyous expressions of gender, sexuality, and non-labelled bodies it presents. 

What do you hope readers will take away from reading Bodies beyond Labels? 

In the introduction, we outline how we hope that readers of Bodies beyond Labels will make insightful connections between present-day issues of gender, sexuality, identity, fluidity, intersectionality, and the inspirational yet challenging diversity of very similar expressions in the early modern Hispanic world. The scholarly contributions to this study, we argue, reveal historic, fictional, and figurative bodies that lived without labels, despite the sociocultural and political risks associated with such existences. We can find role models in these types of joyful expressions of gender and sexuality that, quite creatively, resisted historic oppression. By considering these models, we hope that readers will understand that the relative freedom that many present-day societies enjoy with regards to expressions of gender and sexuality is indeed not new. Neither is the recent increase in expressions of homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of prejudice. Through the precedents of both, as explored in the cultural production featured in this study, we gain insight into how non-labelled bodies have defined and expressed themselves in the past. Accompanying this, we encourage readers who identify as queer to consider our perspective regarding queer essentialism as something that they may not be aware that they are embracing. In an era in which social media greatly defines self-expression, the way we explain to others how we self-identify is sometimes formulated at the expense of another person’s identity. This does not promote the concept of “queer” as it was envisioned: as a term that was reclaimed from prejudice to instead express inclusivity and non-normativity. Indeed, one of our major takeaways from this study is that many of the foundational elements of queer theorizations from the 1990s and 2000s continue to be relevant, especially if we consider the value of maintaining queer as mutable and ever-changing. For queer to remain relevant and not promote hurtful exclusion, newer generations should communicate with previous ones, so that all can move forward with inclusive queer identities. As such, the ebbs and flows that have long existed regarding joyful same-sex, intersex, and other gender or sexual expressions, have emerged from the shadows of imperial Spain to illuminate our path forward. 

Learn more about Bodies beyond Labels: Finding Joy in the Shadows of Imperial Spain edited by Daniel Holcombe and Frederick A. de Armas, here.


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