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Imagining the Ukrainian Body: Intersections of Nationalism and Sexuality in Contemporary Ukraine

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Commenting on the negotiations between Ukraine and the EU on the topic of Association Agreement, Ukrainian deputy said that signing it will result into “a bunch of European homosexuals putting Ukraine into a doggy-style position”. Along with some similar remarks this commentary might be seen as illustrative of the centrality of sexual insecurities in the debates on Ukraine’s political and cultural belonging, as well as a particular sign of homophobic and nationalist consensus existing in Ukrainian society.

The talk explores the intersections of nationalism with gendered and sexualized bodies in contemporary Ukraine. It argues that national belonging is carved upon people’s bodies and transgressing the binary coded gender roles is regarded as a menace to the whole national sexual and gender order. It also considers the ways in which young people’s views on the (im)proper body are constructed in relation to the gazes of several Others: Ukraine’s post-Soviet past, complex relationship with “the West” and Russia, and its newly built national narrative, which is highly exclusionary.

Dafna Rachok (MA in Critical Gender Studies, Central European University) is an activist, journalist and researcher affiliated with Visual Culture Research Center, Kyiv. Her research focuses upon the intersections of nationalism and sexualities in Ukraine and the mechanisms of creation of (im)proper bodies. In my presentation I analyze the intersections of nationalism with gendered and sexualized bodies in contemporary Ukraine. Taking as my primary data the interviews and field notes made during the research in Kyiv, I argue that the idea of the “proper” Ukrainian body is largely inspired by the discourse of nationalism, that aims to establish heterosexuality as the only normal sexuality and therefore highly values gender binarism and gender-appropriate behavior. I show that young people’s views on the (im)proper body are constructed in relation to the gazes of several Others: Ukraine’s post-Soviet past, complex relationship with “the West” and Russia, and its newly built national narrative, which is highly exclusionary. I argue that national belonging is carved upon people’s bodies and transgressing the binary coded gender roles is regarded as a menace to the whole national sexual and gender order.

This talk is part of the Slavonic Studies series.

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