You can’t call yourself body-positive, or someone who accepts all body types, then turn around and think these sculptures of Donald Trump funny. That’s not how it works.
Content Warning: Discussion of Donald Trump, fatphobia, transphobia, with mentions of rape and rape culture.
Thursday morning, six major cities across the country woke to a shocking display of political art — statues of Donald Trump — right in the center of their cities. The statues feature Trump naked, with blemished skin, wrinkles, cellulite, a big belly, a small penis and no testicles, entitled “The Emperor Has No Balls” (a nod to the Hans Christian Anderson fable “The Emperor’s New Clothes”).
Their creator, Indecline, said, “Through these sculptures [we] leave behind the physical and metaphorical embodiment of the ghastly soul of one of America’s most infamous and reviled politicians.”
Upon the public’s discovery of the statues, folks took out their smart phones and began snapping selfies with the statues — and photos of themselves touching the statues’ genitals.
Feministing explained the statues were the “brainchild of anarchist group Indecline … [who] were greeted with widespread public appreciation … Even New York City’s Parks and Rec department … cracked a joke at its expense, tweeting, ‘NYC Parks stands firmly against any unpermitted erection in city parks, no matter how small.'”
Don’t get me wrong: Trump is violently racist, xenophobic and oppressive as hell! However, these statues are nothing but oppressive themselves. They’re extremely fatphobic, transphobic, cissexist and ageist, among many other things.
“Nothing about the artwork disturbed the status quo at all — not the least in elite, liberal cities like San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles. The left leaning middle class can have a hearty laugh while patting themselves on the back for their non-Trump supporting politics and leaving unquestioned the contradictions in their politics that have allowed a violent capitalist, patriarchal, transphobic world to exist.”
To set the record straight, yes Donald Trump is ugly, but he is ugly in his politics and in the violent rhetoric he perpetuates, not because of his body.
Using body shaming as a political statement is counterproductive. You can’t fight one form of oppression with another. Ever.
My friend and fellow activist Caleb Luna offered their insight on the statue placed in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood. They wrote:
“The fact that the Trump statue appeared in the Castro is so telling of a willing queer body warfare. The critique of fatphobia, transphobia, mocking of intersex folks and penis sizes [that] the statue evokes has been made. To place this misguided (or perfectly guided) effigy in this decidedly and historically queer neighborhood does not make it solely an attack on Trump, but also an attack of fat bodies, aging bodies, trans and intersex bodies, and all bodies that fail the masculinity that is palpably worshiped in the Castro and queer male sexual social circles …
“This placement aligns what is meant to be a critique of Trump with an actually homonationalist project wherein the masculinity that many of Trump’s positions — whether or not he lives up to them — align with the Venn Diagram of queer erotic imagining of bodies. Trump in the Castro becomes a mirror of where we are failing on so many levels.”
It’s important that we call Trump out on his shit and make ourselves heard, but this isn’t the way to do it.
Gawking at a statue’s genitals isn’t doing anything helpful. Insinuating that having a small penis or lack of testicles makes you less of a man is completely cissexist. Not all men have penises. Not to mention, equating testicles with strength or courage is purely misogynistic.
Making fun of the sculptures’ cellulite, blemishes, wrinkles and big belly sets the body-positive movement way back. You can’t call yourself body-positive, or someone who accepts all body types, then turn around and think these sculptures are funny. That’s not how it works.
Marissa Johnson of The Establishment wrote an analysis of the sculptures. They articulated their analysis better than I could. In it, they write:
“This joke, masquerading as political commentary is what happens when the desire to ‘win’ … becomes stronger than the desire to transform the world’s hierarchies. It shows that progressives are willing to uphold clearly oppressive behavior as long as it serves a partisan purpose against those they have deemed ‘the bad guys.’ This behavior is less about addressing the real destructiveness of these entities’ politics, and instead resorts to self-serving personal attacks. … This joke didn’t reveal that the emperor has no balls — but rather that the progressives have no grounding and no truly transformative strategy. Those naked statues didn’t expose the ugliness of Trump, which we already know on political grounds, but the ugliness of partisanship and privilege — where Black and marginalized folks end up the losers.”
When you research Indecline’s past work, these sculptures don’t come as a shock. The mural they painted in Tijuana last fall features Trump with a ball gag in his mouth and “Rape Trump” written above him, with directions on how to get to Trump Tower, in protest of Trump calling Mexicans rapists. They clearly aren’t afraid to perpetuate rape culture for the sake of a political statement.
Their creative director even told Vice, “We don’t honestly expect anyone to … find Trump and rape him, but we want to raise awareness [about the] horrible shit he’s said. Controversy works better than something subtle.” It’s like saying that rapists deserve to get raped. How does that make sense? The point is to extinguish rape and the culture surrounding it all together.
Indecline is bullshit. It seems they’re a one-trick pony. All they do is use violent and abusive tropes to garner attention and call it a protest. Showing that far-left people don’t give a damn about their privileges or the institutional power structures that they claim to fight against (but actually uphold).
We need actual marginalized people on the front lines, not white upper-middle-class progressives who can throw resources and money down the toilet and call their partisanship and neoliberalism “protests.”