Defending Heteronormativity through Creative Destruction: Zika, the 2016 Olympic Games, and Discourses of Contagion (Gender & Events Symposium) (Edinburgh, Scotland)


Prior to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janerio, the World Health Organization declared a public health emergency for Zika, a mosquito-borne virus that can result in birth defects if pregnant women are exposed to the virus. Central and South American countries were identified as places where the virus was flourishing. Panic ensued and there was a global media outcry that the 2016 Olympic Games must not proceed. Some high profile athletes withdrew from the Games, while Zika-proof uniforms were worn for fear of infection. The discourses that surrounded Zika privileged normative (hetero)sexual relations and families, yet, we also suggest implicit discourses of contagion through ‘deviant’ contact with racialized and sexualized others were palpable. The Olympic spectacle has permanently (re)configured geographies (and interconnected economies) of desire through the ‘creative destruction’ of host communities, which has had (un)intended realities for non-normative (sex worker, travesti, transsexual, LGTBQ etc.) desires. We investigate the technologies of healthification created in the Global North in reaction to the (sexual) transmission of Zika in the Global South. We use postcolonial, urban sociology and contemporary queer studies to inform the analysis of ethnographic data (i.e., media stories, public health alerts, interviews, observations) collected since the first reported case of local transmission in Brazil in May 2015. We argue that bioremediation for urban sportscape development has bred new and innocuous viruses, and that the symbolic and real bioremediation of abject sexscapes is used to further erase so-called deviant sexualities and territorially-based sexually-diverse communities. Subsequently, the restoration of dominant ideologies seeks to realize homogeneous-heteronormative fantasies of futurity through the representation of the good mother whose wants to prevent ‘abnormal’ birth defects, and the sexually protective man who will save his future nation at all costs through the abjection of contact with the contagious sexualized and racialized Other. 

Citation: De Lisio, A. & Fusco, C. (September 2017). “Defending Heteronormativity through Creative Destruction: Zika, the 2016 Olympic Games, and Discourses of Contagion” presented at the Gender & Events Symposium in Edinburgh, Scotland.