Your Body, Your Rules: At Least, That’s How It Should Be

Luka Denney

In Joyce Carol Oates’s short fiction story, “BD 11 1 86” a boy named Danny is getting ready to graduate high school. He has just turned 18 and suddenly all the adults around him start acting strange. Just the adults. “It wasn’t Danny’s friends and classmates who behaved strangely with him, just adults.” (page 1) We move through the story as Danny thinks about each parental figure in his life and how everything was fine until they saw his file with the label “BD 11 1 86-6 21 05” at the top of the first page which is his birth date combined with the day he’s supposed to graduate. He has good grades, behaves well, and even aspires to go to a good college. In the end, it is revealed BD stands for Body Donor. Danny was created in a lab and purchased by a millionaire somewhere, and once he turns 18 and graduates high school, he is off to be put down like a beloved pet at the vet and his body preserved or “harvested” for the millionaire who purchased him 18 years ago. In “BD 11 1 86,” The concept of bodily autonomy is seen as optional rather than a requirement when Danny learns his whole existence is out of his control. We have to look at stories like this with a Queer theory lens because of the near future coming our way, so that we are better prepared to give anyone and every one the power over their own body, the way it was always meant to be.

Cloning is an implied theme in “BD 11 1 86.” In the article, “Imitations of Life: Cloning, Heterosexuality, and the Human in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go,” Rachel Carrol talks about the possibilities that come with the science of cloning other human beings, like another option for couples who can’t have kids as well as the original idea behind the novel which was having a clone of your organs ready for if you need them. The thing is though, there’s something here that she’s missing. How and where are we supposed to draw the line based on ethicality and morality? If some groups of people don’t want to kill animals for the meat, skin, and other aspects how are the same groups of people and more so going to be ok with doing the same thing to people? You might bring up the excuse, “Oh but they’re just clones, they’re not real people, right?” Well, that’s where I would say you are wrong. Look at the way Danny thinks and processes what’s going on around him in “BD 11 1 86.” This line for example, “they don’t have any hope for me. they don’t like me.” (6) Look at his anxieties and the way he rationalizes the othering behavior from people he idolized or saw as parental figures. Doesn’t it feel as if he’s the same kind of human as the rest of us? So, with that in mind, think about what it takes to create an individual replication of a person. Just like with robots and AI in our reality, there is time, thought, and work put into making them look and behave exactly like we do. So, once the ability to recreate life has been achieved, it’s easy to see how wrong it is to take away the power over someone else body.

To add more to the concept of ownership of one’s own body, “Bodies That Matter,” by Judith Butler goes over how someone’s body is defined by their own choices rather than the social norms enforced by surrounding culture. In “BD 11 1 86,” however, this concept has become problematic because of the idea that a body copy can be made but it has its own consciousness attached leaving many to wonder who owns this body. It’s easy to look at Danny throughout the story and say he is in charge of his own body considering how well he takes care of it most of the time, “Sometimes he cut himself shaving out of carelessness… He wore his usual clothes… Much of the time he wore his Walkman, and his mind was totally elsewhere.” (1) but by the end, especially with that reveal of what BD stands for, “BD. ‘Body Donor.’ That’s why you’ve been brought to our Hardyston headquarters.” (13) You not only start to question who exactly it is that owns Danny’s body but you know for certain it’s not Danny. So, to own someone else’s body through the science that is cloning where do you draw the line between staking a claim on something that logically shouldn’t be claimable and a way to extend the life you’ve assumably worked very hard to accomplish for yourself and your family. Let’s be clear in case I wasn’t clear already. I’m not against the art of cloning as a whole, I’m against the injustices that follow if you go about it the wrong way.

When I think of cloning there are 2 brilliant examples from highly popular movies that come to mind. Two movies have impacted the way I think of Fantasy and the real world, especially concerning the many ways they merge and flow in between. With these movies, I will give examples as to better alternatives to ways to make a clone more ethically than what’s been demonstrated through “BD 11 1 86.” The movies in question would be “The Fifth Element,” directed by Luc Besson, and “Avatar,” directed by James Cameron.

Firstly, in The Fifth Element, an alien being implied to be much smarter and superior to humans is transporting a very important statue that is supposed to save the human race from destruction, when they are inevitably killed. The catch here though is a piece of this alien was found and preserved, then taken to a lab where there is a lot of fancy technology, or as fancy as you can get with 90’s movie props, and a piece of DNA was sampled and converted into human DNA where the science people then made a completely new body from this single strand of DNA. I might even add this scene in particular where the body is being made is exceptional, especially considering it was made in the 90’s and could be considered ahead of its time. The point here is they made a new body from an existent piece of DNA from the original life form, which means with the right mindset and goal in mind it could be possible to make a copy of your own body like they did in Oates’s story but with an alternate perspective on the consciousness issue at hand.

The viewpoint of consciousness has been a big deal here and the true reason for that is because I have a very important idea in mind that changes the very thing I have a problem with in this story. When created a human body the Consciousness does not have to come with the body. The proof of this concept is in Avatar, where one of the goals of the main characters was to blend in and walk among the alien species they were working with. how did they do this? By making a custom alien body for each person with no existing consciousness so they could transfer the person’s consciousness back and forward as many times as they pleased or needed. With this idea in mind, it is completely possible to recreate this type of science and technology to make a clone for the exact purpose described in the short story, without the main issue at hand.

In conclusion, the importance of looking at stories like this one with a queer analysis lens and an open mindset will further lead us to a future where cloning becomes a normal part of life just like robots and it will be closer to the dream future where most people will get along with one another.

Works Cited

The Fifth Element. Directed by Luc Besson, Gaumont, 1997.

Avatar. Directed by James Cameron, Lightstorm Entertainment, 2009.

Daly, Brenda. “Sexual Politics in Two Collections of Joyce Carol Oates’s Short Fiction.” Studies in Short Fiction, vol. 32, no. 1, Winter 1995, p. 83. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=9507233937&site=ehost-live&scope=site.

Carroll, Rachel. “Imitations of Life: Cloning, Heterosexuality and the Human in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go.” Journal of Gender Studies, vol. 19, no. 1, Mar. 2010, pp. 59–71. EBSCOhost, https://doi-org.cwi.idm.oclc.org/10.1080/09589230903525445.

For this essay, I used Chat GPT as a resource to give me a summary of the feminist and queer theory analysis lens, “Feminist queer theory is a critical analysis lens that combines feminist theory and queer theory to examine how gender and sexuality intersect and shape social power dynamics. This approach challenges the dominant cultural norms that promote heteronormativity, gender binary, and patriarchy, which result in marginalizing individuals who do not conform to these norms.” With this, it helped me better understand the material so I could write better essays. This information was accessed on, May 6th, 2023.


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Beginnings and Endings: A Critical Edition Copyright © 2021 by Liza Long is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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