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Chapter pg. 23-32

CT370 Chapter Notes - Chapter pg. 23-32: Genderqueer, We Are Men, Redone

by

Department
Contemporary Studies
Course Code
CT370
Professor
Natalie Kouri- Towe
Chapter
pg. 23-32

Page:
of 10
It's
Your
Gender,
Stupid!
Take
Me
to Your Gender
Gender. Everyone talks about it,
but
no one knows
what
it
is
or
agrees on a definition. Gender identity?
Gender
expression? Gender
characteristics?
The
gender system? A softer synonym for "sex"? Gender
never stands alone,
but
always seems to need a
noun
to refer to.
So, it seems strange in a book devoted to gender
that
no writer takes
the space to define what gender means. We assume that it's a common
term of meaning, although it appears to be anything but.
As
with
pornography, we may not
be
able to define it,
but
we
know it when we
see it.
The
fact that gender
is
used in so many different
but
related contexts
hints. that we've touched on something very basic and pervasive
in
the
human
condition.
So
does the fact that we "know it when we see it."
But I believe all the confusion surrounding gender means that perhaps
just
the opposite
is
the case: that gender
is
a set of meanings, and so
like children learning to tell Daddy from Mommy and little boys from
little girls, we see it once we know it.
Early Morning Do
The
most popular conception of gender
is
as a sort of inner sub-
stance, an essence we all carry within us, that
is
always conveniently
binary and, except in the case of transexuals, matched to our physical
Nestle, Joan; Howell, Clare & Wilchins, Riki. (eds.)
GenderQueer: Voices from beyond the sexual binary.
Alyson Books, 2002. 297 p.
(pp.23-32.)
Riki Wilchins
sex. It
is
the "expression" of this gendered core that leads us to various
gender behaviors: from wearing dresses or ties to displaying dominance
or vulnerability during sex.
But according
to
theorist Judith Butler, gender refers· not to some-
thing we
are
but
to
something we
do
, which, through extended repeti-
tion and because of the vigorous suppression of all exceptions, achieves
the appearance of a sort of coherent psychic substance.
In this
view,
there
is
no doer behind the deed, no gendered identity
behind the acts that we say result from it.
The
acts are all there is, and
it
is
the strict regulation of these acts within the
binary-females
must
produce feminine behaviors and males
masculine-that
produces the
appearance of two coherent and universal genders.
Thus, I don't pull on certain clothes in the morning or style my hair
a particular way because of something within me. I do these acts in a
manner consistent with either masculine or feminine norms because
to
do otherwise would render me socially unintelligible. People wouldn't
know what I was or how to treat me, and I would be the target of a great
deal of hostility.
My achieving a consistent appearance and behavior
is
then offered
as
proof of a binary gender inside me.
If
my gender
is
a doing that has to be redone each day
just
like I pull
on those clothes each morning, that would help explain why sometimes
my gender "fails": Even though I've felt like a man (and
then
later like
a woman), people didn't always recognize me as such. Even I couldn't
always recognize myself
as
such.
Better Dead Than Read
If
I can "fail" accidentally, maybe there are ways I can fail on pur-
pose that will create room for me to
grow,
to
find new ways of expres-
sion that resonate more deeply.
If
gender
is
a doing and a reading of that
doing, a call-and-response that
must
be
continually done and redone,
then
it's also unstable, and there are ways I can disrupt it. Maybe uni-
versal and binary genders are not
so
inevitable after all.
This
is
an attractive line of thinking, especially for anyone who has
found themselves transcending narrow, outdated, 20th-century gender
norms. Which
is
to
say,
all
the writers in this book and most of its readers.
But how
do
we square this with some of the facts? For instance,
transexuality.
It
is
undoubtedly true that some people (the author
It's
Your
Gender, Stupid!
included) have, or do, feel a profound sense of discomfort at being con-
fined to one sex and gender instead of another. If gender
is
a doing, does
that
imply that the transexual in distress
is
somehow reenacting his or
her own pain each morning in a repeated series of gendered acts?
And transexuality aside, most people do report
experi~ncing
a stable,
long-term sense of identification with either male or female, man or
woman.
That
would seem to constitute pretty good evidence of gen-
dered identities.
But
then
again, there are only two types of identities one can report
experiencing. For instance, I said,
"I
feel like a woman trapped in a
man's body," and my doctors understood and shipped
me
off to surgery.
But if I'd worn my Intersex Society of North America HERMAPHRODITES
WITH ATTITUDE T-shirt and told them,
"I
feel like a herm trapped in a
man's body," they wouldn't have understood and would have shipped
me off to a rubber room.
Moreover, paradoxical
as
it sounds, there
is
room to question
whether any identification, however stable and long-term, actually con-
stitutes having an identity. Identification
is
always an act, a repetition,
a name we
give
to a collection of discrete traits, behaviors, urges, and
empathies.
A System of Meanings
Let me repeat something from the introduction: Gender
is
a system
of meanings and
symbols-and
the rules, privileges, and punishments
pertaining
to
their
use-for
power and sexuality: masculinity and femi-
"-
ninity, strength and vulnerability, action and passivity, dominance and
weakness.
To
gender something simply means investing it with one of two
~"
meanings.
So anything and everything can be gendered, for example:
I•
~,;;:;"
ships,
clothing, sexual positions, pens, bowls,
hand
positions, head tilts,
vocal inflections, body hair, and different sports. Indeed, in many
i='"
JLv
.u .
laln_c:
languages, every object
is
given a gender (vive
la
difference, Le
~
.LVlo•nd•e.
la
dolce vita, el
taro,
el Riki).
Because being gay itself
is
a transgression of the rilles of gender,
those rules heavily disfavor femininity, gay and feminist (and
transgendered) critics have tended to focus on gender's many
aspects.
punishments we exact for using the "wrong" words cross from