CT370 Chapter Notes - Chapter pg. 23-32: Genderqueer, We Are Men, Redone
ProfessorNatalie Kouri- Towe
to Your Gender
Gender. Everyone talks about it,
no one knows
agrees on a definition. Gender identity?
gender system? A softer synonym for "sex"? Gender
never stands alone,
always seems to need a
to refer to.
So, it seems strange in a book devoted to gender
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.
pornography, we may not
able to define it,
know it when we
fact that gender
used in so many different
hints. that we've touched on something very basic and pervasive
does the fact that we "know it when we see it."
But I believe all the confusion surrounding gender means that perhaps
the case: that gender
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
most popular conception of gender
as a sort of inner sub-
stance, an essence we all carry within us, that
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.
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.
theorist Judith Butler, gender refers· not to some-
, which, through extended repeti-
tion and because of the vigorous suppression of all exceptions, achieves
the appearance of a sort of coherent psychic substance.
no doer behind the deed, no gendered identity
behind the acts that we say result from it.
acts are all there is, and
the strict regulation of these acts within the
produce feminine behaviors and males
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
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
proof of a binary gender inside me.
a doing that has to be redone each day
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
a woman), people didn't always recognize me as such. Even I couldn't
always recognize myself
Better Dead Than Read
I can "fail" accidentally, maybe there are ways I can fail on pur-
pose that will create room for me to
find new ways of expres-
sion that resonate more deeply.
a doing and a reading of that
doing, a call-and-response that
continually done and redone,
it's also unstable, and there are ways I can disrupt it. Maybe uni-
versal and binary genders are not
inevitable after all.
an attractive line of thinking, especially for anyone who has
found themselves transcending narrow, outdated, 20th-century gender
the writers in this book and most of its readers.
we square this with some of the facts? For instance,
undoubtedly true that some people (the author
included) have, or do, feel a profound sense of discomfort at being con-
fined to one sex and gender instead of another. If gender
a doing, does
imply that the transexual in distress
somehow reenacting his or
her own pain each morning in a repeated series of gendered acts?
And transexuality aside, most people do report
long-term sense of identification with either male or female, man or
would seem to constitute pretty good evidence of gen-
again, there are only two types of identities one can report
experiencing. For instance, I said,
feel like a woman trapped in a
man's body," and my doctors understood and shipped
off to surgery.
But if I'd worn my Intersex Society of North America HERMAPHRODITES
WITH ATTITUDE T-shirt and told them,
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.
it sounds, there
room to question
whether any identification, however stable and long-term, actually con-
stitutes having an identity. Identification
always an act, a repetition,
a name we
to a collection of discrete traits, behaviors, urges, and
A System of Meanings
Let me repeat something from the introduction: Gender
of meanings and
the rules, privileges, and punishments
power and sexuality: masculinity and femi-
ninity, strength and vulnerability, action and passivity, dominance and
gender something simply means investing it with one of two
So anything and everything can be gendered, for example:
clothing, sexual positions, pens, bowls,
positions, head tilts,
vocal inflections, body hair, and different sports. Indeed, in many
languages, every object
given a gender (vive
dolce vita, el
Because being gay itself
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
punishments we exact for using the "wrong" words cross from