Gender Performance: The TransAdvocate interviews Judith Butler

In Revolution, The Trans Terms Sylvia Rivera Used
April 30, 2014
Praesent ornare hendrerit sed faucibus quis cras
May 3, 2014

Gender Performance: The TransAdvocate interviews Judith Butler

By Cristan Williams
@cristanwilliams

 

Judith Butler is a preeminent gender theorist and has played an extraordinarily influential role in shaping modern feminism. She’s written extensively on gender and her concept of gender performativity is a central theme of both modern feminism and gender theory. Butler’s essays and books include Performative Acts and Gender Constitution (1988), Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990), Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex” (1993) and Undoing Gender (2004).

However, the concept of gender perfomativity has been used – and some would assert – abused to support a number of positions that misconstrues Butler’s work. I therefore wanted to ask Butler about what she really thinks about gender and the trans experience.  Along the way Butler specifically addresses TERFs and the work of Sheila Jeffreys and Janice Raymond.


Cristan Williams: You spoke about the surgical intervention many trans people undergo as a “very brave transformation.” Can you talk about that?

Judith Butler: It is always brave to insist on undergoing transformations that feel necessary and right even when there are so many obstructions to doing so, including people and institutions who seek to pathologize or criminalize such important acts of self-definition. I know that for some feels less brave than necessary, but we all have to defend those necessities  that allow us to live and breathe in the way that feels right to us.  Surgical intervention can be precisely what a trans person needs – it is also not always what a trans person needs.  Either way, one should be free to determine the course of one’s gendered life.

CW: I think it’s safe to say that many gender theorists are controversial in one way or another. Some have lumped your work together with the work of gender theorists such as Sheila Jeffreys, who wrote:

[Transsexual surgery] could be likened to political psychiatry in the Soviet Union. I suggest that transsexualism should best be seen in this light, as directly political, medical abuse of human rights. The mutilation of healthy bodies and the subjection of such bodies to dangerous and life-threatening continuing treatment violates such people’s rights to live with dignity in the body into which they were born, what Janice Raymond refers to as their “native” bodies. It represents an attack on the body to rectify a political condition, “gender” dissatisfaction in a male supremacist society based upon a false and politically constructed notion of gender difference… Recent literature on transsexualism in the lesbian community draws connections with the practices of sadomasochism.

Can you talk about the ways in which your views might differ?

JB:  I have never agreed with Sheila Jeffreys or Janice Raymond, and for many years have been on quite the contrasting side of feminist debates.  She appoints herself to the position of judge, and she offers a kind of feminist policing of trans lives and trans choices.  I oppose this kind of prescriptivism, which seems to me to aspire to a kind of feminist tyranny.

If she makes use of social construction as a theory to support her view, she very badly  misunderstands its terms.  In her view, a trans person is “constructed” by a medical discourse and therefore is the victim of a social construct.  But this idea of social constructs does not acknowledge that all of us, as bodies, are in the active position of figuring out how to live with and against the constructions  – or norms – that help to form us.  We form ourselves within the vocabularies that we did not choose, and sometimes we have to reject those vocabularies, or actively develop new ones.  For instance, gender assignment is a “construction” and yet many genderqueer and trans people refuse those assignments in part or in full.  That refusal opens the way for a more radical form of self-determination, one that happens in solidarity with others who are undergoing a similar struggle.

One problem with that view of social construction is that it suggests that what trans people feel about what their gender is, and should be, is itself “constructed” and, therefore, not real.  And then the feminist police comes along to expose the construction and dispute a trans person’s sense of their lived reality.  I oppose this use of social construction absolutely, and consider it to be a false, misleading, and oppressive use of the theory.

CW: Recently, Gloria Steinem wrote:

So now I want to be unequivocal in my words: I believe that transgender people, including those who have transitioned, are living out real, authentic lives. Those lives should be celebrated, not questioned. Their health care decisions should be theirs and theirs alone to make. And what I wrote decades ago does not reflect what we know today as we move away from only the binary boxes of “masculine” or “feminine” and begin to live along the full human continuum of identity and expression.

Would you comment on Steinem’s statement?

JB: I agree completely that nothing is more important for transgender people than to have access to excellent health care in trans-affirmative environments, to have the legal and institutional freedom to pursue their own lives as they wish, and to have their freedom and desire affirmed by the rest of the world. This will happen only when transphobia is overcome at the level of individual attitudes and prejudices and in larger institutions of education, law, health care, and kinship.

CW: What do you think people misrepresent most about your theories and why?

JB:  I do not read very much of those writings, so I cannot say. I do know that some people believe that I see gender as a “choice” rather than as an essential and firmly fixed sense of self.  My view is actually not that.   No matter whether one feels one’s gendered and sexed reality to be firmly fixed or less so, every person should have the right to determine the legal and linguistic terms of their embodied lives.  So whether one wants to be free to live out a “hard-wired” sense of sex or a more fluid sense of gender, is less important than the right to be free to live it out, without discrimination, harassment, injury, pathologization or criminalization – and with full institutional and community support.  That is most important in my view.

CW: Do you think that humans have an innate and subjective experience of having a body? If so, would part of that experience also include having a body with primary sex characteristics?

JB: Most of what people say about these matters is rather speculative. I know that some subjective experiences of sex are very firm and fundamental, even unchangeable. They can be so firm and unchanging that we call them “innate”. But given that we report on such a sense of self within a social world, a world in which we are trying to use language to express what we feel, it is unclear what language does that most effectively. I understand that “innate” is a word that conveys the sense of something hired-wired and constitutive. I suppose I would be inclined to wonder whether other vocabularies might do the job equally well. I never did like the assertion of the “innate” inferiority or women or Blacks, and I understood that when people tried to talk that way, they were trying to “fix” a social reality into a natural necessity. And yet, sometimes we do need a language that refers to a basic, fundamental, enduring, and necessary dimension of who we are, and the sense of sexed embodiment can be precisely that.

CW: Some (such as Milton Diamond) assert that there seems to be a genetic issue that can lead to transsexualism. What are your thoughts about such assertions?

JB: In the works by Milton Diamond that I have read, I have had to question the way he understands genetics and causality. Even if a gene structure could be found, it would only establish a possible development, but would in no way determine that development causally. Genetics might be yet another way of getting to that sense of being “hard-wired” for a particular sex or gender. My sense is that we may not need the language of innateness or genetics to understand that we are all ethically bound to recognize another person’s declared or enacted sense of sex and/or gender. We do not have to agree upon the “origins” of that sense of self to agree that it is ethically obligatory to support and recognize sexed and gendered modes of being that are crucial to a person’s well-being.

CW: If “gender” includes the way in which we subjectively experience, contextualize, and communicate our biology, do you think that living in a world without “gender” is possible?

JB: Sometimes there are ways to minimize the importance of gender in life, or to confuse gender categories so that they no longer have descriptive power. But other times gender can be very important to us, and some people really love the gender that they have claimed for themselves. If gender is eradicated, so too is an important domain of pleasure for many people. And others have a strong sense of self bound up with their genders, so to get rid of gender would be to shatter their self-hood. I think we have to accept a wide variety of positions on gender. Some want to be gender-free, but others want to be free really to be a gender that is crucial to who they are.

CB11[1]

CW: I have seen where – especially online – people who identify as “gender critical feminists” (TERFs) assert that transwoman are merely mutilated men. What are your thoughts about using “gender critical feminism” to make such assertions?

JB: I do not know this term, but I reject totally the characterization of a transwoman as a mutilated man. First, that formulation presumes that men born into that sex assignment are not mutilated. Second, it once again sets up the feminist as the prosecutor of trans people. If there is any mutilation going on in this scene, it is being done by the feminist police force who rejects the lived embodiment of transwomen. That very accusation is a form of “mutilation” as is all transphobic discourse such as these. There is a rather huge ethical difference between electing surgery and being faced with transphobic condemnation and diagnoses. I would say that the greatest risk of mutilation that trans people have comes directly from transphobia.

CW: Many trans people assert that women/females can have a penis and that men/males can have a vagina. What are your thoughts about that?

JB: I see no problem with women having a penis, and men having a vagina. People can have whatever primary characteristics they have (whether given or acquired) and that does not necessarily imply what gender they will be, or want to be. For others, primary sexual characteristics signify gender more directly.

Intersectionality may well sound like some unfortunate bowel complaint resulting in copious use of a colostomy bag, and indeed it does contain a large amount of ordure. Wikipedia defines it as ‘the study of intersections between different disenfranchised groups or groups of minorities; specifically, the study of the interactions of multiple systems of oppression or discrimination’, which seems rather mature and dignified. In reality, it seeks to make a manifesto out of the nastiest bits of Mean Girls, wherein non-white feminists especially are encouraged to bypass the obvious task of tackling the patriarchy’s power in favour of bitching about white women’s perceived privilege in terms of hair texture and body shape. – Julie Burchill

CW: Do you have any thoughts about “intersectionality?”

JB: If you are referring to the important contribution of black feminist theory, then I have many thoughts. It has made an important contribution to social and political analysis, asking all of us to think about what assumptions of race and class we make when we speak about “women” or what assumptions of gender and race we make when we speak about “class.” It allows us to unpack those categories and see the various kinds of social formations and power relations that constitute those categories.

CW: It has been asserted that if one controls the way one identifies and behaves, that one can change the way one experiences their body. For example:

He could see that I was possessed of this thing, which only now, I realize was demonic. I knelt on the study floor, in tears, I was choking, forces were telling me not to do it, to walk out; freedom as a woman awaited me, after all, I had made such progress. I fought back, I cried aloud, I repented, I rebuked what had gone on in my life… All this happened 18 months ago… I gave them my suitcases of dresses, clothes, make up etc. It made me feel sick, and it was a major thing for me to do. I had to get rid of all that had held me before. They disposed of the stuff. I stopped having manicures, and cut my nails short, I grew a small beard. I threw all the [hormone] tablets away, and turned away from anything that had to do with my desires. I asked my Pastor for a verse that I could look at every day and enjoy my new freedom as a man, a father and a husband. I put a piece of paper next to my bed, with encouraging verses, which I read every morning when I got out of bed. I knew that the woman inside was dead. The power of Christ had destroyed her, and all she stood for. Eighteen months on, the devil still tries to persuade me, but he knows that I will not go down that path, as the consequences for my family would be immense. I am accountable to several people, and I am enjoying my manhood. –Sam’s Story

In the above example, the individual has made an ongoing daily ritualistic practice of denial and repression in the belief that it will change the way they experience their body. In what seems to be a somewhat similar approach, Janice Raymond wrote:

This paper has argued that the issue of transsexualism is an ethical one that has profound social and moral ramifications. Transsexualism itself is a deeply moral question rather than a medicaltechnical answer. In concluding, I would list some suggestions for change that address the more social and ethical arguments I have raised in the preceding pages.

While there are many who feel that morality must be built into law, I believe that the elimination of transsexualism is not best achieved by legislation prohibiting transsexual treatment and surgery but rather by legislation that limits it and by other legislation that lessens the support given to sex-role stereotyping, which generated the problem to begin with…

It would raise questions such as the following: is individual gender suffering relieved at the price of role conformity and the perpetuation of role stereotypes on a social level? In changing sex, does the transsexual encourage a sexist society whose continued existence depends upon the perpetuation of these roles and stereotypes? These and similar questions are seldom raised in transsexual therapy at present.

– Raymond (1980), Technology on the Social and Ethical Aspects of Transsexual Surgery

In your understanding of “gender,” do you believe that either of these approaches – both focusing on controlling behavior (via god and religious counseling or legislation and stereotype counseling) – would be able to eliminate trans people?

JB: I think that it is incumbent on all of us to get rid of these approaches – they are painful, unnecessary, and destructive. Raymond sets herself up as the judge of what transsexuality is and is not, and we are already in a kind of moral prison as we read her work. What is much more important than any of these behaviorist or “moral” approaches are all the stories, poems, and testimonies, the theoretical and political works, that document the struggle to achieve embodied self-determination for individuals and for groups. What we need are poems that interrogate the world of pronouns, open up possibilities of language and life; forms of politics that support and encourage self-affirmation. And what we need is a political and joyous alternative to the behaviorist discourse, the Christian discourse on evil or sin, and the convergence of the two in forms of gender policing that [is] tyrannical and destructive.

CW: Do you think “sex” is a social construct?

JB: I think that there are a variety of ways of understanding what a social construct is, and we have to be patient with terms like these. We have to find a way of understanding how one category of sex can be “assigned” from both and another sense of sex can lead us to resist and reject that sex assignment. How do we understand that second sense of sex? It is not the same as the first – it is not an assignment that others give us. But maybe it is an assignment we give ourselves? If so, do we not need a world of others, linguistic practices, social institutions, and political imaginaries in order to move forward to claim precisely those categories we require, and to reject those that work against us?

CW: What, if anything, would you like trans people to take from your work?

JB: Gender Trouble was written about 24 years ago, and at that time I did not think well enough about trans issues. Some trans people thought that in claiming that gender is performative that I was saying that it is all a fiction, and that a person’s felt sense of gender was therefore “unreal.” That was never my intention. I sought to expand our sense of what gender realities could be. But I think I needed to pay more attention to what people feel, how the primary experience of the body is registered, and the quite urgent and legitimate demand to have those aspects of sex recognized and supported. I did not mean to argue that gender is fluid and changeable (mine certainly is not). I only meant to say that we should all have greater freedoms to define and pursue our lives without pathologization, de-realization, harassment, threats of violence, violence, and criminalization. I join in the struggle to realize such a world.

This article is part of an ongoing series exploring trans issues with feminist opinion leaders:
  • Catharine A. MacKinnon: Iconic radical feminist/legal theorist.
  • Judith Butler: Iconic queer feminist/gender theorist.
  • Frances “Poppy” Northcutt: Early trans-inclusive leader in the Southern feminist movement, president of Texas NOW.
  • Janis Walworth: Radical Lesbian who organized the movement that became Camp Trans.
  • Sandy Stone: After surviving an attempted murder by TERFs, wrote a foundational document for trans feminism: The Empire Strikes Back: A Post-Transsexual Manefesto.
  • Robin Tyler: Iconic radical feminist activist, pioneered trans-inclusive Women's Fests, was beaten by TERFs for protecting a trans woman from thier bashing.

  • Radical Women: Conversation with an early trans-inclusive 2nd wave feminist group formed in 1967.
  • Libertarian Feminism: Interview with a trans-inclusive libertarian feminist organization formed in 1973.

Tip this TransAdvocate!

Writers for the TransAdvocate work hard to bring you news and commentary. If you found this article meaningful, let the author know that you appreciate the work they do with a tip!
TipJar
Cristan Williams
Cristan Williams
Cristan Williams is a trans historian and pioneer in addressing the practical needs of the transgender community. She started the first trans homeless shelter in the South and co-founded the first federally funded trans-only homeless program, pioneered affordable healthcare for trans people in the Houston area, won the right for trans people to change their gender on Texas ID prior to surgery, started numerous trans social service programs and founded the Transgender Center as well as the Transgender Archives. Cristan is the editor at the social justice sites TransAdvocate.com and TheTERFs.com, is a long-term member and previous chair of the City of Houston HIV Prevention Planning Group.

75 Comments

  1. bonzeblayk says:

    “In the works by Milton Diamond that I have read, I have had to question the way he understands genetics and causality.” – Judith Butler

    How much it saddens me to see Judith performing this mis-take on what Dr. Diamond is about… his researches are based in the biological sciences, and his analytical approach – in large part, it seems to me – on comparative studies of animal behavior, rather than anthropological research or social theory?

    But still, he was the person who formulated the single most perceptive and incisive comment on our situation with respect to society:

    “Nature loves diversity; society hates it.” – Milton Diamond

    Greater acceptance of diversity is something we all need to work towards… in the area of gender expression, part of that is accepting that there are indeed the hard cases where gender identity, if not the performance of that identity as it is inscribed on the person’s character through acculturation, is fixed before birth in a manner contrary to what one would expect from their genetic endowment; and that in some cases of variant gender expression… that’s not the case: that there are persons who are born with bi-gendered tendencies, or with an aptitude for genderfluidity in their self-expression.

    thanks,
    – bonzie anne

    • Ruby Quantum says:

      I would like, as a trans woman, to defend what Butler said in relation to Milton Diamond’s work. Diamond’s theory of the origins and biological basis of transsexuality may or may not be correct (I don’t have a strong opinion); the point that I took Butler to be making, however, is that debates concerning such theories have been invested with an unhealthy degree of political significance because of the background sense that they necessary for, or at least advantageous to, advancing the recognition and rights of trans people. I took Butler to be saying that a wholehearted support of trans peoples’ rights and identities should not be reliant on the demonstration of a clear biological or genetic cause. A similar point can (and has) been made in relation to gay and lesbian rights.

      I very much agree with Butler on this point. I would like to see a world in which the correctness or otherwise of Diamond’s theories is seen as absolutely irrelevant to the question of whether trans people deserve to be recognised and supported in their chosen/acquired/experienced/whatever you want to call it gender. In such a world, identifying any genetic and/or biological causes of transsexuality would continue to be an interesting area of research, but it would become a largely academic question, rather than one invested with the political significance that it currently has.

      I think that, in this interview, Butler did an excellent job of defending an essentially social constructionist view of sex and gender, whilst explaining that use of such theories to delegitimise trans people’s identities and lived experiences is oppressive and wrong. In so doing, I believe that she has made a much more significant contribution to advancing trans peoples’ rights, and to challenging those who misuse her work, than if she had recanted and admitted that Diamond was right after all.

  2. Juli Richmond says:

    Wow…just wow.
    It is a brave new world.

  3. Thank you so much for this. I’ve honestly found Butler’s opinions on transgender agency to be very unclear. Notoriously in /Gender Trouble/, she spokes of transsexual women as “disavowed homosexuals” (1990). This was the same year Jeffreys argued in /Anticlimax/ that trans women only want to mimic the worst stereotypes of “what women should be”.

    I’ve honestly found Butler’s comments since then to be difficult to pin down, especially given the amplification of the TERF position over the last few years by both Jeffreys and Delphy. I know Butler has supervised doctoral projects by cis women writing on trans issues that have gone on to become important contributions to the conversation.

    So — and I applaud you for this — how wonderful that the Transadvocate is able to bring us this fascinating interview.

    • Shayne O says:

      An Aboriginal friend once told me that he actually liked vocal racists because they acted as clarifying agents for sorting out friend and foe amongst the ambiguous. He said the friends would react to the vocal racist to clarify their own positions as anti racist whilst the borderline racists would feel compelled to declare themselves racist thus making it clear who the enemy is. I wonder whether the TERF crowd has in some way been a dark blessing by making it urgent for those of ambiguous position to clarify that they wont abide transphobia whilst pulling the cloak of obsfucation away from those who will. Just a thought, no need to agree.

  4. goldensuze says:

    Do you actually think that women who have gender critiques are “a feminist police force?” Is there no other way to describe feminists whose theories differ from your own? Police force implies some kind of institutional power, some use of physical weaponry, and a cohesive chain of command. Feminists do not have this, nor do we want it. We may be passionate about our ideas and beliefs, but how does this equate us with “police,” and what do you hope to gain by using this inaccurate metaphor?

    Meanwhile you sit quietly and allow “TERF,” a slur no radical feminist has ever used about herself or about other radical feminists, to passed unremarked on? In what universe of discourse is this acceptable?

    I do not agree with your opinions or your conclusions but I would never condone someone calling you by the same kinds of words you seem to accept and use in critiquing feminists and their theories?

    • “TERF” is a term the RadFem community popularized to stop the colonization of their identity, space and discourse. Here’s where TERF came from, what it means, why it’s used:

      http://www.transadvocate.com/terf-what-it-means-and-where-it-came-from_n_13066.htm

      Either this is true or it is not. If it is true, what you’ve asserted is not supported by objective facts.

      • goldensuze says:

        I don’t know who TigTog is, nor do you disclose her identity in your article. I’ve never heard any radical feminist describe herself as “TERF.” Every radical feminist I’ve ever read about or met finds this word not only rude and inaccurate, but always used as a slur and often as an insult. As in “I hope that TERF dies in a fire.”

        • @goldensuze: Whether or not you choose to accept demonstrable reality, “TERF” comes from the RadFem community. Claiming that the RadFem community was wrong for popularizing the term because you think someone, somewhere at sometime used it a a slur is some of the most privileged BS I’ve ever heard. I’ve seen TERFs use “trans woman” as a slur; that doesn’t make it one. Sorry, but out of respect for actual RadFems who don’t want TERFs to colonize their identity, I’m going to continue using the term in the way the RadFem community wanted.

          If you only hang out with TERFs who are really invested in colonizing the totality of RadFem identity, then yeah… I can see how they wouldn’t be happy with any language that prevents them from colonizing RadFem spaces and identity.

      • don't call me turf says:

        Terf is a slur and a slang term created and used by m2t against women who actually value true womanhood and nothing more. The more I see the trans community slur and tear down women and womens spaces the les and less I am wanting anything to do with these poseurs

        • @don’t call me turf: The history you assert is demonstrably false. Choosing to cling to the lie that “TERF” came from the trans community won’t make you right; rather, it will merely demonstrate that you’re willfully obtuse.

      • friday jones says:

        Were you able to keep a straight face while typing a complaint about TERF being a slur in the same post where you used the term “m2t?” OF COURSE you were able to keep a straight face– a straight, white, cis, upper-middle-class, Catholic-college-educated face. That’s the only face I’ve ever seen presented by TERFs.

    • Dee Omally says:

      Uh, absolutely yes. Holding opinion, even to the point of disagreement is everyone’s right and makes for interesting discussion that often changes intransigent minds such that they may achieve at least a state of malleability. Enforcement is but a right of the few granted with legal authority, authorized to exercise discretion, and wielding powers that in consequence “force” compliance or else. Make no mistake, enforcing “gender” stereotypes and rules by forming organized groups tasked with unarmed combat via the printed or spoken word to spread propaganda, lies, half-lies against “opposing” groups on a mass scale or on individuals through selective enforcement is “policing”.

      The tremendous punishments meted out from such orchestrated efforts are often much worse than mere open/close incarceration. The torment inflicted on trans persons by such efforts is now a matter of historical record. When faced with such disparagement or offense, trans persons rise up in exercising the basic human right of defense, only to be singled out for systematic and incessant psychological attack. Such malice employs one of the oldest ruses in the books. Despite the civil right to a sex/gender transition, trans persons, wholly or single, today face harassment, ridicule, mocking, criminal inference, and accrue real-world losses solely from the efforts of such groups who long ago deluded themselves into believing their efforts are noble, necessary, and required. To think that exercising the legal and civil right to transition requires a commensurate exercise in defense that is diversionary and energy consuming and yet eludes accountability for such torment is beyond baffling.

      In my limited understand, there are feminists, radical feminists, and Trans Exclusive radical feminists. TERFS claim sole proprietary ownership of the definition of “female”—a claim that is so egregious that to state that it derives from a mentally challenged mindset would not even be close to being inaccurate. To “police” or more specifically to presume one’s life’s calling is to enforce such a gender paradigm, exactly what occurs from trans persecution, exceeds reasonable belief so much so that such a disorder could find a place only under the “insane” column. It would be far more convincing to state that the sun is actually an ice cream cone than to state that such active enforcement is not a mission objective of TERFs.

      The irony and #1 clue that such groups lack credibility but possess an abundance of malice is this: they affirm a “true” female gender while simultaneously defying “true” female gender expectations, going sans cosmetics or “female” garb. Possessing a female gender while wearing masculine garb fits squarely within the broad definition of transgender. Refuting such an assertion when faced with such image evidence possesses credibility far west of zero.

      Such feminist extremists are so radical that they defy true sex experts (doctors) who confirm, authorize, validate and empower trans persons to align their physical body with one’s gender “personality. Sex and gender identity are exuded from two critical areas: personality and the endocrine system—both domains for which none, as in NONE, other than psychiatrists and medical doctors claim sole ownership as experts in these two psychosomatic areas.

      Again, many institutions have institutional powers and are not police. Many involved in private safety or military have weaponry and are not police. Most employees are obligated to following a prescribed chain of command, but are not police. What turns a civilian into “police” is as I have said: the authority to enforce laws, laws that emanate from a myriad of codes, not all criminal. Having been “the police” to so many over my lifetime, I shall invoke my right of credibility.

      TERF extremists, not to be confused with radical feminists that are trans inclusive, empower themselves with legal authority by occupation, not much unlike police, and through incessant and repetitive efforts that come from either obsessed or vile minds enforce the gender paradigm—far, far more than a mere expression of “opinion.” There is no better way to describe these punitive measures than as “policing”. Uttering the words of one much wiser than I, “a rose by any other name…is still a rose.” Hallelujah.

      • Dee Omally says:

        I Dee, approve of this chalkboard-scratching message. If this is your shoe size, wear it, but not with pride. If your mind is malleable, I extend an invitation to sit at the table, break bread, and pass the peace pipe, meta-4-ically speaking.

        One of life’s greatest joys is to turn enemies into friends. Who we are 2day is not who we were yesterday, or who we will be tomorrow. A two-spirited perspective is one that only the few blessed by a tongue with courage, yet powered by a heart without limit, derived from the experiences of living in two worlds within one lifetime will ever claim the right to have. There is only one race, one color and one gender: human. All other traits are but hues of the the one “human” color.

        There is no pretty; there is no ugly…..we have stepped out of the forest, the jungle, the garden. Like the vegetation that gave us cover, concealment, and above all sustenance—we occupy cubic space never having surrendered attributes shared by vegetation and other wildlife, thereby giving no rationalization for any attitude other than humble. We stepped out into the clear, and bring with us the entire spectrum of diversity, both physical and abstract. We reside in a world perverted by human judgement—-like mitochondria blown up in size for human observation, we find ourselves under perennial judgment: eye candy or not, hot or not, female or not…..human judgement has proven to be a historical and colossal failure, and yet is is the sub-basement foundation for the judgment that persecutes and prosecutes gender diverse and gender-transitioned males and females.

        Utopia is the absence of fear, pain and violence, not the absence of nature’s hues expressed in infinite ways to give the message that we already live within infinity; once we get there, far beyond our lifetime, finally mankind will live by love and not by sight. It is striving toward this Utopian goal that will bring Utopia, although not governed by man for man has proven to find comfort in lifetimes of conflict….it is only through arduous effort, often upstream that we will arrive in Utopia. Utopia is not on a journey toward us—we must be on a journey to it. Once human puritanism yields to the recognition that nature is us and we are nature, we will be on a fast-track toward Utopia, whatever that might be. In the meantime, while we live our truth, we are obligated to future generations to expose the untruths. Paz, amor, y felicidad a todos, especialmente a mi familia transgenera.

    • Dee Omally says:

      My God, I love this woman!!!!! Why have I not heard about her before? Cristan, you continue to dazzle me with brilliance, as I call out many who try to dazzle us with bullshit. As I listened to her, I was mesmerized by her sweetness, captivated by her intellect, and blessed by her lack of hostility.

      I am, hopefully, “lethal” in defense while a believer in forgiveness. I never shirk at the right to be fervent in righteous indignation, else nothing changes. Like her, I strive to best make my point via the articulated word, seeking to isolate the offense, and the offender only in proportion to the offense. In so many words she stated in academic-speak and reaffirmed one of the basic human characteristics which we in the trans community seek to never apologize for: “hey…..there’s plenty of room in the inn for all of us. You sit at that table and I sit at mine. You leave me alone and I will do likewise. You don’t know me so how can you judge me? Your reality and perspective are not mine. Your world is not my world. Your eyes don’t see what I see. Your mind doesn’t think like mine. How does fixing my sex/gender translate to being illegal? How do you know what my sex/gender really is?

      Best of all, she makes the best use of the word “judge” ever heard. Beyond laws and enforcers, and far above them lies the ultimate enforcer who can redefine or reinterpret laws: a judge. Those who seek to nullify the right of a human being to correct/fix/align/change sex/gender by active and selective enforcement measures such that they redefine and reinterpret the medical and legal rights to undergo a sex/gender transition are the ultimate enforcers of a gender paradigm: persons who have claimed as their right to inflict punishment on the trans community on a mass or individual scale through psychological incarceration. A judge by any other name is still a judge.

    • Shayne O says:

      In fairness goldensuze the “Gender critical” (hmmmmm) Radfem group has consistently insisted on using their own terms for trans folk including misgendering (I see that ALL the time) and constant references to the birth gender of transfolks in terms trans folk find offensive or just plain wrong. Why is that OK and the TERF terminology wrong. I mean at least TERF is an accurate acronym. It just seems like “gender critical” (I really still dont understand how the gender essentialism of some radfems qualifies as “critical”) crowd want to deny their critics of language to articulate it. It seems to me awfully silencing.

  5. Eden says:

    I just think that Juli’s comment needs to be repeated: Wow! Thank you very much Cristan.

  6. […] Gender Performance: The TransAdvocate interviews Judith Butler | The TransAdvocate. […]

  7. […] of Butler’s work on gender is very densely-written and difficult to follow. This, however, is a very clear statement of support for trans people, and a denunciation of the mis-use […]

  8. Konnor Crewe says:

    Wow! Cristan and Judith, thank you for taking on this very complex subject. I am very grateful for your words and the impact that they may have on the feminist community at large. Your words pack a big punch.

  9. Savannah says:

    I met Judith Butler in Toronto a few years back and really enjoyed discussing trans activism and feminism with her. I remember that some trans people had tried to convince me that her theories represent a pathologization of trans people and trans identity, but having met her in real life I found this entirely unbelievable (and I already doubted it in the first place). I asked her opinion on a trans feminist theory I had been thinking about, and she waited very patiently for me to express myself, even though I was a bit star struck and awkward and it was late and she was obviously tired. She was kind enough to offer to look over my writing if I sent it to her, although sadly it’s one of many pieces I’ve never found time to finish, so I never got to send it to her.

  10. […] Cristan Williams at TransAdvocate has a fantastic interview with Judith Butler, in which Judy B clarifies her position that  everyone’s ability to determine their own sense of self is paramount, and that she firmly opposes theory being used to police and judge trans people’s genders. […]

  11. Katie says:

    Fantastic article, very succinctly expresses much of what I think and experience, my reasons for not using hormones or surgery, how our apparent gender is both a learnt performance, physical and mental ‘skills’ and also performative in that it creates responses, reactions, which of course form a feedback loop.
    I resonate with so much in this article, it feels like a little oasis in the struggle I have to be authentic, in the swimming against the tide of giving in to gender binary stereotype violence.
    Thank you

  12. Nuala says:

    Thank you Cristan and Judith for this awesome interview. It is through discussions like this we can shrink the spaces which tend to divide communities and increase the common ground we share together.

  13. corpg says:

    Is Judith Butler still visiting at Columbia, or has she moved back to Berkeley?

  14. […] Gender Performance: The TransAdvocate interviews Judith Butler […]

  15. […] TransAdvocate recently posted an interview with Judith Butler on gender and gender identity, specifically surrounding trans* issues. There are a lot of quotable […]

  16. Dee Omally says:

    At the risk of over-saturating this award-winning story, I preempt this with an apology…but I feel this was so poignantly accurate, it just had to be said twice…

    While I vacillate between the feeling of betrayal by our gay “former family” (the tip of a gay-sponsored transphobic iceberg I believe) and the glorious feeling of seeing trans sisters unite [hey maybe that’s it! TSU—Trans Sisters United!], I kept masticating on this: “Oh get over it. It was just a silly parody. Tra**y and she*** is who we drag performers are! It’s our free speech [to offend]. Stop trying to police our thoughts [uh u mean what we saw on TV are thoughts?] It was just comedy [at our expense]. It was a blow dryer [hmmmm…ok…maybe I will download those ringtones for my blow dryer].”

    As I kept chewing, I simply couldn’t digest the thesis posited—that they were but mere “words”. The problem is that “at sunset”, letters + numbers are alphanumeric symbols that are the building block of words—like a foreign alphabet they mean absolutely nothing until deciphered. The difficulty with words is that they contain objective and subjective definitions. As a chief executive once said, “It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’, is.” So yes, words are placeholders for ideas and messages—thoughts put on paper—depending on messenger and recipient, words increase heartbeats, inflame passion, stir into action any one or more of our many physiological systems, such that inter-personal or international conflict has and can erupt, followed by cataclysmic events.

    I sat down..pondered, and pondered while sipping T leaves brewed over filtered water…..while remaining flabbergasted over what has transpired in the last 30 days. How could “they” have the audacity and balls so huge to pretend not to know how inflammatory it was to dare introduce a show for public purview entitled “straight or fa**ot”…pardon me, “female or she****”? As if that wasn’t ballsy enough, we became audience to a video that will live in infamy…a mandate making obligatory our Trans Declaration of LGB Independence! Shall friend lie down with adversary, one with devious machinations, risking never to rise again? Sometimes the answer to a question is provided……

    *************************************************************

    VJD= Vicarious Judgmental Disorder defined: a disorder that involves reaching a conclusion in judgement about a person or persons who belong to a group with common characteristics, based primarily on anecdotal evidence derived vicariously, and lacks conclusions derived from empirical evidence, appealing to group emotion, primarily fear. Beyond presuppositions, disagreement, disdain, or even loathing—all components of subjective conclusions—what elevates these “everyday” conclusions into a disorder is that such persons coalesce as a unit in a “circle the wagons” approach, and based on fears neither real but perceived, begin to execute group offense to such an extent that it becomes a passionate obsession.

    The group dictum and requires and employs tactics deemed so offensive that this psychological warfare is rationalized in a manner and case reflecting the idiom “the best defense is the strongest offense.” The end result is a protracted conflict, psychological in nature, employing technology as a weapon and so consumes the offending group that can only be objectively described as a mental state of acute unhealthiness and unhappiness, purportedly mirroring Maslow’s first priority: survival. Although in obligatory defensive posture, the target group of those with VJD by necessity appears to share some traits, the distinguishing primary factor is that the targeted group is forced to vehement defense expressly intended to repel offensive multi-faceted tactics that employ subterfuge as its primary modus operandi. Such subterfuge, although not initally apparent, reveals itself typically through feigned concern “for all”, despite being sincere in seeking protection for “some” that align with their values, typically but not always relgious. VJD: borrow it, steal it, claim it, who cares….but VJD is exactly what is behind trans judgement.

    Dee’s Encyclopedia of Infinite Wisdom
    {and I never said “TERFs”, until now}

  17. Evie says:

    When I went to hear you speak, a few years ago, I was instantly floored by your kindness, your wisdom and your depth. I was in awe of you then, and I’m still in awe of you now!

  18. […] Butler, one of my favourite thinkers, has given an extremely interesting interview with Transadvocate about her work on gender performativity and how it relates (and hasn’t in the past) to trans […]

  19. […] understand gender, sex, the body, and sexuality, Judith Butler, has come out with an interview with Transadvocate, where she admits the mistakes that she made with the initial ideas/words in her most famous work, […]

  20. […] Judith Butler is interviewed at The Trans Advocate and specifically addresses how some of her theories have been used to support TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) arguments. […]

  21. […] Gender Performance: The TransAdvocate interviews Judith Butler […]

  22. […] a recent interview with TransAdvocate, Judith Butler discusses the ways in which conceptual misinterpretations of gender performativity […]

  23. […] read an interview with feminist extraordinaire Judith Butler recently. I was impressed with a lot of things in this […]

  24. Penny L. says:

    Thanks, both to Cristan & Judith, for this wonderful labor of love. This is one of those moments when I must, albeit gladly, admit I was wrong. Through my research of recent years I, like many others, came to suspect Judith Butler of having been a key figure of the “TG/TS woman as queer male” camp. This largely because of the influence of Foucault, Lacan, and other postructuralists on her work as well as her emphasis on the tragic (through Antigone) role the transgressor must allegedly assume in society (and the ethical burden that follows), not to mention her (alleged) reliance on Kojève’s structuralist interpretation of Hegel, led me to suspect her of rhetorically serving up transfolk as the “necessary error” these theories would have us be. The reaction of heteronormative feminists to her work in the 90s didn’t help, either.

    So I am happy to admit being wrong about her and close that unhappy chapter. I will remember Judith’s kind words here as they are for me an unequivocal vote of support and a much needed stand of solidarity with us against the absurd claims of our embittered enemies.

  25. […] Original en inglés: Gender Performance: The TransAdvocate interviews Judith Butler […]

  26. […] was reading this interview with feminist and queer theorist Judith Butler, and it struck me that there is an issue of […]

  27. […] realizada a Judith Butler por Cristan Williams para “Transadvocate” publicada el 1 de mayo de […]

  28. […] Perhaps being mindful of Wittig’s warning, when I interviewed Judith Butler, she said: […]

  29. […] Gender Performance: The TransAdvocate interviews Judith Butler | The TransAdvocate. […]

  30. […] Judith Butler’s 1991 book Gender Trouble sent the academic world into a complete tailspin. Most radically, she flung a series of searching questions at the feminist universe. By arguing that gender was not simply innate or biological, Butler spotlighted our daily performance of gender roles. Social control and power, for Butler, were not amorphous, out-there concepts. She told us that our smallest actions — how we dress, how we talk — could perpetuate both. In short, the starting point of feminism wasn’t the biological women. PS: Certain “radical” feminists have used Butler’s work to underplay biology and cast female-to-male trans people as deluded by patriarchy. Butler categorically rejected this. Read on. […]

  31. […] realizada a Judith Butler por Cristan Williams para “Transadvocate” publicada el 1 de mayo de 2014. […]

  32. […] of trans lives and trans choices.” About Jeffreys’ “social construction” talking points, Butler said, “If she makes use of social construction as a theory to support her view, she very badly […]

  33. […] sehr interessantes Interview mit Judith Butler über gender and trans […]

  34. […] of trans lives and trans choices.” About Jeffreys’ “social construction” talking points, Butler said, “If she makes use of social construction as a theory to support her view, she very badly […]

  35. […] Gender Performance: The TransAdvocate interviews Judith Butler ↩ […]

  36. […] both in terms of sexual attitudes and categorizations. Modern feminism, for instance, breeds respect for people who are trans or intersex, becoming as much a campaign for attitudinal change, as for […]

  37. […] in developing the modern feminism we know today, spoke out against trans-exclusive feminism. In an interview with the Transadvocate, Butler stated that “we all have to defend those necessities  that allow us to live and breathe […]

  38. […] the full interview along with a short video clip at The TransAdvocate. Butler clarifies her conception of “gender perfomativity” and […]

  39. […] This excellent interview with Judith Butler done by The Transadvocate, where she squashes the idea that her work implicitly argues for […]

  40. […] as it relates to transgendered individuals. Butler has spoken to this specific criticism saying on transadvocate.com that, “…others have a strong sense of self bound up with their genders, so to get rid of gender […]

  41. renzotaddei says:

    JULY 17, 2015 / GUEST AUTHORS

    Bringing to a close our symposium on Bodies of Violence is Lauren’s rejoinder to all our contributors, Kevin McSorleyAli HowellPablo and Antoine.
    First, a huge thank you to the (Dis)order of Things and especially Antoine for organizing this forum and to each of the contributors. It’s been a huge honor to have my work read so carefully and responded to so thoughtfully and I welcome the opportunity to try to clarify some of my work and acknowledge where the contributors have pointed out helpful areas for future research.
    As Pablo K and others noticed, Bodies of Violence it is not meant to be a general theory of embodiment in IR (I’m not sure such a project is feasible or politically desirable in any event).  It is a more specific intervention with a different ambition: both to speak to ‘mainstream’ concerns about theorizing violence, particularly forms of political violence associated with the ‘war on terror’ and to make not only a theoretical argument about how we might or should theorize embodiment and violence, but also to show that understanding these different ‘modes of violence’ necessitates such an understanding of the relationship between bodies, subjects and violence.  My rationale for using feminist theory to think about the relationship between bodies, subjects and violence in IR was not meant to be exclusive: certainly (other) people working with concepts of biopolitics as well as anti-colonial/anti-racist theorists, disability theorists, phenomenologists and more also have much to say on this topic, some insights of which have been very important in my analysis, if not as fully fleshed out (if you will) as my engagement with feminist theory is.[i] For me, it was a particular reading of feminist theories of embodiment, not solely based on Butler, but on a particular feminist problematic in which women, as a category of those constituted, as Pablo K put it, the “improperly bodied”, are politically disenfranchised and generally excluded from their status as a fully human subject that served as a starting point, but far from an ‘ending’ for thinking about the subject of embodiment.  Rather, it is, as Kevin noted, “the specific tradition of trying to think through women’s subordination in terms of the relationship between bodies, subjects and power” that feminist theory entails that I wanted to use to think about violence and embodiment in ways that I hope will speak not only to feminists in IR but also to other critical and the more pluralistically and trans-disciplinarily minded scholars in IR and beyond as well.

    However, this brings us to some of the drawbacks of feminist approaches to violence and embodiment. Ali’s point about the violence of feminist theory is a particularly good one. Feminists working in IR tend to be quite aware of the uses of feminism for violent aims: the Taliban’s oppression and abuse of women in Afghanistan as a rationale for war by the US and its allies being supported by NOW and the Feminist Majority is a well-known example. Ali’s point about the violence of some feminism(s) against trans-people is also well-taken; though Butler is hardly a ‘TERF’ by any means, her work has been critiqued by trans-theorists for a number of reasons. For the purposes of this book, I don’t necessarily see a conflict between trans-theory and Butler’s theory of the materialization of bodies and the limits of intelligibility as being relevant to the ways in which security practices work to materialize only certain bodies as ‘real,’ often excluding trans- people and constituting them as threats. In general, I agree with Ali that we should welcome feminist scholarship and practice that is less defensive in regards to the ‘mainstream’ of the discipline and more willing to seek alliances and interlocutors from a broader range of scholars, both in the spaces of IR and outside doing work on violence, power and embodiment.[ii]
    Forum contributors also provided some excellent provocations for thinking about aspects of embodiment or ways of addressing the thorny question of embodiment that my book did not focus on. Pablo writes, “It is a book thoroughly about bodies, but not therefore necessarily a theory of bodies and embodiment. And it is theory of em-bodies-ment that we may in need of.” On a somewhat different note, Kevin wonders what might happened if the embodied subjects of which I write “could have a more audible place in the analysis.” Of course, it (should) hardly need mentioning the great amount of work influenced by feminist and postcolonial theory that strives to bring the voices and experiences of embodied subjects, particularly of marginalized peoples, into IR as a disciplinary space. I would point, for one example, to the work of Christine Sylvester and others on experience as an embodied concept for theorizing war. However, as Kevin points out, my book has a different, and I would hope, complementary aim: to show the explanatory and critical value of theorizing bodies as both produced by, and productive of, practices of violence in international politics.  It is the last point, that bodies are productive of violence, which speaks more to Pablo’s concern about bodies ‘mattering’.
    While Bodies of Violence is perhaps most influenced by Butler’s project, as Kevin, Ali and Pablo K have all noted, theories of embodiment (or at least the relationship between discourse and materiality) such as Elizabeth Grosz’s Volatile Bodiesand Barad’s ‘posthumanist performativity’ as well as Donna Haraway’s work are perhaps more of an influence than appears in the published version of the book, which takes as an overarching frame Butler’s concepts of normative violence and ontological precarity. These other works are concerned, in their own way, with the ways in which matter ‘matters’ or the ways in which embodied subjects exceed their materializations in discourse.[iii]

    It is the ‘generative’ or ‘productive’ capacities of bodies that is an engagement with ‘new materialisms’ or ‘feminist materialisms’ if you like. One of the aspects of Barad’s work, whom Pablo mentions, that is most appealing is the insistence of intra-activity, with the implication that we cannot meaningfully separate matter from the discursive, as phenomena only exist by virtue of ongoing assemblages and reassemblages of matter and discourse.  Bodies ‘matter,’ they do things, they have what Diana Coole refers to as ‘agentic capacities’ One reason that Bodies of Violence focuses on actual instances of violence perpetrated on and by bodies in international politics is precisely to take bodies seriously as something other than ‘representations’ or ‘abstractions’ in IR. An example of bodies being ‘productive’ in the book are the ways that bodies ‘speak’ which might exceed the intentions of ‘speaking subjects’. Antoine’s discussion of my work on the hunger striking body in Guantanamo Bay (which I also discussed earlier here on the blog) makes reference to this point: the body in pain as a call for recognition. This is something the body ‘does’ that is not reducible to the intentions of a fully constituted subject nor the words spoken by such subjects (this is in addition to the ways in which hunger striking prisoners such as Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel have spoken eloquently about their experiences). And yet, while this body’s actions may have certain implications, enable certain politics, etc, this cannot be understood without understanding that the body’s capacities are already subject to prior materializations and their reception will also bear the marks of prior political assemblages as well.
    A key example of this from the book is the embodiment of drone operators, or perhaps more accurately, the legal/technological drone assemblage.  While this form of embodiment is what might be termed, following Haraway, a ‘material-semiotic actor’, it is a body, or form of embodiment, that is necessary for the kind of ‘death-world’ that enables the killing of suspected militants as well as those people who can only be named innocent or militant in the aftermath. Both bodies of drone operators and the people who are killed by drone strikes are intimately connected in this way: the embodiment of drone pilots is productive of the bodies of targets and the ‘uncountable’ bodies whose deaths remain outside of the epistemological framework enabled by this drone assemblage. Thus, there is less of an explicit engagement with ‘new materialisms’ per se than an acknowledgement (one that has been part of feminist theory for decades) that one cannot determine or write bodies ‘all the way down’ and that, in the words of Samantha Frost and Diana Coole,’ nature ‘pushes back’ in sometimes unexpected ways, but in ways that are nonetheless subject to human interpretation.

    Antoine concludes the forum on a forward-looking note that also recalls Ali’s point of the various forms of critical literatures that have much to offer our thinking about bodies and violence beyond feminist literatures: “a growing task of critical scholars in the future may therefore also be that of attentiveness to new forms for the sorting and hierarchizing of bodies, human and otherwise, that are emerging from the production of scientific knowledges.” I agree and (some of) my current research is aimed precisely at the question of gender, queer theory and ‘the posthuman’. While I am wary of certain tendencies within some of the critical literatures of affect theory, ‘new materialisms’ and the like that suggest either explicitly or implicitly that feminist, anti-racial or other such critiques are outmoded, scholars like Rosi Braidotti and Donna Haraway have read the feminist politics the ‘posthuman’ in ways that engage the shifting materialities and discursive constructions of gendered and sexualized bodies. I’m working on a project now that pursues the question of embodiment and ‘drone warfare’ future to consider the politics of the insect and the swarm as inspirations for military technological developments, in the manner that Katherine Hayles describes as a double vision that “looks simultaneously at the power of simulation and at the materialities that produce it” in order to “better understand the implication of articulating posthuman constructions together with embodied actualities” (Hayles 1999, 47). This is to say both discursive constructions of insects/swarms in culture (particularly their association with death, abjection and the feminine) as well as the material capabilities of insects and their role in the earth’s eco-system and its own set of ‘death-worlds’ can and should be thought in tandem. The parameters of this project are yet not fixed (are they ever?) and so I’m grateful for this conversation around Bodies of Violence as I work to further the project of taking embodiment and its relationships with subjectivity and violence seriously in thinking about international political violence in its myriad forms. These contributions are evidence that work on embodiment in IR and related disciplines is becoming a robust research area in which many possibilities exist for dialogue, critique and collaboration.
    [i] Also, feminist theorists such as Butler, Grosz, Haraway and Ahmed all engage in a variety of traditions as well, from psychoanalysis, Foucauldian theory, phenomenology, postcolonial theory, and more, so the divisions between ‘feminist theory’ and other kinds of critical theory is far from given, and a much longer piece could be written about this.
    [ii] Although see recent work by Rose McDermott and Dan Reiter that seems determined to ignore the advances of decades of scholarship on gender, feminism, and war.
    [iii] I agree with Pablo K that Butler’s work is ambiguously situated in relationship to the so-called ‘new materialisms’: I make a brief case in the book that it is not incompatible with her approach at times, but I don’t explore this at length in the final version of the text.

    Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailGoogleLinkedIn

    Relacionado

  42. Cheryl says:

    One of the things that really annoys me about the way that trans women are treated is the way that we are constantly called out for “reinforcing the binary”. I think we can all agree that having rigid gender stereotypes that force everyone into strict and distinct roles as either Real Men or Real Women is a bad thing. However, the way this discussion is framed is very different in the case of trans women than it is for everyone else.
    I should note here that I’m not too upset about non-binary people who accuse trans women of reinforcing the binary. The trans community is very diverse, and in every sub-group there are those who insist that everyone else is “doing trans wrong”. This is more about bolstering their own self-confidence than anything else. There are groups of binary-identified trans women who say awful things about non-binary people too. I try hard to let everyone be trans in the way that is most comfortable for them. I mean, why exchange one set of enforced stereotypes for another?
    No, the people I am talking about call themselves “feminists”, though in my book one of the last things that feminism should be about is policing other women’s behavior. They are generally academics, probably into gender studies or something similar, and they may well have spent far too much time misunderstanding Judith Butler. For them, everything that trans women do is wrong.
    Wear pretty clothes? Reinforcing the binary. Wear makeup? Reinforcing the binary. Wear our hair long? Reinforcing the binary. Read romance novels? Reinforcing the binary. Are attracted to men? Reinforcing the binary. Go on a diet? Reinforcing the binary. Have any sort of cosmetic surgery? Reinforcing the binary. Enjoy crafts such as embroidery or knitting? Reinforcing the binary. Cry? Reinforcing the binary. The list is seemingly endless.
    And let’s not even think about anything to do with children, because that would be all, “Urgh! Paedo!!!” Right?
    Such discussions are generally accompanied by talk about how trans women seek to “pass” as female, couched in similar terms to the way a black rights activist might talk about a neighbour who tries to “pass” as white. In other words, it is a deception, a bad thing.
    Trans women are, of course, under tremendous pressure to “pass” as female. The doctors and psychiatrists (most of whom are men) on whom we rely for treatment tend to withhold it if they think we fail to conform to their idea of how women should look and behave. Well-meaning friends and family are forever nit-picking our supposed performance because they are convinced that we can’t possibly have any idea how to be women, even when we are a damn sight more fashionable and stylish than they are. And of course if you are out in public and look visibly trans then your chances of getting beaten up or even killed are massively higher than if you look gender-normative. For trans people, and particularly trans women, “passing” is a matter of personal safety.
    Women who are assigned female at birth generally don’t get called out in the same way. They might attract attention if they dress like Barbara Cartland, or if they drone on about how women should stay at home and have kids rather than get jobs. But for the most part they are allowed to do feminine things because their femininity is deemed innate and natural, whereas ours is deemed fake.
    Trans men don’t get called out for reinforcing the binary very often either. They can grow beards, watch sports, drink beer, work out and do all of those supposed manly man things without attracting anywhere near the same level of opprobrium. It is past time that many feminists took a good long look at how they accept default male behavior as “normal” but decry default female behavior as “fake”. It is not for nothing that Julia Serano invented the term, transmisogyny, to denote the particular hatred of trans women that happens precisely because our behaviour is deemed feminine.
    What comes across very clearly in all of these denunciations is that these “feminists” believe that trans women have no right to behave in a feminine manner because we are not “really” women, we are just men who are playing a role. They don’t want us to “pass” because they don’t want us to, in their eyes, get away with having other people think that we are women. When I hear “feminists” denounce trans women for “reinforcing the binary”, this is what I hear them actually saying:

    “We don’t want you deceiving people, we want you to look like the men you really are.”

    Well you know what they can do with that attitude, don’t you.

    “One problem with that view of social construction is that it suggests that what trans people feel about what their gender is, and should be, is itself “constructed” and, therefore, not real. And then the feminist police comes along to expose the construction and dispute a trans person’s sense of their lived reality. I oppose this use of social construction absolutely, and consider it to be a false, misleading, and oppressive use of the theory.” — Judith Butler.

    Share this:TwitterFacebookGooglePinterestTumblrEmail

  43. In einer Diskussion mit Sanczny wurde ich auf dieses Interview mit Judith Butler verwiesen, dass sehr interessant ist, weil sie da um Transfeindlichkeit zu vermeiden, ziemlich um einige wesentliche Konzepte herumeiert.
    Sie wird mit einer Ansicht einer Feministin konfrontiert, die darauf abstellt, dass eine Geschlechtsanpassung bei Transsexuellen nur deswegen erforderlich ist, weil die (patriarchale) Gesellschaft überhaupt in Mann und Frau einteilt und entsprechende Normen vorgibt.
    Judith Butler dazu:
    I have never agreed with Sheila Jeffreys or Janice Raymond, and for many years have been on quite the contrasting side of feminist debates. She appoints herself to the position of judge, and she offers a kind of feminist policing of trans lives and trans choices. I oppose this kind of prescriptivism, which seems me to aspire to a kind of feminist tyranny.
    If she makes use of social construction as a theory to support her view, she very badly misunderstands its terms. In her view, a trans person is “constructed” by a medical discourse and therefore is the victim of a social construct. But this idea of social constructs does not acknowledge that all of us, as bodies, are in the active position of figuring out how to live with and against the constructions – or norms – that help to form us. We form ourselves within the vocabularies that we did not choose, and sometimes we have to reject those vocabularies, or actively develop new ones. For instance, gender assignment is a “construction” and yet many genderqueer and trans people refuse those assignments in part or in full. That refusal opens the way for a more radical form of self-determination, one that happens in solidarity with others who are undergoing a similar struggle.
    One problem with that view of social construction is that it suggests that what trans people feel about what their gender is, and should be, is itself “constructed” and, therefore, not real. And then the feminist police comes along to expose the construction and dispute a trans person’s sense of their lived reality. I oppose this use of social construction absolutely, and consider it to be a false, misleading, and oppressive use of the theory.
    Hier bleibt sie noch verhältnismäßig nahe an üblichen Theorie. Während die eine Richtung des Feminismus darauf abstellt, dass alles frei und quasi “natürlich” sein muss, dass also jemand in einem männlichen Körper schlicht keinen Zwang sehen sollte, sich umoperieren zu lassen und aus jedem Gefühl, dass man sich umoperieren lassen sollte, folgt, dass nicht hinreichend Freiheit besteht, stellt sie darauf ab, dass jeder sich quasi so “zurechtpuzzeln” können soll, wie er es will. Demnach sollte man also wählen können, ob man sich mit diesem oder jenen Verhalten und diesem oder jenem Körper wohler fühlt. Wichtig wäre demnach lediglich, wie man sich selbst sieht, und wenn an sich eben als anders sieht, etwa eben als jemand, der eigentlich einen weiblichen Körper haben sollte, dann sollte man diesen Weg eben wählen können.
    Sie sagt weiter:

    I do know that some people believe that I see gender as a “choice” rather than as an essential and firmly fixed sense of self. My view is actually not that. No matter whether one feels one’s gendered and sexed reality to be firmly fixed or less so, every person should have the right to determine the legal and linguistic terms of their embodied lives. So whether one wants to be free to live out a “hard-wired” sense of sex or a more fluid sense of gender, is less important than the right to be free to live it out, without discrimination, harassment, injury, pathologization or criminalization – and with full institutional and community support. That is most important in my view.

    Der erste Satz ist sehr interessant. Er ist auch noch nicht per se ein Umbruch, weil auch bisher im Feminismus vertreten wird, dass man seiner Geschlechterrolle nicht ohne weiteres entfliehen kann, sondern in dieser gehalten wird, weil man in Machtverhältnisse und gesellschaftliche Regeln eingebunden ist. Interessant ist aber ihre Verwendung von Begriffen wie “Hard wired”. Und auch interessant, dass sie darauf abstellt, dass jeder so leben können soll wie er will, und zwar mit der vollen Unterstützung der Institutionen und der Gesellschaft. Es wäre interessant hier nachzufragen, wie sie das bei Konzepten von Männlichkeit sieht. Ich vermute hier würde es durchaus zu einer Einschränkung kommen.

    I know that some subjective experiences of sex are very firm and fundamental, even unchangeable. They can be so firm and unchanging that we call them “innate”. But given that we report on such a sense of self within a social world, a world in which we are trying to use language to express what we feel, it is unclear what language does that most effectively. I understand that “innate” is a word that conveys the sense of something hired-wired and constitutive. I suppose I would be inclined to wonder whether other vocabularies might do the job equally well. I never did like the assertion of the “innate” inferiority or women or Blacks, and I understood that when people tried to talk that way, they were trying to “fix” a social reality into a natural necessity. And yet, sometimes we do need a language that refers to a basic, fundamental, enduring, and necessary dimension of who we are, and the sense of sexed embodiment can be precisely that.

    Hier spricht sie davon, dass einige Erfahrungen in Bezug auf das Geschlecht sehr fest und fundamental und sogar nicht zu verändern sind. Sie scheint sich mir da aber nach wie vor dagegen zu wehren, da eine biologische Grundlage zu sehen. Sie spricht nur davon, dass sie so fest erscheinen, dass wir sie auf eine bestimmte Weise bezeichnen und das damit teilweise lediglich Begriffe bereit gestellt werden, die bestimmte Sichtweisen auf das Selbst ermöglichen. Ich vermute mal, dass sie damit meint, dass Transsexuelle oft einfach den Bezug zum anderen Geschlecht brauchen, also die Bezeichnung “ich bin eine Frau” bei einer M->F Transsexuellen, um eine Identität zu haben, in die sie sich einordnen können und das da “Geschlechtslosigkeit” oder “Mischung aus Mann und Frau” einfach nicht ausreicht. Natürlich müsste das dann ebenso für Männer und Frauen an sich gelten. Es bleibt aber bei einer gesellschaftlichen Konstruktion, sie sieht anscheinend lediglich ein starkes Bedürfnis nach
    Interessanterweise wird sie dann direkt auf Milton Diamond angesprochen, also auf David Reimer, bei dem sie in “Undoing Gender” noch einfach davon ausging, dass Money da schlicht die Probleme durch seine Art die Zwillinge zu testen verursacht hat.
    Judith Butler dazu:

    In the works by Milton Diamond that I have read, I have had to question the way he understands genetics and causality. Even if a gene structure could be found, it would only establish a possible development, but would in no way determine that development causally. Genetics might be yet another way of getting to that sense of being “hard-wired” for a particular sex or gender. My sense is that we may not need the language of innateness or genetics to understand that we are all ethically bound to recognize another person’s declared or enacted sense of sex and/or gender. We do not have to agree upon the “origins” of that sense of self to agree that it is ethically obligatory to support and recognize sexed and gendered modes of being that are crucial to a person’s well-being.

    Das ist eine typische Antwort, die ich auch schon häufig erhalten habe: “Warum ist es denn überhaupt wichtig, warum wir uns auf eine bestimmte Weise verhalten, wenn es eigentlich darauf ankommt, dass man jede Form von Geschlecht unterstützen sollte?” Es ist natürlich gerade dann, wenn sich der Feminismus darauf beruft, dass in bestimmte Formen von Geschlecht Macht eingebunden ist und soziale Regeln daran festmachen, die rein willkürlich sind, weil alles sozial konstruiert ist, von sehr hoher Wichtigkeit. Denn genau an diesem Punkt macht der Feminismus eben unglaublich viel fest, was er sonst so nicht vertreten könnte. Wenn er beispielsweise darauf abstellt, dass Männer risikobereiter sind, weil Mädchen mehr kontrolliert werden und ihnen weniger Platz zum experimentieren gegeben wird und es tatsächlich aber am Testosteron liegt, dann bricht diese Theorie zusammen. Wenn man beispielsweise feststellt, dass sprachliche Fähigkeiten durch Testosteron teilweise beeinträchtigt werden, dann ist es im Gegenzug nicht verwunderlich, wenn Mädchen in dem Bereich bessere Fähigkeiten zeigen etc.
    CW: If “gender” includes the way in which we subjectively experience, contextualize, and communicate our biology, do you think that living in a world without “gender” is possible?
    JB: Sometimes there are ways to minimize the importance of gender in life, or to confuse gender categories so that they no longer have descriptive power. But other times gender can be very important to us, and some people really love the gender that they have claimed for themselves. If gender is eradicated, so too is an important domain of pleasure for many people. And others have a strong sense of self bound up with their genders, so to get rid of gender would be to shatter their self-hood. I think we have to accept a wide variety of positions on gender. Some want to be gender-free, but others want to be free really to be a gender that is crucial to who they are.
    Das ist erst einmal eine sehr spannende Frage. Kann man die Geschlechter abschaffen oder brauchen wir sie, um unser Selbst darzustellen? Hier scheint Butler zumindest in einigen Bereichen für die Erhaltung der Geschlechter, und damit sind dann wohl Mann und Frau gemeint, zu sein (was nicht ausschließt, dass Leute, die das nicht brauchen, sich als andere Geschlechter oder als Queer ansehen). Butler scheint mir hier eine Mittelposition einzunehmen: Mann und Frau sein zu wollen wäre demnach vollkommen okay. Wäre vielleicht interessant, dieses Passagen Feministinnen mal entgegen zuhalten in einer Diskussion.
    CW: I have seen where – especially online – people who identify as “gender critical feminists” (TERFs) assert that transwoman are merely mutilated men. What are your thoughts about using “gender critical feminism” to make such assertions?
    JB: I do not know this term, but I reject totally the characterization of a transwoman as a mutilated man. First, that formulation presumes that men born into that sex assignment are not mutilated. Second, it once again sets up the feminist as the prosecutor of trans people. If there is any mutilation going on in this scene, it is being done by the feminist police force who rejects the lived embodiment of transwomen. That very accusation is a form of “mutilation” as is all transphobic discourse such as these. There is a rather huge ethical difference between electing surgery and being faced with transphobic condemnation and diagnoses. I would say that the greatest risk of mutilation that trans people have comes directly from transphobia.
    Also eine deutliche Abkehr von Transfeindlichkeit. Aus meiner Sicht insofern auch auf der Grundlage ihrer sonstigen Werke zu erwarten.
    CW: Many trans people assert that women/females can have a penis and that men/males can have a vagina. What are your thoughts about that?
    JB: I see no problem with women having a penis, and men having a vagina. People can have whatever primary characteristics they have (whether given or acquired) and that does not necessarily imply what gender they will be, or want to be. For others, primary sexual characteristics signify gender more directly.
    Auch eigentlich zwingend folgend aus dem, was sie bisher gesagt hat: Wenn das einzige, was zählt, ist, wie man sich fühlt, dann ist der Körper in der Tat egal. Und in der Tat wäre für die Frage, welches “Gender” man hat, der Körper auch egal. Es ist nur die Frage, auf was man für die Bezeichnung dann abstellt. Hier werden die meisten den Körper im Vordergrund sehen, aber den Wunsch einer Person bei entsprechender Aufmachung durchaus akzeptieren.
    Es wird dann noch einmal ganz direkt nachgefragt:
    CW: Do you think “sex” is a social construct?
    JB: I think that there are a variety of ways of understanding what a social construct is, and we have to be patient with terms like these. We have to find a way of understanding how one category of sex can be “assigned” from both and another sense of sex can lead us to resist and reject that sex assignment. How do we understand that second sense of sex? It is not the same as the first – it is not an assignment that others give us. But maybe it is an assignment we give ourselves? If so, do we not need a world of others, linguistic practices, social institutions, and political imaginaries in order to move forward to claim precisely those categories we require, and to reject those that work against us?
    Da sagt sie eigentlich so richtig nichts oder verstehe ich das falsch? Die Aussage, die ich daraus noch ziehe ist, dass sie zwischen dem Geschlecht, welches einem bei der Geburt zugewiesen wird und dem, was wir als unser Geschlecht empfinden, unterscheiden will. Und das letzteres eben eine Fremdzuweisung ist. Sie lässt dann offen, ob wir dieses “zweite Geschlecht” uns selbst “geben”. Einfach verständlich ist es wohl, wenn man hier zwischen dem äußeren und dem inneren Geschlecht unterscheidet und zunächst feststellt, dass beide nicht übereinstimmen müssen. Wenn man unter dem inneren Geschlecht das “Gehirngeschlecht” versteht, dann wäre es eben gerade nicht konstruiert, was auch Transsexualität sehr leicht verständlich machen würde.
    CW: What, if anything, would you like trans people to take from your work?
    JB: Gender Trouble was written about 24 years ago, and at that time I did not think well enough about trans issues. Some trans people thought that in claiming that gender is performative that I was saying that it is all a fiction, and that a person’s felt sense of gender was therefore “unreal.” That was never my intention. I sought to expand our sense of what gender realities could be. But I think I needed to pay more attention to what people feel, how the primary experience of the body is registered, and the quite urgent and legitimate demand to have those aspects of sex recognized and supported. I did not mean to argue that gender is fluid and changeable (mine certainly is not). I only meant to say that we should all have greater freedoms to define and pursue our lives without pathologization, de-realization, harassment, threats of violence, violence, and criminalization. I join in the struggle to realize such a world.
    Ich finde es erst einmal interessant, dass sie deutlich macht, dass sie “Gender Trouble” vor langer Zeit geschrieben hat und da verschiedene Punkte noch nicht hinreichend mit einbezogen hat. Sie scheint nunmehr von einer gewissen Festigkeit von Gender auszugehen, die nicht zu ändern ist. Warum dies nicht der Fall sein soll, wenn alles sozial konstruiert ist, dass sagt sie leider nicht.
    Es wäre interessant, wie sie diese neuen Erkenntnisse im Bezug auf Mann und Frau verwertet. Würde das dazu führen, dass sie auch insoweit von einer Festigkeit der Identität ausgeht und von einem Recht von Mann und Frau darin nicht gestört, belästigt und bedroht zu werden? Das wäre ja ein interessanter Ansatz, der sich in das Machtschema Mann oben – Frau unten, wie es im Feminismus vorherrscht, quasi nicht einbauen lässt.
    Ich vermute, dass sie es allenfalls in Hinblick auf Transsexualität so sieht und eine Übertragung in die sonstige feministische Theorie nicht wirklich geplant ist.
    Genderfeministinnen auf Transsexualität anzusprechen scheint mir allerdings immer eine gute Idee. Sofern sie nicht transfeindlich sein wollen bleibt ihnen nichts anders übrig als diese gewünschten Rollen als fest anzusehen. Wie diese dann aber fest sein sollen und wie sie entstehen, wenn die gesamte Sozialisation ansonsten am Körper festmacht oder warum geschlechtsanpassende Operationen in einer “perfekten Welt ohne Geschlechterrollen” noch erforderlich sein sollten, dass sind dann quasi nicht zu beantwortende Fragen. Umgekehrt tauchen die Probleme auf, wenn sie bei Männern und Frauen von starren rein konstruierten Rollen ausgeht, da dann eben Transsexualität nicht mehr in das Schema passt.
    Teilen Sie dies mit:GoogleFacebookTwitterE-MailMehrDruckenRedditPocketGefällt mir:Gefällt mir Lade…

    Ähnliche Beiträge

    Veröffentlicht in Geschlechterfragen | Schlagwörter: Judith Butler, Judith Butler Undoing Gender, Transsexualität und Intersexualität

  44. hjhornbeck says:

    Nothing to Lose
    02
    Wednesday
    Sep 2015

    Posted by hjhornbeck in Bigotry, Civil liberty, Civil rights, Feminism, Gender, Politics, Semantics

    ≈ Leave a comment

    TagsOphelia Benson, TERFs

    On FreethoughtBlogs, Ophelia Benson shared a platform with a decent number of LGBT allies and people, who were sensitive to trans* people and their issues.
    On Butterflies and Wheels, Benson has the place to herself. Thanks in part to the noisy departure, her Patreon was quite successful; when I last checked, she was earning $630 a month from kicking out blog posts (the latest numbers are here). As I pointed out earlier, it’s in her best interest to keep the controversy alive as it feeds into her persecution narrative and keeps her fans (and herself) angry, unable to sit back and critically examine what the critics are saying.
    In sum, Benson’s much more free to open up and speak publicly about her views. She has little to lose, and a lot to gain, by doing so. If she truly was a TERF, you’d expect an uptick in transphobia.
    I started down the TERF hole that is OB’s blog and she is full-on. Like not even pretending to even care anymore.
    That’s come to pass.
    [CONTENT WARNING: TERFs]

    Back in April, Benson “privately” shared a blog post by Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, a TERF blogger she admired and presumably had been following for some time. Over at FreethoughtBlogs, Benson’s never mentioned her. At Butterflies and Wheels, however, Benson was eager to introduce her to her fans. While the article she shared there wasn’t TERF-y, if you click on the “What I believe about Sex and Gender” link, you’ll find this (emphasis in original):
    8. Women’s oppression has its historical roots and its ostensible justification in female biology and the exploitation of female reproductive labour. Altering the definition of the word ‘female’ so that it now means ‘any person who believes themselves to be female’ is not only conceptually incoherent (…); it also removes the possibility of analysing the structural oppression of female persons as a class, by eradicating the terminology we use to describe the material conditions of their existence.
    As anteprepro points out, Reilly-Cooper is a new member of “Gender Apostates,” which publishes lovely articles like this:
    A woman is an adult human female. Here is what we know about any given woman:
    She has, at some point, experienced the physical reality of a female reproductive system.

    More recently, Benson’s shared some of the writing of another member of “Gender Apostates,” Diana from Neophytia. Anteprepro beat me to that one too, so let’s just move on to the next TERF, Delilah Campbell.
    More generally, if you want to hold a women-only event from which trans women are excluded, you are likely to encounter the objection that this exclusion is illegal discrimination, and also that the analysis which motivates it—the idea that certain aspects of women’s experience or oppression are not shared by trans women—is itself an example of transphobia. Expressed in public, this analysis gets labelled ‘hate-speech’, which there is not only a right but a responsibility to censor. […]
    How did it come to be the case that taking issue with trans activists’ analyses of their situation (as Julie Bindel has) or hurling playground insults at trans people (as Julie Burchill did) automatically puts the commentator concerned in the same category as a Nick Griffin or a David Irving? [..]
    It’s also remarkable how quickly and easily trans people were added to the list of groups who are legally protected against discrimination, and even more remarkable that what was written into equality law was their own principle of self-definition—if you identify as a man/woman then you are entitled to be recognized as a man/woman. In a very short time, this tiny and previously marginal minority has managed to make trans equality a high profile issue, and support for it part of the liberal consensus.
    Even ignoring these TERF bloggers, Benson has been discussing trans* people a lot more than she used to. Just in the span of two days, she’s shared a post on a person who committed suicide after transitioning, a study which claimed trans* men who were transitioning had lost brain tissue, a CollegeHumour video which mocked coming out as trans*, and those two pieces from Diana. Someone afraid of offending trans* people wouldn’t talk about them more; offense is the end goal here.
    I’ve also noticed an interesting change in the comment section. Back at FreethoughtBlogs, when a notorious TERF jumped into the comment section she was shot down by a number of commenters and regulars (but strangely, not by Benson herself). Her commenters were actively opposed to transphobia, and on the rare occasions that it popped up were willing to call it out. Now, however, we find transphobic comments are a common occurrence.
    There’s no such thing as a person assigned male at birth. There is no Gender Cop in the birthing room arbitrarily assigning these things. And maleness is not gender, it is sex. You’re born with it. You have it before you are born. […]
    Also, your remarks about traumatized women getting over their trauma by being exposed to the source of that trauma in a safe environment? Those are really gross. If you’re a transwoman, and I suspect you are but can’t be arsed Googling you at the moment, be aware that that kind of thinking is one of the reasons we don’t trust you. It’s guy thinking. Ditch it. We do not need you dictating to us when and how we decide to face our fears. That quite frankly is none of your business.
    Transwomen can find safe spaces without butting into women’s spaces. Start some shelters for trans and queer identified people. Bam. Problem solved.
    WE had to start OUR own shelters. Fair is fair.
    We are born with a body and a personality, that body does dictate some things – like if you are female you are the only sex that will get pregnant – but nothing of that dictates how a person could or should be in terms of human potential. Instead though, we all get slotted into boxes according to our sex and expected to behave in particular ways according to that. None of it really fits properly though.
    Intersex is a huge red herring, the fact is humans sexually reproduce and the vast majority are typically fertile males or females and that there are a few infertile outliers doesn’t change this fact. Biology and the gametes we produce won’t change no matter how many people try and chant it’s all a construction. This is used typically to deny women, who are female, the right to define themselves using their shared biology and mean others can simply identify as such without having that biology or lived experience.
    I identify as a hornet’s nest AND a baseball bat.
    This is so true thank you for saying this. I am what many would consider ‘a known TERF’ though I would obviously reject that description. My firm belief (like most women labelled ‘TERFs’) is that all gender non conformity by anyone is a positive thing because it’s an oppressive system that subjugates women and people should just be free to be themselves. […]
    Just in case there’s a language issue here, I’ll state the definitions I’m using (which I think are generally accepted):
    Gender = Feminine / masculine = social roles/stereotypes/behaviours
    Sex = Female / male = biological reality
    Man/men = adult human males Woman/women = adult human females (akin to sow/boar, mare/stallion, doe/buck in other animals)
    And this time around, few people are pushing back. There are exceptions, and I’m quite thankful for those people, but opposing transphobia has become the exception instead of the norm.
    And at the centre of it all, Benson’s transphobia is gradually coming out of the closet. Consider:
    This is what I’ve been saying – trans activism is not the same thing as feminism, and not all trans women are feminists.
    The latter part is uncontroversial, but that first part… oy. Is Benson seriously arguing that pushing back against harmful sex-related stereotypes doesn’t qualify as feminism? That combating improper or inadequate medical care because of one’s sex doesn’t qualify as feminism? I fail to see how trans activism isn’t feminism, and I’m not alone.
    [the CollegeHumour video] mocks the earnestness of a certain kind of very young social justice type. (Yes I know, ageism…but I “identify as” a very young person myself, so it’s ok.) It mocks the rhetoric of that brand of social justice (identify as, appropriation, my truth, I feel safe saying, everyone knows that star signs are on a spectrum, thanks for being an ally). It mocks the instant enforcement of each new identity and the righteous indignation at the skeptic (“how dare you!”).
    It mocks a bunch of silly shit. It really is possible to find that kind of thing hilarious even when it’s your silly shit that’s being mocked.
    Says the person who isn’t being mocked. Has Benson considered that while she might enjoy being mocked, others might not? Or would she rather keep identifying as various things, to trivialize the process of coming to terms with your own gender identity in a world where the wrong identity can get you assaulted or provoke threats on your life?
    Is it also mocking the basic idea behind “trans women are women, period”? Yes, while at the same time saying that trans people are not the targets.
    The video was mocking the idea that trans* women are women, but since it wasn’t targeting trans* women it was totes cool? By the same line of thought, it’s peachy-keen to mock the basic idea behind “women have equal rights” so long as you don’t mock women.
    I’ve spent a lot of time in the UK, I’ve lived there for extended periods, I’ve learned a lot of customs and idioms, but that’s not at all the same as being born and growing up there.
    I’ve never surfed in Tofino, sampled wine in Osoyos, downhill skiied at Whistler, taken shelter from a tornado in Moose Jaw, watched a Roughriders game in Regina, shot at polar bears in Churchill, portaged near Thunder Bay, taken maple syrup straight from the tree in Saguenay, dodged moose on the road to Moncton, nor had lobster fresh off the boat in Rocky Harbour. Am I less of a Canadian than someone who has done those things? Of course not; Canadians have radically different experiences from one another, and ignoring statistical patterns like geography the only thing we all have in common is that a government database calls us Canadian. Have that electronic mark? Canadian. Lack that mark? Not Canadian. Have that mark inserted? Canadian. There’s no shades of gray.
    The country metaphor actually argues that trans* women are women…. unless you begin by assuming they aren’t. It doesn’t matter if you’ve stood on Mount Temple, or hiked in the sun at 1 AM, or swam in Three Isle Lake, or touched an iceberg in Berg Lake, or met a marmot atop Cirque Peak, or anything else a Canadian has experienced, you will never be a Canadian as long as you’re excluded from that database.
    Benson’s showing her true face, and it looks remarkably like that of a TERF. Will her long-time fans notice, or will they buy into the narrative she’s constructing?
    The usual suspects are of course accusing me of “doubling down” all over the place…when the reality is I just haven’t been convinced by the people yelling at me. […] So here I am reprehensibly doubling down and continuing to ask questions. How very dare I. […]
    There is this insistence that you have to accept what you’re told by the Approved People, and that not doing so is itself transphobic. What kind of epistemology is that? It’s not a kind I ever signed up for, I can tell you that.
    And there’s also the attitude to heresy, which is what you would expect from believers.
    The story they’re telling is that I simply can’t tolerate disagreement. That’s bullshit. […]
    Mouthy, assertive women are shunned and ostracised, even by a putative social justice feminist network.
    If I really were a danger to trans people…wouldn’t that stand out rather? Wouldn’t it be pretty glaring? Wouldn’t it be obvious?
    But to find anything to accuse me of they had to go combing through what groups I’m in on Facebook and what I “Liked” in those groups. Really? […]
    Share this:TwitterRedditFacebookTumblrGoogleLike this:Like Loading…

    Related

  45. Contributor says:

    By Mark Abraham
    Swift accepts her Video of the Year award during the 2015 MVAs. TaylorSwift.com
    Accepting her Video of the Year award at the 2015 VMAs, pop singer Taylor Swift, surrounded by the women who appear as weapon-toting warriors in her victorious video “Bad Blood,” said she was grateful that “we live in a world where boys can play princesses and girls can play soldiers.” That same night, writer Adam Fleischer posted a review of the awards titled, “Taylor Swift said F—k Gender Norms with Her Video of the Year Speech” to MTV.com.
    But did she? Twenty-five years after Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble and the queer turn, and smack dab in the middle of a rapid cultural reassessment of gender as trans celebrities become more visible, Swift’s post-essentialist but not-quite-unessential lip service that girls can do “boy” things and vice versa seems fairly quaint. It’s what many constructionists would call “modified essentialism”: the “girl” and “boy” things we can play at are socially constructed, but the majority of bodies—even the potentially subversive ones Swift is valorizing—still belong to “girls” and “boys.”
    Serendipitously, Swift’s speech was followed by a performance by pop singer Miley Cyrus, who was surrounded by thirty drag, burlesque, and trans performers. This was, in a way, a constructionist response to Swift’s soft constructionism: that the lines between “girl” and “boy” things are especially porous, and so girls and boys and everybody can play, period. Cyrus’s performance suggested that there are girls, boys, and individuals who reject that binary in part or in whole, but bodies don’t define an identity, and the things that we can play at are a wide range of activities that aren’t rooted in much beyond historically-changing ideas about how “girls” and “boys” should act. Intentionally or not, Cyrus took Swift’s identity politics and threw them down a constructionist rabbit hole.
    Of course, MTV.com highlighting Swift saying, “f—k gender norms” and not Cyrus suggests that this rabbit hole is still an unnerving place for many people. And since I believe history classrooms are a great place to unnerve, owing to the ability of historical methodology to lay bare the complex and diverse ways identities, ideas about culture, and ideas about nations are socially produced and culturally mediated over time, this juxtaposition between Swift and Cyrus got me thinking about my own teaching. It is generally easier to teach soft constructionism: that ideas about class, race, gender, sexuality, age, and (dis)ability are socially and historically produced and applied to various bodies through structural oppression. That these ideas create difference, and said difference creates hierarchies that typically privilege the bodies of white, middle-class, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied men. That these hierarchies are then defended with essentialist arguments that those privileged bodies are somehow more rational, active, and actualized than other bodies, biologically-speaking, making white men “natural” leaders. Or good at sports. Or whatever.
    Miley Cyrus performs during the 2015 Video Music Awards California. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/MTV1415/FilmMagic)
    If it’s only the things we can play at that are socially constructed, constructionism becomes an easy sell: nobody should have to play in a way that they don’t enjoy. Nobody should be oppressed or privileged or defined because they have assumptions about their style of play foisted upon because of how other people might perceive their bodies. But it’s also an easy sell because soft constructionism is, at heart, essentialist: it assumes that players are just trying to be themselves, despite game rules. With respect to gender, it assumes that most people are one or the other, “girl” or “boy,” even if some boys like Jem and the Holograms and some girls ride motorcycles. There are no hegemonic processes involved in ruling the game; there’s just an arbitrary sense that somewhere there’s some out of touch white dudes keeping score.
    So it’s the things we do that are at the mercy of social construction. The things we are…aren’t. Because how do we define ourselves if they are? Which is, frequently, the question we’ll get if we follow Cyrus down that rabbit hole in the classroom. Butler’s argument, for example, is that if we accept that gender that is constructed—as soft constructionism does—then we must also accept that sex is constructed, because gender is built into the very conceptualization of sex. Butler argues that our interpretations of our bodies are the result of each of us attempting to accept or reject constructs provided by “the vocabularies” of gender “that we did not choose.” We do this to make ourselves “intelligible” to the world around us. We’re trying to fit in.
    To be fair, Swift is celebrating unintelligibility. But what her argument leaves out is Butler’s assertion that we are all, when and where we struggle to fit in, implicated in the maintenance of structures of oppression. With that in mind, this juxtaposition between Swift and Cyrus brought something into relief that I’ve always felt ambivalent about: every time I say something like, “it’s okay if you’re not 100% onboard with this provocative idea”—even if the reason I’m saying that is a pragmatic attempt to temporarily ease the minds of students who are struggling with the suggestion that their pleasures, experiences, and desires are constructed—I’m letting students off the hook.
    Why would I do that? Beyond theoretical complexity, teaching the full breadth of constructionism carries its own problems, particularly if we don’t take the time to fully break it down. Butler’s argument that sex itself is constructed, or that sex is gendered, can easily be misinterpreted to mean that constructionists are saying that there is no unfabricated meaning that can be derived from gender or sex. This is a position that is acutely insensitive to transwomen and transmen who are frequently told that their gender is a performance (as if any gender isn’t), or, as we’ve most recently seen with Caitlyn Jenner, that their efforts to be themselves somehow reinforce gender oppression. This is also a position that suggests that any person who derives meaning from play as a particular gender is kidding themselves. Consequently, teaching constructionism and structures of oppression also necessarily means teaching intersectionalism and structures of privilege to avoid potential misinterpretations, especially where those misinterpretations might exponentially multiply the moment you add cultural appropriations to the mix.
    The very idea of that can be overwhelming, especially if you’re standing in front of 80 students who are waiting for you to get to a point, if you’re aware that their opinions about these ideas will inevitably vary no matter how carefully you present them, and if you don’t want to spend too much time in abstract, theoretical trenches because, y’know, you have actual history to cover in a history course. For all of these reasons, engaging students with soft constructionism can seem like a useful—even pragmatic—shortcut. More provocative constructionist arguments can simply be referenced and left to hang in the air like a curious puzzle that more adventurous students might choose to solve.
    There are two problems with this approach. First, though history provides plenty of opportunities to discuss how social structures have changed over time, there’s really no point beyond provocation to simply unveil the inherent inauthenticity of those structures. These structures still held (and hold) power, which made (and makes) them “real.” The only analysis that gives these unveilings purpose is one that demonstrate the endless ways that players enforce, affirm, game, or break the rules of the game they’re playing.
    Second, it has been my experience that students who already have advantages in that game often want to take Swift’s soft constructionism and run with it. After all, it provides a theoretical framework in which they can reject the structures of oppression that offer imperatives on how they should act without asking them to interrogate the various ways that they interpret their own pleasures, experiences, and desires. In other words, soft constructionism runs the risk of replicating the very structures of power that students employ it to resist, because a) it really only targets the oppression that they face individually, b) it highlights the ways they are “different” and celebrates that “difference,” and c) it does not force them to interrogate any privileges they might enjoy that reinforce and reaffirm the oppression of others. It hates the game; not the players. And while “masculinity” and “whiteness” are constructs like any other, simply pointing that out does not excuse the profound function they perform in structures of oppression and privilege or the role they play in the elision of intersectional identities.
    This is a clause I never thought I would write, but the 2015 VMAs have catalyzed my recommitment to not letting students off the hook. It is entirely possible within constructionism to assert that social constructions are socially produced, and that bodies are constructed through that process, but also that any given individual has the right to give to, take from, and invest meaning in certain social constructions if it suits them—this is what every single body in the world is doing anyhow—as long as what “suits them” isn’t the marginalization, oppression, or misappropriation of others. Because the point of constructionism is not that our pleasures, experiences, and desires are fabricated. The point of constructionism is that the circumstances in which we can possibly interpret those pleasures, experiences, and desires are fabricated. The revolutionary potential of constructionism lies in locating the only power that any social identity should possess: that which is determined by an individual who defines their pleasures, experiences, and desires through it; who is not limited, narrowed, or excluded because of it; and who is not limiting, narrowing, or excluding others by it. Everybody can play, but everybody should be able to play by the same rules, which should really be a lack of rules, outside of sensitivity and kindness. Demonstrating that requires deconstructing all players.
    Mark Abraham is a cultural historian of bodies, genders, and sexualities in U.S. music, fashion, dance, and performance. He is a sessional lecture at Ryerson University, and is working on a new project about various things like Y-Pants, Twyla Tharp, Meredith Monk, and Jem and the Holograms.
    Share this:FacebookTwitterEmailMoreGoogleTumblrRedditPinterestLinkedInPrint

  46. STEPHEN BURT says:

    The “Jem and the Holograms” comic books have a lot to say about power, what it means to be girly, and what comics can do. Credit Image courtesy IDW Publishing Barrier Status: ‘none’
    If you want to see an exuberantly colorful all-ages tribute to girl power—colorful as in candy-floss pink and lime green—where serious ideas about performance, identity, and embodiment fit comfortably amid sitcom-worthy teen hijinks, then you should definitely check out “Jem and the Holograms.” Not the movie, mind you, which may have left theatres entirely by the time you read this, nor the nineteen-eighties TV show—though don’t let me stop you—but the present-day comic book, now on its eighth issue, with the first six collected as one paperback. It’s perfect light entertainment, if that’s what you want, but it also has a lot to say about power, about what it means to be girly, or feminine, or to work in a feminized genre, and about what comics, in particular, can do.
    If you watched the cartoon, you already know the setup. If you were too young or too old for it—or if you were a boy who thought that the cartoon was for girls—here’s what you should know: Jerrica Benton lives with her bandmates in a house inherited from her inventor dad, and they make pop music together. The excitable Kimber, the youngest sister, at eighteen, badly wants to be a star; Aja, the guitarist and bassist, can fix any machine; Shana, the drummer, might prefer another career. Jerrica writes and sings most of the songs; unfortunately, she’s too shy to perform them. Fortunately, their father also left them a secret supercomputer named Synergy, which is able to converse in English and to project holograms (hence the title). Synergy lets Jerrica take the stage as the pink-coiffed, sparkly-leotard-wearing, charismatic lead singer Jem.
    As on the TV show, the band competes for fame with its more popular rivals, the Misfits, who are more aggressive and more punk rock (though not as punk rock as the actual Misfits). In the paperback’s story arc, the Holograms try to come out on top in a Misfits-organized Battle of the Bands; Jerrica goes on a date with the only male character, the music journalist Rio, who must not learn that she is Jem; and Kimber develops a giddy—and, it turns out, reciprocated—crush on the Misfits’ songwriter, the beautiful, blue-haired, and notably zaftig Stormer, who must conceal her disloyalty from the Misfits’ delightfully amoral leader, Pizzazz.
    Kelly Thompson, who writes the comic, told me that, in her view, “Jem” is “quite similar to superhero comics,” given its “sci-fi elements and secret identities.” But no superhero comic looks like this one: its swooping clean lines and its expressive faces resemble, instead, the covers of nineteen-fifties romance comics—and excel, by miles, the TV series from which it derives. If you watch clips of the show, you will see big hair, big shoulders, and the robotic faces common to nineteen-eighties Saturday-morning cartoons. Go back to the comic, and you find lively individuals, each with her own outré hair—Aja’s porcupine spikes, Shana’s violet dreads and updos—and faces that show the emotions of human beings: Kimber gazes hopefully down at the much shorter Stormer before their sweet first kiss; Pizzazz, eyes forward, chin up, tries to keep her dignity after a food fight has covered her cheeks with pie.

    Like all comics, “Jem” asks us to care how it looks. Its characters have to care: they are, and want to be, performing artists. But they care, as well, about playing their instruments and managing the band’s finances (at least Jerrica does—that’s a plot point, too). Some are more femme than others; none look butch. Nowhere is it suggested that any skill is, or was, reserved for men; nowhere does looking girly make anyone less-than, or dependent, or more likely to be judged only on appearance. And while all of the characters look great, they never look like one another, nor do they conform to Hollywood assumptions about who should appeal to whom. Of eight girls in two bands, four are clearly nonwhite, and others might be. Kimber—the flightiest, girliest Hologram, with the longest, most labor-intensive hair—only dates girls; nobody thinks that’s a problem, nor does anybody think it odd that she falls for someone with Stormer’s body type. The racial diversity comes from the TV show (created by Christy Marx, who also wrote episodes of “G.I. Joe”), but the rest of these choices come from Thompson and the first artist to work on the series, Sophie Campbell.
    They are choices ratified by plot, and by snappy, lighthearted dialogue, but reflected—even governed—by art and design. Thompson told me that Campbell was “absolutely in the driver’s seat on this stuff, as it should be. I think the best example is that, as a fat woman, I would never have suggested designing Stormer to be … just outright fat and fierce as hell and beautiful.” (Campbell in turn credits the colorist M. Victoria Robado for the book’s eye-popping hues.) This utopian space of visual pleasure—where racism, fatphobia, homophobia, simply do not arise—can cheer grownups (who would not want to visit this world?), but it could matter even more for young readers: writing meant for teens, in prose fiction as well as in comics, too often presents only earnest models of queer people, curvy people, and dark-skinned people, defined by the prejudice they overcome.

    “Jem” doesn’t just distance itself from such school-approved stories; it also steps away from female-empowerment narratives rooted in punch-and-kick action. “Ms. Marvel” is a (wonderful) superhero comic; “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” for all its other elements, came out of horror—the slaying is right there in the title. In these genres, the powerful woman, the supergirl, was often the only girl; things have changed, but so recently that readers notice the change. “Jem,” on the other hand, is all about groups of women and girls whose principal troubles are social, economic, emotional, and practical. They deal with social aggression (“you won’t be our friend if you date her”), shyness, performance anxiety, and the fear of presenting themselves at less than their best. (They also have to practice, to get the songs right.)

    Campbell drew the first six issues, and will return early next year (issues seven and eight, drawn by Emma Vieceli, stay faithful to Campbell’s designs). Only starting with the second issue, however, did her credit on the masthead read “Sophie Campbell.” “I finally came out as transgender,” Campbell writes in the trade paperback, “after I finished the first issue…. I was afraid of fan reaction, but it all turned out better than I could have imagined, ‘Jem’ is even more personal to me than it would’ve otherwise been.” IDW, the company that publishes “Jem,” also altered later printings of the first issue to make Sophie Campbell the artist’s name.
    No company—surely not IDW, which butters its bread with licensed properties from toys and TV—would bet on a comic that required you to read gender theory. But if anyone ever marched you through the famously hard-to-read theories of Judith Butler, you might see how “Jem” supports some of Butler’s ideas. For Butler, identity, including gender identity, is not so much something you are as something you do: you can view yourself as a performance and then ask how to alter the script. And if you have read Julia Serano’s far more readable “Whipping Girl,” you might see how “Jem” supports Serano’s argument that a feminism worth the name must defend not just women but femininity: styles of expression that still get taken as less consequential, or less powerful, because they have been allotted to women and girls. “I’m only familiar with Serano vaguely,” Thompson told me, “but I like what I’ve read…. Sophie and I work on a book that is filled with ladies and drenched in pink and yet definitely consider it to be ‘for everyone.’ ”
    “Jem” is about femininity, and performance, and social aggression, and about how to be fair to everyone, and about the technology—from Synergy to Kimber’s iPhone—that can help or hinder you as you become your best self. But it’s also about music: how to hear it, how to play it, whether to make it your living or even your life. (The plot in the seventh issue depends on the rights to a video.) Critics compared “Jem,” the movie, to “Hannah Montana.” But the Jem of the comics also recalls the real-life singer Claire Boucher, who performs and records as Grimes. Boucher has written, on Tumblr, that “claire and grimes are completely different ppl at this point,” and has said, of a disappointing performance, “It wasn’t a Grimes show…. It was Claire pretending to be Grimes.”
    Could Jem sound like Grimes? Could the Misfits? The comic invites such questions; the zigzagging, hyperkinetic pages that depict the bands’ performances might help answer them. “I like the music scenes to feel like fantasy,” Campbell told me. “I’ve been getting into more pop music in the past few years,” she added, “but I like mostly moody, synthy stuff.” Grimes’s brand-new album, “Art Angels,” sounds to me (and maybe only to me) like a battle of the bands between Jem and the Misfits, with Pizzazz shouting out the words on the track “Kill V. Maim” and Jem taking on the bubbly, spiky “California.” The arresting tints and the alluring lucidity on any page of “Jem” do for the eye what the synth-driven genre that the critic Glenn McDonald calls “Metropopolis”—the genre of CHVRCHES and the Purity Ring, and maybe Grimes—does for the ear.

    It’s a genre—and a comic—in which craft and artifice, synthesis and synthesizers (as in Synergy), and the technology that gives some pop, and some comics art, such painstaking clarity, are not the opposite of authenticity but a means to that very end. Maybe you need those lavender lights, that timbre that only electronics could produce, maybe you even need that keytar (Kimber’s signature instrument) in order to look and sound as you feel that you should. Such art gives the lie to the toxic ideas that only gritty or manly art can be genuine, that makeup and self-presentation aren’t conscious expression, and that something or someone with a bright shiny sonority, or a glittery magenta palette, or an all-ages, self-consciously girly design sense, can’t be important, or can’t be real.
    Sign up for the daily newsletter.Sign up for the daily newsletter: the best of The New Yorker every day.
    This file should primarily consist of HTML with a little bit of PHP.

    Need to stop reading?
     

    We’ll send you a reminder.

    Your reminder will be sentin 2 hoursnowin 4 hourstomorrowin 3 days

    Jem and Gender Theory – The New Yorker.
    Share this:FacebookTwitterTumblrGoogleRedditLinkedInEmailMorePocketPinterestPrint


  47. Gender theorist Judith Butler is interviewed and her concept of gender perfomativity is compared and contrasted to a sex essentialist ideologies. Specifically, Butler addresses the work of Sheila Jeffreys and Janice Raymond. Additionally, Butler comments on the work of Gloria Steinem, Milton Diamond as well as a number of trans feminist concepts.
    Keywords: Third-wave feminism Radical Feminism Gender theory Legal Theory

    Gender Performance: An interview with Judith Butler 
    BY Cristan Williams@cristanwilliams
    0SHARESFacebookTwitter

    Cristan Williams: You spoke about the surgical intervention many trans people undergo as a “very brave transformation.”1 Can you talk about that?
    Judith Butler: It is always brave to insist on undergoing transformations that feel necessary and right even when there are so many obstructions to doing so, including people and institutions who seek to pathologize or criminalize such important acts of self-definition. I know that for some feels less brave than necessary, but we all have to defend those necessities  that allow us to live and breathe in the way that feels right to us.  Surgical intervention can be precisely what a trans person needs – it is also not always what a trans person needs.  Either way, one should be free to determine the course of one’s gendered life.
    CW: I think it’s safe to say that many gender theorists are controversial in one way or another. Some have lumped your work together with the work of gender theorists such as Sheila Jeffreys, who wrote:

    [Transsexual surgery] could be likened to political psychiatry in the Soviet Union. I suggest that transsexualism should best be seen in this light, as directly political, medical abuse of human rights. The mutilation of healthy bodies and the subjection of such bodies to dangerous and life-threatening continuing treatment violates such people’s rights to live with dignity in the body into which they were born, what Janice Raymond refers to as their “native” bodies. It represents an attack on the body to rectify a political condition, “gender” dissatisfaction in a male supremacist society based upon a false and politically constructed notion of gender difference… Recent literature on transsexualism in the lesbian community draws connections with the practices of sadomasochism.2

    Can you talk about the ways in which your views might differ?
    JB:  I have never agreed with Sheila Jeffreys or Janice Raymond, and for many years have been on quite the contrasting side of feminist debates.  She appoints herself to the position of judge, and she offers a kind of feminist policing of trans lives and trans choices.  I oppose this kind of prescriptivism, which seems me to aspire to a kind of feminist tyranny.
    If she makes use of social construction as a theory to support her view, she very badly  misunderstands its terms.  In her view, a trans person is “constructed” by a medical discourse and therefore is the victim of a social construct.  But this idea of social constructs does not acknowledge that all of us, as bodies, are in the active position of figuring out how to live with and against the constructions  – or norms – that help to form us.  We form ourselves within the vocabularies that we did not choose, and sometimes we have to reject those vocabularies, or actively develop new ones.  For instance, gender assignment is a “construction” and yet many genderqueer and trans people refuse those assignments in part or in full.  That refusal opens the way for a more radical form of self-determination, one that happens in solidarity with others who are undergoing a similar struggle.
    One problem with that view of social construction is that it suggests that what trans people feel about what their gender is, and should be, is itself “constructed” and, therefore, not real.  And then the feminist police comes along to expose the construction and dispute a trans person’s sense of their lived reality.  I oppose this use of social construction absolutely, and consider it to be a false, misleading, and oppressive use of the theory.
    CW: Recently, Gloria Steinem wrote:

    So now I want to be unequivocal in my words: I believe that transgender people, including those who have transitioned, are living out real, authentic lives. Those lives should be celebrated, not questioned. Their health care decisions should be theirs and theirs alone to make. And what I wrote decades ago does not reflect what we know today as we move away from only the binary boxes of “masculine” or “feminine” and begin to live along the full human continuum of identity and expression. 3

    Would you comment on Steinem’s statement?
    JB: I agree completely that nothing is more important for transgender people than to have access to excellent health care in trans-affirmative environments, to have the legal and institutional freedom to pursue their own lives as they wish, and to have their freedom and desire affirmed by the rest of the world. This will happen only when transphobia is overcome at the level of individual attitudes and prejudices and in larger institutions of education, law, health care, and kinship.
    CW: What do you think people misrepresent most about your theories and why?
    JB:  I do not read very much of those writings, so I cannot say. I do know that some people believe that I see gender as a “choice” rather than as an essential and firmly fixed sense of self.  My view is actually not that.   No matter whether one feels one’s gendered and sexed reality to be firmly fixed or less so, every person should have the right to determine the legal and linguistic terms of their embodied lives.  So whether one wants to be free to live out a “hard-wired” sense of sex or a more fluid sense of gender, is less important than the right to be free to live it out, without discrimination, harassment, injury, pathologization or criminalization – and with full institutional and community support.  That is most important in my view.
    CW: Do you think that humans have an innate and subjective experience of having a body? If so, would part of that experience also include having a body with primary sex characteristics?
    JB: Most of what people say about these matters is rather speculative. I know that some subjective experiences of sex are very firm and fundamental, even unchangeable. They can be so firm and unchanging that we call them “innate”. But given that we report on such a sense of self within a social world, a world in which we are trying to use language to express what we feel, it is unclear what language does that most effectively. I understand that “innate” is a word that conveys the sense of something hired-wired and constitutive. I suppose I would be inclined to wonder whether other vocabularies might do the job equally well. I never did like the assertion of the “innate” inferiority or women or Blacks, and I understood that when people tried to talk that way, they were trying to “fix” a social reality into a natural necessity. And yet, sometimes we do need a language that refers to a basic, fundamental, enduring, and necessary dimension of who we are, and the sense of sexed embodiment can be precisely that.
    CW: Some (such as Milton Diamond) assert that there seems to be a genetic issue that can lead to transsexualism. 4 What are your thoughts about such assertions?
    JB: In the works by Milton Diamond that I have read, I have had to question the way he understands genetics and causality. Even if a gene structure could be found, it would only establish a possible development, but would in no way determine that development causally. Genetics might be yet another way of getting to that sense of being “hard-wired” for a particular sex or gender. My sense is that we may not need the language of innateness or genetics to understand that we are all ethically bound to recognize another person’s declared or enacted sense of sex and/or gender. We do not have to agree upon the “origins” of that sense of self to agree that it is ethically obligatory to support and recognize sexed and gendered modes of being that are crucial to a person’s well-being.
    CW: If “gender” includes the way in which we subjectively experience, contextualize, and communicate our biology, do you think that living in a world without “gender” is possible?
    JB: Sometimes there are ways to minimize the importance of gender in life, or to confuse gender categories so that they no longer have descriptive power. But other times gender can be very important to us, and some people really love the gender that they have claimed for themselves. If gender is eradicated, so too is an important domain of pleasure for many people. And others have a strong sense of self bound up with their genders, so to get rid of gender would be to shatter their self-hood. I think we have to accept a wide variety of positions on gender. Some want to be gender-free, but others want to be free really to be a gender that is crucial to who they are.
    Figure 1: Tweet by sex essentialist activist Cathy BrennanCW: I have seen where – especially online – people who identify as “gender critical feminists” (TERFs) assert that transwoman are merely mutilated men. What are your thoughts about using “gender critical feminism” to make such assertions?
    JB: I do not know this term, but I reject totally the characterization of a transwoman as a mutilated man. First, that formulation presumes that men born into that sex assignment are not mutilated. Second, it once again sets up the feminist as the prosecutor of trans people. If there is any mutilation going on in this scene, it is being done by the feminist police force who rejects the lived embodiment of transwomen. That very accusation is a form of “mutilation” as is all transphobic discourse such as these. There is a rather huge ethical difference between electing surgery and being faced with transphobic condemnation and diagnoses. I would say that the greatest risk of mutilation that trans people have comes directly from transphobia.
    CW: Many trans people assert that women/females can have a penis and that men/males can have a vagina. What are your thoughts about that?
    JB: I see no problem with women having a penis, and men having a vagina. People can have whatever primary characteristics they have (whether given or acquired) and that does not necessarily imply what gender they will be, or want to be. For others, primary sexual characteristics signify gender more directly.

    Intersectionality may well sound like some unfortunate bowel complaint resulting in copious use of a colostomy bag, and indeed it does contain a large amount of ordure. Wikipedia defines it as ‘the study of intersections between different disenfranchised groups or groups of minorities; specifically, the study of the interactions of multiple systems of oppression or discrimination’, which seems rather mature and dignified. In reality, it seeks to make a manifesto out of the nastiest bits of Mean Girls, wherein non-white feminists especially are encouraged to bypass the obvious task of tackling the patriarchy’s power in favour of bitching about white women’s perceived privilege in terms of hair texture and body shape. – Julie Burchill 5

    CW: Do you have any thoughts about “intersectionality?”
    JB: If you are referring to the important contribution of black feminist theory, then I have many thoughts. It has made an important contribution to social and political analysis, asking all of us to think about what assumptions of race and class we make when we speak about “women” or what assumptions of gender and race we make when we speak about “class.” It allows us to unpack those categories and see the various kinds of social formations and power relations that constitute those categories.
    CW: It has been asserted that if one controls the way one identifies and behaves, that one can change the way one experiences their body. For example:

    He could see that I was processed of this thing, which only now, I realize was demonic. I knelt on the study floor, in tears, I was choking, forces were telling me not to do it, to walk out; freedom as a woman awaited me, after all, I had made such progress. I fought back, I cried aloud, I repented, I rebuked what had gone on in my life… All this happened 18 months ago… I gave them my suitcases of dresses, clothes, make up etc. It made me feel sick, and it was a major thing for me to do. I had to get rid of all that had held me before. They disposed of the stuff. I stopped having manicures, and cut my nails short, I grew a small beard. I threw all the [hormone] tablets away, and turned away from anything that had to do with my desires. I asked my Pastor for a verse that I could look at every day and enjoy my new freedom as a man, a father and a husband. I put a piece of paper next to my bed, with encouraging verses, which I read every morning when I got out of bed. I knew that the woman inside was dead. The power of Christ had destroyed her, and all she stood for. Eighteen months on, the devil still tries to persuade me, but he knows that I will not go down that path, as the consequences for my family would be immense. I am accountable to several people, and I am enjoying my manhood. – Sam’s Story

    In the above example, the individual has made a ongoing daily ritualistic of practice of denial and repression in the belief that it will change the way they experience their body. In what seems to be a somewhat similar approach, Janice Raymond wrote:

    This paper has argued that the issue of transsexualism is an ethical one that has profound social and moral ramifications. Transsexualism itself is a deeply moral question rather than a medicaltechnical answer. In concluding, I would list some suggestions for change that address the more social and ethical arguments I have raised in the preceding pages.
    While there are many who feel that morality must be built into law, I believe that the elimination of transsexualism is not best achieved by legislation prohibiting transsexual treatment and surgery but rather by legislation that limits it and by other legislation that lessens the support given to sex-role stereotyping, which generated the problem to begin with…
    It would raise questions such as the following: is individual gender suffering relieved at the price of role conformity and the perpetuation of role stereotypes on a social level? In changing sex, does the transsexual encourage a sexist society whose continued existence depends upon the perpetuation of these roles and stereotypes? These and similar questions are seldom raised in transsexual therapy at present.
    – Raymond 6

    In your understanding of “gender,” do you believe that either of these approaches – both focusing on controlling behavior (via god and religious counseling or legislation and stereotype counseling) – would be able to eliminate trans people?
    JB: I think that it is incumbent on all of us to get rid of these approaches – they are painful, unnecessary, and destructive. Raymond sets herself up as the judge of what transsexuality is and is not, and we are already in a kind of moral prison as we read her work. What is much more important than any of these behaviorist or “moral” approaches are all the stories, poems, and testimonies, the theoretical and political works, that document the struggle to achieve embodied self-determination for individuals and for groups. What we need are poems that interrogate the world of pronouns, open up possibilities of language and life; forms of politics that support and encourage self-affirmation. And what we need is a political and joyous alternative to the behaviorist discourse, the Christian discourse on evil or sin, and the convergence of the two in forms of gender policing that tyrannical and destructive.
    CW: Do you think “sex” is a social construct?
    JB: I think that there are a variety of ways of understanding what a social construct is, and we have to be patient with terms like these. We have to find a way of understanding how one category of sex can be “assigned” from both and another sense of sex can lead us to resist and reject that sex assignment. How do we understand that second sense of sex? It is not the same as the first – it is not an assignment that others give us. But maybe it is an assignment we give ourselves? If so, do we not need a world of others, linguistic practices, social institutions, and political imaginaries in order to move forward to claim precisely those categories we require, and to reject those that work against us?
    CW: What, if anything, would you like trans people to take from your work?
    JB: Gender Trouble was written about 24 years ago, and at that time I did not think well enough about trans issues. Some trans people thought that in claiming that gender is performative that I was saying that it is all a fiction, and that a person’s felt sense of gender was therefore “unreal.” That was never my intention. I sought to expand our sense of what gender realities could be. But I think I needed to pay more attention to what people feel, how the primary experience of the body is registered, and the quite urgent and legitimate demand to have those aspects of sex recognized and supported. I did not mean to argue that gender is fluid and changeable (mine certainly is not). I only meant to say that we should all have greater freedoms to define and pursue our lives without pathologization, de-realization, harassment, threats of violence, violence, and criminalization. I join in the struggle to realize such a world.
    Go to top
    [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bo7o2LYATDc?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&autohide=2&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&wmode=transparent%5D
    Judith Butler is a preeminent gender theorist and has played an extraordinarily influential role in shaping modern feminism. She’s written extensively on gender and her concept of gender performativity is a central theme of both modern feminism and gender theory. Butler’s essays and books include Performative Acts and Gender Constitution (1988), Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990), Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex” (1993) and Undoing Gender (2004).
    A version of this interview first appeared on the TransAdvocate (2014).

    About Latest Posts Cristan WilliamsCristan Williams is a trans historian and activist. She started one of the first trans homeless shelters and co-founded the first federally funded trans-only homeless program, pioneered affordable healthcare for trans people in the Houston area, won the right for trans people to change their gender on Texas ID prior to surgery, started numerous trans social service programs and founded the Transgender Center as well as the Transgender Archives. Cristan is the editor at the social justice sites TransAdvocate.com and TheTERFs.com, is a long-term member and previous chair of the City of Houston HIV Prevention Planning Group, is the jurisdictional representative to the Urban Coalition for HIV/AIDS Prevention Services (UCHAPS), serves on the national steering body for UCHAPS and is the Executive Director of the Transgender Foundation of America. Latest posts by Cristan Williams (see all) Commentary Testing – November 13, 2015 Testing, Pt 1 – November 14, 2015 Second Commentary: About John’s Entry – November 20, 2015 Share this:Share on TumblrPocketArchbold, Matthew. “Fordham Hosts ‘Gender Theorist’ for Prestigious Annual Lecture.” The Cardinal Newman Society. April 2, 2014. Accessed April 10, 2015. http://tinyurl.com/ppvqps5Jeffreys, Sheila. “Transgender Activism.” Journal of Lesbian Studies 1, no. 3–4 (July 16, 1997): 55–74. doi:10.1300/j155v01n03_03.Steinem, Gloria. “Op-ed: On Working Together Over Time.” Op-ed: On Working Together Over Time | Advocate.com. April 10, 2014. Accessed November 28, 2015. http://tinyurl.com/kko4kgs.Segal, Nancy L., and Milton Diamond. “Identical Reared Apart Twins Concordant for Transsexuality.” Journal of Experimental & Clinical Medicine 6, no. 2 (April 2014): 74. doi:10.1016/j.jecm.2014.02.007.Burchill, Julie. “Don’t You Dare Tell Me to Check My Privilege.” The Spectator. February 22, 2014. Accessed April 10, 2014. http://tinyurl.com/qguwplf.Raymond, Janice. “Social and Ethical Aspects of Transsexual Surgery.” HRST-PHS Assessment Report 1, no. 4 (1980).Like this:Like Loading…

    Related

  48. Germaine Greer’s Essentialist Transphobia – A Blog by Rosa Torr (rosa.torr@ucdconnect.ie)
    It came about last month that Germaine Greer, second-wave feminist and author of the feminist handbook ‘The Female Eunuch’, had a petition created by Cardiff University’s Women’s Officer against her doing a speech there (Edwards, 2015). According to the petition, her recent comments about trans people “demonstrated time and time again her misogynistic views towards trans women, including continually ‘misgendering’ trans women and denying the existence of transphobia altogether” (Edwards, 2015). But what exactly could this activist of women’s rights have said to offend so many women? What were the implications of what she said? And are there any more reasonable alternatives to her point of view? I will aim to answer these questions.
    The video that caused such a stir can be found here. (Greer, 2015).
    On ‘M to F’ trans women she says ‘they do not look like, sound like or behave like women’ (Greer, 2015). Furthermore, in a statement to Victoria Live on the BBC she said “Just because you lop off your d*** and then wear a dress doesn’t make you a f*****g woman. I’ve asked my doctor to give me long ears and liver spots and I’m going to wear a brown coat but that won’t turn me into a f****** cocker spaniel,” (Saul, 2015). And these are just some of the ‘grossly offensive’ (Saul, 2015) things she said.
    What it seems as though Greer is saying is that because trans people haven’t been born with female genitalia and therefore experienced the implications of having a female body and thus been treated as a woman, they cannot simply alter their bodies and claim to be part of that gender. She seems to take the exceptionally essentialist view that men and women have innate and natural qualities that dictate their gender based on their biology.
    This essentialist view however is somewhat outdated in modern feminist thought. It fails to take into account an intersectionality that has been much needed throughout the feminist movement and is being more frequently included in third wave feminism.
    Judith Butler’s argument is that ‘gender is performative’ (Butler, 2015). That is to say, not some inherent quality or way of acting, but something fluid and ever changing given the context. She argues that ‘we act and walk and speak and talk in ways that consolidate an impression of being a man or being a woman.’ (Butler, 2015). Our gender is therefore defined by the society around us and our actions are read in such a way that they are interpreted as ‘male’ or ‘female’. For example, we now consider the colour pink to be associated with girls and blue to be associated with boys. Without enforcing this preference, would a child really be drawn to one colour over the other?
    One of the most interesting studies in gender normative behaviour was based on the essentialist claim that men are better at maths and science than women. In the study they got a group of men and women to perform a simple logic task. The first outcome was that the men did in general much better than the women. They then told the women to think of themselves as stereotypical men before doing the task again and the mental gap disappeared (Weiss, 2015).
    What studies like these tell us is that society’s expectations of what and how a person who identifies as a certain gender are, are not biological but societal and thus conditioned. Women can adopt what we consider to be ‘male qualities’ such as being more mathematical, which proves this idea that it’s associated to your biology as mythical.
    Moreover, Greer seems to be claiming that because transwomen experience the world differently from birth they are not women (Greer, 2015). But this view is also too narrow. This concept of ‘woman’ does not come with a specific and necessary check list of experience. Black women have very different experiences to white women, straight women have very different experiences to lesbian women and trans women have different experiences to all of the above. And of course within all these diversities of ‘woman’ we see crossover, and differing individual experiences. The comments made by Greer refused to reevaluate such a limited and dated view as the essentialist idea of ‘woman’ and were thus cissexist and non-intersectional.
    Given that every person experiences society differently, the vast nuances of life and the varying degrees to which we all come into contact with certain norms it is only reasonable to consider that people can experience gender in very individual ways. To see the world in such binary categories as ‘male’ and ‘female’ is too reductive, too black and white, gender is far more diverse. This is why for Butler gender is ‘a phenomenon that is being produced all the time and reproduced all the time, so to say gender is performative is to say that nobody really is a gender from the start’.
    Therefore, Greer’s essentialist views are not only too narrow and prescriptive when considering gender, but also deny each human an individual right to their own identity.
    There is some argument however into whether trans people actually reinforce this essentialist view in some way given that a very common claim by trans people is that they were ‘born into the wrong body’. It could be argued that feeling such a strong connections between the body you are in and the gender you identify with is alluding to some necessary biological connection to gender. If gender is merely behavioural as the theory of gender performativity seems to suggest, does having a sex change to feel more of an affiliation to that gender actually confirm it is something more?
    However, I would argue that in fact the act of having transitioning couldn’t be further from essentialist. Altering your body in order to feel freer in the physical agent in which you inhabit is saying that you have never conformed to gender normative behaviour that society expects of you. You identify as the opposite gender to your sex and wish to live more outwardly in a body that will allow society to accept you as ‘man’ or ‘woman’. Perhaps if it weren’t for essentialist theorists such as Germaine Greer, the need for an operation wouldn’t be as great. But the person’s natural biology and personal identity do not fit the binary necessary categories posited by the essentialists. Someone who is born a male may behave with what society considers mostly female qualities and thus feels freer in the body that is expected to come with their gender. They are reclaiming themselves. As one commentator put it, ‘striving to become one’s true self is not the same thing as the popular misconception that trans men or trans women are working to “become the opposite sex.’ (Jakubowski, 2015).
    Judith Butler spoke about this saying ‘gender is culturally formed, but it’s also a domain of agency or freedom and that it is most important to resist the violence that is imposed by ideal gender norms, especially against those who are gender different, who are nonconforming in their gender presentation.’ (Butler, 2014). What Butler is adding here is that the fluidity of gender is necessary to the freedom of some individuals and therefore necessary to their rights. In order to accept trans people as the gender they feel they are, we need to accept a non-essentialist understanding of gender. Trans people do not therefore reinforce gender essentialism.
    When Germaine Greer claims that trans gender people do not ‘look like, sound like or behave like women’ (Greer, 2015). What she is implying is that there is some fixed way that women should do these things. Does she mean they don’t have vaginas? Because post-op transsexuals may. Does she mean they don’t have high pitched voices? Because some cisgender women do not? Is it that they don’t behave subordinately or bake cakes? Because a very large number of cisgendered women do not. Greer’s argument even reaffirms stereotypes that work against the personal freedom to choose of cisgendered women. Essentialism is too prescriptive and narrow a scope to deal with such a multifaceted world in which every person experiences society differently. This is surprising given that Germaine Greer is considered a pioneer of second wave feminist theory. Perhaps she is evidence that the third wave has progressed into a new more inclusive and intersectional feminism that takes into account the evidentially fluid and performative nature of gender, and also different experiences of a more diverse range of women.
    Given this, what she said was extremely offensive and actually works against the liberation of women. By perpetuating an essentialist view she even limits the cisgendered women she wishes to emancipate in her feminist practise. The irony being that the writer of ‘The Female Eunuch’ has some part to play in the ‘castration’ of transgendered and ciswomen alike. Regardless of whether Germaine Greer felt she was demonstrating as she says in the video ‘tact’ (Greer, 2015), she uses an aggressive and discriminatory rhetoric on national television and this is not acceptable.
    To harp back to one of Greer’s own influences on her own work, Transgender women are beautiful and very literal examples Simone DeBeuvoir’s idea that ‘One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.’
    Bibliography:
    Butler, J. (2014). Gender Performance: The TransAdvocate interviews Judith Butler. [online] The TransAdvocate. Available at: http://www.transadvocate.com/gender-performance-the-transadvocate-interviews-judith-butler_n_13652.htm#sthash.uehARHf8.dpuf [Accessed 11 Nov. 2015].
    Butler, J. (2015). Judith Butler: Your Behavior Creates Your Gender. [online] YouTube. Available at:

    [Accessed 12 Nov. 2015].
    Edwards, S. (2015). Germaine Greer Says Caitlyn Jenner, Transgender Women Are Not ‘Real Women’. [online] Jezebel. Available at: http://jezebel.com/germaine-greer-says-caitlyn-jenner-transgender-women-a-1738550360 [Accessed 11 Nov. 2015].
    Greer, G. (2015). Germaine Greer: Transgender women are ‘not women’ – Newsnight. [online] YouTube. Available at:

    [Accessed 11 Nov. 2015].
    Jakubowski, K. (2015). No, The Existence of Trans People Doesn’t Validate Gender Essentialism. [online] Everyday Feminism. Available at: http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/03/trans-people-gender-essentialism/ [Accessed 8 Nov. 2015].
    Saul, H. (2015). Germaine Greer defends ‘offensive’ comments about transgender women. [online] The Independent. Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/germaine-greer-defends-grossly-offensive-comments-about-transgender-women-just-because-you-lop-off-a6709061.html [Accessed 9 Nov. 2015].
    Weiss, S. (2015). 3 Reasons to Doubt the Most Widely Believed Biology-Based Gender Myths. [online] Everyday Feminism. Available at: http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/10/biology-based-gender-myths/ [Accessed 8 Nov. 2015].
    ———————————–
    Rosa Torr is a second year Politics and Philosophy BA student from London studying at UCD. She has a great interest in Gender Politics and wishes to continue it into her Masters.
    Share this:TwitterFacebookGoogleLike this:Like Loading…

    Related

  49. Siggy says:

    One model of gender is that you are the gender that you identify as. This is a great model because everyone gets to be the gender that they want to be. It is, by definition, desirable for people to get what they want.1
    Many people express concerns about the self-identity model of gender. What if someone abuses it? What if someone disingenuously claims to be a woman, not because they want it, but for some strategic advantage? I don’t think this is much of an issue, since empirically this does not appear to happen very often, if at all. But the concern is noted.
    I think a far more common issue is when someone is deciding what gender to identify as. You can’t use the self-identity model as a guide when your self-identity is precisely the thing in question. When the self-identity model works, it defines what is desirable, and that is well and good. But it’s necessary to find at least one other model to supplement it so we can understand what it is exactly that we’re desiring. Here I will briefly describe a few alternative models.

    1. Naive models of gender
    In my framing, the self-identity model is the foundation upon which all other models much be constructed. But most people take other models to be foundational. Many people believe that gender simply is who you are, what you’re born as. In service of this model, people often believe that there is some simple unambiguous trait common to all women, such as their genitals, or XX chromosomes. Almost all of these beliefs are factually incorrect.
    We could come up with a slightly more charitable naive models. For example, maybe there is some essential property shared by all women (both cis and trans), and we simply haven’t found what that property is. Maybe neurologists could eventually discover this “woman” property.
    The fundamental problem with these naive models is, simply put, that they aren’t enough like the self-identity model. These naive models assume either that we have a simple way to differentiate genders, or that we should seek one out. But having simple definitions isn’t desirable; people getting what they desire is desirable.
    Excluding those cases where people are questioning their gender identity, women are those people who want to be women. We might eventually discover that all such people have some simple property in common (aside from wanting to be women), but there’s no reason to expect such a discovery.
    2. Gender performativity
    Contemporary philosopher Judith Butler says that gender is performative.2 By reputation, this model is frequently misunderstood and abused by people who only took a single course on gender studies, and I’ll note that I haven’t even taken a single course on gender studies. So it is with some humility that I’ll summarize, based on this interview, this article, and other basic references.
    The theory of gender performativity explicitly rejects the view of gender as an essential property. Rather, we create gender by the way we act and speak. We do all sorts of little things to consolidate the impression that we are a particular gender. This implies that gender is inherently social; a gender not observed by anyone (including oneself) is not a gender. Gender is akin to a performative speech act. By saying “I apologize”, I am not merely describing the state of things, but apologizing by stating those words. Similarly, by saying “I’m a man”, I am not merely describing my gender, but creating my gender by stating those words.
    Gender performativity theory is usually contrasted with naive models of gender, but it is also useful to contrast it with the self-identity model. Gender performativity theory is descriptive, while the self-identity model is prescriptive. In other words, gender performativity describes gender as it is, while the self-identity model prescribes gender as it should be. As such, the two models can complement each other. Judith Butler herself appears to support this view, arguing that we should disrupt existing gender norms so that people can have greater freedom to define their own lives.
    3. Prototype theory
    There are two schools of modern philosophy: continental and analytic. Judith Butler is a continental philosopher. But analytic philosophy is the kind that they teach in philosophy departments. Since I’m primarily influenced by analytic philosophy, I would deride Judith Butler as not very coherent. Analytic philosophy, on the other hand, you could deride as too ensconced in its ivory tower, having little to say of any social relevance. Indeed, I am not familiar with any analytic philosophy that specifically tries to address gender (although maybe it exists). But analytic philosophy did give rise to prototype theory, which I advocate applying to gender.
    Prototype theory declares that concepts do not have clear and unambiguous definitions. Rather, when we think of a concept, such as “woman” or “man”, we have one or more “prototypes” in mind. New people are then categorized according to their proximity to the prototypes. The idea of “proximity” is not very well defined at the boundaries, which is perfect because it explains why gender is not very well defined at the boundaries.
    Like the theory of gender performativity, prototype theory is descriptive, allowing it to perfectly complement the prescriptive identity model. The self-identity model describes an end goal, while prototype theory describes the landscape of possible strategies. Prototypes of gender are a social reality. We can respond to that reality by aligning ourselves with existing prototypes, adjusting existing prototypes, or creating entirely new prototypes.
    4. Trans model

    All of the above models have the problem that they weren’t created with trans people in mind. This is an unfortunate oversight, since the issue is of greater relevance to trans people than anyone else. Likewise, trans experiences carry tremendous implications on the meaning of gender. To fill this huge gap, I wish to synthesize a model of gender that is based on modern trans discourse. I say “synthesize”, because trans perspectives are diverse–they don’t truly advocate any single model (except perhaps the identity model). There are also many, let’s call them pedagogical models, which are intended to help people out of their deep pits of ignorance, but are not ultimately great models.3 I wish to avoid these pedagogical models while also keeping things short.

    Many trans activists make use of the idea of gender dysphoria.4 Gender dysphoria may involve a variety of experiences, including discomfort with the primary and secondary sexual characteristics of one’s own body, or a desire to be perceived, treated, or classified as a different gender. Of course, not everyone has every single symptom of gender dysphoria, so trans activists find it useful to distinguish between body dysphoria and social dysphoria. Either kind of gender dysphoria can be quite crippling, and it serves as a compelling model of gender. If you feel gender dysphoria related to a particular gender, you may be strongly motivated to disidentify with that gender–and then the self-identity model can step in to grant you the gender you want.
    On the other hand, many trans and non-binary people say that gender dysphoria is not a requirement for gender identity. Part of the problem is that gender dysphoria only focuses on negative feelings. If you feel negatively towards one gender, there are still multiple other genders to choose from. And couldn’t a woman’s identity be based on positive feelings towards being a woman, rather than negative feelings towards being a man? There is also the issue of how bad a feeling needs to be to count as dysphoria, which is logically independent from the issue of how bad a feeling needs to be to motivate a change in gender identity. Finally, “gender dysphoria” can be strongly associated with certain narratives (ie body dysphoria specifically), and certain trans/non-binary people may wish to get away from those associations.
    And that’s it! My descriptions of the models were very brief, but you may look up keywords to your desire. The point is not in the details of the models, but in the choice of framing. By all rights, the self-identity model should be the default model. Further models are needed as supplements, and I point to a few possibilities, but it always comes back to self-identity.
    Footnotes:
    1. I suppose people may have conflicting desires, like when Alice wants to be a woman, but Bob wants Alice to be a man. We can resolve this in the standard way: your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins. Your right to define gender encompasses your own gender, but does not encompass mine. (return)
    2. Note that Butler says gender is performative, not that gender is performance. The words are absolutely not interchangeable in this context. The difference between performative and performance is like the difference between action and acting. (return)
    3. One of my early influences in learning about trans issues was Tranarchism’s “Not your mom’s trans 101“, which is very critical of “woman trapped in a man’s body” rhetoric, as well as the sex vs gender dichotomy. (return)
    4. The concept of gender dysphoria is borrowed from the medical model of transgender people. Incidentally, the medical model is yet another model of gender not based on self-identity. But in the interest of brevity I’m leaving it out. (return)
    Share this:TwitterFacebookGoogleLike this:Like Loading…

    Related

  50. […] around that. Even Judith Butler, the influential philosopher and gender theorist, for instance, was recently asked to grapple with the latent transphobia of her movement-creating, but often misunderstood, theories […]

  51. […] no need for validation from that kind of masculine performance.  (Here is also an article by the TransAdvocate interviewing Butler and how her work has been misconstrued to support anti-trans theories and […]

  52. […] need to take my word for it.  You can read this excellent commentary from Julia Serano or hear it from Butler directly.  For some folks, gender has nothing to do with presentation and exists purely as an internal […]

  53. Jesse says:

    on my mobile device, some of the quotes are rendered in line with Butler’s answers in a way that begins to look jarringly as though she’s speaking them. is that just me? if not, could it be fixed?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *