Gender Benders

BODY AND SOUL
Judith Why?me?Butler, in Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990),?explores the process by which society inscribes identity on the body. Before this happens, a body has a sex or silhouette?but no specific gender. External sources, not internal,?determine gender identity by way of “surface politics” (2496) and?”the law of heterosexual coherance” (2498). Whatever doesn’t fit the mold?is cast out, scorned, punished?for being?dirty, polluted and polluting to society.

PERFORMANCE PARODY
Pat?SweenyPerformers have been raising the gender question for as long as there have been performances. The most popular and contemporary gender parody is the Pat skit on Saturday Night Live. Androgenous to the core, Pat is never forthcoming with clues as to which gender he/she belongs. Because Pat can’t be identified as male or female, the people that Pat interracts with?are?generally polite in their confusion.?Does this really raise awareness and acceptance of alternate identities?

GENDER AS PASTICHE
Tim?CurryParody playfully mocks an original but since gender is not an original identity, parody is imitating?an imitation.?This becomes pastiche, which Jameson says has lost its humor. Butler disagrees:

The loss of the sense of “the normal” … can be it’s own occasion for laughter, especially when “the normal,”?”the original” is revealed to be a copy … In this sense, laughter emerges in the realization that all along the original was?derived. (2499)???

Priscilla, Queen of the?DesertSo, this is why we have cult classics like The Rocky Horror Picture Show?and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

THE REMEDY?
I have to wonder, are audiences getting it? Are they laughing with the transvestites or at them? And how do drag?performances build support for tolerance when those who are performing are preaching to the already converted?

Gender?PatrolDon’t many heterosexuals feel they deserve the right to?act as?Gender Border Patrol? If those who define their heterosexuality by way of opposition to alternative identities are dangerous to the mental and physical health of others, how do we break the restrictive social mold?

Laugh, take two queens and call me in the morning…

I find the idea of drag interesting as a remedy for intolerance, having never contemplated how:

We are actually in the presence of three contingent dimensions of significant corporeality: anatomical sex, gender identity and gender performance. If the anatomy of the performer is already distinct from the gender of the performer, and both of those are distinct from the gender of the performance, then the performance suggests a dissonance not only between sex and performance, but sex and gender, and gender and performance.

Having friends in several shows, I knew?their performance?was an expression of repressed sexuality and identity. Still, I don’t think even my drag queen friends were aware of the intricate triangular relationship between sex, gender and performance. Of course, this difference is what Butler says is crucial. I guess I’ll have to tote my Norton to the next show and let everybody know what’s really going on.

FICTIONAL CHIC
Ziggy?StardustPatti?SmithClelebrity examples of gender bending are always interesting and influential, I suppose. Patti Smith dressed in men’s clothes to speak out against the male domination of Rock n’ Roll. David Bowie was “cool” as Ziggy Stardust,?a fictional, genderless poet character from Mars. I just don’t see the acceptance crossing beyond the boundaries of rock’s trendy tolerance yet.

WRAP IT UP, I’LL TAKE IT
So, for those who feel no affinity for their body’s sex, gender becomes a performance. Those?who seem to align “naturally” with the law of heterosexual coherance are also performing a learned behavior. In essence, gender is nothing more than a social construct, not a reality. We all just play our roles as a collective, striving for acceptance by the whole… or challenging the confines of the social construct called identity.

Comments

  1. Kim

    Great reference with Pat. I think that really helps to understand the idea of gender definition. I also agree with you on your David Bowie/ Patti Smith point. This crossing of gender barriers with clothing would not be as accepted if it was done outside the realm of entertainment. I doubt a teacher or a banker would be allowed to go to their work dressed in such a way.

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