Butler, End of Male Gaze, Gender Trouble, heteronormativity, Heterosexual Matrix, Queer Gaze, Sex & Gender, Soloway, Transparent, tv-series

From ‘Mort’ to Maura

As shown in What is normal? // Nomi, Nomi represents an example of a transwoman, whose storyline isn’t based on the fact that she is not cisgendered. Maura (Jeffrey Tambor – buhu), on the other hand, is an example of how Transparent has embraced the fact that she is a transwoman, making it central to her storyline, since she starts transitioning late in life, and we, the audience, is invited to join her journey towards finding herself and becoming an ‘intelligible’ woman.

(21:15 in Pilot)

The first time we are introduced to the woman Maura, who was previously shown as the male ‘Mort’ is through an establishing shot of Los Angeles’ LGBT(Q)-center. After, we are further invited to participate in her life. We are presented with a big, more or less empty room. At the center, 10-15 people are gathered in a circle, which suggests they are all participating in a support group:

(21:19 in Pilot)

In the following shot, we see a close-up of some of the people at the meeting, which creates a feeling of actually being present and participating, not just looking at the people present. With this, we are in feeling with the characters via a subjective camera:

(21:23 in Pilot)
(21:27 in Pilot)

The camera continues to pan, shedding light to the very different faces of the participants who all make up a diverse group of individuals: young and old, different skin colors, men and women.

In relation to this, it is important to note, that Transparent portrays the LGBTQ-environment, and especially trans* people in a relatable and diverse way, and that all trans*, queer (people who belong under a much broader umbrella than the one provided by the heterosexual matrix) characters are played by people who lives these life in real life (the only cisgendered to play a transwoman is Tambor as Maura) This is definitely part of creating credibility in the storylines and stories that Transparent are portraying (Soloway in Moylan 2016).

Then we hear a rather deep, ‘maskuline’ voice telling us about an episode in Target, while the other people (and their reactions) are still in the frame:

                                                                  (21:29 in Pilot)                                                                (21:39 in Pilot)

While telling the story, the camera reaches the person talking. The viewer meets Maura for the first time (before her children):

(21:50 in Pilot)

Maura, who we were previously introduced to as ‘Mort’ has long, dark brown hair, earrings, make-up and a purple dress. In other words, she looks different from the first time we saw her. “Thank you for your share, Maura” (22:24 i Pilot), says the woman who is leading this support group. ‘Mort’ is Maura – and we have been invited to her support group for trans* people. This is a very welcomed first!

The fact that we, the viewers, are introduced to the Maura before her kids can be seen as a well planned strategy by the creator. This is a tool that, according to Mittell, creates a relation between the viewer and the protagonist/character since ‘we know something others don’t’. Furthermore, Maura opens up and talks about very personal feelings and experiences in a fragil (and realistic) situation, which underlines this potential character engagement that occurs when we are given access to her thoughts, feelings and conceptual universe (Mittell 2015: 129).

In relation to ‘queer gaze’, Soloway explains: 

I can tell a woman directed this because I feel held by something that is invested in my feelings. In my body. That my emotions are being prioritized over the actions” 

(Soloway 2016: 19:23)

This quote makes clear exactly what is happening in the abovementioned scene with Maura in the support group and her ‘self outing’ to the viewer. The subjective camera opens up a space for us to enter her thoughts in a brilliant way. This is an act of trust that trusts in ‘I see you seeing me’ and in this way the viewer becomes part of the journey that Mauras has just started. Which, among other things, includes ‘coming out’ (see our post on ‘Coming Out’ which is underway) to her children.

This very intimate insight into Maura’s thoughts (in the very first episode) is part of creating an understanding of as well as empathy with Maura as a person. We are part of her most vulnerable journey (‘transition’) away from a life dictated by the heteronorm. We see Maura. We are not looking at her. This is an extremely important difference. Maura continues:

(…) One more thing. I made a commitment here last week that I was going to come out to my kids and I didn’t do it… Because it just wasn’t time, you know? But I will and it will be soon, I promise  you. I promise you. I promise you [raises her right hand]

(23:07 in Pilot)


The same way Maura opens up to the viewer about her being Maura and not ‘Mort’ as her children wrongfully believe, she also promises the viewer that she will reveal her true self to her children and the rest of her family. We are therefore in on her secret. This effect (operational reflexivity  mixed with intertextual references) appeals to a:

(…) til et præeksisterende kulturelt fællesskab, hvor referencerne giver mening for tv-seeren, fordi de er genkendelige og har en funktion. Mittell opfatter den operationelle refleksivitet som selvbevidste virkemidler der indbyder seeren til både at engagere sig i og værdsætte fortællingens udformning

(Haastrup 2014)

Our translation:

(…) to a preexisting cultural community, where the references makes sense to the viewer, since they are recognisable and has a function. Mittel(l) sees the operational reflexivity as conscious tools that invites the viewer to engage in – and appreciate the way the story is being told

This means that the viewer engage with the series on a deeper level which works to make sure that we potentially feel ‘obligated’ to continue to follow the Pfeffermans and their lives to know what happens to them. At the same time, this means that the viewer feels compassion and empathy for Maura as a character (Mittell 2015: 50).

This scene helps the viewer to get an insight into the division Maura feels – both when it comes to family and society – who expect her to be ‘Mort’ (which means death in France). It is made clear here, that Maura lives two different lives – and has done for decades, which becomes more and more clear throughout the series.

Very early on in the show, Transparent portrays gender as being everything but pinned down- it is performative (as Butler talks about). The division Maura feels is further substantiated in the following frame:

(22:01 in Pilot)

The tiles in the background looks like bars and might therefore symbolize imprisonment (something the series continues to do throughout). This can be seen as a symbolic imprisonment of Maura and other trans* people caused by a cisgendered society that constantly punishes those who do not fit the frames of a heteronormative society. They become the opposite of ‘intelligible genders’.

Exactly because trans* people are forced to be aware of the necessity of performing ones gender a certain way according to which community/space they are in  (not to say, cisgender people don’t perform their gender – but they are under less societal pressure) – and the expectations towards gender of that space, the LGBT(Q)-center is an example of a safe space, where the frames are wider – and the tables have turned. In here, for a little while, they are not the minority.

This might also be a reason why some trans* people choose only to live ‘openly’ in closed spaces as fx in this support group.

Both Nomi and Maura are presented as complex characters who are not solemnly defined by the discrimination that is often used to portray trans* people in the medias. An examples is Boys Don’t Cry (1999) that is one of the most acknowledge film about a young trans man’s tragic destiny (based on true events). Hilary Swank’s oscar nominated portrayal of Brandon Teena’s fight for love and a life as the boy he is ends brutally when he is raped and killed by his girlfriend’s brothers.


Sources:

  • Soloway, Jill (2015-): Transparent. Pilot, Amazon
  • Moylan, Brian (2016): Transparent’s Jill Soloway: I was ignorant about trans politics.The Guardian. Found here
  • Haastrup, Helle Kannik (2014): Blog: De nye tv-serier. Udfordring og fordybelse. Rusk. Found here
  • Mittell, Jason (2015): Complex TV: The Poetics of Contemporary Television Storytelling. New York University Press. ISBN: 978-0-8147-7135-8
  • Soloway, Jill (2016): The Female Gaze. Master Class, TIFF 2016. Listen here
Heterosexual Matrix, Sense8, tv-series

What is normal? // Nomi

Sense8 tries to eliminate the label-thinking that surrounds gender and sexuality, whereas Transparent investigates these labels and in connection to that try to change the meanings sticking to those (this is especially evident when it comes to the label woman).

In the following analysis we will, firstly, look at a character from Sense8, Nomi, and two from Transparent, Maura and Ali (post about this is already cooking) in order to investigate how they each represent a more diverse understanding of gender and what it means to be ‘woman’ – and how they are limited by the heterosexual matrix. Nomi, Maura, and Ali are all part of creating a more diverse understanding of gender and sex as categories and challenge a cis-gendered conceptual universe in different ways. They make up three different ‘stages’ in the transition towards an ‘intelligible’ woman.

Next, we will look at Lito, Sense8, and Sarah, Transparent, to understand in which ways the series transgress the boundaries of the heterosexual matrix, including how they challenge traditional ideas on relationship constellations as part of breaking with the matrix.

Nomi

We don’t have to wait long to be introduced to a non heterosexual (queer) couple that consists of a cisgendered- and a transwoman. In fact, it is one of the very first things introduced in the pilot. In this way, Sense8 breaks with most other (even newer) tv- as well as streaming series – especially since they represent a great number of non-normative identities that challenge the heterosexual matrix (and its predominance in the medias)

Nomi Marks (Jamie Clayton) is introduced through a close-up of two hands holding a needle while extracting an undefinable fluid from a little, clear bottle:

(3:48 in Limbic Resonance)

With this, the reader is introduced to Nomi through her reflection, which is interesting when considering Foucault’s theory on the function of the mirror as the place where utopia (non-existing place that reflects society in its perfect form) and heterotopia (existing counter-place) meet. The mirror both challenges and depicts the real world. Heterotopia is represented through the hormone treatment (injection) and the fact that the mirror only shows a woman, not the needle.
Nb. The mirror metaphor is recurring for both streaming series, which underlines the series’ intention of creating a heterotopia, where queer identities and cisgendered-, binary-, hetero- identities are equal.

In the following frame, Nomi lifts the towel exposing her butt, whereafter she injects the fluid.

Next, we see the bathroom that Nomi uses. In the foreground of the frame, we see a naked woman lying in a bathtub:


In this, rather short, opening scene, we are able to decode a lot of information about Nomi, which requires an invested viewer who might have gained knowledge and information about the series (and thereby know about paratextual elements) (Mittell 2015: 194). This knowledge can forinstants be acquired by seeking out knowledge about the actresses. Mittell describes that this can be part of creating further engagement with the characters since the actresses’ off screen role can open up for other, more in-depth understandings of the character since the boundaries between private and professional life as well as facts and fiction become blurred. This, through a mixture of former roles, and/or the persons visibility on social media. In this way, the actress life outside of the series functions as an intertextual reference:


In all of these instances and many more, viewers approach a character with a wealth of star-connected contexts from both on- and offscreen references that help shape storytelling practices, highlighting the centrality of actors in constituting characters within serial television

(Mittell 2015: 122)

The paratextual knowledge (prior knowledge) ensures that the viewer quickly knows that Nomi is a transwoman just like the actress. Clayton is very open about her life as transgender on social media:



(Clayton 2017)

The series appeal to an audience with paratextual knowledge (that has more knowledge than usual about the subject matter), who shares a desire for transgression.

It is worth noting, that Nomi is presented with her girlfriend, Amanita (Freema Agyeman), who is cis-gendered and seems relaxed and comfortable with her (naked) body. Nomi, on the other hand, wears a towel that covers her ‘female traits’, which might be a reference to society at hand, where it is easier to accept a biological determined female body than a non-cisgendered (despite the fact that Nomi, when accepting the mainstream terms, ‘passes’ as a ‘real’ woman).

The injection can be understood as a performative action, which underlines how the series follows Butler’s approach to biological as well as social gender as being performative and not biologically determined. The fact that she needs hormone treatment at all underlines how the boundaries of the body has to be crossed – by stopping the processes that would normally make sure, Nomi was not accepted as a woman (which proves just how caught up by the idea of binary genders we are – since one needs to look like a woman to be admitted into the ‘woman’s category’). With this, the intentions of the series are obvious – to break with the idea of a heteronormative, romantic relationship as the only kind of relationship. Sense8 is not a show that intend to follow the heterosexual matrix!

Later, still in Sense8’s first episode, we are presented with an establishing shot of an apartment, that seems to be split into two rooms: a bedroom and a living room. The colors are low-key and warm (candle lits and lanterns), which underlines the cozy and comfortable atmosphere in the rooms:


While the camera slowly moves towards two people that are barely visible in the back of the room, a woman moans, louder and louder. Considering the expected conceptual universe of the heterosexual, average viewer, it is supposingly a man and a woman having sex (an assumption based on dominating discourses and representations of gender and sexuality in the media: heterosexual men and women).

Next, we see a medium shot of the two people, still far too away to give away their identities. It is not until the third frame, we are able to determine who they are;  Nomi and Amanita, having sex:



(21:24 i Limbic Resonance)

This is, in every way, a break with the heterosexual matrix as being the only ‘right’ one. Nomi is a transwoman in a queer relationship with another woman.

In this frame, Amanitas wears a strap-on-dildo. Nomi who is penetrated by Amanita. The first important and interesting element in this scene that breaks with heteronormative discourses, is a trans woman (Nomi) with an active sexuality. This is a rare sight and breaks with tendencies to fetichise trans* people in tv-/streaming series. A more recent example of fetichising trans* characters is the character Sophia Burset in the award winning, inclusive and normally very diverse Netflix series Orange Is the New Black  (2013-) by Jenji Kohan that has been criticized (by gender researchers etc.) for desexualising Sophia and hypersexualising many of the other female characters (Householder & Trier-Bieniek 2016: 10).

At the end of Nomi’s very loud climax, the camera zooms to show  Amanita taking of the strap-on and letting it hit the ground. In the same instant the series cut to a close-up of a rainbow colored dildo where sperm, very explicitly, splashes to all sides as it hits the ground:  



(22:18 in Limbic Resonance)

By explicitly showing the sperm in this way, the series very clearly states that Nomi is a woman – a real woman. Period. It is even convenient to talk about a form of symbolic castration, where the series disassociate themselves from the idea of the fallos symbol as something belonging to a man (they thereby break with the power that penis normally represent). Choosing a rainbow colored dildo (rather than a more realistic color) is in no way a coincident, since it does not symbolise a penis and in this way, not a man either. With this, the series does not try to reproduce heterosexual sex (simply because of penetration) but a queer (homosexual) relationship that too has a right to penetration sex: the rainbow colored dildo can thereby be seen as an intertextual reference to, and a symbol of, Pride and LGBTQ identities.

The dropping of the rainbow colored dildo on the floor combined with the intertextual reference to Pride are important factors when it comes to introducing, and understanding, Nomi as a person: A woman who is not controlled by her ‘unintelligible’ sexuality or her non binary gender – who is not one to be limited by existing norms.
Everything that could connect Nomi to the male gender (the rainbow colored strap on as a symbol of fallos) is literally thrown to the ground with a bang. This can be seen a part of the series symbolic ‘fuck you’ to the heterosexual matrix as well as biological gender as being destiny.

The sex scene between Nomi and Amanita is uncompromising and has no intention of sparring the viewer. The use of unaccustomed, potentially transgressive elements such as a strap on dildo is definitely part of challenging the viewer’s heteronormative conceptual universe, which is exactly the intention of the series. The abovementioned scene is just one of many in which Sense8 portrays a ‘Butler approach’ when it comes to gender representation as well as sexuality. Heterosexuality as being the ‘natural’ and the biological ‘woman’ as being the only ‘right’ woman is simply non existing in Sense8’s universe. Instead, they encourage the viewers to throw away their existing (ignorant) ideas on sexuality, gender, and relationship.


Sources:

Mittell, Jason (2015): Complex TV: The Poetics of Contemporary Television Storytelling. New York University Press. ISBN: 978-0-8147-7135-8

Householder, April Kalogeropopulos & Trier-Bieniek, Adrienne (2016): Feminist Perspectives on Orange Is the New Black: Thirteen Critical Essays. McFarland & Company Inc. Publishers. ISBN: 978-1-4766-6392-0

Straczynski, J. Michael, Wachowski, Lana & Wachowski, Lilly (2015-): Sense8. Netflix: Limbic Resonance

Butler, Feminism, Gender Trouble, heteronormativity, Heterosexual Matrix, Performativity, Queer Theory, Sex & Gender

What Is Queer Theory?

What exactly is queer theory? Queer theory is hard to define! Tiina Rosenberg, queer scientist and Associate Professor in Theater Studies at Stockholm University writes:

[Our translation] In short, queer theory shifts gender discrimination from being about the exclusion of women by patriarchy to the exclusion of non-heterosexual by heterosexual norms.

(Rosenberg i Munk Rösing 2001)

[Original quote] “I kort begreb kan man sige, at queer-teorien forskyder kønsdiskrimination fra at handle om patriarkatets udelukkelse af kvinden til at handle om den heteroseksuelle norms udelukkelse af ikke-heteroseksuelle”

We have chosen to use Judith Butler who has paid the way for queer theory to be our main queer theorist since we find her understanding to be one of the most accurate and useful approaches to gender and sexuality – both how they affect each other, as well as what the categories ‘gender/sex’ contain.

Judith Butler

Butlers book Gender Trouble (1990) helped put queer studies on the agenda (within gender and feminist studies). Her critical analysis of feminist thinkers such as Julia Kristeva and Monique Wittig as well as Michel Foucault, Jacque Lacan and Sigmund Freud has helped shape her own philosophy (more than an actual theory) which is an attempt to de-neutralise existing discourses within gender and sexuality.

[Our translation] But which connection between gender and sexuality am I trying to emphasize? I am not trying to claim that one specific sexual practice produces specific genders but merely the fact that by controlling gender within the conditions of normative heterosexuality it is sometimes used as a way to secure heterosexuality.

(Butler: XXI)

[Original quote]
“Men hvilken sammenhæng mellem køn og seksualitet forsøger jeg at fremhæve? Jeg vil bestemt ikke hævde, at former for seksuel praksis producerer bestemte køn, men kun at kontrollen af køn under den normative heteroseksualitets betingelser undertiden bruges som et middel til at sikre heteroseksualiteten.”

Butler presents the idea of ‘biological gender’ (sex) as oppose to ‘social gender’ (gender) and the connection as well as the differences between these – with the fundamental understanding of gender as a performance.

In addition, she talks about the relation between the understanding of gender and sexual desire: A heterosexual ‘woman’ and a heterosexual ‘man’ make up ‘the Heterosexual Matrix’.

‘Woman’ as a Category

“Strictly speaking, “women” cannot be said to exist”

(Kristeva in Butler 2008: 1)

Inspired by Michel Foucault, Butler points to problematic, dominating tendencies when it comes to women (in society, language as well as politics), since all women are placed in just one shared category. Existing discourses which society is subjected to produces gendered (masculine and dominating) subjects, that excludes the category ‘women’ by placing all women in one category both politically and culturally, thereby creating just one identity. Butler criticizes this:

If one “is” a woman, that is surely not all one is; the term fails to be exhaustive (…) because gender is not always constituted coherently or consistently in different historical contexts (…)

(Butler: 4)

Another point of critic is the lack of: “(…) racial, class, ethnic, sexual, and regional modalities of discursively constituted identities” (Butler: 4).

Butler is, as mentioned, inspired by De Beauvoir who sees gender as more than something that is biological determined: you are not born a woman, you become a woman (which is not to say, that there are absolutely no biological differences between women and men), and because of this, one cannot assume that there is only one women’s category.

Sex & Gender

flexiblegenderidentity

By deconstructing binary understandings and truisms of gender and sexuality that are dominant in our current society, Butler questions some of the naturalized truths which determine the general understanding of gender. She argues that gender is culturally determined and that the biological body is connected to the categories of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ because society is subjected to cultural compulsion that teaches us how we should think about these (Butler: 8).

Historically, there has been a clear distinction between gender and sex. Gender was seen as ‘destiny’ and sex as a cultural construction, which is to say it is changeable. Thus, Butler doesn’t think you can separate sex and gender since they depend on each other:

Gender ought not to be conceived merely as the cultural inscription of meaning on a pregiven sex (a juridical conception); gender must also designate the very apparatus of production whereby the sexes themselves are established. As a result, gender is not to culture as sex is to nature (…)

(Butler: 10)

With this in mind, the physical (biological) body is nothing but an ‘instrument’, a ‘construction’, without meaning until it has been ‘assigned’ a gender at (or even before) birth (boy or girl), predetermined by culture and existing discourses. This means that a person born with what is acknowledged as a biological ‘male’ body is also able to embody the female category the same way women born in a body acknowledged as ‘female’ can (De Beauvoir in Butler: 11).

Butler points out, that it is not just about choosing freely when it comes to one’s understanding of gender since gender identity is influenced by existing, powerful discourses.

Butler’s frame of understanding is thereby based on interpellation, where gender identity as a social construction is displayed: a subject becomes part of a gender discourse at birth since it is assigned the label: boy or girl.

The Heterosexual Matrix and heteronormativity

Butler explains that “”Intelligible” genders are those which in some sense institute and maintain relations of coherence and continuity among sex, gender, sexual practice, and desire” (Butler: 23). This definition constitute the Heterosexual Matrix. The matrix is to be understood as a structure that creates norms in which one (because of one’s sex) has a heterosexual desire that produces a heterosexual practice. Since this heteronormative understanding is dictating how vi think about sex, gender, and desire, identities that differ from the norm (gays, bisexuals, and trans*) are tabooed. As a result, these identities are viewed as evolutionary failures. Since the understanding of gender is based on a heterosexual construction regulated by its reproductive sexuality, a false stabilization of gender emerges.

Butler points out that it is problematic (in more than one way) to equate gender and sex with desire in modern queer theory since a given sex does not necessarily presuppose a certain desire and vice versa. She elaborates by saying:

The second and related move within queer theory is to argue that gender is not reducible to hierarchical heterosexuality, that it takes different forms when contextualized by queer sexualities, indeed, that its binariness cannot be taken for granted outside the heterosexual frame, that gender itself is internally unstable, that transgendered lives are evidence of the breakdown of any lines of causal determinism between sexuality and gender

(Butler 2004: 54)

Performativity

The many identities that are placed outside of the Heterosexual Matrix are proof that the matrix is constructed and constantly controlled and upheld by repetition, language, and representation. Butler thinks that it is necessary to recognize that rather than viewing gender/sex as a cause of sexual experience, behavior, and desire, it is important to acknowledge that the cause must be understood as an effect of the heteronormative discourse that creates certain subject positions. Which is to say, gender/sex is a label created performatively by hegemonic discourses.

It may seem, however, that there is a difference between the embodying or performing of gender norms and the performative use of discourse. Are these two different senses of “performativity”, or do the converge as modes of citationality in which the compulsory character of certain social imperatives becomes subject to a more promising deregulation? Gender norms operate by requiring the embodiment of certain ideals of femininity and masculinity, ones that almost always related to the idealization of the heterosexual bond

(Butler 1993: 231)

Butler views gender/sex as fluent. To become one’s gender/sex, one is forced to perform in order to live up to the social and public discourse on “intelligible” genders. Gender is thereby produced in order to create stabile, primary, and recognizable identities. These identities can be interpreted as performative, since being placed outside the norm has negative consequences. Those who does not perform their gender/sex in accordance with the norm are challenging the political construction and our way of understanding gender/sex (Butler: 192) (note: This is not to say, that gender/sex is merely a performance (Serano 2016: 336)).


Sources

Butler, Judith: Gender Trouble – Feminism and the subversion of identity

Butler, Judith (2004) Undoing Gender. Routledge. ISBN: 978-0415969239

Butler, Judith (1993): “Critically Queer” i Bodies That Matter – On The Discursive Limits of “Sex”. pp. 223-283. Routledge.

Ravn, Flemming (2014): HVAD ER HETERONORMATIVITET? Læs her

Munk Rösing, Lilian (2001): De skæve kønsidentiteter. Information. Læs her

Queer Theory, Trans theory

Trans* theory

In order to elaborate on Butler’s understanding of gender, we include Serano who points to the fact that there is a problem within feminism both when it comes to not understanding one’s cis-privileges and the devaluation of femininity. She thinks trans women are an important example of that. I line with Butler, she thinks (social) gender is constructed by the way others perceive and interpret one’s identity:

I can modify my own gender all I want, but it won’t change the fact that other people will continue to compulsively assign a gender to me and to view me through the distorted lenses of cissexual and heterosexual assumption

(Serano 2016: 193)

Trans* describes a variety of gender identities that are extremely different, and yet share one, simple common denominator: they don’t fit the traditional conception of a cisgender woman or man.

In the preface of the Peer Reviewed Journal Kvinder, Køn & Forskning (Eng: Women, Gender & Research which) ) from 2011, Danish gender scientists Tobias Raun, Maja Bissenbakker Frederiksen and Michael Nebeling Petersen describe how trans* studies are increasingly making up more and more of gender research. The reason for this is, that trans* studies contribute with critical and theoretical ideas on gender, and because the identity category ‘transgender’ historically, theoretically, and socially make up a figure that illustrate naturalized assumptions of gender.

Trans* studies and trans* theory arise out of lived experiences of stigmatizing and invisibility in society as well as within a psycho-medicinal health system, in gender research, and in the social general public (Raun et al. 2011: 3).

More poststructural theoreticians and queer theoreticians have been part of creating a focus on trans* people (and ‘drags’) as perfect examples of the idea of gender identity as a performance (as seen with Butler). As seen here, trans* people are not just read negatively as the embodiment of a binary gender system, but also positively (ibid.: 6).

Raun (et al.) point out, that some of these readings by trans* theoreticians have been criticized for their lack of theorizing ‘transgenderism’ as an actual embodiment and actually lived subject category that is subjected to both juridical and social discrimination. It has thereby become increasingly important to many trans* theoreticians to focus on ”(…) det komplekse forhold mellem kropslige erfaringer og sociale/institutionelle diskursiveringer af subjektivitet og køn” (Raun et al.: 6).                 Our translation: the complex relation between bodily and social/institutionally discursivations of subjectivity and gender.

Breaking with trans* as a ‘non-identity’

What is most worrisome, however, is how the diagnosis [GID: Gender Identity Disorder] [Transkønnethed] works as its own social pressure, causing distress (…) to be called unreal, and to have that call, as it were, institutionalized as a form of differential treatment, is to become the other against which the human is made. It is the inhuman, the beyond human, the less human, the border that secures the human in nits ostensible reality. To be called a copy, to be called unreal, is thus one way in which one can be oppressed

(Butler 2004: 99, 217)

Graduate in sociology and educator at Sexuality, Gender- & Trans* Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Sonny Nordmarken, emphasises this in his article “Becoming Ever More Monstrous: Feeling Transgender In-Betweenness”, in which he writes that trans* identities are seen as non-existing as opposed to cisgendered people:

(…) they are assumed to “actually” be something else—something that can be known by viewing their bodies. Biological essentialism thus discredits trans identity. Trans people must therefore continually re-assert their identities. As a trans person, I occupy a particularly between kind of betweenness

(Nordmarken 2014: 40)

Nordmarken elaborates the issue concerning moving from this ‘in-betweenness’ to a more recognisable gender identity, when society at large still refuse to recognize this ‘move’, which is exactly the reason why trans* people remain obscure:

As a transgender being, my gendered shifting moves me into more betweenness. I am queerly between: I occupy multiple positions at once, and different positions at different positions at different times, depending on how people read me – in regard to age and ability as well as gender. I am socially subjugated as transgender, even as I am beginning to experience in a new way what White male privilege is

(Nordmarken 2014: 38)

Because of this form of ‘non-identity’, both due to the ‘diagnosing’ from society and a lack of representation in general, Raun (et al.) emphasizes that there is a need for a trans* vocabulary.

This is further underlined by Butler, who explains that in order to be allowed to start a transition, trans* people must learn how to present themselves within a discourse they have no influence over. This means that they must give up their freedom by sacrificing the right to use language properly. Put differently, they must give up a form of freedom in order to achieve another freedom by subjecting themselves to: (…) a discourse that denies the language you might want to use to describe who you are, how you get here, and what you want from this life” (Butler 2004: 91).

Raun (et al.) points out that trans* is a determination that covers a person who crosses the border of what is understood as a ‘normal’, binary gender since they move across the gender categories ‘man’ and ‘woman’ (Raun et al. 2011: 9). Furthermore, he wants to break with the misunderstanding that they are born in ‘the wrong body’:

En transkvinde er en person, der er udpeget som dreng ved fødslen, men som identificerer sig som og præsenterer sig som kvinde. En transmand er en person, der er udpeget som pige, men identificerer sig og præsenterer sig som mand

(Raun et al. 2011: 9)

[Our translation] A trans woman is a person, who has been labeled ‘boy’ at birth, but identifies as and presents herself as a woman. A trans man is a person, who has been labeled‘girl’ at birth but identify as and presents himself as a man (ibid.)

This can be conceptualised by using Seranos term ‘subconscious sex’: the biological gender one is born with that does not depend on genitals. She explains this further by pointing to studies of the brain (brain-hardwiring hypothesis), the area BSTc, where the structure of trans women’s look like ‘understandable’ women’s. This means that everybody is born with an inherent understanding in the brain of what biological gender one’s body should be. In regard to this, she underlines how everybody is born with a subconscious gender, but it is only a few that has to deal with this, since most people are in line with their assigned gender (cisgendered people), as opposed to trans* people (Serano 2016: 81).

Serano also talks about the importance of focusing on ‘gender entitlement’: “(…) the arrogant conviction that one’s own beliefs, perceptions, and assumptions regarding gender and sexuality are more valid than those of other people” (Serano 2016: 89), which is necessary to be aware of in order to create a stronger sense of unity within the queer community so that those who identify within the binary gender system (as either ‘man’ or ‘woman’) are not excluded from this community (ibid.: 359).

In order for those who suffer under this limited understanding of gender and how this category should control the way one is in the world to become free, it is important to be aware of cis-privileges and give equal status to all forms of gender identification. By understanding the gender category it is also possible to gain a better understanding of what women liberation means, since it is not just about understanding biological gender, but also social gender.

Kimmel, Masculinity, Masculinity & Femininity, Why Feminism

Masculinity

Since gender is constructed, equality is about transforming culture in a way that does not limit nor dictate either boys or girls to do their gender in a certain way. We therefore find, that it is crucial to involve men and masculinity in the fight for gender equality. Not just as advocates, as many have been, but also on a theoretical level. Because, if hyperfemininity is unhealthy for girls, how healthy is hypermasculinity for boys (and women)?

The Masculine Identity

Kimmel thinks, it is crucial to involve masculinity in the feminist approach to gender. This, because masculinity should be redefined in a way, that dis-associates it from violence, power, and entitlement, so that we as a society can protect both men and women. Political researcher and teacher Dr. Caroline Heldman supports this in the documentary The Mask You Live In (2015) (Looks at how our limited definition of masculinity hurts boys, men, and society at large)

We raise boys to become men whose very identity is based on rejecting the feminine and then we are surprised when they don’t see women as being fully human (…) we set boys up to grow into men who disrespect women at a fundamental level

(Heldman i Newsom 2015: 27:35)

Kimmel points to the fact, that the debate about masculinity already exists, the problem is, that it is invisible. He emphasises this by asking:

(…) what gender comes to mind when I invoke the following current American problems: “teen violence,” “gang violence,” “suburban violence,” “drug violence,” “violence in schools”? And what gender comes to mind when I say the words “suicide bomber” or “terrorist hijacker”?

(Kimmel 2017: 9)

The answer is simple: men. Young men. From lower social classes. Trouble is, according to Kimmel, that the debate surrounding this fail to mention that the idea of masculinity is an important factor (ibid.). Especially the hegemonic definition of masculinity is a problem for men’s self-image:

(…) young, married, white, urban, northern, heterosexual, Protestant, father, of college education, fully employed, of good complexion, weight, and height, a recent record in sports … Any male who fails to qualify in any one of these ways is likely to view himself – during moments at least – as unworthy, incomplete, and inferior

(Kimmel 2017: 10)

(web)

Masculinity and the Media

Kimmel argues that the media reflects gender identities that already exists in society today by having ‘his’ and ‘her’ media (Kimmel 2017: 352). In relation to this, he points out that women can read and watch ‘his media’, but men perceive ‘her media’ as degrading and as a thread to his masculinity (ibid.). Language too, is a factor that creates inequality between genders, since role models such as parents or coaches use phrases like ‘You play like a girl’, ‘Don’t be a girl about it’, ‘Man up’, og ‘Soft crap’? (Newsom 2015: 43:25). Serano supports this, since she thinks true equality can only be achieved, when boys learn to embrace ‘girl’s stuff’: “Because male pride is not really about pride. It’s about fear – the fear of being seen as feminine. And that’s why “girl stuff” is so dangerous” (Serano 2016: 316).


 

Sources

Newsom, Jennifer Siebel (2015): The Mask You Live In, The Representation Project.

Kimmel, Michael (2017): The Gendered Society. Oxford University Press, New York. ISBN: 9780190260323

Serano, Julia (2016): Whipping Girl – a Transsexual woman on sexism and the scapegoating of femininity. Berkeley CA, Seal Press. ISBN-13: 978-1-58005-622-9