The Queer Psychoanalysis Society

Posts Tagged ‘Queer Theory’

The Logic of Sex: Heteronormativity, Gender, and the Law of the Excluded Middle

In Gender Studies, LGBT, Philosophy, Politics, The End of Heterosexuality? on March 3, 2014 at 2:18 pm

The first in our on-going series of articles on “The End of Heterosexuality?”

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by Joe Weinberg

It has long been thought that there are two and only two genders: male and female. While some (such as Butler in Gender Trouble) have argued that there is actually only one gender (Male being the norm, and female, as not-male, being the only gender) and used as a basis for justifying patriarchal mistreatment,[1]  it seems more accurate to say that there are more than ‘just’ two genders. That heteronormative binary is not only inaccurate, but actively hurtful to large groups of people, those who fall ‘between’ or ‘outside’ that binary.

Once we accept that there is more to the world of gender than male and female, certain questions arise. Do we look at gender as a spectrum? How many genders are there? And where does sex come into the picture? The simple answers are “No,” “I don’t know,” and “Everywhere.” For more nuanced and complex answers, we have to take a step back and define a few terms.

First, heteronormative binary. The heteronormative binary is a very fancy way of saying “two genders.” Basically, it’s referring to the idea that there are only two genders (male and female) and that being one means NOT being the other. Similarly, it refers to the idea that sexuality is pure, either homo or hetero. I don’t like binaries; there is more to being a woman than NOT being a man, and vice versa. I also think it is possible to have aspects of both without being ‘in transition’ from one to the other. And, it’s possible to be neither one, and be perfectly satisfied with that. Similarly, even if we throw in bisexuality to the homo/hetero split, I STILL think there’s more. That’s a matter of simple logic.

Speaking of logic, there are two other principles I need to get out of the way: The Law of the Excluded Middle (LotEM) and the Sorites paradox. The LotEM basically just says that there are other more than two options, and that sometimes the decision that seems to be between two things is actually between more than two things. For some nicely inflammatory examples, abortion isn’t a matter of Pro Choice or Pro Life; someone can be opposed to abortion in all cases EXCEPT incest or rape, or can be in favor of the right to choose while choosing for themselves not to have an abortion. There’s more than just black and white. The LotEM basically reminds us that there are shades of gray.

Sorites is a bit more complex. That’s the question of when something becomes a pile. Sorites himself used millet seeds, but I prefer the image going bald. If I lose one hair, I’m not bald. If I lose all my hair, I’m bald. But one hair isn’t going to make a difference one way or the other, right? But at the same time, if I take my hair away one at a time, sooner or later I cross into the bald category. That means that there is a point where one hair DOES make a difference. So a single hair both does and doesn’t matter. That’s why it’s a paradox.

Okay. Back to the spectrum of gender. If we see gender as a spectrum with male on one side and female on the other, we run into a Sorites paradox. Look:

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Somewhere along that line, a person goes from being female to being male. At some point, a single quality changes the gender. While there is a fluid space in between, a space where someone could be ‘partly male’ or ‘mostly female,’ even then their gender identity is directly linked to that same binary. Riki Wilchins writes that “when you look closer, every spectrum turns out to be anchored by the same familiar two poles – male/female, man/woman, gay/straight. The rest of us are just strung out between them, like damp clothes drying on the line. The spectrum of gender turns out to be a spectrum of heterosexual norms, only slightly less oppressive but not less binary than its predecessors” (30-31). A spectrum really just is a binary. It’s just a binary that looks at the places between. But not as places in themselves so much as portions of one or the other side of the binary. So we have that paradox. Read the rest of this entry »

Tea

In Art, film, LGBT, Performativity, Queer Theory, Sex on May 21, 2013 at 8:46 pm

The third in our on-going series of articles on “The Screen”

TEA By Matthew Terrell

by Matthew Terrell

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Pre-TEA:

When I was a kid I had the feeling that the world—those around me—perceived me as off. Not that I was a bad kid—I was a fantastic, smart, active boy. But a little something was off kilter about me. Something was wrong. Something about me was a bit queer.

Today, I know what others saw in me. I was clearly gay.

Children are quite perceptive, and I grew up convinced I was not normal. I was that little boy who steadfastly watched the Mary Tyler Moore Show. I claimed to really identify with Mary. My body, my voice, my interests—every detail betrayed me to others. At age 8, I knew I was marked.

I knew I was marked even when I was too young to grasp what made me different. I knew I would never be what adults wanted of me. I would never become a man.

This is why so many people struggle to come out of the closet. Despite how freeing the act is, you know you are marked as different, lesser than the rest of the world. Before I realized what gay was, I

knew I was bad—bad in a way I could never change. Gay people have been marked for generations— we are the weirdoes, the sissies, the ones who will never be able to recreate the nuclear family.

I don’t know where flounce comes from, but it’s the fabulous little demon that has followed me since my Mary Tyler Moore days. My wrists are limp, my voice is high-pitched, and my style is garish. This is my tea, and I’m ashamed of it. I believe that nobody respects a mincing queer, and I struggle to accept who I am, love what makes me different, and live a life free of the expectations of others.

I struggle because I know I am still marked. When you are gay, you are always cognizant of who you portray. We all want so desperately to pass. I ask myself: How gay do you seem today? Is your level of gayness audience appropriate? Gay men fight to be neutral in the eyes of others. Some of us revel in being “straight acting.” We are convinced people outside our community judge us on how gay we act. How queer we are.

I carry this with me every day. Read the rest of this entry »

How Fashion is Queer

In Feminism, Freud, Gender Studies, Lacan, LGBT, Performativity, Queer Theory, Transgender on March 14, 2013 at 3:04 pm
Leigh Bowery

Photo by Leigh Bowery

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by Alison Bancroft

There are a number of popular ideas about fashion: That it demeans and oppresses women, or that it is a capitalist plot to extract money – either that they do not have, or that they do have but do not appreciate – from the gullible and the credulous. Attached to both of these is the idea that fashion is vacuous fluff, something trivial that is only of interest to women and gay men and thus pointless by virtue of those who are interested in it. If it were serious, significant, relevant in any way, shape or form, then straight men would take an interest in it. The fact that, on the whole, they don’t take an interest in it, and the people that do are, on the whole, marginalized and discriminated against, is enough to move fashion to the back of the queue for cultural and political importance.

In this short essay I would like to propose another way of looking at fashion, one that will emphasize the ways in which it reframes notions of gender and sexuality. What makes fashion so remarkable is that it has zero regard for heteronormative ideas about men and women, masculine and feminine. In fact, it offers one of the only cultural spaces there is for variant models of sexed subjectivities. In fashion, the usual categories of man and woman do not apply.

Also, before this essay continues, it should be said that fashion here refers to creativity in dress and bodily ornamentation. It is a branch of the avant-garde that makes people say “but you can’t wear that” as if a garment’s unsuitability for everyday life is a problem when, actually, it is the whole point. Fashion is not about shopping, and if you think it is, you have missed a trick. Fashion is not going to change the world, of course. It is never going be truly revolutionary. It is seditious though, it subverts from within, offering challenges to the presumed naturalness of existing hierarchies within the terms that are available to it.

Sheila Jeffreys is the most vocal exponent of the standard criticism that fashion reflects and serves to maintain female subordination. In her book Beauty and Misogyny: Harmful Cultural Practices in the West she argues that the appearance of the drag queen Ru Paul in adverts for MAC cosmetics and on the runway for the designer Thierry Mugler is a testament to how much fashion hates women. By Jeffreys’ logic, using a drag queen as a model tells the world that fashion thinks women are irrelevant.[i]

Unfortunately for Jeffreys, anatomy is not destiny. It is not the case that fashion hates women so much it makes them redundant by using a man in their place. Instead, fashion ignores the very idea of men and women from the outset, and it puts men in the place of women, women in the place of men, and trans becomes the default, the norm, rather than an oddity or an abasement. This disregard for the usual categories of man and woman is evidence firstly that gender binaries are irrelevant in fashion, and more generally that gender identity is not located in the anatomical body anyway. For anyone familiar with the development of Queer Theory in the last twenty years, this second point is no surprise. Queer Theory, though, is a bit niche, and beyond the confines of the humanities and liberal arts departments of Western universities where it is researched and taught, no-one has really heard of it. For people outside of universities, the ideas of Queer Theory are communicated differently – and fashion is one of the ways in which queer ideas become culturally active. Indeed, it could be said that fashion was queer avant la lettre.

Andrej Pejic, on the cover of Schon magazine

Andrej Pejic, on the cover of Schon magazine

Read the rest of this entry »