I’ve started reading a collection called You’ve Changed: Sex Reassignment and Personal Identity, edited by Laurie J. Shrage. I really enjoyed the first essay, “Sex/Gender Transitions and Life-Changing Aspirations” by Christine Overall. In this piece Overall critiques two metaphors/understandings of transition and offers a third understanding. The understandings that she critiques posit a “core” or “true” identity/essence/person. She is able to articulate this critique without erasing or rejecting the understandings that trans people have about themselves

The two metaphors she critiques are:

-The “true” person is the sex and gender assigned at birth. Transition, then, is the “donning of a mask.”

– The “true” person is hidden and then revealed through transition.

The first metaphor/understanding is forwarded by people like Janice Raymond. It argues that the person transitioning is either deluded or duplicitous. Boo. Hiss. This theory is, of course, a load of crap.

The second metaphor/understanding can have negative political implications because it asserts an essential gender. “Gender change becomes impossible” (15).

Overall proposes an alternative understanding or metaphor: “Sex/gender transistion is best understood, I suggest, by analogy to other life-changing and life-enhancing aspirations for personal transformation and self-realization” (19). She continues, “Some goals and aspirations are deeply felt and of central value to particular individuals, and it is those goals and aspirations that provide the dominant drivers of the individuals” (19).

What I like most about this idea and Overall’s article is the assertion that nontrans people also engage in sex/gender projects but their projects are “derived from their original sex/gender assignment” rather than a “project that resists the original sex/gender assignment” (21).

I find this critique of the “core self” to be much more useful than the theory proposed by Gayle Salamon in Assuming a Body because it takes seriously the experiences of trans people, brings attention to the sex/gender projects of nontrans people, and has clear political implications.


Reading Sedgwick

Posted: August 13, 2010 in Uncategorized

makes me feel like this

Foucault begins “The Subject and Power” by explaining that his work is not an analysis of power but, “instead, has been to create a history of the different modes by which, in our culture, human beings are made subjects” (777). Foucault discusses three modes of objectification:

1. “Scientific” modes of inquiry such as linguistics, economics, and biology. For example:

"the objectivizing of the productive subject"

2. Dividing practices: “the subject is either divided inside himself or divided from others” (777-778). Dividing practices work through binaries, such as:



and ‘good boys’

'good guys'

3. The ways in which human beings turn themselves into subjects. Foucault offers the example of sexuality, how do people learn “to recognize themselves as subjects of ‘sexuality'”(778).

How did corporate cat learn to recognize himself as corporate cat?

Perhaps next time the cats can tackle a “new economy of power.”


Posted: August 7, 2010 in Misc.
Tags: , ,

My pets help keep me sane and give me a good chuckle.

Ralph loves laundry

Foucault is my shadow

Foucault is my buddy

In “Dear Doctor Benjamin: Letters from Transsexual Youth (1963-1976),” Darryl B. Hill analyzes 21 letters from transsexual youth to Dr. Harry Benjamin from 1963-1976. The letters are from people 18 years old or younger. They are housed at the Harry Benjamin Archives at the Kinsey Institute of Sexology.

Hill argues that these letters produce three kinds of narratives: “those who discovered their transsexuality either through their gender or through their sexuality, or those who claimed that they were born in the wrong body” (Hill 153). In some of the letters the writers specifically state that they are not “homosexual.” Hill reads this to mean that they have “anti-homosexual loathing” (154). I don’t buy this argument. Sure it is possible that some of the writers might have been anti-homosexual but it seems a mistake to assume that every writer felt that way.

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In “Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics?,” Cathy J. Cohen offers a brilliant alternative to identity politics. She argues for a leftist politics in which “one’s relation to power, and not some homogenized identity, is privileged in determining one’s political comrades. I’m talking about a politics where the nonnormative and marginal position of punks, bulldaggers, and welfare queens, for example, is the basis for progressive transformative coalition work” (Cohen 438). In order to make this argument Cohen critiques queer politics’s simplified us/them or queer/ heterosexual dichotomy and illustrates the ways in which “heteronormativity interacts with institutional racism, patriarchy, and class explotation to define us in numerous ways as marginal and oppressed subjects” (448).

I wonder if Cohen would agree that queer politics has slowly begun to recognize intersectionality. This piece was written in 1997; in some respects the piece seems dated and in other ways it offers possibilities that have not come. My understanding of queer politics is a simplified binary, though slightly different from Cohen’s. Instead of queer/hetero, queer politics feels like queer/heteronormative. If my understanding of queer politics and queer theory is correct then we have moved a bit towards Cohen’s vision. What can we do to move further towards Cohen’s vision?

How Sex Changed

Posted: July 30, 2010 in History, Transgender

I am currently rereading How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States by Joanne Meyerowitz; I thought I might share a few fun historical tidbits.

– In 1902 “New Yorker Earl Lind, a self proclaimed invert, androgyne, homosexual, and fairy, convinced a doctor to castrate him.” Although he lived as a man he “saw himself as a woman.” He did not expect castration to give him a woman’s body but he hoped that the surgery would lessen his “male” characteristics (Meyerowitz 17).

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