Archives for category: Beyond Binaries

I wanted to discuss Janelle Monae’s contribution to gender studies further, and I think the best possible way is through this blog post. Monae’s music, lyrics, and presentation all ignore boundaries set for sex and gender, even sexuality. Her androgynous look with coiffed fro, tuxedo, and the most amazing fucking dance moves on stage anyone has seen since Michael Jackson have put her in not-quite-woman and yet not-quite-man. Although her female sex seems to be very present in her feminine facial features and small frame, she still demands attention equal to that of her male counterparts in the music industry. When I went to see Janelle Monae this past Fall at the IU Auditorium, her messages of free love and understanding were very apparent. Her band, backup singers, and small orchestra all matched her tuxedo-themed show, but nobody seemed to be designated as wearing masculine or feminine clothing. When she sang “Mushrooms and Roses”, she painted a distinctive female body with accentuated curves to maybe hint at sexuality. Her ambiguous sexuality, to me, is the most shocking. She is signed to Bad Boy Records, the hip-hop label started by Diddy (That’s his name still, right?), which is many times very homophobic. The show only became even better after it was over and I looked over at what I got out of it.

Before the show, people were handing out flyers that contained “The Ten Droid Commandments”, which I read once I got home. The sixth, and most realistic commandment states “Abandon your expectations about art, race, gender, culture and gravity.” I believe in this commandment and others, as well as in her songs, that she is confessing that freedom is only found when one breaks free from sociocultural constraints. It’s obvious she has done so through her actual freedom when moving through people’s minds by way of her lyrics and visuals.

-Eleanor Stevenson

 

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Today, I watched the 1964 TV special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with friends who enjoy the “innocence” and apple spice of Christmas just as much as I do. It’s been awhile since I’ve watched any of these specials, but I knew I was avoiding these shows for a reason…(drum roll)……… gender studies (cue dramatic secret-has-been-revealed music). For these Christmas specials and other things I used to enjoy as a young and ignorant adult, gender studies has crushed. But don’t worry, I’m still in love with hir.

This week, in the crushing realities a gender studies major has learned and applied to media, is the subject of the inappropriate/d. In Donna Haraway’s text, “The Promises of Monsters: A Regenerative Politics for Inappropriate/d Others”, the subject of non-normative people and beings is discussed. Currently, and for most of written history, the “other” has become one that needs to be fixed and/or completely erased from society. Haraway shows that society replicates itself, and therefore never changes; no difference is visible. The differences that an “unintelligible” person may possess should be seen as differences, and not as problems, according to Haraway. Because these people are not intelligible, they become inappropriated within the context that they exist. She argues against the stasis of existence within a society, and instead suggests that the focus and acceptance of difference be introduced.

In Rudolph, the main character Rudolph, his friend Hermey the elf who wants to be a dentist, and The Island of Misfit Toys are viewed in the common theme of the misfit. Rudolph’s red nose makes him stand out. Even though it is only a cosmetic difference between himself and the other reindeer, they still wouldn’t let him play in any reindeer games (like Monopoly, lolz).  His father even attempted to cover the bright nose by placing a fake black one over it, but once the others discovered it, Rudolph decided to run away from the reindeer who could not read him. Hermey becomes inappropriated by the other elves when he announces his desires to become a dentist instead of a toy-maker. The head elf scolds him, and this prompts Hermey to run away as well. Rudolph and Hermey find each other, and decide to become unintelligible together, when they run into Yukon Cornelius, the greedy prospector who claims to own the North Pole. They all run away from the Abominable Snowman and find the Island of Misfit Toys. Rudolph and Hermey learn of all these others who have become unintelligble and therefore useless to their societies, and come to the only place where they can be understood. Their differences are recognized, and they bond through this.

There’s more plot and blah blah blah, and now we are at the moment. One foggy Christmas Eve, Santa came to say (ho ho ho), “Rudolph, with your inappropriated nose so bright, won’t you put yourself to use now and guide my sleigh tonight, even though I was an asshole before I needed you?” And everyone cheers; Hermey is allowed to become a dentist, and the misfit toys find homes. Although everyone is recognized and accepted for their differences, as Haraway suggests should happen in societies, the misfits are only still intelligible when the context has changed. Rudolph is only intelligible and appropriated once there is a use for his bright red nose, and the rest of the misfits’ “acceptance” follows only because of the guideline the story must follow to be successful with audiences. Rudolph went down in history, as an example of the inappropriated other who only becomes intelligible when put to good use. If only Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen had taken Gender Studies 101 instead of reindeer games.

-Eleanor Stevenson

After reading the Donna Haraway article “The Promises of Monsters: A Regenerative Politics for Inappropraite/d Others” and talking about it in class I started to think about how we have started to try to be Gods. By we I am meaning society. We come up with all kinds of medicines to prolong life which has more side effects then you want to know. We have flu shots that seem to always make me sick after getting but is to help prevent the flu. The worse is all these drugs we end up getting immuned to and need more powerful drugs to help. For instance I have a really bad asthma and to keep me alive I must have an albuterol inhaler. Well since I have been taking this sine I was an infant I am now immuned and I have to also take a preventative that has steroids in it every day just to help make the albuterol to work and who knows what they will do once I get immuned to that medicine. So with medicine we are constantly trying to make new medicine to help the other medicine. After thinking about this I started to think about how not only are we acting like Gods in the fact we make medicine to keep us alive but we also act like Gods when it comes to having children.

When I was 18 I was told I had Endometriosis and that there is a chance down the road if not taken care of I may not be able to have children. They told me that it was ok though because there were other options like adopting or in vitro fertilization. Since then I will thank about what if I can’t get pregnant and while sitting in class I thought about how easy it is for doctors to sit there and give you the option of in vitro fertilization, I mean yes it sound amazing to be able to have kids to have an option if I can’t, but in order to go through this process you have to stick yourself with needles and take medication to try to have the baby and pregnancy itself is hard lets add drugs to it to help you feel more like crap. Then there is the chance of having multiples that you may not be able to afford. Not every going through this process I decided to look up peoples experiences and I ran across a video blog that this woman made about her pregnancy. She talked about how happy she was to lower some of the medication she was taking and I was thinking man what happened to a normal birth, one where you didn’t have to take all kinds of medications one that was natural. This women sits her and talks about morning sickness which is normal but then starts talking about medication she has to take and the side effects and the fear of her not having the baby in the end. To think all the power of you having a child is not in the hands of nature but the hands of science. Even up to when you actually deliver you’re in a hospital with IVs, hospital noises, and equipment. What happened to the natural birth that my grandma had one where you had a midwife who stayed by your side and made it a stress free time in your own home?

As a side note the best part of this whole video is when the women takes you to the babies room where she shows you the baby cloths and she bought both blue and pink clothing cause she doesn’t know what sex it is. All of what we talked about in this class about gender popped in my head at this point and it made me think wait until they can choose the gender for you so you don’t have this dilemma.

~Kielly Perkins~

It is the time of the year when everyone is jolly and full of love and happiness – holidays are coming!

Well, not everyone is happy, and I imagine, people are especially miserable when it comes to shopping for gifts. At least, I am. And this year it is even worse, because I have to do it way ahead of time to be able to send it all the way back home in time…

So, this week I was trying to find something for my 4-year-old cousin. Making young family members a gift is always a risky business, since what is in and what is out in kindergarten changes daily. To be honest I did not have the slightest clue what to get her, so I hoped for inspiration while browsing the toy’s section.

Pretty soon I realized that this would not be as simple as I had wished it to be. It actually put me in quite a dilemma. There I was looking at the shelves which could not have made me feel more offended.

Not only were the shelves decorated in pink and dark blue, but the clear influence of the binary system could be easily transferred from the shelves’ “content”: Girls are interested in family, dolls, pets, the household (preparing food), and jewelry. And boys like to play with action figures, cars, weapons, and tools.

At first I was annoyed, because I did not want to give in to this. But still in need for a gift, I had to look at the shelves over and over again. “So, then let’s buy her a toy Porsche and I’m out,” is what I thought to myself – I mean, I wanto to be good role model!

But wait!

I realized that the more interesting thing is that I read the shelves exactly in this binary fashion and that a simple let’s get her a “boy’s gift” would not make too much of a difference. The dilemma was bigger than this gift.

Almost every part of Western world socialization is based on implementing this one great division: male and female. However, understanding the errors in the binary system was not my problem – I feel I have been over that for quite some time now and know what to think of this institution – I was in this dilemma, because this system is still in place and working quite well.

But most importantly, what if my cousin likes Barbies? Is she supporting standard gender roles throughthat? Does this make her a victim of Western mainstream thinking? Is it in the end one big vicious cycle – born, identified as a girl, raised as such –> girly girl desires – to which I have to surrender, because she would hate my for giving her the Porsche? Or could it be true that she simply likes the idea of family and this is what she connects with a doll?

The more I thought about it, I realized I will never know the exact reasons for my cousin’s preferences. Especially, since, as discussed in class, desire is created from an outside source which has not much to do with my cousin. But what I do know now, is no matter what, Barbie or Porsche, the simplest way out of my dilemma is to not ask for those reasons or may even go so far as judging them.

My cousin needs me to support every kind of preference or desire she has, and most importantly, she needs to know that nothing and no one should be limiting her, and it is my responsibility to teach her that.

Oh well, in the end I bought a “Tinker Bell” figure, because I remembered how much she liked her when we watched “Peter Pan”. I sincerly hope she likes the gift – if not, I fear, there are many holidays to come…

– franziska krause

I first watched the film XXY in my Sexual Politics class my freshman year. I was still discovering all of the complexities that the Gender Studies field had to offer and then I was faced with the topic of intersex conditions. This was all new to me and never before this had I discussed such a topic of which I felt I couldn’t relate whatsoever. After watching the film XXY, I was taken back. Not only for it’s brillant cinematography in general, but because of how the film outlined the fragile yet powerful disposition of a young girl named Alex, a 15 year old suffering from an intersex condition in Uruguay. The film focuses on Alex’s struggle to deal with discrimination from both her community and family concerning her gender identity, while she internally struggles with her own sexuality.

The film really made me start to realize something I must have always believed in, yet didn’t really know how to say until I entered the field of Gender Studies. It made me realize that not everything is so cookie-cutter in our society, despite what we as a culture have all been socialized to think. There are concepts that go beyond binaries. After watching this film, I remember my teacher asking our entire 80 person lecture hall how many of us have been genetically tested to confirm whether or not we are the sex we identify as. Not a single person raised their hand. This posed a very interesting range of thoughts running through my mind. How do I really know if I am a female? Was this chosen for me? How is sex determined?… to name a few.

Vernon A. Rosario’s “Quantum Sex: Intersex and The Molecular Deconstruction of Sex” argues “for an analytics of gender and sexuality that takes the social and the biological seriously by acknowledging the complexity and depth of both influences” (268). In XXY, Alex’s parents left the decision to her in terms of what gender she wishes to identify with. Because of this, Alex has both sexual organs but is still raised as a girl. Alex’s community has a lot to do with how her and her family cope with her intersex condition. They live in an isolated fishing village in which they rarely interact with others in the community. Imagining a life without a definitive gender is one unfathomable to those who aren’t living it themselves, making constant judging and scrutiny from one’s community to be a sad reminder of the societal pressure and constructions that those with intersex conditions face. To complicate things further, Alex grows very close to another 15 year old boy named Alvaro, the son of the doctor who is supposed to perform surgery on Alex’s genitals. The relationship between the two is fascinatingly innocent, while it also possesses intense sexual tension. Alex and Alvaro eventually have intercourse, where Alex has anal sex with Alvaro in a very passionate scene. I knew that this would completely change how Alex felt about herself, how she felt about Alvaro, and how Alvaro viewed his own sexuality in relation to Alex. Both Alex and Alvaro complicate all common sense notions of what it is to be male/female and the sexualities that are associated with each, proving that there are a range of identities within sexuality.

I think because this film felt so foreign to me, it really allowed me to let my guard down and explore concepts that have only recently been discussed. Thanks to the work of such writers like Rosario, Chase, Butler, and Fausto-Sterling to name a few, our culture slowly comes closer to a more open understanding of concepts that are not as abnormal as we may think. With this comes tolerance and acceptance, two things our culture desperately really needs in relation to the range of concepts associated with sex, gender, and sexuality within our culture.

– Sophie Reynolds

I dont know what everyone else was taught in school, but I was given several basic principles. First off, I was taught that there were boys and girls, they each had their own bathrooms, and there was no crossover between those two titles. Obviously that was wrong. Not only was it wrong but it assumes that gender is an easily assigned attribute to a body. Even biological sex is sometimes ambiguous and I was never taught to be sensitive to these issues. I was taught all people fall under one of two categories, boy or girl.

While this may be a generic understanding of people, it completely ignores the many ambiguities that bodies offer up as “sex” or “gender”. What is the point of seperating the biological sexes of children that are all gay for example? While this scenerio seems unlikely, the point that spereation is an odd concept remains.

Beyond the myth of only two genders or body types there was another lie I was taught in school, the XX and XY lie. While it is true that the XX and XY chromosomes seem to have a strong correlation with the biological sex of a person, it is also true that they are not the only factors. I was given the understanding that biological sex was purely based upon these two choromosomes, and until recently I believed that to be true. Now I have learned that the 11th chromosome may be responsible for the development of a penis. Also, the SRY gene seems to be responsible for many gendered characteristics. Obviously there is more to the body of a person than their XX or XY gene.

Finally, in lies I was told, I was taught that attraction is innate and caused by an evolutionary process that requires boys to be attracted to girls and girls to be attracted to boys. Attraction is the result of the evolutionary drive to propagate and promote the survival of thier genes. As a self identifying gay man I can tell every person that this is not true. I am attrated to members of my own biological sex and realize that there is no “natural” way for me and another man to have a child together but that does not meant that my attraction is a “choice”. If anything it shows that my attraction is not a choice. If biology told me to like girls, would I really have a choice? obviously not because my body would respond regardless of my wishes.

While this blog post touches on the issue of boy vs. girl, I haven’t yet writtne about the transgendered issue. With all of the people who identify as sexualities and genders outside of the typical binary norm, it is remarkable that people are still able to convince themselves that the binary understanding of sexuality and gender is accurate.

-Ashland

In her article “The Promises of Monsters: A Regenerative Politics for Inappropriate/d Others,” Donna Haraway briefly addresses the Human Genome Project.  Haraway argues that while the HGP claims its aim is to gain an absolute understanding of natural processes in the human body, it is in effect obtaining the means to also modify and/or control these processes, possibly for eugenics purposes.  This gain in knowledge on how certain biological and natural processes operate, has in fact, historically led to oppression and control over reproductive capacities for specific disadvantaged populations, namely African American women.  When it was first discovered and produced, birth control pills were not initially a solution to hindering some yesteryear version of “16 and Pregnant.”  On the contrary, birth control was used as a solution to keep black women from having too many children.  It was thought, by white, privileged society, that those damn black folks were having too many kids ::sarcasm::.  But they really did think that.  Damn it, they even convinced some black people it was a good idea.  They were poor after all.  Why should poor people have more babies?  They shouldn’t have any say over their own bodies because they chose to be poor!  Right?  Right?  Wrong.  Didn’t anyone stop to think that a history of extreme racism and sexism had an enormous impact on the disadvantageous financial outcomes for black women?  And that societal moves to control natural processes in black women’s bodies was  necessarily a way to ensure white power and a black minority?  I guess some people probably did.  But it was just really disappointing for me to learn about the racist and sexist history of birth control pills.  I’ve been on them for 5 years and I swear they saved my life.  My period used to leave my incapacitated for several days out of the month, but my pill changed that.  It also somehow managed to remove a plum-sized cyst from my right ovary.  I love the pill.  But I hate its history.

-Stephanie Halsted

After reading Dean Spade’s article, I realized how many issues need to be worked out between society and the trans-gender community. I’ve never thought so deeply about all the unnecessary troubles trans people face in the world. Spade mentions that he is disappointed there is only one “type” of trans-gender. This point stood out to me because when dealing with such a dynamic situation, an individual, each person has been formed into their sexuality through personal experiences and no two transsexuals should feel that they are exactly the same transsexual, because each person is different. One of Spade’s main political goals was to develop more categories of trans gender and thought no one should be reduced to only being thought of as a trans person.

Majority of Spade’s piece was about the de-medicalization of trans gender. His ideas about the outcome of de-medicalization, should it ever occur, include:
an end to gender designation on government documents, end of gender segregation of bathrooms and locker rooms, end of involuntary “corrective” surgeries for babies who are intersex, self identification would be the determining factor for a person’s membership in a gender category to the extent that knowledge of the person’s membership in such a category is necessary, and psychiatric and medical evidence would no longer be furnished by trans to establish legitimacy.

Many problems stand in the way of the de-medicalization though…

Insurance claims are a main worry and are foreseen to be a problem with de-medicalization. There are also limited disability rights claims and problems finding doctors to do trans operations. Also, many trans people are of low income, minority areas and are not familiar with the gender model. This prevents them from understanding themselves within the gender model and understanding what they wish for in a trans identity.

 

Alexandra Fath

Wednesday night, I had the pleasure of viewing a very queer play being presented by the IU Theatre Department. The play was In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play, by Sarah Ruhl. That’s all I knew about it, going in. The reason I went is that I love vibrators (DUHHHHH), but it ended up being super queer as well! Wahoooooo vibrators and queer activity being presented as normative(ish)!

Allow me to briefly outline the queerness of this play:

1) The (male) doctor ‘provides treatment’ (a.k.a. vibrates until orgasm) both female and male patients (stimulating the prostate gland in males, the clitoris in females). Oh, and he uses THIS:

2) A female patient, Sabrina Daldry, falls for the nurse, Annie, and they have some super sweet moments together- including a kiss! None of their homoerotic interactions were presented as ‘bad’ in any way– after the kiss Sabrina says something along the lines of “We can never speak of this,” but also she’s married, so the emphasis there seemed (to me) to be less on the homosexual nature of their trist than on the fact that it was extramarital.

3) The doctor’s wife, Annie, Sabrina, and Elizabeth (the wet nurse) engage in mutual masturbation as they use the machine on themselves and each other several times throughout the play (bravo on the fake orgasms, actors!).

4) I definitely felt like I was having a queer experience simply by sitting with a host of other theater-goers and watching men and women touching each other and orgasming and talking about sex onstage. It was so nice to be in an environment that was mature enough and nonjudgmental enough to sit back and enjoy the comedy of In the Next Room.

-Blair Dietrick

 

 

Dualism. A terrible line of thought that has caused oppression since its conception. Also, for those who are following the specific authors on this blog, another post about being gay in America.

The separation of the mind and the body is what allows people to disapprove of actions that are taken based off of “feelings” that the body provides to the mind. This is exactly the mentality that the church has taken up as was said “Within the Christian tradition, the separation of mind and body was correlated with the distinction between what is immortal and what is mortal”.

Within the Christian tradition, homosexuality is held to be a mortal sin, a sin of the flesh, which can be prevented through exertion of the mind. As someone who has been through it, they attempt to counsel young homosexuals to ignore their impulses until they go away, to pray to God every time something tempts them, or to realize that this is a “sin” and while the devil may tempt you God does not give you any challenges that you cannot overcome.

This is oppression to the point of brain washing. I have seen people who have denied their sexuality until they “overcame”. What they “overcame” was their sexuality altogether. They have internalized their ability to ignore physical attraction, rooted within “the body”, through an impressive feat of “the soul”. That being said, they do not become “straight” or not as I have seen it, their body is apparently defective and therefore is unable to be attracted to the opposite sex. This “defective” body is treated as a defective irreplaceable machine, the defect is ignored as long as the machine can still get the job done.

This instantly brings to mind “what is the ‘job’ to be done?” On one hand it is argued that the “job” is to reproduce, but that instantly tells all people who are unable to reproduce that they have no purpose. Is that really the case? The church would argue that the job is to worship god through your actions and to obey the tenants laid down by the church. I personally find a problem with that because they oppress who I am and ask me to be unhappy for the rest of my life. Would an all-knowing, loving, forgiving God really subject me to a lifetime of misery? what would be the point? shouldn’t he simply want everyone to be happy? How does my individual and personal suffering help uphold him as “God”.  Finally, the Government would say our Job is to be a productive member of society who does not disobey the laws of the land. Oddly, it sounds a lot like the church, but it is not nearly as oppressive in this country.

So, going back to the dualism of soul versus body, or mind versus body, Shouldn’t the acts of the flesh have no consequence to the soul or mind if they are separate? If the body is the machine that the soul uses to experience, why should those experiences be limited? Shouldn’t the “job” be to experience as much as possible within the confine of not disturbing others ability to experience life? Who someone decides to love or not love, to have sex with or not have sex with, shouldn’t these be experiences of the body and therefore “beneath” the mind? If these are beneath the mind and simply actions of the body, then would we stop to robots without any distinguishable sex features from being together? They have no mind and no thought and no gender of their own without a soul to direct them, so why does it matter?

These are the questions that I pose to the people who tell me to separate my mind/soul from my body and to overcome the “sins” of the flesh. Either my body has a will of its own and a reason for loving what it decides to love or it is not important enough for it to matter who or what my body ends up with as long as it continues to function.

-Ashland