Archives for category: Embodied Specificities

ImageAfter watching the Vandana Shiva video shown in class and reading Donna Haraway’s piece, “The Promises of Monsters: A Regenerative Politics for Inappropriate(d) Others”,  I understand the separation between nature and society Haraway talks about.

In the video, Vandana Shiva explains how she grows seeds on an organic farm and keeps them alive through the changing environment. She compares this to the industrial agriculture methods used by major corporations.  In my Human Biology class this semester, we have learned a lot about food production by major corporations and genetically modified foods, GMI’s.

My personal opinion on GMI foods is that they are unnecessary and that the natural environment supplies us with enough diversity in food, that we do not need to mess with the genes of our crops to produce new variations of them.  This idea relates to Haraway’s separation of nature and society.  Nature is all that is natural and not man-made.  Society is everything brought on by industry….buildings, cars, clothing, and all society has created.  Although the two, nature and society are not working in opposition to each other, they are clearly distinct, separate things. Thinking of the two this way, does one work for the other?

Does nature exist for society to build on?  In the video, Shiva argues that there is enough variety on earth, no other plants need to be created, but does that mean that although humans have evolved enough intelligence to create new crops that they shouldn’t? What are the boundaries? Is nature here for society, people, to work with and use to their advantage, or should people know when to stop and allow nature to be what it is and work with what it provides?

Maybe people should shift their focus from growth of the environment to interaction with the environment.  Instead of trying to change nature and develop new things such as GMI’s, we should learn to work with nature and explore all it has to offer.

Alexandra Fath

My grandfather use to tell me not to judge people and that you should always put yourself in their shoes and walk around in them for a while and maybe you would understand where they are coming from. This statement that he made to me kept playing in my head as I read Alice Dreger’s book Hermaphrodites and the medical invention of sex. After reading the story she told about Barbin I decided to put myself in her shoes. How would I feel to look different than all the other females around me and to love someone who society says it to be unfit. I thought about the day she went to the doctor and was poked and prodded by a “man of science.” Being unsure of what he was discovering and feeling so violated only to find at the end that I was not a women but a man. To be torn from the life I knew and place in a world so strange to me, away from the women that I was in love with. To feel so alone, no one to talk to, no one to understand me, alone in a world that I didn’t belong. I too would have wanted to end my life like she did. These thought made me realize how lonely and confusing a Hermaphrodites life must be. Worse is begin made a certain sex that you don’t feel you are. I thought about what I would do if I myself had an intersex baby. Would I like so many choose the sex for my baby before they even had a chance to decide? Would I want to be the one to cause such pain and mental torcher to my baby or would I tell the doctors to let my baby be and let them decide down the road what they wanted to do with their own body? If I chose to let them decide for themselves how would I present my baby to society how, would I dress them? After thinking about this for many hours I decided that I would most certainly let them decide for themselves and I would present my child to society as my perfect child the one meant for me. I would dress my child in gender natural clothing until they decided what they wanted to be and when they were ready to go to school I would let them choose what they felt was the right sex at that time and if down the road they changed their mind I would be there with them on their journey never judging. I know that even though I thought about all this that it wouldn’t all end up pretty and happy there would be people that would judge my child down the road and they would be face with a lot of hard ships. That no matter what path you take an intersex person has a lot to deal with. All this makes me sick to think how society is so set on picking a gender and how we are wrapped up in gender that people who can not help how they were born are stuck in this web where they can not win. Where they can not be left alone in the world to be who they are without being looked at as some freak that will be tagged with a label as” it” or some scientific name and placed in science magazines.

~Kielly Perkins~

Reading Alice Dreger’s book, Hermaphrodites, and her discussion of memoirs from Herculine Barbin, was very eye opening to me and made me realize the struggles and obstacles that intersex individuals had to overcome, and still have to overcome, within society.

While watching the puppet show about the memoirs of Herculine Barbin, I knew that Barbin wasn’t going to be very well received by the public. But what surprised me was the scene in which Barbin was figuratively placed in a Petri dish, and being pointed at, taunted, and examined by various physicians and medical professionals. This was significant for me because it brought to my attention that intersex individuals were very rarely treated like actual human beings. Instead, they are put into Petri dishes and are looked at as a scientific specimen that needs to be examined, and classified.

The process of looking at intersex bodies and classifying them proved to be a difficult task for physicians to accomplish in Dreger’s book. Physicians simply did not know what they were looking at when analyzing the tissue of intersex bodies. Instead of thinking as intersex individuals as a possible third sex, physicians continued to think in dimorphic matter and would ultimately determine their sex based on whether the individual’s genitalia were composed of ovarian tissue, or testicular tissue.

In addition to reading Dreger’s book, I also spent some time exploring the website for the Intersex Society of North America. The entire website is very informative and clearly defines their goals and purposes, but I found a lot of interesting debates and questions on the Frequently Asked Questions section of the site. I found the discussion of handling intersex children to be the most interesting, because those situations need careful thought and care, especially on the parents’ part, and the doctors. But no matter what is decided by the child’s parents, it is the duty of the parents to ensure that their child is raised in such an environment that is not hostile, and that won’t draw attention to the child’s differences.

-Aubrey Merrell

This week seems to provoke one of the most basic concerns within Gender Studies: the use of binaries. However, people with intersex condition spark the debate and issues in an entirely different way. Instead of thinking about what is commonly considered “social constructions” such as gender, femininity, masculinity, etc., intersex makes us think about the validity of the category of “biology”. Alice Dreger’s piece makes us think about the solidity of the biological, anatomical, gonadal, hormonal, and chromosonal determinants of sex. Now, in this sense we are not questioning the validity of these categories as having a function, we are questioning what about or combination of these factors makes one a “female” or “male”. Personally, I would like to say, “Thank you”, to whatever in the womb caused this because “abnormality” needs to be reconsidered and not seen to ever be affected by a “biological” process which is usually out of one’s control. I mean unless your smoking crack or doing heavy drugs, your baby will most likely develop in the manner which “it just does” (I refrain from using “supposed to” due to the loaded nature of this statement).

Intersex condition reminds me of research that I am currently doing for another class on “the identical body” aka identical twins. When I was doing my research, I found no secondary sources on the use of the identical bodies for experiments. Within my  research, I found experiments done on twins and science news letters which marveled at the identical body. However, one statement in a 1931 science news letter explained all of the amazement. The quote went somewhat like this “Identical twins can be an amazing surprise, but if the egg had not separated, the result would be monstrous and the conjoined individuals would be freaks”. Much like intersex condition, in which their ambiguous sex does not conform with a binary framework, conjoined twins who also didn’t develop “as they were meant to” were all the sudden freaks? Ok, wait. Soo, yes this statement was in 1931, but I believe the same stigma still exists within biological processes. We put so much emphasis and trust into the “biological”, which is seen as this perfect, flawless, field, and allow for no variation to occur. I mean during the 9 months you’re in the womb, a biological process did not go “right”, and all of the sudden your considered a “freak” for the rest of your life. That sounds like a misplaced scale to me! Rubin can I get a “WHOOP WHOOP”? When is biology going to understand its own foundations without integrating society’s binary system within it? If we place these binaries within the biological then we allow for no real “nature” to occur. These sorts of issues within Gender Studies, always remind me of the monumental book “Evolution’s Rainbow”. It completely astounds me that biology and society are so linked, always influencing each other in the search for new categories and outcasts. However, with conditions which are not a choice, I am purely outraged that they are seen to be political and are seen to be freaks to society. Society you made this paranoia, not the intersexed individual. Thank biology for that :).

-Katie Schaffer

Throughout the past week our class has discussed hermaphrodites, or what are now known as intersexed people their origins and growth within the social understanding of sex. In one of our discussion, the issue of the medicalization of birth was addressed.

In the 1900’s 50% of babies were still being delivered by midwives. Though the middle and upper-class had accepted that the intervention of a physician was necessary, the lower half of society didn’t have that luxury. They relied on midwives to help with birth, or ran the risk of loosing their if there were complications. Midwives were prepared to live with a mother from the onset of labor until the mother was fully recovered, and  some stayed until the mother and child were situated into their new life within a family. Usually there was one midwife for every village or small town that assisted with every birth possible. Doctors saw midwives as “hopelessly dirty, ignorant, and incompetent, relics of a barbaric past” (78). The funny this is, if midwives had not been around at the time, the infant mortality rate would have been much greater. There were not enough doctors at the time to help deliver children being born across the country. (From Exorcising The Midwives, Ehrenreich and English)

Currently, 35 of the 50 states allow non-nurse midwives while the other 15 prohibit them. “Today, the likelihood that midwife-assisted home-births can occur without surgical intervention, with low infant mortality rate and at much lower coast is as good or better as in hospitals. $13 billion to $20 billion can be saved every year in health care costs by developing midwifery care, making childbirth less of a medical procedure. (From Efforts Continue to Legalize Midwifery Nationwide).

Presently though midwives are still apparent, doulas have become a much more popular mode of assistance for pregnant mothers of the 21st century.

“If a doula were a drug, it would be unethical not to use it.”
Dr. John H. Kennell

This quote comes from a wonderful website called A Blissful Transition. Doulas have become the present day midwife. They are there not only to assist in emotional support for a mother while she is in labor, but also with things like breast feeding and a less likely chance of postpartum depression. My girlfriend’s older sister had a doula for both of her births. Rachel chose to have a doula because she wanted to have a home birth initially. Her first child was an emergency c-section so that was not possible. Rachel wanted it to be as natural as possible, she wanted it to be personal; no drugs, no people that don’t know her. She wanted to make it through what most people called a nasty ugly process as calmly as possible. Rachel’s best friend Laura was her doula for all three births. Laura was there more for emotional support and helping for adjustment into the family than help with the actual births. Rachel’s second birth also had to be in the hospital because it was a v-bac. Rachel went to Le Leche League, a national breast feeding and support group organization to be more oriented as a mother in addition to having her doula. If you are looking to have childbirth be as natural as possible, having a doula is the best way to go. There is more support than you would ever receive from a doctor or hospital nurse.

For those that have never considered a home birth, or a less medicalized childbirth a doula can be a wonderful alternative. Here is the link for A Blissful Transition ( if people are interested in more information.

-Sarah Klapperich

Caster Semenya sparked an immense amount of controversy after the 2009 World Championships when she received criticism concerning whether or not she had a “physical condition” that enabled her to surpass her competitors. Questions were then raised about her gender and suspicions arose because of Semenya’s outstanding athletic ability and her masculine appearing physique. It was eventually discovered that Caster Semenya had an intersex condition. It was up to the medical establishment to determine what they thought to be her “true” sex, a discovery which was prompted by societal skepticism. This example of an intersex condition relates to the story of Alexina/Able in Alice Domurat Dreger’s “Hermaprodites and the Medical Invention of Sex.”

These cases are similar in that neither individual was aware of their condition until later in life, chiefly due to the curiosity of others, including “medical men.” While Caster Semenya was led to the medical determination of her “true” sex through societal coercion, so too was Alexina/Abel. Alexina/Abel sought the “truth” concerning her sex to explain her sexual attraction to Sara, a concept that could not be explained by the other women living in the convent with Alexina/Abel and Sara. According to Dreger, “A combination of a weighty conscience and a painful abdomen finally led the tormented Alexina to a series of priest-confessors and medical men, the result of which was a consensus that Alexina was a man, a male who had been mistaken at birth for a female, and that therefore her legal and public identity ought to be “rectified” to match her “true sex” (Dreger 18).  By contrast, Caster Semenya still identify’s as a woman. Both cases led to the medical “discovery” of each person’s “true” sex, male for Alexina; not “totally” female for Caster. Abel eventually committed suicide, whereas Caster Semenya still participates within the framework that first scrutinized her. The outcomes of each individual’s “true” sex determination were different, but both individuals were subjected to the societal and medical scrutiny that was placed upon their bodies.

– Sophie Reynolds


After our discussion on David Valentine’s book on the category of transgender and the complicated, and sometimes contradictory, identities people claim, I continued to think about our obsession with categorization. It’s as if we have to place every aspect of the corporeal experience into a special identified place where anyone can read the definition and understand all the complexities of a given individual.

I instantly thought of baby Storm, the genderless child in Canada.

Looking at this new clip, I can’t help but grow utterly annoyed with people. I’m aware the idea of a genderless child can be hard to handle in a society where the first comment made about a newborn’s body is it’s gender (“It’s a boy/girl!”), but that what’s her name from The View would claim keeping a child’s gender a secret is selfish, the  apparent expert psychologist arguing the child could be emotionally scarred by choosing his/her gender, and the overall demand to know which of the binary genders the baby had to be… oh damn damn damn

The Gender Studies Isopod is so wise

It irritates me that people have this urge to categorize each other even when the situation affects them in no way. So many people are throwing a tizzy because they don’t know the gender of a baby they’ll probably never meet, and even if they were to meet Storm they would still be unaffected. As Storm grows, he/she will learn gender from the world around him/her and Storm will have a gender that suits him/her the best. I couldn’t imagine this child growing up into an adult who’s emotionally damaged because their parents allowed him/her to decide what was best for him/herself.

This goes back to transgender and how Valentine, for example, described his confusion at a male bodied individual who identified as a man, lived as a woman, and claimed to be gay could embody all these contradictory identities simultaneously. Identity is a complex combination of so many experiences, inclinations, and desires that to believe binaristic categories are enough to explain one’s corporeality is farfetched to say the least.

-Lucas Z

In David Valentine’s book, “Imagining Transgender, an ethnography of a category”, his initial description of what ballroom was as well as the visits that Valentine made to the different balls peaked my interest most. I was introduced to ballroom by Dr. Marlon Bailey in G215 this semester. I did not understand the complexity of ballroom culture, nor the breadth of people that participate in ballroom.

The analysis that Valentine gave of the three different balls; The Clubhouse, Crossdressers International (CDI) Debutante Ball, and Night of  a Thousand Gowns enlightened me to the intricacies that ballroom has to offer. Like in the movie Paris is Burning balls are an outlet for people;  cisgendered, bisexual, homosexual, transsexual or transgender to achieve status or to just have plain fun (75). Most balls that Valentine talks about are attended by black and Latino gay men, though there are also balls where cisgendered women can also participate. Houses are groups of people that participate in balls that can fulfill the same category during competition, or are of the same general embodied gender. Houses also serve as alternative families and support networks for their member (75).

In Dr. Bailey’s article Gender/Racial Realness: Theorizing the Gender System in Ballroom Culture, readers are  introduced to all of the categories of gender embodiment as well as what Bailey calls the six-part gender system. Butch queens, femme queens, butch queens up in drags, butches, women, and men can all find a place in ballroom culture. “The gender system in ballroom culture is always about sexuality and reflects the pervasive conflation of sex, gender, and sexuality in broader society” (371, Bailey). I find it intriguing the criteria for someone to participate in a certain category, and that judgement is passed on your “realness” over all else. We watched a video in class where a cisgendered woman walked in the wrong category. The criticism of her honest mistake and the lewd comments from the judges showed me that even though ballroom has it’s own culture it is still policed by societal standards. One of the judges put a hand on her vagina to feel for its “realness”. Even in subcultures of the most deviate categories what society deems as male/female or masculine/feminine ends up being the law.

Here are two videos for your viewing pleasure.


-Sarah Klapperich

After discussing Valentine’s issue with categorizing “transgender” folks, we discussed ways to explain “transgender” and “Gender Studies” to outsiders . This made me begin to think as to why this was so difficult; I started to rack my brain to find a cookie-cutter solution to this issue. However, every explanation required my use of Gender Studies’s jargon or entailed a long-winded response. This made me think: Who are we, really? Yes, we have the jargon, the feeling of community, and the willingness to explore others who are different from us, but what does that really mean if it cannot be applied? Are we so inclusive that our ideas, beliefs, and knowledge can only related to by each other and others who can understand the terms which we discuss? This only seems to be a portion of the battle for a structure which allows equality, understanding, and change. This brings me back to one of my original questions: Where can Gender Studies actually be applied? Especially to those individuals who Valentine encountered. Are we also guilty of creating a structure and culture which speaks in terms of the categorical? Can we relate successfully with people from other cultures, classes, and society? I don’t really know, but in this blog I will seek to create a solution to the question, “Who are we?”. This, however, is only my interpretation.


For one, we are department which speaks to “society” in defense of the “Queer”. The queer who needs to be recognized in this one-track minded society in order to gain equal status and legitimacy. Equality and acceptance are at the top of the agenda which makes our target the “big, bad wolf”, society. A society which gives unearned privileges to some and discriminates against others. We swear that those who have these unearned privileges are to blame, yet within our logic, we grant privilege to the most queer and leave those who can fend for themselves, to do exactly that. Now, this is not to say that we queer folks have no agency, that would be a sin to imply. But, is our way to counteract society by asserting our knowledges to be truth any better? Now, take a deep breath, we must remind ourselves that we are “the good guy”. Even though we have good intentions, will our knowledge ever help those who need it most? Will it really make things better in our society? I think its too soon to tell. This may seem like a pessimistic approach to a subject which we all love and identify with, but I am only attempting to be critical of our approaches.

I think that we are even we are obsessed with power, even though, we try to balance it out, it’s really one of the main subjects we explore in Gender Studies. At this point, are we any better than the big bad wolf? In this search, I am constantly thinking about Foucault’s revelation that “we are the Victorian prude”. Just as people during the Sexual Revolution thought that they were freed from the Victorian prude sexuality, are we Gender Studies folk freed from a society which is obsessed with power? Now, I dont mean to be offensive by any means, I just wonder if an education, which denotes power, is even necessary to be considered a Gender Studies major? If we believe what I think most of us do, why do we consider ourselves the masters, the innovators, the activists? Really, I think Gender Studies needs to be from the ground up; it’s everywhere and this is why it is so difficult to describe. Experience and “street smarts” need to be incorporated into Gender Studies. The transgendered identity has offered us a starting place to see experience equal to knowledge, but in the world I’m imagining, Gender Studies needs to be more like a lab, where we are constantly in touch with those who may have different knowledge to offer us and our understandings. We cannot isolate them from the classroom, we must bring the classroom to them and let each body of knowledge  be incorporated into a flow chart of understanding, for if we only take our knowledge from what is on the paper we read, we are no better than the “power prude” of modern society.

Now, this is all to be taken with a grain of salt, for I cannot speak for everyone and their experiences and knowledge; some may even consider themselves to be doing what I have described. But, all I am saying is that who we are, is not just a funded program at a university who answers to an institution; we are people who have the potential to exceed the education we receive, if only we truly acknowledged those who are not “us”, queer or not, educated or not.

This is more of a call to begin a conversation than a well thought out solution, I must add; to me it makes sense, but I may be getting ahead of myself. I just wonder what will become of us in years to come. Will we be looked at as people within society who were obsessed with identity and power? I certainly hope not…. Now, I have to go wash my mouth out.

-Katie Schaffer

During David Valentine’s research and work with a social services agency, he was considered to be on the “inside” because of his personal standing within the “GLBT community.” At the time though, he had little real-life understand of the differences between him and the transgender community he was trying to serve with safe-sex information and condoms. The agency that Valentine worked for was committed to only serving transgender individuals. When Valentine asked others about their identity, transgender wasn’t a term that resonated with each individual. Despite transgender people being included in the family of GLBT, the transgender people he talked to felt connected to other identities.

In a recent conversation with a transgender peer, I realized that maybe this disassociation from the identities available occurs regularly. After all, we only have so many identities to choose from (though more may come into existence in the future), and there is bound to be disagreement on the meanings of some. My friend explained she thought the “GLBT group on campus had reached a critical mass, and now there were enough people and there was enough room to be catty, to disagree with one another.” When she first explained her thinking, I thought that she meant that because of the growth of the community, there was no longer a need to work closely together, to support one another in events and gatherings. (I am referring to groups and organization that make up the GLBT community, not individual people). Initially, I thought that her idea and conclusion were very bad things. What I realized, is that through disagreement, with an organizations behavior or the definition of an identity, comes change and growth.

A great example of this would be conflict surround Miss Gay IU. In recent years (maybe longer, I don’t know), Miss Gay IU has received criticism for its lack of inclusivity of gender queer and gender fuck individuals. Because of this, a new drag show came about which supported the ideals of the more gender ambiguous. (The show was very interesting, by the way!) What I can say is that disagreement created dialogue, which led to further recognition of less understood identity. Disagreement worked out well for both groups and the GLBT community at large.

-Jenna Graham