Archives for posts with tag: abnormal

Throughout his book, “Imagining Transgender,” David Valentine takes the reader on his journey to find the meaning of the word “transgender.” Whether one enjoys his style of doing so, his attempt to understand a category is interesting. While it makes sense to further explore a category such as “transgender” because there are various institutional benefits and implications, it would nonetheless be just as fruitful a pursuit to begin to “imagine heterosexuality.”

Of course, the “heterosexual culture” is, in a way, being constantly studied since it almost exclusively appears in the media and in pop culture. But, using Valentine’s lens on this phenomenon too could be informative, and is certain to be entertaining.

As soon as he realizes that “transgender” needs to be examined as a category, Valentine goes to various queer-populated places. Now, where could one go to do the same research on straight people? Hmmm… anywhere really. But I guess people don’t really do this research since it’s too easy; they’re not riding their bike all over the sketchy parts of NYC.

While talking to some of the women Valentine feels would fit the category “transgender,” they quickly make it clear to him that his own status as a gay man doesn’t automatically make him fit in with them even though they identify as gay too. If there ever were such a thing as an official heterosexual support group (keeping in mind that most of the U.S. is one big hetero support group in itself), I doubt anyone who had been divorced, was single, or had children out of wedlock would be denied participation. That’s not to say that everyone would have everything in common, but nobody would be shunned because their sexual orientation manifested itself in variant ways.

One of Valentine’s underlying missions is to better understand the category “transgender” so that he (and in turn the social services agencies with which he is affiliated) can provide better support for them. In essence, he’s trying to come up with ways to alleviate the problems they face. So, what heterosexual problems could we fix if we thought about things a little differently? (Now, I know this is hard to think about since being straight, married, and living in the burbs is of course everyone’s ideal existence, but just work with me here.)

Maybe we could do something about the 50+% divorce rate in the U.S. Or, what if millions of children didn’t go hungry every night because their single working class mother couldn’t feed them adequately? Wouldn’t it be nice if all men took responsibility for the children they fathered?

Obviously heterosexuality isn’t the sole culprit in any of these problems, but phenomena like these just make one wonder how different things would be if we didn’t just study the categories on the fringes of society and took a closer look at the ones in the center.

-Mika Baugh

After reading Janice Irvine’s “Disorders of Desire,” I realized just how “the system” works. Not that I was clueless beforehand, but Irvine’s discussion (as well as ours in class) about the specific way in which someone seeking a transition to “the other” gender must go about the process is particularly telling.

Just as a recap, the process generally has to follow this outline:

1)      A person decides they want to hormonally/surgically alter their body

2)      They must feel awkward and terrible about this desire for some time before finally seeking out professional help.

3)      Then, they must say something to the effect of, “I feel like a man in a woman’s body” (or vice versa.

4)      Finally, the little lightbulb above the psychiatrist’s head goes off, all the paperwork is signed, and the individual is free to begin a highly regulated and medicalized process of transition

So what’s the issue here? The person obviously got what they wanted and everyone is happy, right? Maybe… But, by forcing this person to parrot a magic sentence in order to unlock the hormones/surgery they desire, “the system” is implicitly ensuring that the voices of trans-identified people are effectively silenced. What if Sue, for instance, really doesn’t “feel like a man in a woman’s body”? If Sue understands his/herself differently, nobody (outside of similarly identified people, friends, family, etc) will ever get to understand because Sue’s viewpoint isn’t “allowed” to be expressed. Moreover, what if a young person has these feelings? They’ll probably end up at a psychologist who will “explain” their feelings for them…

We can see where this is going...Hopefully Mark actually wanted to change his name and adopt the feminine persona...

As an aside, this reminds me of Foucault’s “monster.” Society has decided that transitioning is “ok” as long as it is done one specific way on very rigid terms. So basically, “we’ll allow you to break the cosmic law, just don’t shatter it.”

This process can be found in several other places in society. If you’re trying to get financial assistance from the government, you better be willing to jump through about 10 different hoops, and lay out your whole personal life for some random person’s scrutiny, or you’re not going to get anywhere. If you don’t tell them exactly what they want to hear, and devise a paper trail to mimic that, don’t get excited about possibly breaking through the poverty line!

This is not to say that requiring people to legitimate their desire for body alteration or need for financial assistance is inherently wrong, but the current system encourages (and sometimes mandates) people to strategically create versions of the truth that probably don’t fall in line with their actual situations. If we’re ever going to be able end discrimination against gender nonconforming people, or fix our terrible welfare system, we’re going to have to come up with a radically different way of delving into people’s personal lives.

-Mika Baugh

Reading Michel Foucault’s Abnormal allowed me to see how other people classify deviance.  Personally, I feel that devience in society is what makes the world interesting.  And, society causes this devience by categorizing anything as “normal”.  The three figures, the monster, the incorrigible/the individual to be corrected, and the masturbator were put into perspective for me after our class discussion.  I still find it hard to believe people think it is okay to classify outcasts by levels of abnormality.  Who has the right to say what is not “normal”?  Something that is normal to one person may not be to another.  Peoples lives vary to such a larger degree.  The reading talked about the “seceret” of masturbation, that everyone does it, but no one will admit it. I can’t help but wonder where this all came from and how it got started.  When was it first thought of that maturbation was something so wrong that it needed to be hidden and left unspoken? And, how does society not realize that pointing out devience only worses the matter.  A person was probably acting abnormally to cause trouble in the first place and drawing attention to the situation and trying to correct them will only cause them to rebel even more! A large portion of the reading was dedicated to “fixing” the abnormal, depending on their severity, by placing them in the proper institution.  This is ridiculous! Placing someone into an institution for exploring their sexuality through masturbation is the most insane thing I have ever heard of!  And if everyone is masturbating and only those that admit it are being penalized, those who are lying are being rewarded.  Also, if the masturbator is formed through the family, the bedroom, and the body, how is a child supposed to know this is so wrong when it is not talked about unless masturbation becomes a problem?  This terrible act that causes a person to become a monster and could force them to be institutionalized.  Overall, I enjoyed the reading, although I do not fully agree with the idea, I liked the view point of another person classifying diffrences in people.

Alexandra Fath

I was thinking about Foucault and his thoughts on abnormality and it reminded me of another conversation I had about binaries; how one is component valorized and while other is devalorized in relation to each other. With normality and abnormality, it’s easy to spot which one is higher ranked. Good/bad, hot/cold, male/female, straight/gay etc. there’s always a ranking involved. It becomes far more than a simple “one of these things is not like the other” question; there’s an implicit whisper hidden underneath saying “one of these things is worse than the other,” as if the comparisons are stacked rather than side by side.

It’s understandable to use binaries to understand the world, but what happens to the things in between? What happens when male/female isn’t enough to describe ambiguous genitalia? What happens when genitalia isn’t ambiguous, but an individual doesn’t identify with either sides of the binary? Though one component of this binary of male/female is ranked higher than the latter, those who don’t easily identify with either options are ranked lower.

In this case the normal/abnormal binary would step in to make things a little more clear; if said individual doesn’t fit this binary, at least they fit into that binary.

I think this is incredibly limiting. The logic we use to describe the world takes away the breadth of expression and color and creation we can use, or at least use in a socially acceptable manner. Why can’t difference be unique rather than pathological? I know the queer community may be more accepting to those bodies that don’t fit common sense understandings, but there’s still a policing of norms. Bisexuality, for example, has such a strange place in either heterosexual or queer communities. I lot of people seem to think bisexuality doesn’t actually exist; that being bi just means someone is gay and isn’t quite ready to admit it. Bisexuality doesn’t fit into a straight/gay binary so it must not actually exist. What depressing logic.

I suppose it’s easy to take the world and neatly organize it into one of two categories, but I’d prefer if differences in bodies, sexualities, and gender performance were viewed as diverse, unique, and full of endless combination. Maybe I’m a dreamer, but really, what’s the harm in trying?

-Lucas Zigler

P.S. I know this would make more sense in the “Beyond Binaries” category, but my musings on Foucault and abnormality led me here in this very week.

After reading Michel Foucault’s Article “Abnormal” I was truly in disgust of how society looked at those who were Siamese twins and hermaphrodites. They considered them monsters mainly because they didn’t know how to fit them into the law. The Siamese twins were seen as “the monster that is both man and beast. (Foucault, pg66)” They didn’t know how to punish them legally in crimes or how to understand them in the medical field and religion didn’t know where they fit into their world. So in fear they gave them a name the monsters for a way to understand them and put them in their corner of society away from them. Then you have the Hermaphrodites which Foucault state “that form the Middle Ages to the sixteenth century and until at least the start of the seventeenth century, hermaphrodites were considered to be monsters and were executed, burnt at the stake and their ashes thrown to the winds (Foucault, p67).”  Later in the Seventeenth century they were not put to death but Foucault said that “individuals recognized as hermaphrodites were asked to choose their sex, their dominant sex and to conduct themselves accordingly, especially by wearing appropriate clothes.” He goes on to say that “they were subject to criminal law and could be convicted for sodomy only if they made use of their additional sex (Foucault, pg67).”  Of course rumors could go around which were not true about them using their additional sex and they would be convicted which Foucault tells an account or two of that happening. As I read all this I Thought how horrible to not be yourself and having to choose and be punish if you broke their rules for all this. I thought Thank goodness we don’t do this anymore and then it hit me. We may not call Hermaphrodites or Siamese twins Monsters in today’s world but we as a society still sometimes do not accept them. People judge them and make jokes about them. We have TV programs that put them on display as abnormal people who need to be fixed. I don’t know how many TV shows that I have seen about Siamese Twins were they are talking about having to surgically remove them and so forth that way they can fit into our society.  Why do they need to be fixed why can’t we just except them as them.  Why do we as society have to come up with jokes about Hermaphrodites? Is it our way of still trying to understand it or help ease our fears of why they are so different. I mean if you want to look at it form a religious view point God made them that way so if God made them that way than he wanted them that way so why judge and make fun and try to change them. Why can’t we just embrace them and see them as the wonderful people that they are. Yes we may not be as crazy as the people in the eighteenth century and so forth where we put them to death, but are we any better.


~Kielly Perkins~

As I was helping my six year old brother with his homework this weekend, I realized with startling clarity that his basic math worksheets really weren’t basic at all. I’d bet that you probably don’t remember your 1st grade homework, but if your assignments looked anything like his do, you probably spent a good deal of time trying to figure out which one “didn’t belong.”

 As we’re going through one particular sheet, he comes to a set of pictures and instead of quickly determining which one was “different,” he looked  at me with a questioning expression and said: “Mika, these are all the same…?”

 He was starting fixedly at a picture of an apple, orange, peach, and banana. This was the last and most difficult question on the page because they are all the same in that they’re fruit. But, the correct answer was clearly the banana since its shape is significantly different from that of the other three. I probably wouldn’t have thought anything of his dilema with the fruit picture if I hadn’t just finished reading Michele Foucault’s lecture on (ab)normality. While Foucault discusses the concept of abnormality in the context of the human body and “hermaphrodites,” the link between his lecture and this simple homework problem was obvious to me.

We’re still teaching our children to quickly, almost reflexively, decide which member of a group “doesn’t belong.” This wouldn’t be such an issue if a negative connotation weren’t almost inevitably attached to being different. Practically everyone is guilty here… even Sesame Street!

 I realize that categorization and differentiation are critical skills, but it just makes me wonder what deeper lessons I’m teaching my brother if I make him single out the banana just because it looks a little different. This is a little overdramatic, but is he going to go to school and shy away from a child of a different ethnicity because he’s worried that this child is the metaphorical banana? Or, what if my brother feels like the banana for whatever reason? Is he going to be afraid to play with the apples and oranges?

I found this whole situation interesting because as I was reading Foucault (prior to the homework episode), I found myself wondering how so long ago they came to the conclusion  that someone had broken the “cosmic law” or was a “monster” just because their genitals looked different, and how even today we still sometimes think in a similar way. Even after finishing the piece I’m still not sure where they got the idea that it is somehow OK to pass judgments on the entirety of a person just by looking at one physical characteristic. I mean, think about it… What if people with green eyes were “abnormal”, problematic monsters who violated the proper working of the universe? Where would we be then?

In the end, I simply explained to my brother the reason that circling the banana would be the correct option. Of course, this was only one small homework assignment and I have far more confidence in my ability to share the right messages with him than apprehension about what stereotypes and detrimental lessons he might learn in first grade. I suppose the point here is that we can do anything and everything to try to teach children that we shouldn’t be mean to Johnny just because his skin is different or make fun of Katie because she has two daddies, but there are still so many forces counteracting this effort; most of which we likely don’t even notice.

-Mika Baugh

After reading and discussing Foucault’s lecture on the “Abnormal,” I wondered about what might constitute the “human monster” in today’s society.  According to Foucault, “what defines the monster is the fact its existence and form is not only a violation of the laws of society but also a violation of the laws of nature” (55-56).  Furthermore, “the monster was also someone with two sexes whom one didn’t know whether to treat as a boy or a girl…”(65).  This particular quote reminded me that those with an undefinable sex are still seen as monstrous in modern society, as people are at odds as how to categorize them.  Specifically, I was reminded of a popular news story from a couple of years ago about a woman runner, Caster Semenya.  Semenya consistently outran her competition, and her muscular, masculine build started raising questions about her “true” sex.  She was forced to undergo medical testing in an attempt to “prove” her female sex, and therefore continue to be allowed to compete in the women’s category.  This medicalization of Semenya’s sex coincides with Foucault’s description of the monster in that he asserts that the monster’s existence “provokes either violence, the will for pure and simple suppression, or medical care or pity” (56, emphasis added).  After some genetics testing, it was realized that Semenya has androgen insensitivity syndrome (or AIS), which we learned about in Angier’s Woman: An Intimate Geography.  If you remember, AIS means that the individual has X and Y chromosomes with feminized genitalia.  It is very possible that Caster Semenya was completely unaware that she indeed had AIS.  I find it ridiculous that Semenya’s sex was even called into question in the first place, simply based on the idea that she was simply too athletic, too good at running to possibly be a “real” woman.  Don’t even get me started on what I think about the farce of “real” womanhood or manhood, anyway.  Let’s just say I think it’s bullshit.  In the end, it was decided that Caster Semenya can continue to run with the girls.  As it turns out, a lil’ ole Y chromosome doesn’t make you a good runner!  Who would’ve guessed?!  So what was all this medicalization of Semenya’s body really for anyway?  It goes to show that even in today’s “insightful” society, there is an uncontrollable need to categorize sex according to narrow specifications.  We still have a lot to learn.  -Stephanie Halsted