Gender Performance: The TransAdvocate interviews Judith Butler

By Cristan Williams
@cristanwilliams

 

Judith Butler is a preeminent gender theorist and has played an extraordinarily influential role in shaping modern feminism. She’s written extensively on gender and her concept of gender performativity is a central theme of both modern feminism and gender theory. Butler’s essays and books include Performative Acts and Gender Constitution (1988), Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990), Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex” (1993) and Undoing Gender (2004).

However, the concept of gender perfomativity has been used – and some would assert – abused to support a number of positions that misconstrues Butler’s work. I therefore wanted to ask Butler about what she really thinks about gender and the trans experience.  Along the way Butler specifically addresses TERFs and the work of Sheila Jeffreys and Janice Raymond.

[hr]

Cristan Williams: You spoke about the surgical intervention many trans people undergo as a “very brave transformation.” Can you talk about that?

Judith Butler: It is always brave to insist on undergoing transformations that feel necessary and right even when there are so many obstructions to doing so, including people and institutions who seek to pathologize or criminalize such important acts of self-definition. I know that for some feels less brave than necessary, but we all have to defend those necessities  that allow us to live and breathe in the way that feels right to us.  Surgical intervention can be precisely what a trans person needs – it is also not always what a trans person needs.  Either way, one should be free to determine the course of one’s gendered life.

CW: I think it’s safe to say that many gender theorists are controversial in one way or another. Some have lumped your work together with the work of gender theorists such as Sheila Jeffreys, who wrote:

[Transsexual surgery] could be likened to political psychiatry in the Soviet Union. I suggest that transsexualism should best be seen in this light, as directly political, medical abuse of human rights. The mutilation of healthy bodies and the subjection of such bodies to dangerous and life-threatening continuing treatment violates such people’s rights to live with dignity in the body into which they were born, what Janice Raymond refers to as their “native” bodies. It represents an attack on the body to rectify a political condition, “gender” dissatisfaction in a male supremacist society based upon a false and politically constructed notion of gender difference… Recent literature on transsexualism in the lesbian community draws connections with the practices of sadomasochism.

Can you talk about the ways in which your views might differ?

JB:  I have never agreed with Sheila Jeffreys or Janice Raymond, and for many years have been on quite the contrasting side of feminist debates.  She appoints herself to the position of judge, and she offers a kind of feminist policing of trans lives and trans choices.  I oppose this kind of prescriptivism, which seems me to aspire to a kind of feminist tyranny.

If she makes use of social construction as a theory to support her view, she very badly  misunderstands its terms.  In her view, a trans person is “constructed” by a medical discourse and therefore is the victim of a social construct.  But this idea of social constructs does not acknowledge that all of us, as bodies, are in the active position of figuring out how to live with and against the constructions  – or norms – that help to form us.  We form ourselves within the vocabularies that we did not choose, and sometimes we have to reject those vocabularies, or actively develop new ones.  For instance, gender assignment is a “construction” and yet many genderqueer and trans people refuse those assignments in part or in full.  That refusal opens the way for a more radical form of self-determination, one that happens in solidarity with others who are undergoing a similar struggle.

One problem with that view of social construction is that it suggests that what trans people feel about what their gender is, and should be, is itself “constructed” and, therefore, not real.  And then the feminist police comes along to expose the construction and dispute a trans person’s sense of their lived reality.  I oppose this use of social construction absolutely, and consider it to be a false, misleading, and oppressive use of the theory.

CW: Recently, Gloria Steinem wrote:

So now I want to be unequivocal in my words: I believe that transgender people, including those who have transitioned, are living out real, authentic lives. Those lives should be celebrated, not questioned. Their health care decisions should be theirs and theirs alone to make. And what I wrote decades ago does not reflect what we know today as we move away from only the binary boxes of “masculine” or “feminine” and begin to live along the full human continuum of identity and expression.

Would you comment on Steinem’s statement?

JB: I agree completely that nothing is more important for transgender people than to have access to excellent health care in trans-affirmative environments, to have the legal and institutional freedom to pursue their own lives as they wish, and to have their freedom and desire affirmed by the rest of the world. This will happen only when transphobia is overcome at the level of individual attitudes and prejudices and in larger institutions of education, law, health care, and kinship.

CW: What do you think people misrepresent most about your theories and why?

JB:  I do not read very much of those writings, so I cannot say. I do know that some people believe that I see gender as a “choice” rather than as an essential and firmly fixed sense of self.  My view is actually not that.   No matter whether one feels one’s gendered and sexed reality to be firmly fixed or less so, every person should have the right to determine the legal and linguistic terms of their embodied lives.  So whether one wants to be free to live out a “hard-wired” sense of sex or a more fluid sense of gender, is less important than the right to be free to live it out, without discrimination, harassment, injury, pathologization or criminalization – and with full institutional and community support.  That is most important in my view.

CW: Do you think that humans have an innate and subjective experience of having a body? If so, would part of that experience also include having a body with primary sex characteristics?

JB: Most of what people say about these matters is rather speculative. I know that some subjective experiences of sex are very firm and fundamental, even unchangeable. They can be so firm and unchanging that we call them “innate”. But given that we report on such a sense of self within a social world, a world in which we are trying to use language to express what we feel, it is unclear what language does that most effectively. I understand that “innate” is a word that conveys the sense of something hired-wired and constitutive. I suppose I would be inclined to wonder whether other vocabularies might do the job equally well. I never did like the assertion of the “innate” inferiority or women or Blacks, and I understood that when people tried to talk that way, they were trying to “fix” a social reality into a natural necessity. And yet, sometimes we do need a language that refers to a basic, fundamental, enduring, and necessary dimension of who we are, and the sense of sexed embodiment can be precisely that.

CW: Some (such as Milton Diamond) assert that there seems to be a genetic issue that can lead to transsexualism. What are your thoughts about such assertions?

JB: In the works by Milton Diamond that I have read, I have had to question the way he understands genetics and causality. Even if a gene structure could be found, it would only establish a possible development, but would in no way determine that development causally. Genetics might be yet another way of getting to that sense of being “hard-wired” for a particular sex or gender. My sense is that we may not need the language of innateness or genetics to understand that we are all ethically bound to recognize another person’s declared or enacted sense of sex and/or gender. We do not have to agree upon the “origins” of that sense of self to agree that it is ethically obligatory to support and recognize sexed and gendered modes of being that are crucial to a person’s well-being.

CW: If “gender” includes the way in which we subjectively experience, contextualize, and communicate our biology, do you think that living in a world without “gender” is possible?

JB: Sometimes there are ways to minimize the importance of gender in life, or to confuse gender categories so that they no longer have descriptive power. But other times gender can be very important to us, and some people really love the gender that they have claimed for themselves. If gender is eradicated, so too is an important domain of pleasure for many people. And others have a strong sense of self bound up with their genders, so to get rid of gender would be to shatter their self-hood. I think we have to accept a wide variety of positions on gender. Some want to be gender-free, but others want to be free really to be a gender that is crucial to who they are.

CB11[1]

CW: I have seen where – especially online – people who identify as “gender critical feminists” (TERFs) assert that transwoman are merely mutilated men. What are your thoughts about using “gender critical feminism” to make such assertions?

JB: I do not know this term, but I reject totally the characterization of a transwoman as a mutilated man. First, that formulation presumes that men born into that sex assignment are not mutilated. Second, it once again sets up the feminist as the prosecutor of trans people. If there is any mutilation going on in this scene, it is being done by the feminist police force who rejects the lived embodiment of transwomen. That very accusation is a form of “mutilation” as is all transphobic discourse such as these. There is a rather huge ethical difference between electing surgery and being faced with transphobic condemnation and diagnoses. I would say that the greatest risk of mutilation that trans people have comes directly from transphobia.

CW: Many trans people assert that women/females can have a penis and that men/males can have a vagina. What are your thoughts about that?

JB: I see no problem with women having a penis, and men having a vagina. People can have whatever primary characteristics they have (whether given or acquired) and that does not necessarily imply what gender they will be, or want to be. For others, primary sexual characteristics signify gender more directly.

Intersectionality may well sound like some unfortunate bowel complaint resulting in copious use of a colostomy bag, and indeed it does contain a large amount of ordure. Wikipedia defines it as ‘the study of intersections between different disenfranchised groups or groups of minorities; specifically, the study of the interactions of multiple systems of oppression or discrimination’, which seems rather mature and dignified. In reality, it seeks to make a manifesto out of the nastiest bits of Mean Girls, wherein non-white feminists especially are encouraged to bypass the obvious task of tackling the patriarchy’s power in favour of bitching about white women’s perceived privilege in terms of hair texture and body shape. – Julie Burchill

CW: Do you have any thoughts about “intersectionality?”

JB: If you are referring to the important contribution of black feminist theory, then I have many thoughts. It has made an important contribution to social and political analysis, asking all of us to think about what assumptions of race and class we make when we speak about “women” or what assumptions of gender and race we make when we speak about “class.” It allows us to unpack those categories and see the various kinds of social formations and power relations that constitute those categories.

CW: It has been asserted that if one controls the way one identifies and behaves, that one can change the way one experiences their body. For example:

He could see that I was processed of this thing, which only now, I realize was demonic. I knelt on the study floor, in tears, I was choking, forces were telling me not to do it, to walk out; freedom as a woman awaited me, after all, I had made such progress. I fought back, I cried aloud, I repented, I rebuked what had gone on in my life… All this happened 18 months ago… I gave them my suitcases of dresses, clothes, make up etc. It made me feel sick, and it was a major thing for me to do. I had to get rid of all that had held me before. They disposed of the stuff. I stopped having manicures, and cut my nails short, I grew a small beard. I threw all the [hormone] tablets away, and turned away from anything that had to do with my desires. I asked my Pastor for a verse that I could look at every day and enjoy my new freedom as a man, a father and a husband. I put a piece of paper next to my bed, with encouraging verses, which I read every morning when I got out of bed. I knew that the woman inside was dead. The power of Christ had destroyed her, and all she stood for. Eighteen months on, the devil still tries to persuade me, but he knows that I will not go down that path, as the consequences for my family would be immense. I am accountable to several people, and I am enjoying my manhood. –Sam’s Story

In the above example, the individual has made a ongoing daily ritualistic of practice of denial and repression in the belief that it will change the way they experience their body. In what seems to be a somewhat similar approach, Janice Raymond wrote:

This paper has argued that the issue of transsexualism is an ethical one that has profound social and moral ramifications. Transsexualism itself is a deeply moral question rather than a medicaltechnical answer. In concluding, I would list some suggestions for change that address the more social and ethical arguments I have raised in the preceding pages.

While there are many who feel that morality must be built into law, I believe that the elimination of transsexualism is not best achieved by legislation prohibiting transsexual treatment and surgery but rather by legislation that limits it and by other legislation that lessens the support given to sex-role stereotyping, which generated the problem to begin with…

It would raise questions such as the following: is individual gender suffering relieved at the price of role conformity and the perpetuation of role stereotypes on a social level? In changing sex, does the transsexual encourage a sexist society whose continued existence depends upon the perpetuation of these roles and stereotypes? These and similar questions are seldom raised in transsexual therapy at present.

– Raymond (1980), Technology on the Social and Ethical Aspects of Transsexual Surgery

In your understanding of “gender,” do you believe that either of these approaches – both focusing on controlling behavior (via god and religious counseling or legislation and stereotype counseling) – would be able to eliminate trans people?

JB: I think that it is incumbent on all of us to get rid of these approaches – they are painful, unnecessary, and destructive. Raymond sets herself up as the judge of what transsexuality is and is not, and we are already in a kind of moral prison as we read her work. What is much more important than any of these behaviorist or “moral” approaches are all the stories, poems, and testimonies, the theoretical and political works, that document the struggle to achieve embodied self-determination for individuals and for groups. What we need are poems that interrogate the world of pronouns, open up possibilities of language and life; forms of politics that support and encourage self-affirmation. And what we need is a political and joyous alternative to the behaviorist discourse, the Christian discourse on evil or sin, and the convergence of the two in forms of gender policing that tyrannical and destructive.

CW: Do you think “sex” is a social construct?

JB: I think that there are a variety of ways of understanding what a social construct is, and we have to be patient with terms like these. We have to find a way of understanding how one category of sex can be “assigned” from both and another sense of sex can lead us to resist and reject that sex assignment. How do we understand that second sense of sex? It is not the same as the first – it is not an assignment that others give us. But maybe it is an assignment we give ourselves? If so, do we not need a world of others, linguistic practices, social institutions, and political imaginaries in order to move forward to claim precisely those categories we require, and to reject those that work against us?

CW: What, if anything, would you like trans people to take from your work?

JB: Gender Trouble was written about 24 years ago, and at that time I did not think well enough about trans issues. Some trans people thought that in claiming that gender is performative that I was saying that it is all a fiction, and that a person’s felt sense of gender was therefore “unreal.” That was never my intention. I sought to expand our sense of what gender realities could be. But I think I needed to pay more attention to what people feel, how the primary experience of the body is registered, and the quite urgent and legitimate demand to have those aspects of sex recognized and supported. I did not mean to argue that gender is fluid and changeable (mine certainly is not). I only meant to say that we should all have greater freedoms to define and pursue our lives without pathologization, de-realization, harassment, threats of violence, violence, and criminalization. I join in the struggle to realize such a world.

This article is part of an ongoing series exploring trans issues with feminist opinion leaders:
  • Catharine A. MacKinnon: Iconic radical feminist/legal theorist.
  • Judith Butler: Iconic queer feminist/gender theorist.
  • Frances “Poppy” Northcutt: Early trans-inclusive leader in the Southern feminist movement, president of Texas NOW.
  • Janis Walworth: Radical Lesbian who organized the movement that became Camp Trans.
  • Sandy Stone: After surviving an attempted murder by TERFs, wrote a foundational document for trans feminism: The Empire Strikes Back: A Post-Transsexual Manefesto.
  • Robin Tyler: Iconic radical feminist activist, pioneered trans-inclusive Women's Fests, was beaten by TERFs for protecting a trans woman from thier bashing.

  • Radical Women: Conversation with an early trans-inclusive 2nd wave feminist group formed in 1967.
  • Libertarian Feminism: Interview with a trans-inclusive libertarian feminist organization formed in 1973.

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Cristan Williams

Editor-in-Chief at TransAdvocate
Cristan Williams is a trans historical researcher and pioneer in addressing the practical needs of the transgender community. She started the first trans homeless shelter and co-founded the first federally funded trans-only homeless program, pioneered affordable health care for trans people in the Houston area, won the right for trans people to change their gender on Texas ID prior to surgery, started numerous trans social service programs and founded the Transgender Center as well as the Transgender Archives. Cristan is the editor at the social justice sites TransAdvocate.com and TheTERFs.com, chairs the City of Houston HIV Prevention Planning Group, is the jurisdictional representative to the Urban Coalition for HIV/AIDS Prevention Services (UCHAPS), serves on the national steering body for UCHAPS and is the Executive Director of the Transgender Foundation of America.
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68 comments on “Gender Performance: The TransAdvocate interviews Judith Butler
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  25. Thanks, both to Cristan & Judith, for this wonderful labor of love. This is one of those moments when I must, albeit gladly, admit I was wrong. Through my research of recent years I, like many others, came to suspect Judith Butler of having been a key figure of the “TG/TS woman as queer male” camp. This largely because of the influence of Foucault, Lacan, and other postructuralists on her work as well as her emphasis on the tragic (through Antigone) role the transgressor must allegedly assume in society (and the ethical burden that follows), not to mention her (alleged) reliance on Kojève’s structuralist interpretation of Hegel, led me to suspect her of rhetorically serving up transfolk as the “necessary error” these theories would have us be. The reaction of heteronormative feminists to her work in the 90s didn’t help, either.

    So I am happy to admit being wrong about her and close that unhappy chapter. I will remember Judith’s kind words here as they are for me an unequivocal vote of support and a much needed stand of solidarity with us against the absurd claims of our embittered enemies.

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  34. When I went to hear you speak, a few years ago, I was instantly floored by your kindness, your wisdom and your depth. I was in awe of you then, and I’m still in awe of you now!

  35. At the risk of over-saturating this award-winning story, I preempt this with an apology…but I feel this was so poignantly accurate, it just had to be said twice…

    While I vacillate between the feeling of betrayal by our gay “former family” (the tip of a gay-sponsored transphobic iceberg I believe) and the glorious feeling of seeing trans sisters unite [hey maybe that’s it! TSU—Trans Sisters United!], I kept masticating on this: “Oh get over it. It was just a silly parody. Tra**y and she*** is who we drag performers are! It’s our free speech [to offend]. Stop trying to police our thoughts [uh u mean what we saw on TV are thoughts?] It was just comedy [at our expense]. It was a blow dryer [hmmmm…ok…maybe I will download those ringtones for my blow dryer].”

    As I kept chewing, I simply couldn’t digest the thesis posited—that they were but mere “words”. The problem is that “at sunset”, letters + numbers are alphanumeric symbols that are the building block of words—like a foreign alphabet they mean absolutely nothing until deciphered. The difficulty with words is that they contain objective and subjective definitions. As a chief executive once said, “It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’, is.” So yes, words are placeholders for ideas and messages—thoughts put on paper—depending on messenger and recipient, words increase heartbeats, inflame passion, stir into action any one or more of our many physiological systems, such that inter-personal or international conflict has and can erupt, followed by cataclysmic events.

    I sat down..pondered, and pondered while sipping T leaves brewed over filtered water…..while remaining flabbergasted over what has transpired in the last 30 days. How could “they” have the audacity and balls so huge to pretend not to know how inflammatory it was to dare introduce a show for public purview entitled “straight or fa**ot”…pardon me, “female or she****”? As if that wasn’t ballsy enough, we became audience to a video that will live in infamy…a mandate making obligatory our Trans Declaration of LGB Independence! Shall friend lie down with adversary, one with devious machinations, risking never to rise again? Sometimes the answer to a question is provided……

    *************************************************************

    VJD= Vicarious Judgmental Disorder defined: a disorder that involves reaching a conclusion in judgement about a person or persons who belong to a group with common characteristics, based primarily on anecdotal evidence derived vicariously, and lacks conclusions derived from empirical evidence, appealing to group emotion, primarily fear. Beyond presuppositions, disagreement, disdain, or even loathing—all components of subjective conclusions—what elevates these “everyday” conclusions into a disorder is that such persons coalesce as a unit in a “circle the wagons” approach, and based on fears neither real but perceived, begin to execute group offense to such an extent that it becomes a passionate obsession.

    The group dictum and requires and employs tactics deemed so offensive that this psychological warfare is rationalized in a manner and case reflecting the idiom “the best defense is the strongest offense.” The end result is a protracted conflict, psychological in nature, employing technology as a weapon and so consumes the offending group that can only be objectively described as a mental state of acute unhealthiness and unhappiness, purportedly mirroring Maslow’s first priority: survival. Although in obligatory defensive posture, the target group of those with VJD by necessity appears to share some traits, the distinguishing primary factor is that the targeted group is forced to vehement defense expressly intended to repel offensive multi-faceted tactics that employ subterfuge as its primary modus operandi. Such subterfuge, although not initally apparent, reveals itself typically through feigned concern “for all”, despite being sincere in seeking protection for “some” that align with their values, typically but not always relgious. VJD: borrow it, steal it, claim it, who cares….but VJD is exactly what is behind trans judgement.

    Dee’s Encyclopedia of Infinite Wisdom
    {and I never said “TERFs”, until now}

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  38. Thank you Cristan and Judith for this awesome interview. It is through discussions like this we can shrink the spaces which tend to divide communities and increase the common ground we share together.

  39. Fantastic article, very succinctly expresses much of what I think and experience, my reasons for not using hormones or surgery, how our apparent gender is both a learnt performance, physical and mental ‘skills’ and also performative in that it creates responses, reactions, which of course form a feedback loop.
    I resonate with so much in this article, it feels like a little oasis in the struggle I have to be authentic, in the swimming against the tide of giving in to gender binary stereotype violence.
    Thank you

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  41. I met Judith Butler in Toronto a few years back and really enjoyed discussing trans activism and feminism with her. I remember that some trans people had tried to convince me that her theories represent a pathologization of trans people and trans identity, but having met her in real life I found this entirely unbelievable (and I already doubted it in the first place). I asked her opinion on a trans feminist theory I had been thinking about, and she waited very patiently for me to express myself, even though I was a bit star struck and awkward and it was late and she was obviously tired. She was kind enough to offer to look over my writing if I sent it to her, although sadly it’s one of many pieces I’ve never found time to finish, so I never got to send it to her.

  42. Wow! Cristan and Judith, thank you for taking on this very complex subject. I am very grateful for your words and the impact that they may have on the feminist community at large. Your words pack a big punch.

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  45. Do you actually think that women who have gender critiques are “a feminist police force?” Is there no other way to describe feminists whose theories differ from your own? Police force implies some kind of institutional power, some use of physical weaponry, and a cohesive chain of command. Feminists do not have this, nor do we want it. We may be passionate about our ideas and beliefs, but how does this equate us with “police,” and what do you hope to gain by using this inaccurate metaphor?

    Meanwhile you sit quietly and allow “TERF,” a slur no radical feminist has ever used about herself or about other radical feminists, to passed unremarked on? In what universe of discourse is this acceptable?

    I do not agree with your opinions or your conclusions but I would never condone someone calling you by the same kinds of words you seem to accept and use in critiquing feminists and their theories?

      • I don’t know who TigTog is, nor do you disclose her identity in your article. I’ve never heard any radical feminist describe herself as “TERF.” Every radical feminist I’ve ever read about or met finds this word not only rude and inaccurate, but always used as a slur and often as an insult. As in “I hope that TERF dies in a fire.”

      • @goldensuze: Whether or not you choose to accept demonstrable reality, “TERF” comes from the RadFem community. Claiming that the RadFem community was wrong for popularizing the term because you think someone, somewhere at sometime used it a a slur is some of the most privileged BS I’ve ever heard. I’ve seen TERFs use “trans woman” as a slur; that doesn’t make it one. Sorry, but out of respect for actual RadFems who don’t want TERFs to colonize their identity, I’m going to continue using the term in the way the RadFem community wanted.

        If you only hang out with TERFs who are really invested in colonizing the totality of RadFem identity, then yeah… I can see how they wouldn’t be happy with any language that prevents them from colonizing RadFem spaces and identity.

      • Terf is a slur and a slang term created and used by m2t against women who actually value true womanhood and nothing more. The more I see the trans community slur and tear down women and womens spaces the les and less I am wanting anything to do with these poseurs

      • @don’t call me turf: The history you assert is demonstrably false. Choosing to cling to the lie that “TERF” came from the trans community won’t make you right; rather, it will merely demonstrate that you’re willfully obtuse.

      • Were you able to keep a straight face while typing a complaint about TERF being a slur in the same post where you used the term “m2t?” OF COURSE you were able to keep a straight face– a straight, white, cis, upper-middle-class, Catholic-college-educated face. That’s the only face I’ve ever seen presented by TERFs.

    • Uh, absolutely yes. Holding opinion, even to the point of disagreement is everyone’s right and makes for interesting discussion that often changes intransigent minds such that they may achieve at least a state of malleability. Enforcement is but a right of the few granted with legal authority, authorized to exercise discretion, and wielding powers that in consequence “force” compliance or else. Make no mistake, enforcing “gender” stereotypes and rules by forming organized groups tasked with unarmed combat via the printed or spoken word to spread propaganda, lies, half-lies against “opposing” groups on a mass scale or on individuals through selective enforcement is “policing”.

      The tremendous punishments meted out from such orchestrated efforts are often much worse than mere open/close incarceration. The torment inflicted on trans persons by such efforts is now a matter of historical record. When faced with such disparagement or offense, trans persons rise up in exercising the basic human right of defense, only to be singled out for systematic and incessant psychological attack. Such malice employs one of the oldest ruses in the books. Despite the civil right to a sex/gender transition, trans persons, wholly or single, today face harassment, ridicule, mocking, criminal inference, and accrue real-world losses solely from the efforts of such groups who long ago deluded themselves into believing their efforts are noble, necessary, and required. To think that exercising the legal and civil right to transition requires a commensurate exercise in defense that is diversionary and energy consuming and yet eludes accountability for such torment is beyond baffling.

      In my limited understand, there are feminists, radical feminists, and Trans Exclusive radical feminists. TERFS claim sole proprietary ownership of the definition of “female”—a claim that is so egregious that to state that it derives from a mentally challenged mindset would not even be close to being inaccurate. To “police” or more specifically to presume one’s life’s calling is to enforce such a gender paradigm, exactly what occurs from trans persecution, exceeds reasonable belief so much so that such a disorder could find a place only under the “insane” column. It would be far more convincing to state that the sun is actually an ice cream cone than to state that such active enforcement is not a mission objective of TERFs.

      The irony and #1 clue that such groups lack credibility but possess an abundance of malice is this: they affirm a “true” female gender while simultaneously defying “true” female gender expectations, going sans cosmetics or “female” garb. Possessing a female gender while wearing masculine garb fits squarely within the broad definition of transgender. Refuting such an assertion when faced with such image evidence possesses credibility far west of zero.

      Such feminist extremists are so radical that they defy true sex experts (doctors) who confirm, authorize, validate and empower trans persons to align their physical body with one’s gender “personality. Sex and gender identity are exuded from two critical areas: personality and the endocrine system—both domains for which none, as in NONE, other than psychiatrists and medical doctors claim sole ownership as experts in these two psychosomatic areas.

      Again, many institutions have institutional powers and are not police. Many involved in private safety or military have weaponry and are not police. Most employees are obligated to following a prescribed chain of command, but are not police. What turns a civilian into “police” is as I have said: the authority to enforce laws, laws that emanate from a myriad of codes, not all criminal. Having been “the police” to so many over my lifetime, I shall invoke my right of credibility.

      TERF extremists, not to be confused with radical feminists that are trans inclusive, empower themselves with legal authority by occupation, not much unlike police, and through incessant and repetitive efforts that come from either obsessed or vile minds enforce the gender paradigm—far, far more than a mere expression of “opinion.” There is no better way to describe these punitive measures than as “policing”. Uttering the words of one much wiser than I, “a rose by any other name…is still a rose.” Hallelujah.

      • I Dee, approve of this chalkboard-scratching message. If this is your shoe size, wear it, but not with pride. If your mind is malleable, I extend an invitation to sit at the table, break bread, and pass the peace pipe, meta-4-ically speaking.

        One of life’s greatest joys is to turn enemies into friends. Who we are 2day is not who we were yesterday, or who we will be tomorrow. A two-spirited perspective is one that only the few blessed by a tongue with courage, yet powered by a heart without limit, derived from the experiences of living in two worlds within one lifetime will ever claim the right to have. There is only one race, one color and one gender: human. All other traits are but hues of the the one “human” color.

        There is no pretty; there is no ugly…..we have stepped out of the forest, the jungle, the garden. Like the vegetation that gave us cover, concealment, and above all sustenance—we occupy cubic space never having surrendered attributes shared by vegetation and other wildlife, thereby giving no rationalization for any attitude other than humble. We stepped out into the clear, and bring with us the entire spectrum of diversity, both physical and abstract. We reside in a world perverted by human judgement—-like mitochondria blown up in size for human observation, we find ourselves under perennial judgment: eye candy or not, hot or not, female or not…..human judgement has proven to be a historical and colossal failure, and yet is is the sub-basement foundation for the judgment that persecutes and prosecutes gender diverse and gender-transitioned males and females.

        Utopia is the absence of fear, pain and violence, not the absence of nature’s hues expressed in infinite ways to give the message that we already live within infinity; once we get there, far beyond our lifetime, finally mankind will live by love and not by sight. It is striving toward this Utopian goal that will bring Utopia, although not governed by man for man has proven to find comfort in lifetimes of conflict….it is only through arduous effort, often upstream that we will arrive in Utopia. Utopia is not on a journey toward us—we must be on a journey to it. Once human puritanism yields to the recognition that nature is us and we are nature, we will be on a fast-track toward Utopia, whatever that might be. In the meantime, while we live our truth, we are obligated to future generations to expose the untruths. Paz, amor, y felicidad a todos, especialmente a mi familia transgenera.

    • My God, I love this woman!!!!! Why have I not heard about her before? Cristan, you continue to dazzle me with brilliance, as I call out many who try to dazzle us with bullshit. As I listened to her, I was mesmerized by her sweetness, captivated by her intellect, and blessed by her lack of hostility.

      I am, hopefully, “lethal” in defense while a believer in forgiveness. I never shirk at the right to be fervent in righteous indignation, else nothing changes. Like her, I strive to best make my point via the articulated word, seeking to isolate the offense, and the offender only in proportion to the offense. In so many words she stated in academic-speak and reaffirmed one of the basic human characteristics which we in the trans community seek to never apologize for: “hey…..there’s plenty of room in the inn for all of us. You sit at that table and I sit at mine. You leave me alone and I will do likewise. You don’t know me so how can you judge me? Your reality and perspective are not mine. Your world is not my world. Your eyes don’t see what I see. Your mind doesn’t think like mine. How does fixing my sex/gender translate to being illegal? How do you know what my sex/gender really is?

      Best of all, she makes the best use of the word “judge” ever heard. Beyond laws and enforcers, and far above them lies the ultimate enforcer who can redefine or reinterpret laws: a judge. Those who seek to nullify the right of a human being to correct/fix/align/change sex/gender by active and selective enforcement measures such that they redefine and reinterpret the medical and legal rights to undergo a sex/gender transition are the ultimate enforcers of a gender paradigm: persons who have claimed as their right to inflict punishment on the trans community on a mass or individual scale through psychological incarceration. A judge by any other name is still a judge.

    • In fairness goldensuze the “Gender critical” (hmmmmm) Radfem group has consistently insisted on using their own terms for trans folk including misgendering (I see that ALL the time) and constant references to the birth gender of transfolks in terms trans folk find offensive or just plain wrong. Why is that OK and the TERF terminology wrong. I mean at least TERF is an accurate acronym. It just seems like “gender critical” (I really still dont understand how the gender essentialism of some radfems qualifies as “critical”) crowd want to deny their critics of language to articulate it. It seems to me awfully silencing.

  46. Thank you so much for this. I’ve honestly found Butler’s opinions on transgender agency to be very unclear. Notoriously in /Gender Trouble/, she spokes of transsexual women as “disavowed homosexuals” (1990). This was the same year Jeffreys argued in /Anticlimax/ that trans women only want to mimic the worst stereotypes of “what women should be”.

    I’ve honestly found Butler’s comments since then to be difficult to pin down, especially given the amplification of the TERF position over the last few years by both Jeffreys and Delphy. I know Butler has supervised doctoral projects by cis women writing on trans issues that have gone on to become important contributions to the conversation.

    So — and I applaud you for this — how wonderful that the Transadvocate is able to bring us this fascinating interview.

    • An Aboriginal friend once told me that he actually liked vocal racists because they acted as clarifying agents for sorting out friend and foe amongst the ambiguous. He said the friends would react to the vocal racist to clarify their own positions as anti racist whilst the borderline racists would feel compelled to declare themselves racist thus making it clear who the enemy is. I wonder whether the TERF crowd has in some way been a dark blessing by making it urgent for those of ambiguous position to clarify that they wont abide transphobia whilst pulling the cloak of obsfucation away from those who will. Just a thought, no need to agree.

  47. “In the works by Milton Diamond that I have read, I have had to question the way he understands genetics and causality.” – Judith Butler

    How much it saddens me to see Judith performing this mis-take on what Dr. Diamond is about… his researches are based in the biological sciences, and his analytical approach – in large part, it seems to me – on comparative studies of animal behavior, rather than anthropological research or social theory?

    But still, he was the person who formulated the single most perceptive and incisive comment on our situation with respect to society:

    “Nature loves diversity; society hates it.” – Milton Diamond

    Greater acceptance of diversity is something we all need to work towards… in the area of gender expression, part of that is accepting that there are indeed the hard cases where gender identity, if not the performance of that identity as it is inscribed on the person’s character through acculturation, is fixed before birth in a manner contrary to what one would expect from their genetic endowment; and that in some cases of variant gender expression… that’s not the case: that there are persons who are born with bi-gendered tendencies, or with an aptitude for genderfluidity in their self-expression.

    thanks,
    – bonzie anne

    • I would like, as a trans woman, to defend what Butler said in relation to Milton Diamond’s work. Diamond’s theory of the origins and biological basis of transsexuality may or may not be correct (I don’t have a strong opinion); the point that I took Butler to be making, however, is that debates concerning such theories have been invested with an unhealthy degree of political significance because of the background sense that they necessary for, or at least advantageous to, advancing the recognition and rights of trans people. I took Butler to be saying that a wholehearted support of trans peoples’ rights and identities should not be reliant on the demonstration of a clear biological or genetic cause. A similar point can (and has) been made in relation to gay and lesbian rights.

      I very much agree with Butler on this point. I would like to see a world in which the correctness or otherwise of Diamond’s theories is seen as absolutely irrelevant to the question of whether trans people deserve to be recognised and supported in their chosen/acquired/experienced/whatever you want to call it gender. In such a world, identifying any genetic and/or biological causes of transsexuality would continue to be an interesting area of research, but it would become a largely academic question, rather than one invested with the political significance that it currently has.

      I think that, in this interview, Butler did an excellent job of defending an essentially social constructionist view of sex and gender, whilst explaining that use of such theories to delegitimise trans people’s identities and lived experiences is oppressive and wrong. In so doing, I believe that she has made a much more significant contribution to advancing trans peoples’ rights, and to challenging those who misuse her work, than if she had recanted and admitted that Diamond was right after all.

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