pansycub asked: What do you think about "gender as performance"? I find it really questionable. Performance implies an audience which yes there is one but there are many aspects of my gender that are just for me. And how do you perform man or woman, this theory seems to imply there is one, or one main way to perform these genders recognizably. And what if you're a butch woman or a femme boy for instance, how do you perform that and still be recognizes as a man or woman. How does one perform as non-binary?
This is an awesome question, so awesome that I turned it into a blog!
My short answer (that is just for you!): Before saying anything, I want to put it out there that I have some strong feelings about this topic. To be nice, I feel that gender performance theories are outdated and over-simplified. To be honest, I call bullshit. As a gender variant person, I have never been able to get over my aggression towards gender performance theory. According to its ideas, gender is chosen - meaning I chose to be trans, I chose to be femme, I chose to be genderqueer, and I also can choose to not be these things. I don’t see how any gender variant person can not be insulted by that. I’ll own it: I have baggage. When I was coming out, the closest thing I had to a queer resource was the Women’s Studies department. When I got there, faculty, students, books, films, you name it, they all repeatedly told me that I was just performing, and if I wanted to, I could do it differently. To someone who (up until that point) had no exposure to queer or trans stuff and was feeling confused, isolated, and angry… it was excruciating. I was looking for community support, and all I got was an isolating fight. Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of love for Women’s Studies (or whatever the depts. are called now days), but part of me will never forgive “Women’s Studies” or gender theory for putting me through that.
“Gender as performance” was one of the women’s empowerment movement’s moves to legitimize gender difference and subversiveness, primarily referencing expression but at the time, gender expression and gender identity were thought to be the same thing, There is no ‘just for me’ part and that is the main problem with the theory. There is no identity element, just a choice of masculine or fememine never even considering the possibility of non-binary. But off paper, how do we choose what traits we want? We figure out what feels right based on our identity and work from that. If our decisions about presentation (or “performance”) are based out of some internal drive to express ourselves, is it really a choice? And if we put on clothes that are not expressive of what we feel we are, does that change who we are? If someone is non-binary and puts on a dress – is that person not expressing their gender identity because their identity is non-binary but a dress is gendered? That dress becomes what the person wearing it wants it to be. It’s all about how we conceptualize it – and that requires a smashing of cultural assignments. In the workshop you were in last month, I went on and on about how gender is the key to societal recognition. If you are a femme boy or butch woman, you can not be recognized by society as anything but “other” without challenging gendered society itself. That, I think, was part of the original argument of gender perfomancists – they didn’t want to be defined by presentation and wanted to challenge gendered society. The problem is that people took it too far, enabling it to delegitimize every form of gender expression and identity. A perfect example of this is found in the Femme community. Femme-phobia comes from gender performance theory; If you are choosing to be feminine (in theory terms, perform femininity) then you are supporting the patriarchy that sexualizes women as beauty objects and selling out. There is no option for someone to like being feminine for the sake of enjoying femininity. This would lead one to believe that femininity is bad and that a woman can not be feminine for her own pleasure. Also, gender performance theories are at the root of second wave feminism’s rampant transphobia – we are imposters because we decided to be trans out of weakness, perversion, or cause we’re just plain evil, cause that’s what a theory for equality should do. It is arguments like these that lead me to believe gender performance theorists were delusional.
How does someone “perform” non-binary? I think a person has to be on a stage to do perform it. You may think of some expressive traits more deliberately than others, but all are defined by a personal element that disallows it to be a performance in how gender performance theory intended. Non-binary in real life is, like any other gender expression that is based on an identity; there is no one way, and no wrong way, to do it.
I ramble much more thoroughly on this here on my blog. But don’t let those theories get you down! Life is much more complicated than any book or paper can ever capsulate. You can do right by your own life by living it for the sake of learning who you are, not who other people think you should be.