The theme emerging from the readings this week evolve around the idea of gender as being versus gender as doing. The authors of the essays seem to agree that the ways in which we use words to describe gender can constrain, whereas, the ways in which we perform gender resists the hierarchies and boundaries fixed within our linguistic systems. Although, I agree with these arguments, I am not so sure that using transgender as an all-encompassing umbrella term does not again create constraints of naming and description built into our linguistic systems?
Ironically, I too have just left a conference in Chicago titled “Performing Gender.” The panels I attended also addressed the issues we are currently reading about in this class. At the first panel I attended, one of the presenters kept addressing us as “Hey Guys.” Of course, I became annoyed and blurted out “and gals.” This presenter went on to discuss the meanings embedded within “hey guys” and “hey gals” terminology. First, this presenter mentioned the “hey guys” as the neutral taken for granted assumption that we have become sensitive to within our own classrooms. Next, the presenter mentioned the assumptions that are embedded within the binaries of “hey guys” and “hey gals.” It is nice to be reminded how power is built into our language system and what we often take for granted even when we are perhaps trying to transgress. The presenter also explained how our language becomes barriers to our understandings much like the authors of our readings discussed. As Wilchins explained, the words that we use can also create boundaries of exclusion and inclusion.
The authors also mentioned the ways for coming to understand meanings through language that we either construct or use to represent our reality. There exists a big D discourse (representing and corresponding to reality) and there exists a little d discourse (our constructions and creation of reality through language). One insists on a big T truth that unifies our concepts, whereas, the other insists on a little t truth offering multiple meanings. I prefer the latter way for coming to understand ourselves through meanings that are always partial and involve plurality.
I feel that some of the readings for this week are asking us to choose from either gender as being and gender as performing. What about gender as becoming? The ways in which we come to identify who we are stem from our historical and cultural background. Therefore, I cannot evade the past nor the culture in which I presently live. I do feel a connection with the people who made sacrifices for the freedoms I am granted today. However, I also must confront the mistakes that were made and the implications that will continue to persist as we politicize our rights. Therefore, this type of becoming both embraces the knowledge that has been bestowed upon us yet continues to be critical of the ways in which freedom has excluded others.
Language throughout history has been used as a device for control (Foucault does a good job at reminding us this). In some ways, there is a freedom to this predictability. However, I have always believed that there is more freedom if we embrace uncertainty. My hope is that those who are granted privilege will confront the taken for granted assumptions rather than reinforcing language games. When this occurs, resistance is possible and new ways for coming to understand ourselves forms alternative ways for becoming.
Maybe the time has come to put down our swords and stop using language as a means of abuse and weaponry?