Monday, June 11, 2012

gender, orientation, normality

I'm jut getting into my summer philosophy reading list, on the broad themes of orientation and the "normal." In November, a couple friends and I are presenting a panel on orientation, disorientation, and being in and out of place. My own approach to it has come from reading the very good, and often delightfully exasperating book Queer Phenomenology, by Sara Ahmed.

So I'm paging through articles about experiences of orientation, disorientation, gender, sexuality, sex, and other stuff. I've just read a provocative piece from a while back by Kate Bronstein that includes some lists of questions having to do with the experience of gender (and she means gender, as differentiated from sex and sexuality and transexuality). They were appealing questions for me.

In part, what they made me consider, and remember, is the ways I - how shall I put this - the ways I don't do masculinity "right," in the culturally normative sense round these parts. There are some obvious things I don't do right, including insisting on wearing very bright colors, having long hair, sometimes in braids, and, as my loveliest says several times a week, being "an eight-year-old girl" (viz. the tiara and princess wand).

It's not that I consider myself particularly "liberated" from the constraints of compulsory masculinity and heteronormativity. It may seem odd, but I don't think I'm in the right position to judge that. All my life, I've been white and male, and the presuppositions about me that accrue to those characteristics have made my own gender, sexuality, and identity unproblematic. That is, I can always pass,* and I almost never have been subjected to assault because of someone else's perception of my gender, sexuality, or identity -- not since high school, at least.

It's obviously not only an academic philosophical interest driving me. A recent acronym groups people as LGBTQQ, where the first Q stands for queer, and the second for questioning. The lesson I've learned from reading queer theory, feminist philosophy, and related stuff, is that anyone who's self-aware really ought to be questioning, on one level or another. I forget who wrote it: Why don't we ask for an explanation of someone being "straight"? (This assumes, falsely, that everyone is either "straight" or non-"straight," and I'm not sure I can tell what that distinction means in the first place.)

This all means I'm a good philosopher. No one who is a good philosopher should take presumed definitions of sex, sexuality, gender, or identity for granted. They are some of the most violently defended pieties of our day - and there's nothing better for a philosopher to question than pieties.

* This is why I say "partner" or "mate" to refer to my loveliest, and also why it confuses my students. It's also why, despite having been "shotgunned" by the State of California, I avoid using the m word, the h word, or the w word.

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