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Notes Towards Day 18 (Thurs, Mar. 22): Working our Gender

Anne Dalke's picture

epeck and dchin
: "setting the scene" by reading us And Tango Makes Three

Photo by Simran Kaur '04

I. coursekeeping

* signing in
* sara.gladwin & aybala50 will "set the scene" next Tuesday
* we all want TWO POSTINGS from each of you by this Sunday night --
the first a "regular" one, reflecting on our conversations,
about Middlesex, the Gender Workbook, the various videos/songs
that have been used to "set up" our conversations this week...

* post as well three "gender" terms you want to understand better/be able to use
(I need them Sunday night, so that I have time to figure out how best to "workshop" them);
I've set up a thread for that, asking for three words and a short 'story' about each-->
a time you yourself misused, or was confused someone else's use, or ....? and why....

* for Tuesday, also finish working your
way through The Gender Workbook --
we'll go on thinking about Bornstein's refusal of all binaries;
and accept her invitation to create art forms that
reflect a more fluid sense of our identities;
we'll be doing some exercises to nudge us all in that direction....
(these may open up some possibilities for your next web event,
not due til April 20th, but you could begin thinking about/imagining it....)

also, just in from rayj! Bornstein is calling for new submissions--
in the form of tweets--to the upcoming edition of her workbook!
invite you both to contribute (of course....the first question
is "what is your gender"? tweet this....or write about it
this weekend...
you could also take on the task, for your next webevent,
of re-writing a 4-pp. section of the workbook

looking back @ Middlesex....
my "organizing idea" for Tuesday (not so clear?)
was that the genres of tragedy--stories of inevitability--
and comedy--stories in which the inevitable is upended--
might give us alternative ways for thinking about Cal's gender: as
tragically "inevitable," or comically "unpredictable," in its outcome...

Cal himself presents the comedic as a
re-writing of his ancestral genre, tragedy:

... strange infants born in the village...every few generations...always met with tragic ends (117)

A real Greek might end of this tragic note. But an American is inclined to stay out just in time....before...the common tragedies of American life...[which] do not fit into this singular and uncommon record (511-512).

Silently Tessie inserted the links, tragedy in one sleeve, comedy in the other...under the influence of those two-sided accessories, what happened next took on contrasting tones....Milton came face-to-face with the essence of tragedy, which is something determined before you're born, something you can't escape or do anything about, no matter how hard you try....But...there was a comic aspect to events that day, too....even a brand of harsh satire in my parents' quest itself, because it typified the American belief that everything can be solved....All this comedy, however, is retrospective (426).

Carol Burnett: "comedy is tragedy, plus time"

or perhaps the tragedy is the result of the need to label?
aybala50: Why does this book have to conclude with a definite gender.

We are seeking to label, and are anxious over pronouns,
looking for just the right thing to name and identify Cal,
without an understanding, perhaps, of how those identities are
culturally, community, and temporally specific.

We might also re-think Middlesex via Kate Bornstein:
"outlaws...'ve got no place to conveniently hang our identities while
we get on with the business of living life....We're each to some degree
oppressed, held in check, violated, silenced, or shamed by one or
more aspects of...perfect identity" (My Gender Workbook, 273).

III. The Gender Workbook also invites us to reflect
on our own "gender aptitudes"--so let's turn from Cal
to ourselves!

cf'ing notes first (go 'round in large group):
I had asked you to take both "Your Gender Aptitude" test and "The Big Exam"--so:
--what did we learn about ourselves?
--what was important for each of us here?
--how does the workbook repeat/extend/challenge other texts we've read?
--what do we want to understand better?
--what was problematic in the workbook?

Kate's list so far:

  • There’s much more awareness of intersections of oppression and marginalization.
  • There’s a much more sophisticated understanding of & experience with the Internet.
  • The geopolitical world has grown vastly more polarized since the book came out.
  • In a few places in the world, real strides have been made in sex-and-gender freedoms.
  • At the same time, many ghastly practices of policing sex and gender have been uncovered.
  • Sex-and-gender activism has become globalized, and shuffled into the deck of social activism.
  • Young Female-to-Male has replaced Middle-Aged Male-to-Female as the face of transgender in the world.
  • Sex and Gender activism & awareness has become increasingly polarized along lines of class, race, and age....

V. taking next steps....
Advice from Lynda Barry:
Don't worry about not having content before you write
-- "you write to have an experience" (rather than, say, to record an experience).
Writing can be a time when the "drawbridge opens up between the back of
the brain and the front of it"; you can develop a "gradual belief in a spontaneous
ordering form available in the back of your mind."

From Kate Bornstein's The Gender Workbook:

The Ten-Minute Gender Outlaw Exercise (p. 32)

What is a Man? 
What is a Woman?
Why do we have to be one or the other?
(just in) What is your gender?
Are you Ready to Become What You Fear?

The trick is that the answers have to be phrased in questions...
it keeps the questions open, which is where I think they belong....
The point is to get to a question you want to think about some more,
one that really tickles your brain--something you can ponder on
for the balance of the day. Once you get to that question, you stop" (32-33).

And now let's share...question by question, read out your questions...
only in question form! (no answers that are not also questions....)

Anne's reading notes/key notes a major restraint to self-expression (1).

we live in the latter days of..the "Age of Identity" (5).

"Language is a tailor's shop where nothing fits" (19, Rumi).

the style of this book might be called theoryfuck. I'm hoping the mix of styles...highlights the constructed nature of the theory (20).

Why, do you suppose, some cultural phenomena are permitted to be dynamic and mutable, and so transformative, while other cultural phenomena, including gender, are considered to be static? (20)

I watched my grandmother grow a beard and develop a basso voice while gramps shrank and became weak and vulnerable and decidedly more alto as the years went on. Did this mean they were undergoing gender transformation? (21, Lexie Underwood).

The Ten-Minute Gender Outlaw Exercise:
What is a man? What is a woman? Why do we have to be one or the other? (32)

How about seeing gender as a Mobius srip? (36, Terry Mason)

we meed to first overcome..the very human need to belong to some exclusive (and excluding) group (37).

"Ships are safe in harbor, but that's not what ships are built for" (37).

The Gender/Identity/Power Pyramid (44)

Are You Perfectly Gendered? (46)

A good metaphor for a good metaphor might be a coatrack on which we get to hang our favorite ideas. The danger of an agreed-upon that is might inhibit the development of newer, more inclusive metaphors (62).

So, we have the illusion of membership despite the fragility of the defining lines of the group to which we belong (64).

I like companionship. I like hanging out with folks. I just don't want to lock myself into an identity in order to do it, and what I've done is move on when I no longer have any room to shift and grow. How about you? (67)

Pure identities (or identities that pass as pure) are valuable things...because there's a sense that someplace will always be home, a space with others who claim similar pure identities. And our identities are valuable to others. We become easier to deal with. Other people know who we are....This might be how identity politics does itself in. We need to get past this (67).

Taking liberties with identity wreaks havoc with identity politics. It raises questions about the value of identity itself (68).

Rather than move upward in hopes of achieving one's fair share of the power and access, why not simply dismantle the pyramid itself? (71)

The basic fear, the one I think it all boils down to, is the fear of death...of something or someone dying, disappearing, going away. If we're the ones doing the changing, it's a fear of...the death of some way of being in the world that we're used to or comfortable with. If someone else is doing the changing, then it's a fear...of the death of the relationship we had with them (78).

..this line of questioning is going to reveal the transformative nature of transgressing gender...The possibility increases of opening some Pandora's box in terms of our own identities....Are you Ready to Become What You Fear? (79).

...the direction to move in is the one marked "This delights me" (80).

Sure, I think there are more important questions. Questions of freedom, health, access to power, access to knowledge and wisdom, these are all more important questions

Gender is a system of social control, and I would prefer to be in most respects uncontrollable (98, Carol Queen).

What scares me is stasis: being immobile either in my identity or in my desire....I think we construct ourselves into an identity that attracts what we desire (99, 102).

"Would my future continue to be a series of becomings, never really arriving?" (107, David)

our genders, our identities, they're all a matter of personal choice, not social or peer approval, and the only laws they're subject to are the laws we impose upon conventions make our lives smoother, more taking the guesswork out of predictable encounters (110).

All female athletes are gender outlaws (111).

Granted, there's a bipolar apparency when it comes to physical gender (115).

culture at large is selective about how it uses science to uphold its moral (and gender) boundaries (117).

Gender is Chaotic, and That's the Good News (118)

there's a danger with any specialized civil rights movements....[not] taking into account the common oppression of the many....doomed to the same fate awaiting anyone who bases their struggle on identity as opposed to values. We as outlaws become aware of the struggles of all outlaws everywhere (127).

Ever hear that term, the color line, any more? Not as much. I wonder what the gender line will look like forty years from now (132).

our characters have so many aspects...gender is only one. I swear, it's that simple (132).

I'm thinking the language of yes might be a question, and the language of no might be an answer (162). the playground that ties 'em all together...maybe it's time we learn how to think in new ways, ways other than binary thought....someplace that has almost no rules concerning identity, and is accessible to a great number of people...the wild, wacky world of online life....the lack of physical cues available in cyberspace makes falling into [the two-gender] system actually difficult to do online (206).

simultaneity...will a cultural splattering [having to be many identities to many people @ the same time]...I went online and discovered a no-where, a no-place where gender was a no-thing (207-208).

The transgender movement is the first civil rights movement to grow up in cyberspace, and has not remained unaffected by the nonlinear borderless nature of both the identity it claims and the medium used to communicate those claims (208).

I come up with postmodernism of the West coming together with Zen of the East at a no-geography point...a state of no-identity (208).

A viable, and I believe honorable, alternative to deception is agreed-upon anonymity...The value of that it give us a good place to try out our fantasies...discussing ramifications of polygenderisms in cyberspace (210-211).

Three Gender Performance Workshops:
#1: On the Outside, Looking In--To familiarize students with their bodies, and some of the major limitations of the kinds of bodies we have. To free students from some of the fixed ideas they might have about their bodies by giving them another perspective on looking @ their bodies (225).

...imagine yourself an inhabitant of a planet far far far away from earth...your natural body is completely formless, shapeless, and have the ability to change your body @ will...Think yourself into having two more appendages...Decide that you'd like to have a different color scheme to this body....(229, 232)

#2: The Gender Walk--To give the student a means by which ze can achieve non-gender. To provide a framework in which a student might strip off their current gender, and construct within themselves the gender of their choice (233).

...for every motion forward...consciously think of dropping behind...some aspect of the gender they've been performing...until they reach the center point of the room, at which point they will have no the opposite wall, they are to visualize taking on qualities and aspects of the gender they wish to much or little space are they taking up now? much space do they need....? (235- 236)

#3: Acting As-If--To train the student to be conscious of gender cues, and their use in managing gender attribution.

Cautionary Interlude: 
I feel like a fucking alien here...(248) long as it was a specific identity I was abandoning, I'd only acquire and get stuck in yet another one. I think it's identity itself I want to quit now (252).

gender is a trap, a chimera (256)

defining any community by the identity of its members is ultimately a dead-end (257).

The focus for each of us be on our own spirit of inclusiveness. We need to get over the idea of "We're the only ones who are oppressed" (258).

I bristle @ the term "equal rights"....we're setting up and keeping in place some us-and-them situation (259).

I don't think we can afford to under- or overestimate our oppression by naming it as an identity...Gender oppression is like a particularly nasty computer virus that spreads throughout an entire system, leaving bits and pieces of itself everywhere on our hard drive (260).

When I'm by myself my gender goes away....But put us together...and my gender engulfs's an expectant look in your eyes need to satisfy those expectations (265, Sharon Minsuk).

"We've pretty much come to the end of a time when you can have a space that is 'yours only'....we have just finished with that kind of isolating. There is no hiding place. There is nowhere you can go and only be with people who are like you. It's over. Give it up" (267, West Coast Women's Music Festival).

Some group, someone, has to stop the self-devouring hierarchy of under-represented groups that prey on less-strong under-represented groups (267).

This is one of the paradoxes of the democratic movement--that it loves a crowd and fears the individuals who compose it (269, Walter Lippmann).

Democracy...doesn't include me for the simple reason that I keep trying to change who and what I am...and Democracy seeks to govern by the representation of some clearly...defined "average identity"....I don't want to be a legal, recognized entity within a system that would expect me to remain statically identified (270).

Roles provide the averagely gendered person on the street with an "off the rack" monogendered identity allowing them to spend their time thinking about the things that interest them. Gender outlaws don't have that luxury; we've got no place to conveniently hang our identities while we get on with the business of living life....We're each to some degree oppressed, held in check, violated, silenced, or shamed by one or more aspects of...perfect identity (273).

we by our very presence hold up a mirror to the culture so that it might better see its own's not that far a leap from joke to jokester, and jokester has an honorable tradition (275).

I'm thinking gender isn't the big deal, the ultimate mountain to climb...gender is one of many stumbling blocks to self-growth and self-realization. Age, race, class, body type, that whole laundry list of factors--they're just symptoms...I want to look beyond...I want to go someplace else....I think that a transgender identity and...movement both have a built-in obsolescence...when most of us are saying, "Yeah, I transgress gender," then gender will be relegated to the status it deserves: a plaything (280).

I wish for you: a delightful life (286).