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Acting Gender and the Languages of the Body

carolyn.j's picture

Kathy Acker concludes her essay "Seeing gender" with her powerful description of what she terms "languages of the body."  As she argues, the languages of the body are innately true and real, untouched by the mimetic qualities of language as it has been constructed and owned by the patriarchal model.  Because Acker cannot disconnect herself from her body, and in that same way how the body must be the site and originator of her imagination and self, she finds in it the only deeply true language in that it has not yet been subject to the socially constructed world outside her self. 

Taking Acker's languages of the body, though, and placing it alongside acting gender presents a wide range of questions.  Particularly, consider the first comic in "Fine," in which an individual is faced with the question "What gender do you consider yourself to be?"  This individual is not only uncomfortable selecting either option given within the gender binary (while also not necessarily identifying elsewhere on a gender spectrum), but also clearly relates this struggle to a language of body.  Whereas Acker's body provides her with a highly personal, empowering, and non-patriarchal language, this person faces a conflict between what they innately feel and what they have learned from society.  Taking solace in the words and feelings of their body, though, is not necessariliy a path open to them, given the way society has taught them their body should appear and feel for a given gender assignment or identity.  By the end of the comic, the protagonist has consigned themselves to their body, so overwhelmed by the messages society sends that they do not demonstrate any degree of comfort in their own skin.

While Acker's exploration and rejoicing in the languages her body can offer her, such divorcing from social understandings and constructions is not necessarily so simple.