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Web Event #1: Sister, Sister

shainarobin's picture

When I was growing up, my sister and I could not have looked anymore alike visually. We had the same eyes, lips, hair type, skin tone, shoe size and much more. At the core, we were identical twins. Stylistically however, we were polar opposites. As a way to individualize ourselves from one another, we developed different tastes in clothing, toys, books, and expression.  Justine was the tomboy, I was the girly girl.  I loved pink, Justine hated it. Even with all of these differentiations however, we could never get rid of the fact that we were identical twins. We could make it a little less obvious, but that label would never completely go away. Not that we wanted it to, we enjoyed the benefits that came with being twins and enjoyed our similarities as well as our differences. However, the inability for us to be together without a label that neither one of had chosen nor could get rid of made for some hard times when it came to establishing ourselves as separate people. My sister and I’s failure to create identities completely independent of each other makes me question whether our identities as human beings are relational? Meaning that our identity can only be understood in terms of our interactions and relationships with other people. I plan to explore this question throughout this paper, along with the concept of categorization, to see how the act of defining oneself  isn’t as independant as it may seem.

    In her introduction to a book of selected essays entitled Inside/Out, Diana Fuss talks about the categorical qualities of binaries and explores the inside/outside functions of identities. She explains that throughout history, binaries have been constructed based on the infrastructure of another binary that is similar in meaning. Fuss uses the binary of heterosexual/homosexual along with the binary inside/out to get this point across. She suggests that your identity as a heterosexual or homosexual person is based on whether or not you’re inside the closet or outside of the closet. Whether you’re inside the inner circle of your peers or outside of it. Fuss refers to this sentiment as the inside/outside figure. She argues that “any identity is founded relationally, constituted in reference to an exterior or outside that defines the subject’s own interior boundaries and corporeal surfaces” (Fuss, “Inside/Out”, 234). By claiming that our identities our defined based on what they are not as opposed to what they are, Fuss creates a situation in which anyone who identifies as homosexual is also defined by not being heterosexual.

    Aware that the inside/outside figure’s logic can be seen as being exclusive, rigid, and polar, Fuss explores the question of what gets left out of the inside/outside, heterosexual/homosexual opposition? She knows that this opposition could plausibly include bisexuality and transsexualism among other gender identities. Fuss tries to justify the complicated nature of the inside/outside figure by explaining how heterosexuality uses language and law to establish itself as a identity as well as an institution. This causes it to see homosexuality as a conflicting force. “...heterosexuality secures its self-identity and shores up its ontological boundaries by protecting itself from what is sees as the continual predatory encroachments of its contaminated other, homosexuality” (Fuss, 234). By saying this, Fuss is trying to explain that the opposition between homosexuality and heterosexuality that keeps the inside/outside figure, binary, is due to the complex history each identity has had with defying the other.

    As Fuss goes deeper into the inside/outside figure, she introduces the idea of the “lack”. In doing so,  she explores why the inside (in the inside/outside figure) must also have an outside. She deduces that “...any outside is formulated as a consequence of a lack internal to the the system it supplements” (Fuss, 235). What Fuss means by this is that with the absence of an outside, all we have is a lack. Because the lack negatively affects our identities by getting rid of the outside as well as by chipping away at the inside, the outside does everything it can to take the place of the lack. For without an outside, our inside isn’t that stable. Identity relies on the balance between the inside and outside, and without it comes the increasing  potential that it will collapse onto itself.

To insure that the lack doesn’t disturb the inside/outside balance, Fuss believes that the self creates barriers to protect itself from vulnerability. She warns however, that barriers “are notoriously unstable” and that when it comes to our identities, they are rarely secure. Fuss puts this into a scenario with homosexual/hetereosexual binary. Just as it’s impossible for the inside to completely ignore the presence of the outside, heterosexuality can’t escape “the close physical proximity of its terrifying (homo)sexual other” (Fuss, 235). The same goes for homosexuality. Its proximity to heterosexuality is equally as terrifying because of the pressures of conformity that are pressed upon it. Though both identities are wary of the other, Fuss argues that the outside (which in this case is homosexuality) is the only one of the two that gets stamped with stigma. “Those inhabiting the inside can only comprehend the outside through the incorporation of a negative image” (Fuss, 235). As a result of this, Fuss believes that homosexuality and the outside become “the other” and are perceived as undesirable by the mainstream because of the inside’s ignorance.

    According to Fuss, the biggest problem with the inside/outside figure is that if you only study its rhetoric at a surface level, then chances are you will be so distracted by its explanation of binaries that you’ll miss “the fact that most of us are both inside and outside at the same time” (Fuss, 237). At first this statement confused me because when she was talking about the inside/outside figure before, Fuss’s explanation of the concept gave me the idea that even though the inside and outside characterize your identity by defining what you are as well as what you aren’t, most people still define themselves with only one of the two labels.  What Fuss is saying here however, is while this may technically be true, “in order to idealize the outside [or the outside] we must already be, to some degree, comfortably entrenched on the inside” (Fuss, 237). So, no matter how much we try to separate ourselves from one side of the inside/outside figure with the hope of joining another, the fact that we are aware of the existence of another side puts us in the position of occupying space on boths sides of the inside/outside figure. An example of this duality is an upper middle class female college student who identifies as White and went through the private school system. Though she might openly identify as a gender fluid lesbian who is politically liberal and therefore is on the outside of the inside/outside figure, part of her identity, perhaps unknowingly, is also on the inside. As a result of growing up in a background where she got a good enough education to go to college, as well as privilege for being White, though she might not want to be, she is a part of the inside.

    The idea of inhabiting more than one identity at once is further explored in the Marxist text, The Phenomenology of Mind. The author, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich (G. W. F.) Hegel, studies the self-consciousness of humans and explores the independence and dependence that goes along with it. He believes that “self-consciousness exists in itself and for itself, in exists for another self-consciousness; that is to say, it is only by being acknowledged or ‘recognized’” (Hegel, “The Phenomenology of Mind”, 178). By making this claim, Hegel is saying that our self-consciousness exists because we are aware of it which is therefore another self-consciousness within itself. This can be connected to the idea that our identity is not a singular entity but is interconnected with other entities.

    Hegel goes even deeper into his analysis of self-consciousness by disputing the idea that self-consciousness is a single process. “...self-consciousness in relation to another self-consciousness has...been represented as the action of one alone. But this action on the part of the one has itself the double significance of being at once its own action and the action of the other as well” (Hegel, 182). Since I as the reader am now aware that self-consciousness is a multifaceted process, Hegel wants me to know that my actions are multifaceted as well. Therefore not only are my thoughts dual but my actions are too. While each consciousness is certain that it itself exists, it doesn’t know about the other, making it so that the integrity of that consciousness is questionable. Hegel finds that the process of recognizing both consciousnesses is hard when they are inadvertently trying to destroy each other but he believes that if you do risk your sense of identity to become aware of both consciousnesses then freedom will be obtained.

    I can relate to Hegel’s claim about needing to be conscious of the duality that our thoughts and actions present. It ties hand in hand with Fuss’s idea that without an outside to go along with an inside, in place of that presence is a lack. As a twin, the fact that I mirror my sister genetically influences the representation of my identity. As a child, I was the girly girl who loved to dress up, play with dolls, and read books with female lead characters while my sister detested dresses, collected Pokémon cards, and would only choose a boy character when playing computer games. However, no matter how hard we would try to form our identities based on what were not, there remained the fact that we were reconstructing our identities on the foundation of what we were trying to escape. This goes to show that our identities as human beings are always relational and that it is impossible to create one category without creating another, oppositional, one.

Works Cited

  • Diana Fuss. "Inside/Out." Critical Encounters: Reference and Responsibility in Deconstructive Writing. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1995. 233-240;
  • Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. "A: Independence and Dependence of Self-Consciousness: Lordship and Bondage." Phenomenology of Mind. 2nd ed.N.p.: Harper, 1967. Hegel by HyperText. Web. 6 Oct. 2013.  <>.


Anne Dalke's picture


It’s so interesting to think about identical twins as the paradigmatic example of identity formation: genetically mirrors, you distinguished yourself stylistically and in behavior, trying to create a space for expressing difference on a base of sameness, “reconstructing our identities on the foundation of what we were trying to escape.” Neither Fuss or Hegel (whom you read so carefully) quite get to the complexity of your experience; as I was just “saying” to MargaretRachelRose, Hegel postulated that we discover who we are in reaction to an encounter with an “other,” when we realize that we differ from them; he calls this dynamic “the power of negation." Fuss, too, sees the outside (as you say) “formulated as a consequence of a lack internal to the system it supplements”; this is also the logic of exclusion and difference. But you and your sister began in similarity.

Fuss complicates her argument, as you say, when she acknowledges that “most of us are both inside and outside at the same time,” since we each inhabit several identity categories. So I can be “inside” the power structure because I’m white, “outside” it because I’m a woman. But even more complicated would be to acknowledge the intersectionality of our identities—where does a “white woman” locate herself in the world? What about a woman who is biracial? “Inside/outside” seems too simple a construction to encompass the varieties of ways in which we are, in which we perform ourselves in varied social contexts, and in which we are acknowledged or recognized by others.

Elizabeth Ellsworth is the theorist who has helped me most in thinking about unpredictable “uptake,” about “the unruly and unresolved dynamics of self and society that reign in that space between perception and cognition.” For Ellsworth, the “self” capable of the kind of rational performance most often sought in classrooms is itself illusory: “The fact of the unconscious ‘explodes the very idea of a complete or achieved identity’—with oneself through consciousness, or with others through understanding.” Using the film studies notion of “mode of address” to talk about who the teacher and the curriculum “think students are,” Ellsworth describes the “eruptive, unruly space between a curriculum’s address and a student’s response (as) populated by the difference between conscious and unconscious knowledge, conscious and unconscious desires.” Rather than suggesting ways to bridge this gap, Ellsworth argues that it is to be preserved as the space of agency and of learning. If such a thing as a “perfect fit” were possible, it would in fact guarantee that no learning would happen.

So maybe it’s less about inside/out, either/or, than more or less visible layers….?

MargaretRachelRose's picture

When I read your paper,

When I read your paper, shainarobin, I really enjoyed the parallel you made between your relationship with your twin and Fuss’s inside/out theory. I feel like our papers are similar in the sense that we both looked at other people’s relations to us and questioned whether our sense identity was related to our relationship/behavior/perception of them. But I would’ve like to hear more about you and your twin! Your analysis of both essays was excellent, but I didn’t quite see your idea about your identity and relationship being carried through your paper. 

Maya's picture

Inside versus outside

When I read shainarobin's paper, I found many similarities between our papers. She talked about the fact that we cannot have an insie without an outside because the outside is allowing the inside to forget about its lack. The outside is the opposite of the inside and so the inside is able to point to the outside and say, I do not have a lack because those people have a lack instead. I brought this up in my paper when talking about marginalizing others and creating binaries so that one could point to a different group and define oneself based on how they were different from oneself.