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Week 2: Wilchins, Foucalt, and Living the Good Lie

chelseam's picture

I’ve been thinking a lot about the readings from last week, especially the Wilchins book. I was struck by Riki’s frustration with what she perceives an unwillingness of the feminist and at times the gay rights movement to collaborate with the transgender movement in order to help achieve some transgender goals. Wilchins points out that members of the constituency of feminist groups are often directly affected by issues that gender activists are working on.

She emphasizes the overlap between the gay, transgender, and feminist movements, but I think fails to adequately flesh out the unique goals of each movement. Although the three seem unquestionably related, they are by no means the same movement and do not necessarily share the same goals. It would be interesting to have seen her attempt to explore different explanations of the feminist movements’ periodic hesitancy to collaborate with the gender or gay rights movements, instead of immediately writing these decisions off as misguided and in conflict with their goals.

 I really enjoyed Wilchins’ discussion of Foucault and found it interesting to consider it in the context of “Living the Good Lie.” Foucault’s notion that the Self is constructed seems incredibly valuable because it allows individuals to think about the frames they want to use to comprise their identity and gives them permission to not put so much emphasis on defining the self. As Wilchins points out, Foucault was gay, but did not identify as homosexual - seeming to choose not to use his sexuality as an explicit basis for his identity. 

 I thought that the most interesting part of this section was the point that sexuality has grown into something “defining” over the years and was not always considered so significant. Wilchins writes that “the construction of sexuality… burdened each of us with a sense of our Selves as harboring an inner drive that must be watched, explained, and understood” (Wilchins, 52). This quote made me think of the gay evangelicals in “Living the Good Lie” who choose to deal with their attractions to other men not by coming out, but by placing more emphasis on their religious identity than their sexuality. It was difficult for me to come to terms with the idea that an individual can feel that they are being more of less true to their identity without embracing “all aspects” of it. But perhaps Foucalt would argue that there is no such thing as “all aspects” when it comes to identity because individuals pick and choose the way they define themselves and others. Foucalt’s notion that the self is constructed gives individuals the freedom to decide how they want to define themselves – it allows individuals to control their self-image.

 However, I think that Wilchins puts too much emphasis on the “burden” of sexuality and forgets to remind us that sexuality can also be a source of pride and joy in someone’s identity. It seems that every “frame” used to construct the self has the capacity to feel burdensome. But these frames can also be the basis of a strong sense of self and a foundation for becoming connected to larger communities. It seems that the key is attempting to ensure that individuals are the ones doing the constructing of the self and feel empowered to choose the frames that they feel are most important.

These were really interesting readings. I’m excited to see how the ideas in them connect with all that lies ahead.