Boxes, Boundaries, Intersexuality

Posted: February 10, 2011 in Uncategorized
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First, a bit of unofficial news: I have been told that I have passed my exams, or at least that I should and should proceed as if I have. The other reader is out of town, so nothing is official, but I have gotten some assurance, which takes off a whole lot of pressure.

And then adds some. I need to get started on this prospectus thing. Which means more research. Which is good; I’m good at research.

This leads me to the article for today: “Building Boxes and Policing Boundaries: (De)Constructing Intersexuality, Transgender and Bisexuality” by Betsy Lucal.

Her article is about constructing and maintaining the “boxes and boundaries with respect to sex, gender and sexuality” (519), which I am taking to basically mean the same as gender identity. We set ourselves up in these boxes, within these boundaries, and we expect to act within them, and expect others to act within them as well. Lucal writes that “Sexual deviance is assumed to be signaled by gender deviance, just as sexual conformity is assumed to be evidenced by gender conformity” (520). It’s important here that we note the difference between sex and gender; rather than sex meaning sexuality, Lucal is seeing gender as how we present ourselves and sex as biological facts of our bodies.

Lucal goes on to describe this (faulty) assumption of our culture. She writes that “Individuals are assumed to have one-and-only-one gender that matches the sex they were assigned at birth,” but also insists that “the existence of two dichotomous sexes is a social construction,” meaning that it is not actual fact, and that “most of the time, gender stands in for sex; we use gender to make assumptions about the sex category to which a person belongs” (521). We make this assumption, that people are one sex or the other, and also assume that their gender is conforming with that sex; gender is how we act (performative), sex is how we are born.

But, Lucal says, this is not the way things are. She writes that “The fact is that we have no definitive means for categorizing individuals as male or female” and that “the reality of intersexuality makes it obvious that even genitals do not provide the mutually exclusive (i.e. every person belongs to one and only one category) and dichotomous (i.e. there are just two categories) mechanism for dividing people that we imagine them to offer us” (522). So our experiences in the world tell us (or at least SHOULD tell us) that genitals don’t decide gender, and that there are more than just two mutually exclusive genders. This experience comes most clearly with the birth of the intersexed; that is, children born with both male and female genitalia. Most often, these infants are categorized as female, their penises removed, to avoid the possibility of a man with a small penis (523).

That intersexuality, the people born with both sets of genitalia, should be enough to show that the categories are not mutually exclusive. People CAN have both. The only reason we entertain the belief that there are two genders is that “we see two sexes not because there really are only two but because we believe there are (should be?) only two” (526). Because of this belief in a dichotomy, we set up gendered behavior as being one or the other, which in turn privileges one gender over the other no matter how hard we try. (At some point, something has to be feminine because it is not masculine, or vice versa)

Lucal goes on to talk about sexuality, and about how homosexuality is still more accepted than bisexuality; it’s hard for people to understand any non-monosexuality. Bisexuality suggests that it is on a spectrum between homo- and hetero-, but we’ve already seen that spectrums are inherently binary; bisexuality is just a movement from one end to the other. I bet Lucal would love to argue about that. Maybe some day I’ll get a chance.

Towards the end of the article, she says something very relevant to my research. She writes that “If there were no assumptions available to associate sex with gender, then there would be no basis for making assumptions about people’s sexual attractions and desires being sex/gender based” (534). I’m not sure how we could take assumptions away (i.e. make them unavailable), but it seems to me like the internet is the closest we can get to it. Which means that when we establish an identity online, that means we are not locked into having sexual attraction linked with gender or sex. In other words, the fact that someone is attracted to women doesn’t mean that they are gay, straight, or bisexual, because there is no guarantee that the person feeling the attraction is male, female, or some other gender.

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