Sunday, February 24, 2013

Gender Trouble and Other Performance Art

In an interesting juxtaposition to yesterday's post, today is the birthday of Judith Butler.  I daresay most people have never heard of her, but her academic work paved the way for the expansive conversations about gender that we're having these days.

Well, some of us are having.  I realize that a lot of people are still deeply (desperately?) committed to the idea that all of life can be divided neatly into binary categories:  gay/straight, male/female, U.S. Citizen/other, creative/rational--on and on I could go.

Ugh.  I'm much more of a spectrum person, and the more I learn about life (and Physics!), the more I think the spectrum is wider and probably deeper than anything I can imagine.

Butler posited that we perform our gender.  Once I believed that passionately.  I came at the issue from a sociological background, and I would have sworn that it's our society that shapes us and teaches us how to perform our gender.

But then my sister gave birth to a son.  Early on, my little nephew was fascinated with big trucks, earthmoving equipment, emergency vehicles, trains, all sorts of vehicles that I once might have labeled "masculine."

I asked my sister how he had come to have these interests, and she insisted that it seemed intrinsic.  She's certainly not interested in those kind of vehicles, and my brother-in-law is a sailboat guy, not a dumptruck guy.  But strap my nephew into his carseat, and he'd be on the lookout for construction sites.

One of my Charleston friends once said that babies are born with their own personalities.  I didn't believe her, but then I started meeting babies, as my friends, and then my sister, had children.  Now, I have to agree.

Of course I still believe that our society shapes us in all sorts of ways, including the ways that we perform our gender, along with all the other aspects of our lives.  I feel lucky to be part of this century and this nation, where I have a lot more options than I would have had if I was a woman in the 1940's or if I lived in most developing nations today.

And readers of my blogs know that I'm always looking for ways to integrate all my selves, so that the performance art of my life is true and honest.

Am I integrated if I'm keeping 2 blogs?  I say that I am, although I will confess that I'm more compartmentalized than some might consider healthy.

I do feel that we're in an interesting time period, where it's easier in many circles to be out as a gender-bending queer than it is to be out as a practicing Christian of the non-conservative, non-Pentecostal variety.  I have known many colleagues who would be much more comfortable if I was a transgender person than they are when they find out that I go to church regularly.

You might say it's time to find new colleagues.  I have wondered if I'd feel differently in other workplaces.  But maybe I'd just have another set of issues:  accepted as a Christian, but out of place as a poet, perhaps or accepted as a Christian but having to educate people about transgender issues.

I think that in many ways it's a good witness to be where I am.  Don't get me wrong; I'm not one of those in-your-face Christians in the workplace.  I try never to be the one who brings up the religious angle first.  But I am there to be a reference, a provider of background, a resource, if needed.  I'm there to remind people that not all Christians are wackadoos.

And just as I will defend the humanity of the gender-bending queers, I will also insist on the humanity of the Christian.  It's a strangely transgressive place in which I find myself.

1 comment:

Wendy said...

Everyone doesn't know Judith Butler? :) I had a conversation with the teacher in the preschool/kindergarten church school class this orning about the gender spectrum. I have a girly girl girl-child and she certainly didn't get it from me. Genetics: amazing!