Postmodern Approaches to Gender, Sex, and Sexuality – A Critique

It is often noted that defining the postmodern is an exceedingly difficult task, if not an impossible one, and I concur with this judgement. For the purposes of this essay I shall not claim to offer a critique of postmodern thought and methodology in general, but will focus on ideas in the field of gender, sex, and sexuality that will be defined as ‘postmodern’ as they exhibit a number of key features that are generally accepted under this term [1]. Postmodern approaches to gender, sex, and sexuality to varying degrees adopt a radical scepticism with regard to the natural and the real, and promote a programme of ‘denaturalising’ in which the idea of biological essence is dissolved and replaced with social constructionism. In the following essay, I shall offer a critique of the Foucauldian postmodernism of Judith Butler, the Baudrillardean postmodernism of Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, the feminist postmodernism of Donna Haraway, and the posttranssexualism of Sandy Stone and Kate Bornstein. I shall argue that these approaches are deeply flawed for a number of significant reasons, perhaps the foremost of which is their endemic culturalism, both issuing from and also leading to a perfunctory attitude towards science, particularly biology. In addition, I shall demonstrate that postmodern approaches to gender, sex, and sexuality frequently take the form of vague critiques favouring obfuscation or hyperbole (sometimes both) to clear and reasoned argument, and adopt either an unjustified level of epistemological scepticism leading to radical conclusions that are not supported by any substantial evidence, or to the production of facile rhetoric and jargon-filled texts that constitute ‘a sort of masturbation fantasy in which the world of fact hardly matters’ (Chomsky in Sokal and Bricmont 1998: 278), if at all.

Without doubt, Judith Butler is one of the most influential proponents of a postmodern approach to gender, sex, and sexuality, the seminal expression of which is found in Gender Trouble (Butler 1999) [2], the central argument of which can be summed up in an oft-quoted dictum: ‘There is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender, . . . identity is performatively constituted by the very “expressions” that are said to be its results’ (33). A Foucauldian, Butler seeks to expose the workings of power underpinning widely held views of the natural, and in examining the way in which binary constructions of identity are upheld and maintained as ‘natural’, to give a voice to those who, in refusing to subscribe to an either/or system (or in trying to fit in, but failing), are seen to problematise the security of that system and are consequently marginalised and placed under pressure to undergo ‘assimilation’. For Butler, gender is not simply the natural and appropriate social expression of a sexed body, but is a fluid identity that is always already in a state of deferral, ‘never fully what it is at any given juncture in time’ (22). She argues that the notion that there is a stable, essential inner gender identity that manifests its presence through external performances of gender is false, instead putting forward the radical anti-foundationalist view that ‘there need not be a “doer behind the deed”, but that the “doer” is variably constructed in and through the deed’ (181).

The argument extends beyond the idea that there is no gender prior to culturally instituted performance, and questions the givenness of the body. Butler argues that ‘ritualized repetition . . . produce[s] and stabilize[s] not only the effects of gender but the materiality of sex’ (Butler 1993: x). Here, then, ‘the regulatory norms of “sex” work in a performative fashion to constitute the materiality of bodies and, more specifically, to materialize the body’s sex, to materialize sexual difference in the service of the consolidation of the heterosexual imperative’ (2). This sentence reveals the central assumption underpinning Butler’s work in Gender Trouble and Bodies That Matter: the notion that heterosexuality is an intrinsically oppressive force working to eradicate difference, and that it is not in any sense natural or the normative expression of human sexuality. I contend that Butler’s radical conclusions are false, and are constructed to serve a particular ideological outlook, one that mistakenly seeks to oppose ‘homophobia’ through logically flawed and unscientific attacks on heterosexuality. I do not accept that Butler’s alleged exposure of the machinations of heterosexual ‘power’ stems from an attempt at an ideologically neutral (insofar as this is possible) analysis of gender, sex, and sexuality, but that the conclusions she draws conform to a particular standpoint that had already been decided prior to the undertaking of her project. [3]

A key element in Butler’s approach is the concept of performativity. Butler seeks to problematise all reference to the natural in gender, sex, and sexuality by arguing that all is rhetoric; that one cannot attempt to look ‘beyond’ or ‘beneath’ their manifestations for a ’cause’, on the anti-foundationalist premise that there is no essence or ‘depth’, and that one should focus on discursive creation alone. Butler’s initial observations on the culturally constructed and maintained nature of gender performance are based on the fairly uncontentious and widely expounded view in feminist theory that one cannot take at face value dominant cultural expressions of gender as constituting biological truth culturally manifested. However, where other theorists have argued that there are natural elements to ‘male’ and ‘female’ that should be disentangled from superimposed naturalised cultural constructions, Butler takes this argument further by proposing that the concept of sex difference (at least in terms of a ‘binary’) is an ideological construction of heterosexuality, designed to legitimate and normalise its existence. Thus, Butler jumps from noting (with the help of Aretha Franklin’s ‘You make me feel like a natural woman’) that ‘the experience of a gendered psychic disposition or cultural identity is considered an achievement’ (1999: 29), to claiming that all manifestations of a male/female split are the self-legitimating creations of a hegemonic heterosexuality:

The internal coherence or unity of either gender, man or woman, . . . requires both a stable and oppositional heterosexuality. That institutional heterosexuality both requires and produces the univocity of each of the gendered terms that constitute the limit of gendered possibilities within an oppositional, binary gender system. This conception of gender presupposes not only a casual relationship among sex, gender, and desire, but suggests as well that desire reflects or expresses gender and that gender reflects or expresses desire. The metaphysical unity of the three is assumed to be truly known and expressed in a differentiating desire for an oppositional gender – that is, in a form of oppositional heterosexuality (30).

The assumption underlying this claim is that gender can be fully explained in terms of ‘institutional heterosexuality’, and that heterosexuality actually produces male and female as distinct and opposed categories in order for it to function and appear natural. Yet, one might ask, what is this alleged hegemonic institutional heterosexuality, and what is the origin of this ‘project’? As a Foucauldian, Butler develops her work from his argument that heterosexuality (and conversely homosexuality) as a distinct and unified concept did not emerge until the late nineteenth century, a period in which ‘homosexuality’ was pathologised and ‘[n]ew, institutionalized taxonomic discourses – medical, legal, literary, psychological – centering on homo/heterosexual definition, proliferated and crystallized with exceptional rapidity’ (Sedgwick 1994: 2). Postmodern theory is resolutely opposed to such ‘essentialism’, but the problem with anti-essentialist approaches is that they often involve jumping from one extreme, scientism/biologism, to another, culturalism. Eagleton rightly notes that ‘[c]ulturalism is as much a form of reductionism as biologism and economism’ (Eagleton 1996: 74), and Butler’s anti-foundationalism requires the acceptance of an extreme culturalist reductionism in which gender, sex, and biologically-induced desire are all dispensed with, thus rendering heterosexuality nothing more than a fictive construct. This reductionism is an ideological fantasy, rather than a theoretical position resting on solid argument.

Butler’s position relies on rhetoric in place of actual evidence, and scientific research into gender, sex, and sexuality is passed over in favour of analysis of novels, films, and other theoretical texts. It is interesting that Foucault, when questioned on the possibility of biological factors influencing sexuality, simply stated that ‘[o]n this question I have absolutely nothing to say’ (Foucault in Spargo 1999: 13), and that Butler, through her rejection of biological arguments, follows suite. Butler chooses to circumnavigate the problem of significant neurological and genetic research that points to a strong element of biological determinism in gendered (and possibly sexual) behaviour [4] by focussing on cultural gender stereotypes that are very superficial, subjecting them to analysis and demonstrating their constructed nature, but then proceeding to take a logically unjustified leap into arguing that all gendered behaviour is therefore purely the result of the repetition of cultural norms, cultural norms instituted by ‘heterosexuality’.

Butler’s repetition/performativity argument is famously illustrated by her example of ‘drag’ performance (Butler 1999: 174-177). Here, a male entertainer dresses in a stereotypical ‘glamorous’ female outfit, adorns a wig and make-up, and imitates supposedly female/feminine body movements while miming to pop songs. According to Butler, drag can be seen to illustrate the constructed nature of gender: ‘In imitating gender, drag implicitly reveals the imitative structure of gender itself’ (175). The problem with this argument is that connections have been made that do not logically follow. Firstly, imitation in no way automatically implies that that which is imitated is anything but the original and the natural. [5] Secondly, drag is an extreme example, in that it only focuses on a superficial element of what constitutes the female, some Western constructions of feminine appearance. For Butler, drag ‘reflects the mundane impersonations by which heterosexually ideal genders are performed and naturalized and undermines their power by virtue of their exposure’ (1993: 231). In fact, however, it does nothing of the sort, for there is no reason to label a certain female appearance as either normative for females themselves (society displays too much diversity for one to be able to lay claim to having found even the female ‘ideal’; a stereotype is not necessarily a reflection of a norm or an ideal), or as a normative expression of heterosexuality (how does one define a ‘heterosexual appearing’ woman or man?).

Butler continues her argument by looking at ‘butch/femme’ lesbianism, in which one partner adopts a stereotypically ‘female’ appearance and the other a more ‘masculine’ appearance. Arguing along similar lines to her ‘drag’ claims, Butler presents ‘butch/femme’ not as a conscious or unconscious appropriation of a normative mode of relationship (male/female union), irrespective of whether or not such a normative mode has a natural component, but instead as an illustration of the allegedly wholly constructed nature of gender/sex identities:

The idea that butch and femme are in some sense ‘replicas’ or ‘copies’ of heterosexual exchange underestimates the erotic significance of these identities as internally dissonant and complex in their resignification of the hegemonic categories by which they are enabled. Lesbian femmes may recall the heterosexual scene, as it were, but also displace it at the same time. In both butch and femme identities, the very notion of an original or natural identity is put into question; indeed it is precisely that question as it is embodied in these identities that becomes the source of their erotic significance (1999: 157).

This argument is flawed for similar reasons to that of ‘drag’, but contains even poorer reasoning. The first argument given by Butler as to why ‘butch/femme’ should not be seen as imitation of an original is one based on eroticism. However, the fact that something may have ‘erotic significance’ for some people has no bearing on the question at hand. If anything, the eroticisation of what is arguably an imitative act would point more to a form of fetishistic pleasure derived from parody or appropriation, rather than a serious challenge to the heterosexual model as original or normative. Next comes the unfounded assertion that by ‘recall[ing] the heterosexual scene’, lesbian ‘femmes’ ‘also displace it at the same time’. Contrary to Butler’s argument, the adoption of a stereotypically ‘heterosexual female’ appearance does not mean that either a stereotypically heterosexual female appearance has no natural or original component, or that such a stereotype is a constituent element of what a heterosexual woman actually is. The fact that this ‘femme’ appearance can be repeated says nothing conclusive about the originality or natural (or constructed) status of this appearance; if I imitate the behaviour of a dog, this canine ‘displacement’ does not ‘put into question’ the natural status of canine behaviour, but merely demonstrates that a superficial similarity can be reproduced.

Butler’s work is ultimately, I believe, designed to undermine heterosexuality, on the basis that heterosexuality is intrinsically aggressive towards homosexuality, and towards those men and women who find their gender identity to be in some sense dysphoric. Butler’s arguments ignore scientific research, traditional feminist arguments, and most of all the realities of lived experience, because only within a detached theoretical environment can such ideas appear to have any logical coherence or relevance. That said, Butler’s work does attempt to further the project of examining the socially constructed nature of some of what is seen to be ‘natural’, whereas the work of the Baudrillardian postmodern theorists of gender, sex, and sexuality belongs, I shall argue, more in the realm of fantasy writing and poetry than within a serious critical study of these important cultural and biological phenomena.

It is perhaps best to start with a specific example. Arthur and Marilouise Kroker have collaborated on a number of occasions, applying Baudrillardean postmodern theory to questions of gender, sex, and sexuality. In 1989, they co-authored, with David Cook, The Panic Encyclopedia, the self-declared ‘definitive guide to the postmodern scene’. Under ‘sex’, one finds the following entry:

What is sex in the age of the hyperreal? A little sign slide between kitsch and decay as the postmodern body is transformed into a rehearsal for the theatrics of sadomasochism in the simulacrum. Not sadism any longer under the old sign of Freudian analysis and certainly not masochism in the Sadean carceral, but sadomasochism now as a kitschy sign of the body doubled in an endless labyrinth of media images, just at the edge of ecstasy of catastrophe and the terror of the simulacrum (Kroker et al 1989).

The Baudrillardean reference points are clear in this text (hyperreal, simulacrum, media images, ecstasy, catastrophe, and so on), as is the unfortunate recourse to his glib and pretentious style. When one attempts to extract something meaningful from this passage, one faces an uphill struggle, yet this is by no means an isolated example of such wilful obfuscation and hyperbole. Kroker and Kroker start with one of Baudrillard’s key ideas, that we now live in ‘the era of simulation’, which is ‘inaugurated by the liquidation of all referentials’ (Baudrillard 1994: 2). Their reflection takes place at the fourth ‘successive phase of the image’, in which the image ‘has no relation to any reality whatsoever: it is its own pure simulacrum’ (6). As a result, they argue that gender, sex, and sexuality have ceased to have any reality, for truth is a fictive construct. According to this line of argument, ‘the body no longer exists’ (Kroker and Kroker 1987: 20); ‘the (natural) body in the postmodern condition has already disappeared, and what we experience as the body is only a fantastic simulacra of body rhetorics’ (21-22). Like Butler, Kroker and Kroker believe that ‘all the big referents’ have been ‘produced by a power that would be hegemonic’ (Kroker and Kroker 1993: 13), but they adopt a more exaggerated and apocalyptic tone than her considerably more sober, if unnecessarily opaque, reflections. Rather than engaging seriously with the important questions of gender, sex, and sexuality, Kroker and Kroker retreat into a barrage of flippant rhetoric, combining banal and unsupported claims [6] with a supercilious attitude towards ‘the last defenders of a pure fiction’ (14), who, it would appear, are all those who do not share their view of reality (or the lack of it).

It is somewhat difficult to formulate an adequate critical response to a position based on assertions that are not supported by any evidence; however, it is worth looking at Kroker and Kroker’s stated intention, the creation of a ‘third sex’:

[A] transgendered sex for an age of transsexuality, where sex, most of all, has fled its roots in the consanguinity of nature, refused its imprisonment in the phallocentric orbit of gender, abandoned the metaphorical sublimations of discursive sexuality, finally finding its home in a virtual sex (15).

This third sex, or virtual sex, will be found ‘floating in an elliptical orbit around the planet of gender that it has left behind, finally free of the powerful gravitational pull of the binary signs of the male/female antinomies in the crowded earth scene of gender’ (18).

Something approaching a more coherent and codified form of this bizarre mélange of Baudrillardean postmodernism, poetry, and science fiction, is found in the much vaunted ‘Cyborg Manifesto’ of Donna Haraway. Haraway states that her text is ‘an effort to contribute to socialist-feminist culture and theory in a postmodernist, non-naturalist mode and in the utopian tradition of imagining a world without gender’ (Haraway 2000: 70). While following a similar approach to Kroker and Kroker, Haraway states her case considerably more eloquently but still fails to provide substantial evidence to support notions central to her argument, such as the claim that ‘what counts as nature’ has been ‘undermined, probably fatally’ (73).

Haraway argues that the concept of ‘woman’ is no longer meaningful: ‘There is nothing about being female that naturally binds women. There is not even such a thing as “being” female, itself a highly complex category constructed in contested sexual scientific discourses and other social practices’ (74-75). Through this denial of unity, Haraway claims, ‘the justifications for patriarchy, colonialism, humanism, positivism, essentialism, scientism, and . . . all claims for an organic and natural standpoint’ are undermined (76). However, is such a radical negation justified, and what empirical evidence is there to support such a position? Haraway’s contention is based once again on a strident anti-foundationalism, but arguably this extreme position can only be reached through arbitrarily dismissing compelling scientific evidence that demonstrates the existence of more than just culturally constructed differences between men and women (as well as significant unity justifying the concept ‘woman’ – see note 4), and by exaggerating the extent to which the concepts of ‘woman’ and ‘man’ do not ‘have sufficient historical and cross cultural continuity . . . to warrant using such terms’ (Walby 1992: 36). Haraway’s arguments, rather than offering an adequate treatment of the subject, appear to be cleverly dressed up propaganda, which essentially seeks to promote the kind of ‘utopian’ postmodern socialist-feminism she favours. As with Butler, ideology dictates methodology, and results are predetermined.

A final example of postmodern approaches to gender, sex, and sexuality, drawing implicitly on some aspects of Baudrillardean postmodernism and explicitly on the work of Haraway is found in the ‘posttranssexuality’ promoted by Sandy Stone and Kate Bornstein. Both Stone and Bornstein are post-operative male-to-female transsexuals who have adopted a postmodern position and now seek, actually within themselves, to enact something similar to Haraway’s cyborg myth.

In her ‘Posttranssexual Manifesto’, Stone argues that transsexuals have been complicit in naturalising ‘the stereotypical male account of the constitution of gender’, and, in doing so, ‘reinforce a binary, oppositional mode of gender identification’ (Stone 1994). She points out that success for a transsexual is to have ‘passed’, to have been ‘read’ as a natural member of the adopted sex. In addition to ‘passing’ through appearing and sounding conceivably female (or male), another key factor in successfully consolidating the transsexual’s new identity is the creation and maintenance of a total life story in which all references to the transsexual’s pre-operative life are either erased or altered to appear within a narrative ‘suitable’ to the newly acquired sex. So, the male-to-female transsexual, for example, will now recall in conversation things that ‘happened’ in childhood ‘when she was a little girl’. Stone and Bornstein see such an approach as false and dishonest, although they too once attempted to ‘pass’ through such strategies, and continue to adopt a ‘feminine’ appearance.

Stone argues that transsexuals can provide a radical challenge to norms in gender, sex, and sexuality, but can only do this through forgoing ‘passing’, being consciously ‘read’, and becoming ‘posttranssexual’. In doing this, Stone claims, the open transsexual or posttranssexual becomes a subversive threat:

I am suggesting that in the transsexual’s erased history we can find a story disruptive to the accepted discourses of gender, which originates from within the gender minority itself and which can make common cause with other oppositional discourses. But the transsexual currently occupies a position that is nowhere, which is outside the binary oppositions of gendered discourse. For a transsexual, as a transsexual, to generate a true, effective and representational counterdiscourse is to speak from outside the boundaries of gender, beyond the constructed oppositional nodes which have been predefined as the only positions from which discourse is possible (Stone 1994).

Bornstein advocates a similar approach, and through books, workshops, television appearances, and theatre, has attempted to think and enact a posttranssexual position. For Bornstein, gender is a ‘social disease’ (Bornstein 1995: 78), ‘in the same arena as apartheid’, ‘a class system, not something that is natural’, and a ‘cult’ (Bornstein in Bell 1993: 111). That said, she has even more contempt for the concept of ‘sex’, seeing it as a biologistic term of oppression, encouraging instead the use of the term ‘biological gender’ (Bornstein 1995: 30), for, she claims, ‘sex is fucking, gender is everything else’ (116). For Bornstein, ‘there is no such thing as gender, other than what we say it is’ (Bornstein in Bell 1993: 109). According to this extreme form of social constructionism, then, one can say almost nothing with any certainty beyond asserting that the current societal understanding or enactment of gender is somewhat restrictive and should be altered to allow for more diversity. The question of biology is tossed aside in a characteristic leap from a perceived ‘essentialism’, defined by Bornstein as the ‘right wing’ of discourse, into a thoroughgoing culturalism, defined by Bornstein as the ‘left wing’ of discourse (Bornstein 1995: 133). Here, Bornstein adopts an emotive approach to gender and sex, by attempting to demonise scientific approaches and those advocating an empirical understanding of gender that is not simply reliant on anecdote and rhetoric by presenting them as a reactionary conservative force. She explicitly reiterates the postmodern contempt and aggression towards biology in the following passage:

[I]n our Western civilisation we bow down to the great god Science. No other type of gender holds as much sway as Biological gender, which classifies a person through any combination of body type, chromosomes, hormones, genitals, reproductive organs, or some other corporal or chemical essence. Belief in biological gender is in fact belief in the supremacy of the body in the determination of identity . . . By calling something ‘sex’, we grant it seniority over all other types of gender – by some right of biology (30).

This is deeply ironic, for Bornstein claims that she does not regret having had a surgical sex change and hormone therapy (244), but that she does not wish to feel constrained by the gender and sex classification process which arguably led to her (and Stone) to such an extreme form of action in the first place. She attacks biology and society’s focus on the biological, while continuing to also advocate the validity of sex changes (‘gender changes’ involving surgical alteration of the body) for those who want them. Indeed, she has defined herself as ‘a transsexual lesbian whose female lover is becoming a man’ (3). In such a situation, what would a female ‘becoming a man’ actually mean, given Bornstein’s denial that such categories are valid? Her advocacy of her partner undergoing extensive surgery and hormonal treatment cannot logically be combined with her advocacy of a non-biological, socially constructed idea of gender, but the ‘posttranssexual’ position is riddled with contradictions, as it is essentially another logically weak self-serving position, designed to protect a biologically and socially anomalous cluster of individuals from the pathologising imperative inherited from Enlightenment sexological discourses. [7]

Perhaps Stone and Bornstein may be seen to make something approaching a valid contribution to sociological investigation, insofar as they raise questions about what is classed socially as ‘natural’ (especially in relation to women), but do their radical claims about the ‘transgressive’ nature of posttranssexuality ring true? In terms of the sex/gender link, one must respond in the negative. The fact that transsexuals find ‘becoming a woman’ (or man) difficult, and in some cases unbearably restrictive (Stone and Bornstein) does not point to the majority of, or indeed all, expressions of sex/gender being socially constructed; in fact, Stone and Bornstein provide an excellent argument for the notion of inherent difference in sex by virtue of their failure to feel that they are qualitatively ‘women’ (i.e. the biological gap cannot be overcome, even with surgery, hormones, and socialisation). In terms of sexuality, both Stone and Bornstein see their neither/nor ambiguity as challenging sexual ‘binaries’. For Stone, this comes through ‘[t]he disruptions of the old patterns of desire that the multiple dissonances of the transsexual body imply’ (Stone 1994). This is similar to Butler’s butch/femme claim, and the same criticisms apply. Desire for a surgically altered ‘sex-changed’ body does not offer any radical challenge to dominant discourses of sexuality, as the negligible minority who would be consciously drawn to such a body or person may well have a fetishistic interest in the ‘deviant’ or anti-natural component in such a sexual relationship or encounter. Bornstein, as ‘her’ lover was going through a sex change, could claim that ‘I identify as neither male nor female, and now . . . it turns out I’m neither straight nor gay’ (Bornstein 1995: 4). This might sound like a radically fluid approach to gender, sex, and sexuality, but such a sexual partnership is arguably so far from the experience of the vast majority that it offers no plausible challenge to mainstream cultural presentations and expressions of sexuality, and none at all to questions of the natural, because through its patently ‘unnatural’ status (the union of two individuals whose bodies have been artificially constructed through surgery and hormone injections) it only serves to reinforce the natural status of the dominant form of sexual behaviour, heterosexuality.

The work of Stone and Bornstein can be seen as the apotheosis of a postmodern approach to gender, sex, and sexuality. Their project seeks to subvert judicious discourse and through various sleights of hand to dismiss compelling scientific and sociological research that does not accord with their conclusions. Again, ideology can be seen as the driving force behind their work (as with the other theorists covered earlier), with its emotive appeals to a ‘politically correct’ mentality and the credulity towards weak arguments it engenders. Bornstein’s attacks on science, combined with Stone’s identification of ‘the medical establishment’ as ‘the body police’ (Stone 1994) sounds suspiciously like political rhetoric, which, especially when wrapped up in esoteric verbiage (e.g. Butler; Kroker and Kroker), seems to pass easily as ‘theory’, largely on the basis that it is perceived to adopt a ‘left wing’ position and is considered to be ‘radical’. This makes it appear meritorious to the postmodern intellectual community, irrespective of the credibility of the assertions that are being made, and the lack of evidence used to back them up.

Notes

1 On this, see for example, Eagleton 1996; Hassan 1993; Norris 1990; Simon 1996.
2 Originally published in 1990.
3 That Butler’s primary concern is to ‘denaturalise’ heterosexuality becomes clear as she speaks of ‘hegemonic heterosexuality’ being the result of ‘the heterosexual project’ (125). Butler frequently presents ‘heterosexuality’ in a conspiratorial and personified form. Here, heterosexuality is seen to be a monolithic and malignant power that ‘acts’, ‘desires’, and opposes, almost as if ‘it’ had some existence of its own independent of humans. This approach is particularly ironic, given Butler’s criticism of those who ‘misread’ or ‘misconstrue’ Foucault to be ‘”personifying” power … as a grammatical and metaphysical subject’ (9).
4 On genetic and neurological evidence for inherent sex difference, see Wade 2003, Marano 2003, Kimura 2002, and Resnick et al 1986. On a possible biological basis for sexuality, see LeVay 1991, and Vines 1992 for more on the debate.
5 Butler acknowledges this (1993: 231), although she rejects such an argument in this case.
6 For example: ‘The referents have disappeared. Everyone knows it’ (13).
7 Bornstein wishes to make clear that she is ‘a transsexual by choice and not by pathology’ (Bornstein in Bell 1993: 111). However, she also recalls that as a child, unlike her, ‘everyone else seemed to know they were boys or girls or men or women’ (Bornstein 1995: 8). She claims that ‘I never did feel like a girl or a woman; rather, it was my unshakable conviction that I was not a boy or a man’, and this led to her sex-change (24). Such feelings resulting in drastic surgical alteration have until recent decades been classed as a pathological disorder (Gender Dysphoria), but recent research (Zhou et al 1997) shows that the central subdivision of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis in male-to-female transsexuals is female-sized. This then suggests that male-to-female transsexuals have a female brain structure while also having the genetic structure and hormones of a male, which would undoubtedly lead to a confused sense of identity. However, Bornstein shows no interest in scientific research, perhaps for the reason that the contemporary cult of ‘political correctness’ mandates that everything must be seen in terms of ‘lifestyle choice’ and ‘freedom’, concepts unsupported scientifically. Consequently, it could be seen that the arguments of Bornstein and Stone have almost no bearing on issues of gender, sex, and sexuality, based as they are on an ideological flight from the realities of what is actually a medical condition, as opposed to a radical challenge to the normative.

Works Cited

Baudrillard, Jean (1994) Simulacra and Simulation, trans. Sheila Faria Glaser (Ann
Arbor: The University of Michegan Press).

Bell, Shannon (1993) ‘Kate Bornstein: A Transgender Transsexual Postmodern
Tiresias’ in Kroker, Arthur and Marilouise Kroker (eds) The Last Sex:
Feminism and Outlaw Bodies (Basingstoke: Macmillan Press), 104-120.
Online

Bornstein, Kate (1995) Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us (New
York: Vintage Books).

Butler, Judith (1993) Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of ‘Sex’ (London:
Routledge).

- (1999) Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (London:
Routledge).

Eagleton, Terry (1996) The Illusions of Postmodernism (Oxford: Blackwell).

Haraway, Donna (2000) ‘A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology and Socialist-
Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century’ in Badmington, Neil (ed.)
Posthumanism (Basingstoke: Palgrave), 69-84.
Online

Hassan, Ihab (1993) ‘Toward a Concept of Postmodernism’ in Docherty, Thomas (ed.)
Postmodernism: A Reader (London: Longman), 146-156.

Kimura, Doreen (2002) ‘Sex Differences in the Brain’, Scientific American, May 13,
Online

Kroker, Arthur and Marilouise Kroker (1987) ‘Theses on the Disappearing Body in
the Hyper-Modern Condition’ in Kroker, Arthur and Marilouise Kroker (eds)
Body Invaders: Panic Sex in America (Montreal: New World Perspectives),
20-34.

- (1993) ‘The Last Sex: Feminism and Outlaw Bodies’ in Kroker, Arthur and
Marilouise Kroker (eds) The Last Sex: Feminism and Outlaw Bodies
(Basingstoke: Macmillan Press), 1-19.

Kroker, Arthur et al (1989) The Panic Encyclopedia: The Definitive Guide to the
Postmodern Scene, Online

LeVay, Simon (1991) ‘A Difference in Hypothalamic Structure Between Heterosexual
and Homosexual Men’, Science, 1034-1037.

Marono, Hara (2003) ‘The New Sex Scorecard’, Psychology Today, July/August,
Online

Norris, Christopher (1990) What’s Wrong With Postmodernism: Critical Theory and
the Ends of Philosophy (Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf).

Resnick, S.M. et al (1986) ‘Early Hormonal Influences on Cognitive Functioning in
Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia’, Developmental Psychology 22 (2), 191-198.

Sedgwick, Eve (1994) Epistemology of the Closet (London: Penguin Books).

Simon, William (1996) Postmodern Sexualities (London: Routledge).

Sokal, Alan and Jean Bricmont (1998) Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern
Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science (New York: Picador).

Spargo, Tamsin (1999) Foucault and Queer Theory (Cambridge: Icon Books).

Stone, Sandy (1993) ‘The “Empire” Strikes Back: A Posttranssexual Manifesto’,
Online

Vines, Gail (1992) ‘Obscure Origins of Desire’, New Scientist, vol.136, no.1849, 2.

Wade, Nicholas (2003) ‘Men’s Survival Secret: Bending Y Chromosome’, The New
York Times, June 19,
Online

Walby, Sylvia (1992) ‘Post-post-modernism? Theorizing social complexity’ in Barrett,
Michele and Anne Phillips (eds) Destabilizing Theory: Contemporary
Feminist Debates (Cambridge: Polity Press), 31-52.

Zhou, J-N et al (1997) ‘A Sex Difference in the Human Brain and its Relation to
Transsexuality’, The International Journal of Transgenderism, 1 (1),
Online

Edmund Standing holds an MA in Critical & Cultural
Theory from Cardiff University, Wales.

Comments are closed.