Skip to content

Gender Performance & Understudying

April 12, 2009

i know, it sounds really sexist and stupid, it’s a terrible analogy
but at that moment on the train tracks, it made a lot of sense to me
maybe it’s just some kind of natural balance, like 2 types of mental gender
that’s gone on in all societies, in one form or another~ Jeff Lewis, “Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror”

I have the postmodern conviction that gender is a play, created through the collective moments of the actors that make up a society. Not that we willingly audition. To the contrary, all of us are thrust onto a fluorescent stage in a flurry of sterilized gloves, biomedical machinery, and health insurance.
From my helpless beginning I are acted upon, the text and stage directions of gender are constantly rehearsed into me. I am taught mu part so completely that I begin to believe that it is no longer a play, but is in fact natural. This “natural” separation of gender roles provides a seductive tension, especially as it fits into the other natural binaries of the Western mind, such as Subject/Object, Summer/Winter, Gay/Straight, & Dead/Alive.

When I realized I was in a play, my immediate instinct was to break out of the play and see Reality. My first instinct was to declare myself a feminist, at which point I was absolved of complicity with the Patriarchy. I was drawn to literature that celebrated the Male Feminist. I was drawn to this literature because it allowed me to be A Good Person while playing the same role I had been learning my entire life.

I now understand that my empathy for the female-gendered experience and ability to embody feminism is in correlation to the ability I am able to learn the script and stage directions of the female-gendered role. To this goal, I think of myself as an understudy, learning this role.

Of course, this makes me appear as a charlatan or an actor whisked from the junior-high play onto Broadway, but this confusion is worth it to me, especially because it highlights to me the performative nature of gender.

This is not to say that all aspects of a biologically female person are performative. Performance theory breaks down as it interacts with the physical, leaving me unable to speak.

* * *

Although I will delve deeper into this in future posts, I will point out here that the method of understudying I describe here is necessary when we move our thoughts out of our native cultural scripts as well. I see no structural difference between me claiming to be a feminist while still reading from the male-gendered script and the First World exporting their feminism to the Third.(I note that this opens up a gigantic need for discussion, regarding imperialisms, gendering of international relations,etc. For now I choose to let this tension stay unexplored, until it builds to a point where I can comment strongly.)

As always, please comment. Building a tension in myself is less valuable to me than one created with other voices.

Comments are closed.

  • Previous Series at GAB

  • TWITTER: What’s going on @GABblog

  • Top Posts

  • Recommended Reading

  • We participated in Blog for International Women’s Day 2010.

  • NetworkedBlogs

  • %d bloggers like this: