Performing Butler

This week’s discussion centered on Judith Butler and her article on identity and gender. Butler’s article introduced some very interesting concepts including gender, identity, performing identities. We especially liked that her article was more personal and somewhat relatable than some of the other theorists because she deals with issues more contemporary and relevant (the recent marriage debate came up). We delighted in the fact that through her article we were better able to understand Derrida. Butler’s discussion on the existence of heterosexuality depending on the existence of homosexuality due to the “copy” of originals related to Derrida’s assertion that language is constantly deferring to other language and thus has no meaning. In a similar manner, the “origin” of the copy of homo-and hetero-sexuality does not exist because each of these phenomena depend on the other. Thus in order to be homosexual, there needs to be heterosexuality, yet by the same token in order to be heterosexual, homosexuality needs to exist.

Derrida further informs Butler’s work in the form of binary oppositions. We discussed her idea that when someone comes “out” as gay, they have to be coming out and into something else. That is, in order to come “out”, an “in” has to exist. She questions the entire process of coming “out” because ¬†she, writing as a lesbian woman, should not need to come out in the first place. Coming out means coming out and into something else, yet Butler questions “out” to what? The patio? We found that this was a valid point, however, we also figured that by being homosexual, you’re considered on the periphery of society. Given this, we thought that coming “out” is revealing yourself to be something that was not part of the norm and thus needs to be said. Of course this pits gay versus straight and normal versus abnormal. Yet because society is structured this way right now, we figured coming “out” is a way of creating a space in society for homosexuality, where there was none. If nobody came out, would we be having debates about marriage equality today?

Butler also relates coming out to performance. She asserts that once someone comes out, they create the space for them to begin performing their sexuality. The example of a student Taylor knew came up. Before he came out he looked and behaved as a “typical” straight male. Once he came out, he began to dress more feminine, put on make-up, and took on his true persona. He began to perform what he percieved “gay” was. This concept is an interesting one because it places criteria on how a straight male should act, how a gay male should act, and so forth. In the case of Taylor’s friend, he believed gay meant being more “feminine”. Yet there are plenty of gay men out there who act like straight men. This notion of performing puts into question: performance for who? The simple answer would be for society, because it creates who is supposed to act like who. But what about the individual? Are they performing for themselves? Their parents? Their partner?

Butler’s performance also extended to homosexual couples where there are roles within the relationship where one person assumes the more “feminine” role and the other the “masculine” role. This was interesting since it places homosexual couples imitating heterosexual couples, yet earlier in the article she had said there was no origin to whether homosexuality mimicks heterosexuality and vice versa.

Butler’s discussion was truly relevant to what has been going on in the past ten or so years in relation to homosexuality, especially in the U.S. Her discussions on gender, sexuality, and identity place a different angle on typical notions of homosexuality. Sharon thought it would be super interesting to see whether she would place herself in a category of “butch” or “feminine” lesbian. Probably not.

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