The Gender Binary

The other class I am taking this semester is Prof Hugh English’s Topics in Genders and Sexualities, so today, right before finishing this reading, I was engaged in a class discussion of Christine Jorgensen’s A Personal Autobiography. (Jorgensen was the first male-to-female transsexual who underwent sexual reassignment surgery in the United States).  This is one of several case studies, novels, and memoirs we have read on this topic this semester, and while I consider myself extremely open-minded and tolerant of people’s rights to express their genders/sexuality in whatever ways they please, many of these readings left me troubled and even offended by their blatant sexism.

For, if one is to accept the idea that one can be a “woman trapped in a  man’s body” as the cliche goes, then one must accept the idea that “woman” is a state of being that can be identified without the physical markers of vagina, uterus, ovaries and sadly, in many of these works those non-physical gender markers are simplistic and sexist– dolls, make-up, skirts.  This trouble arises because of what deconstructionists identified as the system of binary operations.  Man/Woman is one of the most basic binary systems at work in a logocentric culture, and in English, the supplementation is clear even in the words themselves (Woman=womb+man).  Man is privileged, woman inferior, and even when the subject is trying to reverse this relationship within themselves– turning from man to woman, at least as close as they can come physically using modern medical science– they cannot escape the binary. Instead of becoming women and moving “woman” to the privileged space in the binary, Jorgensen and Jan Morris (another 20th century MTF transsexual) willingly put themselves in the inferior role, all the time acknowledging the privilege of “man” while rejecting it for themselves.

 

Logic of Supplementarity

Derrida’s logic of supplement helps me understand Foucault’s view on “sex” and how it has changed to something we now use to identify ourselves by rather than what it used to be see perceived as in the past. She explains this logic as the thing that is identified as a “supplement”, comes to also need supplementation, because it shares the qualities thought to only be present in the original supplement. Derrida states that “the idea of the original is created by the copies, and that the original is always deferred – never to be grasped,” meaning that the original, becomes a supplement which will then leads to more supplements needed to help explain it (original). This causes a never ending chain of supplements.

When viewing Foucault’s view on sex, the original in this case would be the thought of “sex” in the past centuries when it was seen as a natural act. This act was repressed in different ways during that specific time period. The ways in which it was repressed become the supplements. The supplements serve to add, complete or compensate for the lack of something. Therefore, because “sex” was subjugated it led to the talks/discourses of sex to become its way of making up for the way in which it was repressed. In other words speaking of what is not supposed to be spoken about/done becomes its form of release, which makes up for its absence.

These supplements were necessary for the transformation of the concept of sex. The discoursing become the copies of the original (sex) in the sense that it was a topic that was being talked about in different ways. As a result of these supplements, the original (sex) came to mean something entirely different, which Foucault explains as “an artificial unity of sex” which is made up of the supplements. This unity has become what we now use to attempt to identify ourselves with. This original like Derrida mentions can “never be grasped.” Sex becomes a means of identifying ourselves. Identity is constantly changing depending on our surroundings and how we perceive ourselves in at different times. Identity cannot be grasped and therefore becomes a supplement because like it has the same qualities supplements have, they need to be linked to something other to be understood. Keeping this in mind, if we attempt to identify ourselves through sex, we will find ourselves connecting different aspects, such as female/male, and other characteristics that can explain who we are. These characteristics become supplements and are essential to us making sense of what we define ourselves as since identity cannot do it on its own, it becomes a supplement because it needs supplements.