MARILYN ROXIE: Postmodernism

I’m reading this book at the moment – A Teacher’s Introduction to Postmodernism, by Ray Linn and I want to get down some thoughts here while my mind is turning them about – I hope I’ve not gotten anything crucial misinterpreted. I feel like my mind is expanding / exploding at any rate!

I’ve already been getting into understanding this theory for awhile and have plodded along ambivalent on accepting its tenets in full, but interested nonetheless, particularly concerning gender and queer theory (Kate Bornstein and Riki Wilchins) in an attempt to uncover “the real me” and the potential fallacies surrounding the notion that there even is a “real me” to be uncovered. Some of the challenges (and practical applications) I see with postmodernism is in its stance regarding personal interpretations of creative works or things as they exist in nature, that is all up to one’s own opinion and even consensus found amongst the majority of a group of people is no guarantee that they have arrived at the “truth”. It is a critique of the seemingly insatiable truth-finding and often cold rationality of modernism and a project to reassess the ways that human beings use language.

This has a special purpose in constructing and deconstructing gender and sexual identity. As I have posted about here before and on GQID, I have grappled with confusion over gender identity since I was a teenager. Or, more like a certainty that I do know exactly what my interests and desires are in this realm – wherever they may have come from, which is still to me largely a mystery – just not in regards to what to “do” about them. Is there really anything to do but be myself? Or, rather reinventing myself whenever I see fit?

It would seem like, in a postmodernist world, whether I am “male” or “female” or something else entirely is up to my own interpretation and the interpretation of whoever interacts with me. How I am “read” or how I “pass” is based on social cues and symbolism which is only ingrained through repetition. If I did not see a clearly labelled world around me, would I have separated human beings into two sides only? (well, I wouldn’t have, but I have long been thinking of such things critically) Is there an innate need to label?

Being that humans have the capability of using language to describe the world, this can come down to the individual’s terms and sense of purpose and does not necessarily have to correspond to an overarching “truth”. Postmodernism is not just another type of nihilism like some cynics over the concept would believe – it encourages playing with new potential meanings, new presentations. This means quite a lot in the realm of gender.

In my teenage years, knowing that I was not “female” (whatever that means) meant distinguishing that I was not like others who I understood as “female” for a multitude of reasons. Then again, I never felt “male” judging from others who I understood as “male” alone either. It is primarily through my attraction to gay/bi male sexuality and subculture that I thought that somewhere in me was “male” as well as an inability by and large to relate to “female”. Hence the potentially erroneous figuring of myself as “a gay man trapped in a woman’s body” and so forth. Arriving through to this conclusion produces sheer torture and desperation, as I can say from experience. All the same, I am still not entirely sure what role biology has in how one person may come to understand their own “gender identity” one way, and another person another way (physical sex is by no means the determining factor, and hormones probably aren’t either), in comparison and contrast to this social constructionist business – I suspect that they both play a part, though the scale (by my estimation) is likely tipped in social and individual determination.

A series of questions with the same answer –

Can I be as I “really feel” in this body, without having to change a thing unless I decide that Iwant to at some point, because of my own pursuit of new meaning? Must I take hormones or have surgery to confirm my “inner” “maleness” or only if that corresponds with the way I want to see myself? Can being “non-op / no-ho” serve as one way for me to see myself that I can be happy with? Can I play with how I present myself to others as I see fit, which is subject to change from day to day, week to week, month to month, year to year, decade to decade? Can I acknowledge my attraction and identification with a certain type of body and a certain type of presentation and sexuality common in my culture at this particular time, but understand that it is subject to change along with my own potential flux? Yes, of course I can.

This does not mean that there aren’t similarities between the kind of self-expression that can be found across humanity and how people form groups and common ground – but groups based on gender and physical sex membership are going to exclude those who “don’t belong”  – yet another way to segregate others and you’ll get those who want membership and aren’t granted it or are granted it irregularly, causing a problem despite the relatively positive original purpose of finding others with like minds and bonding through this.

Even those constants that one wants to hold dear for some kind of reassurance may topple over at the slightest crack in the foundation. Gender may well be one of them.