Gender Performance: The TransAdvocate interviews Judith Butler

This is incredibly important. This interview taught me that my understanding of Butler’s works and concepts were warped by those who weaponized them against me and #girlslikeus. She sets the record straight and takes on the transphobia and immoral damage committed by TERFs, including Brennan, Bindel, Jeffreys and Raymond.

JB: I agree completely that nothing is more important for transgender people than to have access to excellent health care in trans-affirmative environments, to have the legal and institutional freedom to pursue their own lives as they wish, and to have their freedom and desire affirmed by the rest of the world. This will happen only when transphobia is overcome at the level of individual attitudes and prejudices and in larger institutions of education, law, health care, and kinship.


I could quote from this article all day. Read it!

[On Raymond and Jeffreys] If she makes use of social construction as a theory to support her view, she very badly  misunderstands its terms.  In her view, a trans person is “constructed” by a medical discourse and therefore is the victim of a social construct.  But this idea of social constructs does not acknowledge that all of us, as bodies, are in the active position of figuring out how to live with and against the constructions  – or norms – that help to form us.  We form ourselves within the vocabularies that we did not choose, and sometimes we have to reject those vocabularies, or actively develop new ones.  For instance, gender assignment is a “construction” and yet many genderqueer and trans people refuse those assignments in part or in full.  That refusal opens the way for a more radical form of self-determination, one that happens in solidarity with others who are undergoing a similar struggle.

One problem with that view of social construction is that it suggests that what trans people feel about what their gender is, and should be, is itself “constructed” and, therefore, not real.  And then the feminist police comes along to expose the construction and dispute a trans person’s sense of their lived reality.  I oppose this use of social construction absolutely, and consider it to be a false, misleading, and oppressive use of the theory.

Go read it. 

Performing one’s gender wrong initiates a set of punishments both obvious and indirect, and performing it well provides the reassurance that there is an essentialism of gender identity after all. That this reassurance is so easily displaced by anxiety, that culture so readily punishes or marginalizes those who fail to perform the illusion of gender essentialism should be sign enough that on some level there is social knowledge that the truth or falsity of gender is only socially compelled and in no sense ontologically necessitated.
—  Judith Butler, “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution” (528)

Artist Diana Oh Is Wearing Lingerie In Public To Reclaim Women’s Sexuality

One performance artist is fighting back against the degradation of women’s bodies – one piece of lingerie at a time.

Actress and artist Diana Oh created a collection of 10 performance art pieces calledMy Lingerie Play which include her (and other women) standing in lingerie on their “soap boxes” to reclaim women’s sexuality. “The problem isn’t sexualization, the problem is the degradation that comes along with women expressing it,” she says in the video.

Listen to Diana Oh’s full speech here. 

Advertising’s ritualistic display of the female body to communicate powerlessness is also accomplished when women stand with what Goffman labels “the bashful knee-bend.” He calls these “canting” postures - meaning the body is tilted – positions that take the body away from being upright and perpendicular and places people off - center. In fact, as with the other submissive positions, “the bashful knee-bend” projects a sense of the woman as ungrounded, less than fully prepared to react quickly and firmly to her surroundings. As Goffman writes: “Once again, one finds a posture that seems to presuppose the goodwill of anyone in the surround who could offer harm.”

This posture is ubiquitous across our media landscape, so much so that it seems to define a core aspect of femininity. And once again, the posture has also been sexualized in the process, reinforcing yet again the notion that female sexuality is equated with submission and deference.

Variations of this canting posture include the crossed leg position, which has the same effect of putting women into a defenseless posture, again presupposing that there is no danger in the surroundings. Similarly, women are posed holding their feet, or the heel of a shoe, once more leaving them off-balance, teetering, ungrounded, and precarious – as they stand on one leg, vulnerable and defenseless. And then there is the head cant, the head repeatedly leaning to one side, as women – rather than holding their heads up high, upright, and firm – are posed again and again with their heads in tilted and awkward positions, bent and angled – once again, off-balance and de-centered.

An extension of this has the torso of the body itself being twisted and bent away from the vertical. Goffman argues that all of these head and body canting configurations leave women in a position where they seem utterly defenseless and, in this way, can be read as both an expression and acceptance of subordination, of ingratiation, submissiveness, and appeasement.

The coy over-the-shoulder look, where the head is twisted to the side or sometimes behind, is also an extension of this body and head canting posture. At the same time, the pose is sexually suggestive, positioning women as the willing recipients of the look coming from someone else.

While the most unnatural, and sometimes even grotesquely contorted, poses struck by female models may make us wonder what is going on in the minds of the creative directors and photographers who position them in these ways, it is perhaps more revealing that, for the most part, we go about our business and don’t even notice these images as being especially strange. It is only when we see them adopted by unusual people – men – that we notice how normal looking are the conventions that link being a woman with powerlessness and submission.

And in perhaps its most extreme expression, the head is lifted upwards, exposing the neck in a vulnerable manner, calling to mind the positions that animals, like dogs, take up when signaling their submission to other aggressive creatures. Outside of the animal kingdom, in the actual human world women inhabit, it clearly signifies that the woman has surrendered her agency within the social world – and accepted her helplessness.

And if there is any doubt that such images carry meaning, consider that the reverse is the very picture of masculine power – the face down and the eyes trained upward from below, suggesting an animal stalking its prey. Once again, the key here is that none of this is biologically determined or predestined. This is simply a story that the culture tells us about how femininity and, by extension, masculinity are to be performed.


- Professor Sut Jhally informing of symbolic interactionism’s relevance to the kinesic construction of gender ritualizing male dominance and female subordination through media advertising in the documentary The Codes of Gender (2009).,(via gynocraticgrrl)


A Letter to the Girl I Used to be - Ethan Smith

The History of Drag Kings

When compared to the exquisitely expressive art of Drag Queens, the wonderful world of Drag Kings appears to exist with far less attention from popular culture. When I speak of Drag Queens amongst my friends, most of them seem familiar with the craft, so much so, they can even name and discuss examples. However, when I raise the term ‘Drag King’, I am often confronted with a response similar to, ‘Wow, I never even knew they existed’. Nonetheless, Drag King performers are storming stages all around the world, treating an array of audiences to bold shows which captivate and challenge creative minds.

The idea and practice of performers transforming themselves through male personas is by no means a new concept. For instance, English playwright, poet and actress Susanna Centlivre is notable for her work as an actress in ‘breeches roles’. Dubbed as “the most successful female playwright of the eighteenth century”, she performed regularly in traditional male attire. In other words, she became accustomed to fitted knee-length trousers and popular masculine garments; clothing worn mostly by men around the 1700s. Since this time, Drag Kings have progressed and developed; increasing in popularity whilst making use of sophisticated resources and techniques. Distinguished impersonators and cross-dressers across the 19th and 20th Centuries include theatrical performers such as Annie Hindle, Ella Shields, Vesta Tilly, Bessie Bellwood and Hetty King. Not to mention other provocative entertainers such as Blues singer Gladys Bentley and the more controversial LGBT civil rights icon; Stormé DeLarverie. Referencing the OED, during 1972, the term ‘Drag King’ was initially published in text to represent the description ‘woman masquerading as a man’. Referring to the updated version, we can see the definition as ‘A woman who dresses up as a man; a male impersonator’. Bringing Drag Kings into the 21st Century, the field of performing arts and creative industries offer a wide range of practitioners specialising in drag king performances, workshops and transformations. Some of my favourites include Phantom, Spikey Van Dykey, Adam All and Landon Cider.

The International Drag King Community Extravaganza is the largest event of its kind and is entirely run by volunteers. Hosted in a different city each year, the IDKE is known for its extraordinary performances, workshops and events which push the boundaries of gender. In order to achieve different levels of gender illusion, drag kings combine methods of breast binding, application of facial/body hair, masculine haircuts, styles or wigs, performance props, staging, illusive male genitalia, manly clothing, as well as altered posture and movement. Despite being relatively unheard of to the masses, Drag King shows are becoming more and more accessible, with both troupe and solo performers making a name for themselves amongst artistic and LGBT communities. For example, ‘Boi Box’ is a monthly Drag King show held at ‘She Soho’, a lesbian venue situated on Old Compton Street in London. There are also many opportunities for Drag Kings to compete and network, with The San Francisco Drag King Contest being significant as supposedly the oldest and biggest Drag King competition in the world.

The drag scene plays host to a magnificent mixture of gender bending cabaret, comedy, burlesque, circus, theatre and performance art. The art of drag has been saturated with fascinating historical events, and continues amaze through the footprints of modern day practitioners. Drag Kings take their place in the spotlight, giving us a glimpse into a remarkable and inspiring world which deserves to be adored and celebrated.

In North American culture, space is a signifier of power, and individuals who have command over greater amounts of space and territory are often considered to have great power. Women and lower-status persons of both sexes are afforded and expected to take up less space than males and higher-status persons. In addition, people in subordinate positions cannot control others from entering the space available to them.

The boss can enter the worker’s space, lean on the employee’s desk, or tower over the subordinate. Only with the supervisor’s invitation can the subordinate enter into the supervisor’s space. In public and in private, in the workplace and in the streets, women constantly experience space encroachment.

Gender-differentiated proxemic patterns appear even in childhood when young boys are encouraged and permitted to play outdoors while play for young girls is more frequently centered within the home (Graebner, 1982; Harper and Sanders, 1985; Thorne, 1993; Valentine, 1997).

Learned behavior patterns inform beliefs about entitlement to space and affect how individuals interpret the use of space - especially when expected spatial norms are violated. In the animal kingdom and among human beings, subordinates yield space to dominants.

Frank Willis (1966) performed studies in which he measured the initial distance set by an approaching person. He established that both sexes approach women more closely than they do men. In a review of many such research studies on nonverbal sex differences in interpersonal distance, Judith Hall (1984) also found that females are approached more closely than are males. When women’s space is intruded upon, they are apt to acquiesce to the intrusion - just as they frequently acquiesce to interruptions.

Jeanette Silveira’s research (1972) indicated that when men and women walked toward each other on the sidewalk, the woman moved out of the man’s way in twelve out of nineteen cases.

Knapp and Hall (1997) speculate that acquiescing or ceding space to males may be linked, in part, to associating male behavior with the potential for threatening aggression. They further hypothesize that acquiescence to “invasions” of personal space may be attributed to societal norms for maintaining “appropriate” distance; “people expect men to keep larger distances, and when they do not, it may be disturbing” (p. 168). Yet, as we have seen, societal norms and expectations serve dominant interests.

Women are encouraged to sit and move in ways that intensify the lesser amount of space available to them. For example, women when involved in a dyadic or small-group communication interaction may sit poised on the edge of a chair, eagerly leaning forward rather than “taking up” space. “Feminine” clothes also contribute to a nonverbal image of female weakness and reconfigure the bodies that wear them. Tight skirts and tight slacks restrict movement. High heels force women to take small steps.

In the late 1800s economist Thorstein Veblen (1899) asserted that “the high heel, the skirt, the impracticable bonnet, the corset, and the general disregard of the wearer’s comfort which is an obvious feature of all civilized women’s apparel, are so many items of evidence to the effect that in the modern civilized scheme of life the woman is still, in theory, the economic dependent of the man.” Veblen noted that middle-class women were not just restricted in their movements, they, and their relative powerlessness, were literally “on display” (p. 126 - 127).

In the United States, contemporary women are still socialized to take up less space than men. They are taught to sit with their legs together and elbows to their sides and to walk with smaller steps. Contemporary women’s fashion, such as tight clothing, short skirts, and high heels, discourages women who wear it from sitting and moving expansively, as do men. While seated, men spread their legs and put their arms on the armrests of chairs. They walk with longer strides. We know that these stereotypical ways of moving are not anatomically based, because men in Asia, for example, sit with their legs as closed together and cross their legs as do Western women.


Borisoff, Deborah (New York University) & Merrill, Lisa (Hofstra University). “The Power To Communicate: Gender Differences as Barriers - Third Edition.” Waveland Press, Inc; Prospect Heights, Illinois, 1998, (p. 52 - 54)

And sex/gender-differentiated promexic patterns that involve males/men being intrusive towards females/women is still a present-day problem. As well as the cultural pattern of socializing/conditioning females to conform to feminine gender performativity which makes women have non-spatially expansive kinesics and is further enabled/reinforced through restrictive, impractical, clothing designs. (via gynocraticgrrl)

It upsets me how often I hear women say that a male actor who plays a woman (e.g. Cillian Murphy in Breakfast on Pluto) or a male model who poses as a woman (e.g. Andrej Pejić) “looks better as a woman than actual women” or “makes a better woman than most women”. Usually this is followed by some kind of a self-deprecating comment. Of course they make “better women” because the idea of a good woman is a male fantasy that has nothing to do with female women.

This happened in my graduate class and I want you all to know that you do have a voice and you do have an input on your education. Just because something has been published does not mean that it is accurate. 


After last night’s class, I feel it is necessary to address a large oversight that I did not feel comfortable confronting during my peers’ presentation. My issue is not with the presenting group as I know they were instructed to use the assigned textbook to assist with their presentation. Rather, my issue lies with the text itself. In chapter one (page 29) of Julia T. Wood’s Gendered Lives, the textbooks states:

“Cross-dresser, or transvestites, enjoy wearing clothing of the other sex. A transvestite may wear just one or two articles of clothing associated with the other sex or may dress completely, from underwear to outerwear and accessories, in the other sex’s clothing. Some cross-dressers wear the other sex’s clothes to express gender identities inconsistent with their sex. Some find the novelty of cross-dressing fun or pleasurable; some find it sexually arousing to wear clothes generally worn by the other sex. The great majority of cross-dressers are biological, heterosexual males (Docter & Prince, 1997).”

To be honest, I was appalled to hear the group present this and even more horrified to see it had been printed in a 2015 edition of a graduate textbook. As you may or may not be aware, the terms “transvestite” and “cross-dresser” have gathered strongly negative connotations and therefore paint those who do not conform to gender constructs or roles in a similarly negative, disruptive, or abnormal light. In its very essence, the terms and descriptions offered in the assigned text are discriminatory towards all individuals who do subscribe to societal constructions of gender and/or self-expression. Not only does the text promote unhealthy views of gender, identity, and sexuality, it is misleadingly inaccurate. Rather than describing transvestism as being solely sexual in its motivation, the textbook leads its readers to believe that a woman wearing a men’s shirt would then become a transvestite or a cross-dresser. Furthermore, it makes light of and “others" individuals who go beyond the women’s section or men’s section to express themselves as though this is pathological this includes individuals across the gender spectrum rather than the binary addressed in the text.

Currently working in the fashion world as an online blogger who dedicates my time promoting all forms of gender expression and battling the skewed perception of individuals who dare to blur the boundaries of menswear and womenswear, I am dumbfounded. It is hard for me to believe that in higher education students are being taught to view gender non-conformity self-expression as being synonymous with a sexual pleasure and labeled under negatively viewed labels such a “cross-dressers” or “transvestites”.

Sitting in that classroom as a female wearing a dress shirt and tie and being told that my clothing choices now make me something other than I am was not only disturbing but troubling. I worried for the other students who have sat in my place who have been told that they are now transvestites or cross-dressers. I feared for the people my fellow students would judge and categorize because of a gross generalization of research that was published 18 years ago. I fear for the students who internalize messages such as this and learn self-hatred rather than acceptance.

I could not in good conscience return to a classroom where these ideas are being taught without first expressing my deepest concern for the responsibility to hold each other accountable and to question negative portrayals of self-expression.

In the future, I would greatly encourage the use of an alternative textbook or an intentional discussion of the shortcomings and potential misinterpretations of the text and its applications.

Thank you for your time,

Ashleigh Bingham

Lygia Clark, The I and the You: Clothing/Body/Clothing, (1967)

“A proposal made for a couple in which both the man and the woman wear plastic boiler suits. Each boiler suit contains a lining made up of different materials (plastic bag with water, vegetable spume, rubber, etc.) which gives the man a feminine feel  and a masculine feel  for the woman. A hood, made of the same plastic, covers the eyes of the participants A rubber tube, like an umbilical cord connects the two boiler suits. When they touch each other, the participants find small openings in the suits (six zips), which give access to the inner lining. Translating them into the sensations felt by their partner. In this manner, the man finds himself in the woman and the woman finds herself in the man.”

 -Lygia Clark

Watch on

Judith Butler explains ‘gender performativity’, a term that refers to the ways in which gender norms are established, policed and resisted. While her academic writing is dense, Butler has a wonderful and engaging way of talking. Below is the transcript.

Question: What does it mean that gender is performative?

Judith Butler: It’s one thing to say that gender is performed and that is a little different from saying gender is performative.  When we say gender is performed we usually mean that we’ve taken on a role or we’re acting in some way and that our acting or our role playing is crucial to the gender that we are and the gender that we present to the world.  To say that gender is performative is a little different because for something to be performative means that it produces a series of effects. We act and walk and speak and talk in ways that consolidate an impression of being a man or being a woman.

I was walking down the street in Berkeley when I first arrived several years ago and a young woman who was I think in high school leaned out of her window and she yelled, “Are you a lesbian?”, and she was looking to harass me or maybe she was just freaked out or she thought I looked like I probably was one or wanted to know and I thought to myself well I could feel harassed or stigmatized, but instead I just turned around and I said yes I am and that really shocked her.

We act as if that being of a man or that being of a women is actually an internal reality or something that is simply true about us, a fact about us, but actually it’s a phenomenon that is being produced all the time and reproduced all the time, so to say gender is performative is to say that nobody really is a gender from the start.  I know it’s controversial, but that’s my claim.

Question: How should this notion of gender performativity change the way we look at gender?

Judith Butler: Think about how difficult it is for sissy boys or how difficult it is for tomboys to function socially without being bullied or without being teased or without sometimes suffering threats of violence or without their parents intervening to say maybe you need a psychiatrist or why can’t you be normal. So there are institutional powers like psychiatric normalization and there are informal kinds of practices like bullying which try to keep us in our gendered place.

I think there is a real question for me about how such gender norms get established and policed and what the best way is to disrupt them and to overcome the police function. It’s my view that gender is culturally formed, but it’s also a domain of agency or freedom and that it is most important to resist the violence that is imposed by ideal gender norms, especially against those who are gender different, who are nonconforming in their gender presentation. 

Recorded January 13, 2011
Interviewed by Max Miller
Directed by Jonathan Fowler
Produced by Elizabeth Rodd

Via Big Think.

Goffman starts his analysis of gender display with something seemingly simple and trivial – the way that hands are represented in advertising as male or female. He argues that female hands have a different relationship to reality than male ones. Female hands are shown not as assertive or controlling of their environment but as letting the environment control them. So, for example, when women are shown holding something, it often looks as though it is just resting there – not being held in a strong manner. Female hands are shown just tracing the outlines of an object, or cradling it – rather than carrying it and being in control of it – or they are presented as just using the ends of the fingers to hold objects, delicately and lightly, rather than using the whole hand. When this feminine touch is applied to other people – men – it is also light, soft, and caressing.

In contrast, the masculine touch is powerful and assertive, presenting a different relationship to the world. Instead of tentative, the male touch is utilitarian, controlling, and bold. Male hands are shown as manipulating their environment, molding it to their desires. And when applied to others, the touch is commanding and firm.

Sometimes you can see the difference in one image, where masculinity is about power and strength, and femininity is superficial and weak. Goffman further argues that the soft feminine touch can be extended into what he calls self-touching, which conveys a sense of the body as being a delicate and precious thing. In fact, women are constantly shown touching themselves – and there really is no part of the body that is off-limits. Whether it is the shoulder that is being utilized, or the face being touched in this soft and caressing manner, or the neck – symbolically connected with vulnerability and openness – there seems to be no end to how women will touch themselves in the world of commercial realism.

Women are also shown in a kind of breathless posture – though the world around them is too much for them to cope with – or holding themselves protectively, as if the body is a delicate thing that needs support. These are undoubtedly conventionalized positions of passivity and acquiescence to whatever else may exist in the immediate social situation.


- Professor Sut Jhally informing of symbolic interactionism’s relevance to the construction of gender through media advertising in the documentary The Codes of Gender (2009).