Friday, January 29, 2010

LOOKING INTO THE PAST: Old photos superimposed on the present day. Includes a woman walking a bunny, about five minutes and maybe 90 years away from my apartment.... Possibly via Jesse Walker?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

SHE APPEARS COMPOSED/WELL, SHE IS, I SUPPOSE/WHO CAN REALLY TELL? Oh hi there! I'm not super excited about debating transgendered identity issues on this blog, because it seems like it could easily become Well-Meaning Cisgendered Hour. And I'm gay enough to kind of desperately dislike the thing where cute married Catholics debate our actual personal lives. Basically no matter how humble and philosophically open the participants are, they also always come across as self-absorbed. So while I'm reading every email I get about the Jay Prosser posts, and will reply to them (bc email seems even more tentative and one-squid's-opinion than an already-tentative public post), I probably won't post them if they are taking issue with transgendered identity. It's just... not my place, I think, to do that kind of "dancing with myself" dialogue.

On another tentacle, though, a reader did bring up a point I think other people might also have wondered about. And since he's batting me around because of one of my personal hobbyhorses, rather than e.g. Prosser, I shall reply!

Thus, my anonyreader:
The one question I do feel competent to raise about your take is that I *think* that in stuff you've written elsewhere (e.g. against "sincerism") you've expressed considerable skepticism about the accuracy or presumptive validity of people's self-understanding, raised the possibility they may be unreliable narrators of their own lives etc. (And even if we "come to ourselves" in the Church and then authentically and reliably recognize who we always truly were, it won't necessarily be fully consistent with our best preconversion guesses of what that might be, right? So if we didn't really know what it would be like until we got there, maybe it's a good thing we just got dunked in water w/ no scalpels involved?) So I would wonder what's different or special about someone's sense of their "experienced sex" (when at apparent variance with the anatomy they seem to have) that would make it privileged and reliable and a basis for undergoing surgery or similar intervention, rather than simply a particular and admittedly peculiar instance of the sort of persistent self-deception we know humans are sometimes prone to. ...

And my reply:

No, I think a) my anti-sincerism shtik is a stance, a caution, a reaction against certain kinds of "you can only ever speak in one genre" therapeutic stuff. And transgendered people, perhaps because they're under so much pressure to conform their narratives to a really rigid psychoanalysis-influenced pattern, tend IME to be pretty aware of the possibilities of different genres and different levels of irony, sincerity, self-revelation and self-protection. I should probably be more clear, in general, that the anti-sincerism thing isn't anti-the possibility of self-knowledge--I was a philosophy major!--but more about expression.

and b) therefore, I'm actually not especially skeptical of people's ability to assess their own identities/experiences unless there's a fairly clear conflict with something else I believe more firmly. I think people should be humbly open to reinterpretation, but I don't, I think, approach most people's self-accounts with too much of a hermeneutic of suspicion...! Probably especially not when said people are neither coming from a privileged position [...] nor, like, teenagers.

This post about objections to my Commonweal piece on Gay Catholic Whatnot might also be relevant.
THE BOREDOMS (IT'S PLURAL!): Victor Morton on how boredom works, or doesn't work, in movies. I already said my piece about "Police, Adjective" here; but really, you should see that if you can!
"IN HIS IMPREGNABLE ARMOR WITH HIS INVULNERABLE SKIN BENEATH IT." What is courage, and why? Give three examples.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A LOT OF THINGS THAT AREN'T BARBARISM ALSO BEGIN AT HOME, MORRISSEY!: Ta-Nehisi Coates is hosting a really interesting discussion of spanking, discipline, class, fatherhood, love, race, assimilation... and stuff like that. With bonus gayosity!
YOUR NEW MOTHER HAS GLASS EYES AND A TAIL: Image results for Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. I can't believe I never looked for this before.
LAST WEEK I dreamt that I was doing a word puzzle where I had to find the anagram for a six-letter word. The word was YAHWEH... but since I couldn't read my own handwriting, the anagram I came up with was...

wait for it...


The inside of my brain: sometimes surprisingly awesome!
UNDERNEATH all those posts about Jay Prosser's book, there's a review of "Police, Adjective," which is a terrific movie. Skip to here if you are not interested in the Prosser stuff. (Or if you're only interested in that, the Jay Prosser tag is your friend!)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

PEOPLE ARE STILL HAVING SEX (NOT JUST GENDER!): A chapter-by-chapter look at Jay Prosser's Second Skins: The Body Narratives of Transsexuality, as promised.

The first thing to say is that although Prosser's style is hyperacademic--this was his dissertation--he's much clearer than most people who write like this. I mean yeah, “somatic” is really the only word for somatic, but I'm still not convinced that he also needs “anaclitic” and “imbricated” and “cathexis.” But even so, Prosser's very dry humor is actually funny and not strenuous, and he has a few word choices which are genuinely elegant: One-off uses of “redress” and “duplicity” come to mind.

And I apologize in advance for any portion of Prosser's arguments which I misconstrue. In general he is exceptionally good at layering quotations and examples to make his points, and so this post is necessarily a lot less persuasive than his book; I'm hoping to interest you guys enough that you read it (it's out of print, but I got a used copy on Amazon Marketplace fairly cheaply) but I certainly can't replicate the experience of reading it.
TIE ME UP! TIE ME DOWN!: Now, the introduction. For me the most interesting part here is the critique of the binaries assumed by queer theory: subversive/hegemonic, good=antiessentialist (there is no human nature)/bad=essentialist, transgressive/reinscriptive. Prosser points out that for people who talk very dismissively of binaries in general, queer theorists end up creating a whole lot of their own. And so they have a really hard time considering the body as a sublime fact rather than a banal fiction (that's my phrasing, not Prosser's). They have an equally hard time, though Prosser only hints at this related difficulty, addressing the fact that not all transgressions are good. It may be true that all hegemonies are bad, but it's really, deeply false to glorify “subversion” as such. (Again, if Prosser could talk in metaphors of manners or tradition, he might be able to do more than allude to the implied defense of authority here.)
THE BUTLER DID IT: chapter one: Prosser vs. Judith Butler! This was the hardest chapter for me to fight through, largely because a) Butler's prose is notoriously dense and b) the body-as-projection shtik she was arguing for struck me as so patently false and silly that I really might just have been misunderstanding her. I mean... I hear so much about how Freud is worth reading as literature, but every time people quote him admiringly, I just stare blankly and say, “But people aren't like that! Isn't that kind of grossly oversimplified to the point of being both false and boring?”

So anyway, Prosser is arguing a few things here. There's some queer-theory infighting about whether the attempt to weaponize transgendered identity into the central proof that all sex is gender--there's no nature to sex, just culture (and malleable culture at that?) all the way down--is based on an appropriation and misunderstanding of how transgendered people actually think about their own personal bodies and lives. Thus Prosser is also defending the body as a real thing; matter matters. While I agree with his points to the extent that I understand them, I don't know that they'll be especially controversial to readers of this blog.
LOOKING FOR MERCY STREET/WHERE YOU'RE INSIDE-OUT: Ch 2: “A Skin of One's Own: Toward a Theory of Transsexual Embodiment.” This is my favorite chapter. So rich and chewy! There's so much to talk about here, so I'll just pluck out the thing I love most.

Prosser connects narratives of people with bodily agnosia--a brain disorder in which their body parts, for example legs or a hand, feel completely alien--with narratives of people who have sensations in “phantom limbs.” For both of these sets of people, their sense of their own body is visceral, physical, provoking real loss of sensation or presence of sensation... and yet this sensed body doesn't match up with the visible flesh. Prosser quotes a lot of transsexual autobiographies describing alienation from the parts of one's body associated with the sex one was assigned at birth, and a sense of homecoming and integration after (or even in preparation for) surgery. He draws an analogy: It can be said that a transsexual woman suffers from bodily agnosia toward her penis (and presumably also Adam's apple and other physical markers of maleness?) and a “phantom limb” sensation in the breasts and vagina (and again, presumably, womb?) she doesn't yet have. And vice versa for a transsexual man. Their post-reassignment surgery bodies are the homes they were never able to dwell in before. A post-surgery transsexual woman is not a mutilated man, or a man made into a woman from parts you can find at home, but a woman who has had major reconstructive surgery. The basic argument is summarized by Prosser's subsection heading, “From Mutilation to Integration: The Poetics of Sex Reassignment Surgery.”

You can see why this resonates with me, since it sounds so much like my usual Eden-via-Plato “all knowledge is memory” shtik. The idea of a home we've never so much as visited, but which we remember and which is real, is one which makes a great deal of sense to me. In fact, the world-in-general doesn't make sense if there isn't such a home, or if we're utterly unable to recognize it when we encounter it.

On a side matter, I'll note that if Prosser were willing to assert forcefully that sex difference is a core difference, rooted in human nature, ontologically prior to many other differences, he'd get out of some of the minor traps in this chapter, like his quick and I think too-blithe acceptance of cosmetic surgery.
IT TOOK THE CHURCH THREE CENTURIES TO CELEBRATE THE EPIPHANY: Ch 3: “Mirror Images: Transsexuality and Autobiography.” Again we get careful, sympathetic attention to the metaphors and tropes of transsexual autobiography, especially the way in which the doubling effect of a mirror--the eye looking back at itself--can shift from emotionally devastating to enthralling. Prosser boldly opens the chapter with quotations which seem to reinforce the idea that transsexuals are uniquely narcissistic (sort of like us homos!) and proceeds to perform what I can only call deconstructive surgery on that judgment. The shifting use of “mirror” imagery provides a subtle and sublime rebuke to anti-trans arguments.

My favorite point from this chapter was Prosser's defense of transsexuals against a cisgendered woman who argued that transsexual autobiographies equivocate between “I was always already the other sex” and “I needed a sex change”: If you're already a man even though you've got ladyparts, why do you need hormones and surgery?

Against this charge Prosser not only implicitly incorporates the previous chapter's understanding of sex-reassignment surgery as reconstructive surgery. He also notes that this doubling, this equivocation between past self-understanding and present self's construal of that self-understanding, is an inevitable feature of autobiography: “[T]he genre of autobiography operates precisely on a set of reconcilable and constitutive oppositions.” He argues that transsexual autobiographies play out the way they do in part because conforming to these conventional ways of speaking (“sex change”; “I was always already”) are necessary for someone to gain access to treatment. But he also argues that autobiography itself, because it shapes the story of a life with a telos in mind, always has this tension between past and present. Think of conversion narratives: Their whole drama and drive is the tension between “I recognized the truth about myself and the world, the God Who had always been there” and “I converted, I changed.” I had always been the person the Church says I am; I had to change once I recognized that. Or as Prosser puts it: “In that its work is to organize the life into a narrative form, autobiography is fundamentally conformist. …All life events in the autobiographies seem to lead toward the telos of the sex-changed self. This gendered coherence is inextricable from the narrative coherence of the genre.” The moments and epiphanies we cite to draw out our sense of how we ended up where we ended up did not necessarily seem to convey that meaning to us at the time... and yet that doesn't mean we're wrong when we cite the moment we glimpsed a girl at a window, for example, as one of the key moments in our conversion.

(Note that Prosser is not using “conformist” as a slur, but as a neutral descriptor of one feature of a genre with its own formal properties and characteristic beauties. Conservatism rears its lovely head!)

This chapter is also notable for its crisp argument that because transsexuals must construct an autobiographical narrative in order to even identify themselves as transsexual, and because they must further shape those narratives to fit the rigid conventions of the clinical diagnosis in order to gain access to hormones, surgery etc., “every transsexual, as transsexual, is originally an autobiographer,” and--I'm adding this, but I don't think it's far from what Prosser says--an autobiographer who's likely to have an especially acute sense of the difference between what she says and how she's read. The chapter is equally notable for Prosser's clear, cold focus on how thoroughly transsexual people's own narratives of their lives are treated as suspect. The interrogation metaphor on page 111--used positively by a psychoanalyst/psychotherapist, because interrogator/prisoner is totally a great model for the “healing professions”!--man, I'd make everyone read that page if I could. “And charge them for it,” again, some more.
THE TWENTIETH CENTURY? I COULD PICK A BETTER CENTURY OUT OF A HAT!: Ch 4: Prosser on the transition from “invert” to transsexual, via analysis of The Well of Loneliness and the parallel shift from sexology to psychoanalysis. I admit I didn't get much from this chapter despite my general interest in how our understandings of sexuality and gender shifted between (say) 1840 and 1940, but people more interested in either Radclyffe Hall or critiques of psychoanalysis might get a lot from this section.
CAMERA SEPARATE: Epilogue: transsexuality in photography. I did not get a lot from the theory-of-photography here--it seemed somewhat intro-level--but then again, photography and comics are the only visual media where I feel like I really grasp even the intro-level theory, so maybe either I'm missing something or the epilogue is aimed at an audience who haven't done Paradoxes of the Leica 101. I did find Prosser especially personal and appealing in this chapter, for example in his description of his fierce protectiveness toward a transsexual woman featured in a pin-up book which mixed exploitation and reclamation.
UTOPIA VS. EDEN: Ch 5: “No Place Like Home: Transgender and Trans-Genre in Leslie Feinberg's Stone Butch Blues.” This is one of the only books Prosser discusses which I've read. Interestingly, I turned out to have completely forgotten the ending and its rejection of resolution of Jess Goldberg's gender identity. This chapter mirrors (by which I mean, both reflects and reverses) chapter two, as Prosser explores a transgender identity based on the rejection of belonging, the preference for remaining in-between, outside, exposed and endangered--and yet possessed of a sense of personal integrity, precisely because in this chapter “home” is treated as an illusion or projection.

The things in this chapter which are most interesting to me are both places where I have theological problems with Goldberg's/Feinberg's/Prosser's (maybe in that order?) stance. First and most obviously, I don't really think a Catholic can accept an identity which rejects the iconic binary of man/woman. That's probably not wildly interesting to anyone who isn't Catholic, though. Perhaps more interestingly, I think this idea of home as illusory projection rather than memory of Adam's happiness runs into the “how do you know what it looks like, then?” problem I talk about here and (if you read the “ethics can't just be a projection of self or culture” bits as pertaining to ontology as well) here.
RADICAL RECONSTRUCTION: And now just Eve's opinion, in case y'all are wondering: The more I think and read about transgender experiences and issues, the more I'm convinced that the Catholic Church can and (I pray) will accommodate some, though as I said above not all, forms of transgendered identity. Specifically, I think Catholic theology affirms many transsexuals' accounts (and even, as I've tried to suggest in this review, offers added strength to their position).

The Church has not, as far as I know, spoken with any authority on this subject yet. A search at the Vatican website for “transsexual” and “transgender” (and variants thereof) produced one result, right here, which as you'll see does not address “what should I as a transgendered person do?” at all. “Intersexed” and “intersex” produced zero results. Possibly I am not running this search right, but as I said, so far I haven't run across anyone, on any side of these issues, citing saints' theological writing or Church teaching which specifically addresses transgendered issues rather than simply sex difference in general. I'll be looking for more books and articles from or addressing specifically Catholic, ex-Catholic, or dissenting (by which I mean, heretical!) Catholic positions. (Recommendations are always welcome!)

As for my own stance, you can build this argument yourself if I give you the premises, I think:

1. Surgery to give intersexed people bodies as much as possible aligned with their experienced sex is reconstructive, not mutilating (see above), thus a-okay by the Church.

2. Our physical bodies are composed not solely of big obvious parts like arms and penises, but also brain structures and hormones. Those, too, are our flesh. Those, too, we can't gnostically reject.

3. We now know that there are differences in those areas for many transsexuals. I expect that we'll learn much more about these differences with The Inevitable Forward March of Progress.

4.There's nothing wrong with being a woman, or being a man--those are good things according to God. Thus transforming one's body to be more obviously a woman or a man is radically unlike e.g. anorexia or apotemnophilia, two disorders to which anti-trans writers often compare transsexuality.

There, now you can run the argument yourself.

As I said, I don't think the Church can accept all possible transgendered identities. The “always already a woman”/“always already a man” autobiographies Prosser discusses in chapter two are much more in line with Catholic thought, I think, than Feinberg's stance. Also, it's pretty obvious that we're just at the very beginning of trying to work through the theology here, and so even the rudimentary argument-premises above only scratch the surface. (I'm not sure I need such a scientistic understanding of “the flesh” to get to an acceptance of transsexuality, for example, but putting the case this way was the easiest way for me to understand and express it.) But I do want to note that the theological issues here only barely overlap with the issues in Gay Catholic Whatnot; “LGBT” is an uneasy cultural alliance, not a Catholic theological category!

So yeah... that's where I'm at.
WORDS HAVE MEANING: Victor Morton's review of "Police, Adjective" gets the philosophical and theological heft of the movie. But I honestly wasn't perturbed by the "Long Attention-Span Theater" nature of the first 90% of scenes--partly because Morton's review had made me expect a climax, partly bc the tension between everyday tedium and extraordinary suspense is part of the point of the movie, and partly bc the main actor is just so great. Morton says there's too much film where he just slurps soup; I remember thinking that I could watch this specific hangdog working-class antihero slurp soup for hours without getting tired.

For me, the basic experience of the movie was: DEADENINGLY RAW HUMAN EXPERIENCE which is somehow still compelling to watch... do that for a really long time, and often it's funny but every time it's funny it's also cruel. The punctuation of laughter is used really well. ...and then suddenly HOLY CRAP DISTILLED SCENE OF POWER AND HUMILIATION AND (a)THEOLOGY.

So put up with any boredom in the first part--you really need it--because this Jack-in-the-Box coil really is winding up to something shocking and cruel and theologically grisly.

It's playing at the E Street Cinema.
IF HOLLYWOOD DECIDED TO GIVE EVERYTHING A GRITTY REBOOT: One of the funniest reader-contest results I've seen. Charlotte's Web, the California Raisins, and much, much more.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

YOU ARE THE MOST BEAUTIFUL, JENUFA! Last week I saw In the Red and Brown Water at the Studio Theater (through February 14). I may be reviewing it for money, so you might see that soon; if not I'll post the review here. But I wanted to post right now to tell you to get a ticket if you can! Although there are some flaws--some of the stylizations didn't work for me, though others really made the play more stark and resonant--overall this is a fantastic show.

It's the tragedy of Oya, a beautiful track star in roughly-contemporary Louisiana. It's very funny, and also incredibly wrenching: I'm not sure when I last heard an audience sniffling quietly around me. Rashaunah Simmons, as Oya, radiates youthfulness and hope at the beginning of her story, and transforms over two hours into a haunted house of a woman, staring out from the ruin of herself. And like I said, the formal experimentation is often deployed brilliantly: I especially loved the effect of having the characters read many of their own stage directions. (No, it really works.)

Anyway, actual review later, but for now: Go! see this!!! And look for other plays by Tarell Alvin McCraney, as well.
"LIVE THROUGH THIS": My column at Inside Catholic. The Catholic Church is not a box of answers.

(Also, "goon" is not a typo!)
I couldn't, of course, be the athletic or heterosexual man he wanted. He knew I was homosexual, although we never discussed it. I'd told him in a letter in order to get the money I needed to see the shrink, Dr. O'Reilly.
--The Beautiful Room Is Empty

The guy who created the sublime Daily Mail-o-Matic also made a widget to generate policy proposals from Labour politician David Blunkett. I have no comment on the accuracy of this or any other furrin satire of a furrin pol; but the thing I always remember about the widget is the tag, at the end of each cartoonish abuse of power, "...and charge them for it." Like so: "Pre-emptively convict children, and then lock them up. And charge them for it." "Put Muslims under a curfew order, and then put their children into care. And charge them for it."

And what's so striking to me is how easy it is to convince us to do it: to pay for our own shaming and dismissal, to pay someone else to be the Good Person to our Uniquely Bad. (For example.)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

MANY, MANY MORE PLACES TO DONATE FOR HAITI--focusing on Haitian-run organizations. This is a post at the personal journal of someone with family in Haiti, not all of whom are accounted for, so your prayers for her specifically would also be welcome.
I glanced at my watch and realized I had to hurry back to school for the ringing of the next bell--I was on waiter duty at supper time. "How wonderful it must be to have long hours of freedom," I said.

Behind the glinting, anarchist's glasses Paul's eyes looked exhausted: "Someday you'll have more freedom than you'll want."

--The Beautiful Room Is Empty

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

TWO ORGANIZATIONS FOR THOSE SEEKING TO DONATE TO AID EFFORTS IN HAITI: Mercy Corps; and the American Refugee Committee (Ratty notes that they are non-sectarian).
"GAY TEEN WORRIED HE MIGHT BE CHRISTIAN." From The Onion; you knew I had to.
His silences were enough like my father's to fill me with grave anticipation. But he himself was completely different--as thin as my father was fat, as deferential as my father was overbearing, as open to new ideas as my father was closed to them.
--Edmund White, The Beautiful Room Is Empty. Not the best prose in the book so far--which I'm very much enjoying--but I like that he draws out this familiar connection between deference and intellectual openness. We seem to understand that an overbearing person is likely to be unwilling to consider new ideas, but for some reason we don't work the equation the other way and acknowledge that deferential and/or reverential casts of mind are often so willing to engage with and be reshaped by intellectual challengers.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

"THE AMERICANIZATION OF MENTAL ILLNESS." Terrific piece. If you want more on some of these subjects, check out Andrew Solomon's Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression.
What makes possible the psychic translation of the surgical incursions into the body into a poetics of healing is a kind of transsexual somatic memory. Surgery is made sense of as a literal and figurative re-membering, a restorative drive that is indeed common to accounts of reconstructive surgeries among nontranssexual subjects and perhaps inherent in the very notion of reconstructive surgery.
--Second Skins. This longing for and nostalgic memory of a home (a home in one's own flesh) which has never been experienced reminds me very strongly of Augustine's discussion of our memories of Adam's happiness. (Which... I only vaguely remember, at this point, your joke here. Am I making this up? It's certainly related to the Augustine-stuff I discuss here; the basic idea, as I understand it, is that we share not only in the legacy of Adam's sin but also the memory of his happiness, and it's this remembered happiness which allows us to long for goodness and to recognize it [when we do recognize it!] in this life.)

Saturday, January 09, 2010

THE ORIGINS OF EL GRECO: Posting so I remember that I want to see this!!!
MARRIAGE DEBATE is back from our holiday hiatus. Right now we're offering a look at the second generation of Rev. Sung Myung Moon's mass weddings; Britain's first mixed-sex convent; online marriages; "divorce without vows"; marriage in the health-care bill; and a lot more.
Operative in Sacks's and Anzieu's practice as clinicians is that same narrative drive held as most precious in transsexual autobiography: from fragmentation to integration; from alienation to reconciliation; from loss to restoration.
--Second Skins

Thursday, January 07, 2010

COMMAND PERFORMANCE: Once I've actually finished Second Skins I'll do a chapter-by-chapter. Like many academic works (e.g. Etienne Gilson's deeply-felt Heloise and Abelard) this book opens with its toughest and most jargon-riddled chapter. I hesitate even to comment on the Judith Butler critique since I am a) unschooled and b) desperately anti-sympathetic to Butler's project. I basically felt like Prosser was defending... you know... common sense--which isn't really accurate, and certainly isn't an especially useful interpretive lens, even though I agree with and appreciate Prosser's writing.

But I was struck by how Prosser's work sidled up to what I know or believe without ever engaging directly! I genuinely think Second Skins would be better if John Paul II's "theology of the body" were engaged: He offers a theology of sexual difference, rather than solely a cultural history of sexual difference, and he does so while clearly separating sexual identity from gender expression. JPII lets Augustine cry. And so he challenges us to view sex as a real symbol, an enfleshed reality whose expression is deeply culturally-contingent. He takes the body seriously, and still proclaims iconic womanhood. In these two respects he is basically the opposite of (Prosser's representation of) Butler, and I wish Prosser had gone mano-a-mano with him.

Moreover, I think the excision of conservatism from academic thought--or the conservative recoil from academia, I'm thinking it's both--badly limited the metaphors available for Prosser. His basic project in the early chapters (it sort of changes later on, so hold on for my chapter-by-chapter review) is to reclaim the body against the Gnostic, moralizing, dissolvingly analytic tendency of queer theory. That's totally right-on and well taken! But Prosser kind of can't analyze gender in itself, because he lacks metaphors which allow for cultural constructions to be better or worse.

Wow, that was an obscure and abstracted paragraph! But the conclusion is really simple: Gender is like a lot of things. If Prosser were able to say that gender is like manners, or gender is like art, or gender is like tradition... he'd be able to, I think, maintain and even strengthen his anthropology while accepting that some gender is better than others. Manners are culturally-contingent, yet not optional! They imply a moral stance. Art is notoriously difficult to delimit, yet I can actually name some forms of self-expression as beautiful and others as ugly, or distinguish between sublime and banal. Tradition is precisely the kind of repetition Prosser loves (and I love it too!), repetition as redescription... repetition in a new context as a simultaneous acknowledgment of, response to, and reshaping of that context. This is pretty much the second-most awesome thing about tradition. An aesthetic conservative vocabulary would, therefore, seriously help Prosser both explain his gender theory and give examples. ...I think.

And on a related note (I almost typed, "an elated note"!), I think Prosser is mounting an oblique and perhaps-unintentional challenge to the basic queer-theory stance where every constraint is abhorrent. Prosser actually echoes Maggie Gallagher's Enemies of Eros in his hints that the flesh truly does constrain us. Maggie goes on to say that we fear the fleshly constraints of sex because we fear the ultimate fleshly constraint of death. Whether or not she's right about that, she's at least able to articulate an anthropology--and, crucially, an understanding of womanhood--in which the flesh constrains our choices and that's good.

Every now and then I toy with the phrase, "I am a conservative because...." My favorite Mad Libs endings right now are, "...I believe suffering is a complex good, not a necessary evil," and "...submission is the best form of leadership."
"UNDERGRADUATES ARE THE MOST SINCERE SHOPPERS THE WORLD HAS EVER KNOWN." Apparently my AmCon piece about Georgetown is now available to subscribers as a PDF here. I... uh... am not a subscriber, so I have exactly no idea what's in this piece. Does it even contain the sentence in the title of this post? I don't know. Anyway, there's probably something about The Exorcist, and my high school drama, and the arduous process of constructing an identity.
And in one oral transsexual account an anonymous male-to-female expresses her alienation from her male body in terms of being encased, surrounded by a false skin: "I used to look at my body and think it was a bit like a diver's suit, it didn't feel like me inside."
--Jay Prosser, Second Skins. Prosser doesn't draw out what to me might be the most striking aspect of this metaphor: the diver swims in an implacably hostile environment, the coldest depths of the ocean. This metaphor expresses the basic move of Catholic theology in which, when Eve and Adam fell, the whole world changed with us, became suddenly hostile and predatory and wrong.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

...As Butler exemplifies, queer theory has written of transitions as discursive but it has not explored the bodiliness of gendered crossings. The concomitant of this elision of embodiment is that the transgendered subject has typically had center stage over the transsexual: whether s/he is transvestite, drag queen, or butch woman, queer theory's approbation has been directed toward the subject who crosses the lines of gender, not those of sex. Epitomizing the bodiliness of gender transition--the matter of sex the cross-dresser has been applauded for putatively defying--the transsexual reveals queer theory's own limits: what lies beyond or beneath its favored terrain of gender performativity.

Second Skins reviews and begins the task of redressing queer theory's elision of the experience of "trans" embodiment by focusing on transsexual narratives. It is imperative to read transsexual accounts now in order to flesh out the transgendered figure that queer theory has made prominent. If, for queer theory, transition is to be explored in terms of its deconstructive effects on the body and identity (transition as a symptom of the constructedness of the sex/gender system and a figure for the impossibility of this system's achievement of identity), I read transsexual narratives to consider how transition may be the very route to identity and bodily integrity. In transsexual accounts transition does not shift the subject away from the embodiment of sexual difference but more fully into it.

--Jay Prosser, Second Skins: The Body Narratives of Transsexuality