Challenging Judith Butler

I’m never entirely sure what to make of the pedestalling of Judith Butler, even when she actually says something that makes sense.

The entire foundation of her work is the dismissal of transsexual people and our claims of being mis-SEXed at birth illuminated by her incomprehension at the rage that drove David Reimer to take his own life rather than continue, even when he tried, tried so hard, to struggle with the gender that was forced upon him in support of another’s gender ideology.

How incomprehensible gender ideology is to those who espouse it!

I am left with the sense of a world turned upside down. Where those who must recognize themselves, not able to accept their birth-assigned status, are treated unequally: Gay, lesbian, and less, bisexual people are recognized and possibly transgender people; certainly transsexual people are less so. With the expectation we must all accept the melting pot, yet those who cannot are accused of identity politics; we are accused of standing in the way of equality by those who commit the greatest identity political coup of all time:

the melting pot is in their image

Why isn’t the dominant identity, instead of sexual orientation, transgender/gender variance?

Why, since same-sex sex is gender transgressive after all, are not all gay men and lesbians proud trangenders?

I always think the celebration of someone who has no conception of the lived experience of those who must change sex, who becomes the arbiter of the lives of those who must, oppressive.

And declares the core of our lives, the urge to change sex, is nothing, and that it is really the discomfort with gender–and so recruits us for her gender ideology–oppressive.

But then, this is the common goal of those who demand common identity.

THEIRS

It is neither identity nor identity politics that is the focus of my critique of Butler.

It is her total incomprehension at the rage of David Reimer, the rage not only at what was done to him, but the rage that lead him to take his own life–and that of his brother to take his own life.

How can a cissexual person make a principled attempt to speak to the lived experience of transsexual people? Without acknowledging the foundational question of our lives? Without impressing us into her ideology?

The elision of the lived experience of those who must change sex with those who explore gender–something Butler knows well–is no less than violence; it is no more than oppression.

This becomes a basis of the discourse that declares our experience is non-existence, that what we are really experiencing is gender dysphoria.

This is why I challenge the theory, abstract and ungrounded, of Butler and all the oppression that issues from it.

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2 Responses to Challenging Judith Butler

  1. Pauline Park says:

    Jessica,

    Very few people will openly criticize Butler for fear of retaliation from her army of acolytes, so I applaud you for challenging her on her problematic gender politics. In that regard, you might find this blog post to be of interest:

    http://www.paulinepark.com/index.php/2010/06/judith-butler-faux-anti-racist/

  2. Sophia says:

    Personally my issues with Judith Butler are to do with her insistence on linking agency with gender identity, which I find rather suspect, especially when that limitation gets subsumed within a desire to universalize the iterative / performative paradigm. In that way I think of ‘gender trouble’ as a great analysis about pink elephants but not really saying so much about pachyderms in general. So I don’t really see her so much as being problematic, simply a lot more limited in the application of her work than is normally supposed.
    I guess I also have some doubts in that she seems to be buying in to a kyriarchic structure of cognition and knowledge that , I think, is also overly apparent in the basis of the cyborg manifesto. But in the absence of a body of transfeminist philosophy it’s hard to make a sustained critique of her notion of gender identity, pace the cis denial of our lived narratives, and she’s hardly the worst offender there.

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