Friday, February 5, 2010

intersex fashion

Judith Butler's book "Gender Trouble" is a seminal work in feminism that helped kick start gender studies and queer theory as subjects of study. The book is too esoteric to get into on a blog. That being said, the example she uses in her conclusion, of wearing drag as a way to subvert the gender dichotomy holds great implications for intersexuals, and society at large.

Drag, for those who have been living under a rock, is the wearing of clothes typically associated with the opposite gender. The term was actually coined by Shakespeare, since women weren't allowed to act in his day, men played the female rolls, which old Bill Shaky designated in his manuscripts as "drag" short for DRessed As Girl.

Drag can be done for entertainment like Shakespeare, or "trouser rolls" for women in opera since there is a serious shortage of castrati these days. There are other people who wear drag for personal reasons, such as cross dressers or transgendered people before they transition, either they prefer the other gender's clothing or it better fits their gender identity, or both. Butler, however, was talking about drag and gender performativity for sociopolitical reasons, namely challenging people's assumptions about gender (it could be said that a drag show is political, as well as entertainment).

Drag only exists because of a quirk of human biology and culture. Humans have far less sexual dimorphism then many species (that is to say, human males and females look fairly similar to each other). What differences there are between men and women are covered by clothing, thus clothing and hair style becomes the primary method to tell men from women. What, you may ask, does this have to do with intersex? Since what clothing one is expected wear is connected to biology, what does the discerning intersexual wear to be gender conforming or variant? Many intersexuals feel that they are real men or women and live as such, and for them, what attire is normal and what is drag is self evident. For those intersexuals, like me, who have a more complicated gender identity, this becomes more tricky. There is no hermaphrodite or genderqueer department at the store, therefore, it could be argued that anything an intersexual wears is drag, since none of it was made for their sex. Luckily for those of us who were made into women (a vast majority), androgyny is quite stylish for women, with pantsuits, waistcoats (vests), and even tuxedos (thanks to Yves St. Laurent)are becoming a staple of women's fashion, it is easier to create a more androgynous, intersex style.

It should be remembered, as Butler said, that drag is a performance. Drag artists generally do not see themselves as the gender they are acting, this is why drag has the power to upset gender. This is something intersexuals always need to remember, gender itself is a performance. What you wear will label you as deviant or conforming. Whether or not you are actually male, female or lucky enough to be something in between, what you wear will determine if people see you as male, female, or a drag artist (which they may not like). Always be aware of the message you are sending.

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