3rd January 2021
My identity as a woman, compared to birth identification as male, is signified by clothing, behaviour, use of social spaces, routines, and so on. Particularly in the absence of physical markers associated with female identity. Following Saussure, specific examples of these signifiers are associated with being a woman, a female, a girl, feminine. Butler claims these signifiers are performances of gender, as they put it, gender performativity.
These performances could be a conscious choice or a less conscious outcome of social power (Foucauldian) pushing us to behave in particular ways based on ascribed gender (ie. birth gender). I think this latter is how Butler intended the term. Basically, choice or compulsion.
This binary is at the heart of my identity as a trans-woman. Is being a woman something I chose and bolstered with socially appropriate performance? Or something compelling me to behave as a woman? Society ascribed me male at birth due to male appearing genitals, and consequently exerted power on me to behave as a male. Thus to identify as a boy, man, masculine.
However, and this was confusing for quite some time, behaviours such as being comfortable (if illiterate) around girls and women, being interested in menstruation and the female body, and subsequently buying menstrual pads, felt they should be quite typical for me. Not just typical in choice but coming from whereever our less conscious behaviours spring. The confusion was in the disjunction between this "default" performance and what I was told I was.
So, performativity is not some theory to be discussed and critiqued, but rather a resolution of much confusion. This behaviour that I lacked control over in general, even if in the specifics, signified an internal female within a male body. My "transness" was not choice but something inside me.
To write this has left my head feeling it wants to explode. A frequent feeling these past years and an indication of lack of mental health. And an impediment to ongoing study. But I wanted to say it, however imperfectly, as part of this journey. It shows a use for theory as a language and a scaffold for thinking and talking about things, particularly when thinking is disordered and scattered, and reality is disjointed. This blogging is an exercise in choosing to get well. Setting a manageable goal in the direction of functioning again. Whether for my benefit or others.