Gender Trouble: Gender Performativity

Drag Queen Transformation, evidences how far gender can be 'performative'

Drag Queen Transformation, evidences how far gender can be ‘performative’

Butler’s approach is to break the supposed links between sex, gender and sexuality so that gender and desire are flexible, free-floating and not ’caused’ by other stable factors. For example, sex is seen as stable and ‘natural’ but as we’ve already explored, even this can be changed and deceptive.  As an outcome, gender is not who you are but rather what you do. Gender is not caused by some inner “core” which we are taught and learnt to be ‘natural’ rather it’s an effect of our performances. “There is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender; … identity is performatively constituted by the very “expressions” that are said to be its results.” (p. 25).

Butler suggests that this idea of an inner “core” gender as is an “illusion”. Acts, gestures and desire produce the “effect of an internal core or substance, but produce this on the surface of the body, through the play of signifying absences that suggest but never reveal, the organizing principle of identity as a cause” (p.136) As suggested above, gender is an effect not a cause. It’s a series of actions and projections, which form the idea of something essential and natural. Acts, gestures and enactments are performative in the sense that the identity they express are merely “fabrications” manufactured and sustained through bodily signs and discursive means.

“That the gendered body is performative suggests that it has no ontological status apart from various acts which constitute its reality. This also suggests that if that reality is fabricated as an interior essence, that very interiority is an effect and function of a decidedly public and social discourse, the public regulation of fantasy through the surface politics of the body, the gender border control that differentiates inner from outer, and so institutes “integrity” in the subject” (p.136)

From my understanding, Butler is suggesting that acts, gestures and enactments expressed onto the body create the illusion of an inner essence and “core”. In reality this illusion is an effect caused by society and is maintained by the social continuum mentioned earlier. This illusion of a gender essence and “core” is maintained for the purposes of the “obligatory frame of reproductive heterosexuality”. For example, we are raised, taught and learn that a female will be feminine, become a woman and find a male mate and have children. This is the norm, ‘natural’ and represented as essential for a human being.

This is a frame we all feel obliged to abide by, even those who are intersex, transgender and transsexual. Is there anything more feminine than a Thai lady boy or drag queen? We all possess ideas of what is masculine and feminine and natural but if it is so ‘natural’ to us why all the social rules and conditioning? From childhood, whether male or female we are raised to act certain ways and follow them in the belief they come naturally to us. In reality, for Butler, an essential or ‘core’ inner gender is an illusion created and forced upon us by culture and society, which also influences our human need for coherence which is idealized, desired and wished for.

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