Monday, October 13, 2008

Transcending Gender

“My idea is that all of us, men as well as women, should be regarded as human beings.” (de Beauvoir 1) Something interesting is occurring here and has been for a great many years; Simone de Beauvoir, by way of Dorothy Parker’s Modern Woman; The Lost Sex, succinctly calls for not only equality, but transcendence beyond the confines of genderhood. Along with de Beauvoir; Truman Capote, Michael Foucault, primetime television, and Norah Vincent express their apprehension in return. And thus, these text not only assist the reader to transcend their vision and experiences beyond their sex, but ultimately, they redefine what it means to be a man or woman in the twenty-first century.

Audrey Hepburn playing Holly Golightly of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, might have an androgynous quality: her body is like a young boys, flat and square and she wears her hair up much of the time, giving it a short, boy-like structure, but what is more, it was suggested that Truman Capote’s Holly Golightly is a man.

Looking back over, it is a very reasonable and stimulating question. The reader assumes that Holly is female because the narrator calls Holly a ‘she’ and describes ‘her’ wearing “a slim cool black dress, black sandals, a pearl choker,” (Capote 16) all signifying a females attire. But what if she is a drag-queen? After all, Truman Capote surrounds her with gentleman at “21,” outside of “P.J. Clark’s saloon,” and her party where she seemingly passed out invitations by “zig-zagging through various bars.” (Capote 32) The narrator also describes her singing as that of “a boy’s adolescent voice” (Capote 19) and says she has “boy’s hair.” (Capote 16)

These suggest a male transvestite’s behavior, receiving attention from only men and at her most natural – just after showering and drying her hair on the fire escape – she has the qualities of a young boy. Therefore, it is perfectly reasonable for Capote to inject his book with a gender chameleon, and thus, the biased or ignorant reader partakes in an unconscious ability to sympathize with the protagonist.

Television programming has begun to set precedence in the west’s visual media world by blurring the traditional gender lines as well. Both Dirty Sexy Money and America’s Next Top Model include transgendered individuals as part of their regular programming. According to Barker, “the struggle over sexual identities…, (Kristeva) suggests, could result in the deconstruction of sexual and gendered identities understood in terms of marginality within the symbolic order” (Barker 297) and we see this within the scope of these programs.

Dirty Sexy Money has employed a transsexual (who is post-op) and plays a transsexual who is having an affair with a New York Senate lawyer. Candis Cayne who plays Carmelita on Dirty Sexy Money is breaking cultural standards of who we can love, have sex with, and ultimately, what decisions we as humans can make for ourselves, ie. what symbolic gender we attach to ourselves.

On America's Next Top Model too, (thanks to Katie Hatland for posting on her blog) a transvestite is given the opportunity to compete. Even though the contestant, Isis, is not endowed with the female anatomy, they are granting her license to be who she feels she is, a woman. The cynical part of me says that it is only for ratings, but the flip side is that she has the chance to express that although she “was born physically male,… mentally everything (she) feel(s) is female,” (ANTM) and Isis goes on to say that she feels she “was born in the wrong body.” (ANTM) If, as many religions believe, we have a soul, Isis suggests that her soul is separate from her physical anatomy.

Michael Foucault in “The History of Sexuality” expresses that “(u)p to the end of the eighteenth century, three major explicit codes… governed sexual practices: canonical law, the Christian pastoral, and civil law” (Foucault 683) Foucault discusses how these constraints and laws placed on individuals exacerbate their sexual deviations from the implemented norms because they “extend() the various forms of sexuality.” (Foucault 689) The laws, Foucault suggests, defined an entire realm of inappropriate acts and that people actually became aware of them, in essence, they carried them out.

But what about those individuals whom, like Candis Cayne, have chosen to change their organs or everything they feel, like Isis, “is female?” (ANTM) Are they a product of the deviation from these laws or are their souls inappropriately attached to the wrong body? And do we has humans just ignore them as if they were the dredges of society? According to Barker “sexual identity is not an essence but a matter of representation” (Barker 297) and Norah Vincent, arguing against the traditional gender positions by guising herself as the other, illuminates this representation.

Vincent blurs the traditional gender lines in her book Self-Made Man, One Woman’s Year Disguised As A Man; she, however, did so in a way that allowed her to share in the experiences of the other sex through the pretensions of her male counterpart, Ned. Vincent experiments with gender by disguising herself as a man for a year and a half, taking part in all aspects of male life: friendship, sex, love, work, self, and spirituality. What she discovers, against her instincts, is the damage that has been done to man, and like de Beauvoir, attempts to find the “transcendence (that) is… overshadowed and for ever transcended by another ego (conscience) which is essential and sovereign.” (De Beauvoir 11)

Vincent is the Yang to de Beauvoir’s Yin because, like de Beauvoir, she shows how men who “feels himself a demigod as compared with women” (de Beauvoir 8) are actually fraught with pain over “the essence of what our culture has come to think of as masculine tutelage applied roughly to the moral soul: break a man down to build him up stronger.” (Vincent 171)

She talks about a men’s workshop that she joined, where women were not allowed. It was based off of the bestseller, Iron John by Robert Bly and the men were attempting to find a happy medium between what Bly called “the fifties man who was suppose to ‘like football, be aggressive, stick up for the United States, never cry, and always provide.’ But was callous and brutal, isolated and dangerous” (Vincent 229) and the man who came from the sixties “beset by guilt and horror over the Vietnam War and encouraged by the early feminist movement to get in touch with his feminine side.” (Vincent 229-230) Part of the workshop (and central to it) was that the men had to hug one another. Vincent recalls that the hugging was very different from any of her encounters as Ned because they would cry and share reassuring words to regain that “surrogate brotherly/fatherly love,” (Vincent 233) and “reverse a lifetime’s worth of programming.” (Vincent 233)

Vincent also discusses this in terms of Ned’s experiences in the dating world. Vincent sees that “(d)ating women as a man was a lesson in female power, and it made me, of all things, into a momentary misogynist… I saw my own sex from the other side, and I disliked women irrationally for a while because of it. I disliked their superiority, their accusatory smiles, their entitlement to choose or dash me with a fingertip, an execution so lazy, so effortless, it made the defeats and even the successes unbearably humiliating. Typical male power feels by comparison a blunt instrument, its salvos and field strategies laughably remedial next to the damage a woman can do with a single cutting word: no.” (Vincent 127)

She chalks this up to “(a)ny smartly dressed woman who has ever walked the gauntlet of construction workers on lunch break or otherwise found herself suddenly alone in unfamiliar male company with her sex on her sleeve…,” (Vincent 21) and since they are intimidated by the cat-calls or unprovoked sexualization, “(t)hey tended to see a wolf in every man they met, and so they made every man they met into a wolf.” (Vincent 107)

Hence, we tend to put one person’s wrongdoings under the umbrella of their whole sex because “(r)omantic hurt equaled romantic blame, and because they were exclusively heterosexuals, romantic blame was assigned more often to the sex, not the morals, of the person inflicting the pain.” (Vincent 100) Yet, as Vincent has discovered, we are all stuck in this “sexuality that is economically useful and politically conservative” (Foucault 1) as if our bodies and the choice we make of who we are is a commodity to be sold or there is a "right" way to behave and feel. Yet on the flip side of that logic, there is tons of material to be gobbled up and discoveries to be made about the so-called dredges of society

In summary, these various texts can be viewed as a challenge to the boundaries of what it means to be a male or female. Simone de Beauvoir and Norah Vincent both use their experiences to express that her womanhood (and Vincent’s manhood) is not “defined by limiting criteria.” (de Beauvoir 2) The networks, as well, by granting the transgendered community a soap-box enable human’s a right to be whomever they themselves feel that they are truly. Therefore, human beings may gain a bit more compassion and understanding towards those they encounter, and hopefully, as these texts set out to accomplish, regardless of sex, one may be valued for intellect and ability.

Work's Cited

Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice. 3rd edition. London: SAGE Publications Ltd., 2008.

de Beauvoir, Simone. “Introducion: Woman as Other.” (1949).Capote, Truman. Breakfast At Tiffany’s. New York: Penguin Books, 1958.

Foucault, Michael. “The History of Sexuality.” 683- 691.

Hatland, Katie. Transgender contestant on America’s Next Top Model. 26 September 2008. 13 October 2008. (online)

Chelsea Lately Candis Cayne Interview.” YouTube. 2008. 13 October 2008. (online)

Vincent, Norah. Self-Made Man: One Woman’s Year Disguised as a Man. New York:Penguin Books, 2006.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love the fact that you are writing about the Transgendered. I haven't read anything about it yet. I think this is because people are afraid of not being PC, if spoken about!
It is a very touchy subject and should be handled with care.
After all it only takes a few to help enforce new rules.
Thank you opening my eyes to something i haven't read before!
I am looking forward to watching the craziness unfold!