Part Third of engaging directly: Transparent

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Conceiving of gender or embodied identity as multifarious and variable presents an emphatic opposition to any understanding of sex and gender as an anticipatory causality. Thumbnail image for transgender.jpgAs Susan David Bernstein addresses, parents who encourage gender transgression, or queer gender expression, are often met with fear from norm-conforming parents who perceive of anatomy as an end-all-be-all, inherent signification of gender identity - which only really makes sense if one's gender is inherently connected to one's genitals, making such anxieties altogether inconsistent. Thumbnail image for boy:girl.png

Ironically, it is precisely the anxiety over these purportedly "immature" gender expressions threatening the "natural order" (itself a man-made fabrication) that negate all convictions of there being a natural order -- an issue that Bernstein attempts to take up in "Transparent," making a case study of her daughter, Nora's, gender transgression. What is made readily apparent in Bernstein's illustration is that Nora's understanding of gender is far more sophisticated and nuanced than that of any of the adults she comes into contact with. For instance, when Bernstein relates the reactions Nora was repeatedly confronted with by strangers, Bernstein herself interprets her daughter's gender identity as meeting the conditions of a developing trans(sexual) identity - a transition, or in Nora's case "experimentation," from to . However, Nora seemingly understands her own gender identity as existing in an unknown elsewhere, a nonspace that, rather than presenting a hindrance or demarcating the possibilities for her gender expression, provides her to create her own possibilities for a gender beyond binary understandings of boy or girl:

Nora reported that she liked fooling people about her gender, and that's why she didn't correct them. But she didn't always appreciate the crooked stares that were pitched her way in public restrooms [...] Once Nora came home from school absolutely delighted with herself. An unfamiliar woman had encountered Nora in the girls' room and said, with a smile, 'I think this is the girls' room!' and Nora, echoing the woman's intonation, quipped, 'I think I'm a girl!'

The joy that Nora experiences in queering gendered spaces, and peoples' perceptions of gender, stems from understanding what the adults surrounding her do not - that what purportedly defines a "boy" or a "girl" is arbitrary, without sensible foundation, and therefore simply nonessential. Bernstein provides little evidence that Nora simply wanted to be a boy, or become a man, as Nora consistently exhibits, in Bernstein's account, that she has little to no understanding of what a boy is, what a man is, or what being either or neither could possibly entail. Nora's expression and articulations of her own gender identity depict a decidedly queer sensibility - one that she makes no attempt to define, apart from the rigid definitions already provided for and ascribed to her by adults. She may not know what binary genders are, but her joy in observing what queering binary gender performances does allows her to see beyond those binaries - and even beyond androgyny. Does this mean that Nora's gender theory is post-gender?:

postgender.png
I think it's more complicated than that. But, Nora does have an undisciplined relationship to gender which threatens binary gender constructs. Perhaps I'm stepping in a slightly different direction all of a sudden, but what about the surprisingly blunt and mature conversation that Nora has with her father, Daniel, who encourages undisciplined gender expressions, presents a threat to the innocence of children?:

(s)exchange.png

Bernstein's approach to (trans)parenting presents a pretty radical queering of gender-discipline, despite what I've read as a reinforcement of gender binaries, in that Bernstein's account of Nora's gender performance does not really present an anarchic (postgender) configuration of gender, but rather very simple facts about a false dichotomy: | , which is determined (arbitrarily?) by genitals:

vulva.png

3 Comments

I thoroughly enjoyed this reading because it made me think of my 11 year old niece whom my whole family thinks is going to be a lesbian. At her 9th birthday party she non-nonchalantly said to everyone around (after her and her friends ate cake) that her and her friend, Emily, almost kissed. Most of my family didn't think anything of it,but added to the fact that my sister let my 13 year old nephew wear a pink shirt, all the other parents were appalled. I find it extremely weird how much people try to enforce gender conformity.

This may be one of the greatest statements of logic ever made:

"If you think that me allowing my son to be a female character for Halloween is somehow going to ‘make’ him gay then you are an idiot. Firstly, what a ridiculous concept. Secondly, if my son is gay, OK. I will love him no less. Thirdly, I am not worried that your son will grow up to be an actual ninja so back off."

Except there was one Halloween episode of Buffy where everyone temporarily became the embodiment of their costumes.

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