Which Came First? Neither!

Butler believed that “there is no “proper” gender, a gender proper to one sex rather than another, which is in some sense that sex’s cultural property” (Butler 722). In this sense she seems to be differentiating between the definition of gender and sex, implying that gender is a more variable state that can be ascribed to the actual, biological sex, and when the two are automatically paired in a specific way, it is “improperly installed as the effect of a compulsory system” (Butler 722). With these conditions at hand, it is safe to say that Butler believes that gender/sexuality is simply an outer facet of the individual that is manifested solely for the viewing pleasure of society. A person’s sex, on the other hand, is defined exclusively by which set of organs a person has between their legs.

It is interesting to see such a similar viewpoint arise from the Enlightenment; an era where women were still stuck in the stages of objectification and inferiority. Jonathan Swift’s “A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed” illustrates the process that a particular woman undergoes when she comes home from the streets and undresses. After removing every last artificial piece of beauty from her body, the narrator asks “But how shall I describe her Arts/ To recollect her scatter’d Parts?/ Or shew the Anguish, Toil, and Pain,/ Of gath’ring up herself again?” (Swift 67-70), addressing the distressing unnaturalness that derives from covering up one’s true self with a fake mask to show everyone else. Similarly, in “The Lady’s Dressing Room”, Swift focuses on the intricate materials used by women to make themselves presentable, and how ugly that is. Strephon considers “Such Order from Confusion sprung/ Such gaudy Tulips rais’d from Dung” (Swift 143-44) as the physical presentation of women in his day and how this only yields confusion and deception. It is refreshing and interesting to see such a modern view of the concept of gender arise from this time – Swift’s idea cooperates nicely with Butler’s to conclude that a public presentation of gender is independent of one’s actual sex. This idea is less of a “the-chicken-or-the-egg” concept but more following the idea that they are two separate states, one being physical and one being mental that are not necessarily linked.

Having established sex as a biological factor and gender as a sexual characteristic of the personality that may stray to the most extreme ends of the spectrum, it is then safe to say that homosexuality is not a branch off of the tree of heterosexuality, but that they are both branches from the gender tree. Heterosexuality is just as much an outward expression of preference as homosexuality is. They are both expressions of preference that can be either public expressions to society or personal and private inclinations. Neither of these are sufficient sources of evidence to doubt the authenticity of that sexuality but they are reason to believe that society has certainly constructed the framework of sexuality and how they should be expressed. But to use this fact as a way to refute a person’s claim of whether they are gay or straight or transgender is wrong because regardless of what society has impressed on us, we can never assume what is going on in each other’s heads and hearts and genitals.


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