Put your boots on . . .
Radical Feminist/Gender Theory draws from Post Structuralist Literary Critical Theory. Critical Theory is based in or derived from metaphysics -- a branch of philosophy. The nexus in these fields is that language creates our world, our world view, our Weltanschauung.
Fundamentally, metaphysics is comprised of three fields: ontology, cosmology, epistemology (ontos, cosmos, epistos). Ontos relates to being. Cosmos considers the order of the universe. Epistos is the realm of our mind, that internal dialogue going on inside at this very moment
Cartesian metaphysics (DesCartes) holds that ontology is related to epistemology. "Cogito ergo sum." -- "I think, therefor I am." Our being (ontos) is defined by our thought (epistos). Literary critical theory holds that our thoughts are formed by language, and that language is slippery stuff.
Moving along . . . Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics (French: Cours de linguistique générale) published posthumously in 1916, provides a foundation for semiotics, the theory of the relation between words (signifiers) and concepts (signified). De Saussure posits that the relationship between concepts -- those ideas which are signified, are significant -- and the signification of those ideas in words, in signifiers, is an entirely arbitrary relationship. This arbitrary relationship is exemplified in languages -- The French say "le chien." English speakers say "dog."
Let's add to this arbitrary relationship the nuance of linguistic expression: dog, hound, terrier, bitch, pup, Fido . . . labels (signifiers) are diverse, are slippery, offer poetical nuance.
Linguistics and literary critical theory likes to look at nuance in signifiers, poetical expression, metaphor. The signifier "metaphor" literally means "transcend shape." In metaphor camels become "ships of the desert," the ocean becomes "Neptune's realm," or "the briny deep," "Sapho" alludes to more than a Greek female goddess.
Which brings us to our thesis here:
"Labels are arbitrary."
Humty Dumpty, in "Through The Looking Glass" (Alice In Wonderland) demonstrates this arbitrary relationship. "It means what I say it means!"
It's been a busy Thanksgiving week-end. I've been too busy to shave, which entails the "full Brazilian" -- discretely expressed, it's "toes to nose" with the hair removal, secondary male-pattern follicle distribution, and the socio-culturally constructed, presentational mandate to epilate in one form or another in order to present "more cis-F."
Being me, a word bender, a post-structuralist -- and because recreational marijuana is entirely lawful in this state -- I spent an hour in the shower, catching up, cogitating, problematizing the effort (and expense) I go to in removing hair, growing tresses, piercing ears, and all the other endeavor consequent to "presenting" . . . In my case, presenting "less macho cis-M" and more "non-binary." I'm comfortable with "non-binary," but candidly accept that I can't "pass," not "en femme," not "in drag."
According to the literature, gender and sex are fluid. And they're not categorical binaries.
So, picture this . . . In the shower, having done a couple totally lawful bong hits -- seems to help the PTSD a great deal -- singing "Brazil" and "getting caught up." I'm a word bender. The narrative just came to me:
"I'm trans-ontological . . . metaphysically F, presenting as cis-M."
Let's give this some thought . . . In my deepest, most intimate personal epistos, I'm ontologically more F than M. Post-structuralists are fond of the metaphor "peeling layers of the onion." This is a literary critical metaphor for looking past the surface of a narrative and delving into that narrative's "deep structure." Let us invert that metaphor. Let us start at the center of the onion and build outward, layer upon layer.
My most inner ontos is "non-binary" -- (This is a Post-Structuralist view of the "non hetero-normative dyad" of Dr. Judith Butler, Ph.D. UC Berkeley.) and then a layer of secondary male-pattern hair removal. Let's not forget that cis-women remove body hair too, legs, axillaries . . . So, arguably female pattern hair removal too.
My cis-F colleagues/associates have demonstrated to me how "layering" works in clothing. Very practical here at the beach. Historical research has outlined the development of the "corset" and I'm not too astonished to realize that the bra is derived from corsets. In "Gone With The Wind," Scarlet O'Hara boasts an 18" waist -- which apparently requires staff and a team of horses to draw the corset that tightly. Corsets are a patriarchal imposition of "feminine ideal" -- tiny waist, ample hips, ample bosom (they're mammaries) . . . Bra design includes "underwire" analogous to whale bone stays of an earlier era. Some bra design extends to "slim the waist." Fundamentally, the corset is about patriarchal, physical imposition upon the body of an "ideal form."
Of course radical feminists burn bras. The whole intentional conception of what a bra is, and what it represents (signifier and signified), connotes a patriarchy, an imposition of an ideal form, stereotypical signifier.
Current field work has revealed to me that my cis-F colleagues have transitioned (! ! !) from bras to tank tops -- which is arguably something of a "long bra" only without the stays and structural constraint of shaped cups. Seemingly, tank tops provide some "control" -- maybe security -- without all the super-structure. We've found a lot of variation in tanks -- from "men's" tanks, with the nick-name of "Dago T's" . . . to stretchy, structured, with lace detail at the neck and bottom hem. Ribbed knits, poly, cotton, smooth double-knit, colors from solid "masculine" bold to pastels. Some tanks have "built in bras" and adjustable "spaghetti straps" -- stretch fit, and offers support/control.
Arguably, tank tops are unisex, but style, detail, proportion are different men's to women's.
Long sleeve "T's" -- Women's seem stretchier, more open neck-line (to show off cleavage, patriarchal objectification) . . . Everything intended as "women's" fashion has the option of lace trim. Lace is a femme signifier.
Long sleeve "T" is unisex, but style varies by gender, like tank tops.
As noted elsewhere in this blog, we've found clothing marked "women" that is unisex. I am aware of placket detail for men/women. The outer layer on this sartorial onion goes both ways -- according to label. But in terms of outward presentation, the fashions are uni-sex. Cis-women locally (rural Pacific NW) wear mostly practical, functional clothing. Mostly it's active wear, recreational and work clothing. Not a lot of frill, not much lace. If someone is wearing a dress or skirt, it's because they're either going to some special event, or they're from out of town.
Clothing and accessories are sartorial signifiers denoting status, vocation, membership (uniforms), political expression, creative interests . . . and gender. As with all signifiers, the relation to the signified is arbitrary and culturally interpreted.
I don't see a lot of "femme" locally. As a radical feminist, appropriating and subverting the patriarchal hegemony of hetero-normative semiotics, I'm reassured by my field work that cis-W don't buy into the patriarchal stereotypical "femme ideal" that so many M to F trans persons attempt to emulate.
This exterior gender presentation is entirely semiotic, entirely culture bound and only arbitrarily relates to the ontological and epistemological metaphysics of gender. A post-structuralist view of the gender narrative would problematize syntax.
"I'm trans female, presenting as male."
"I'm trans male, presenting as female."
The verb "to be" . . . "I am" . . . One of my professors taught us that the verb "to be" represents a sort of linguistic "equal sign" In an SVO (subject, verb, object) language the verb "to be" signifies an equation between the subject and the object. Accordingly, strict prescriptive grammars insist upon "It is I." rather than "It is me." British are fond of the construction, "The team are nine riders." rather than "The team is nine riders." The verb "to be" may agree in number with either the subject or the object. The object in a "to be" syntax is declined in the subjective case, "I" rather than the objective case "me."
It should additionally be noted that "to be" is fudamentally an ontological state,
And so . . . am I ontologically me, or am I epistemologically me?
Post-Structurally, the relation between the signfier (ontos?) and the signified (epistos) is arbitrary. The relationship is mediated by the "interpretive community" -- a formal linguistic term denoting a group who shares a functionally comprehensible language system, a culturally constructed systems of signs, signifiers.
The patriarchal hegemony has fixed, dogmatic "labels" (signifiers) for what are essentially a categorical dyad expressed in signifiers, "masculine" / "feminine" . . .
A poetics of gender would suggest that these signifiers, these terms/labels, can be de-constructed and expressed in new, innovative, creative forms. Poetry is best appreciated when it's "performed,"
N.B -- The issues arises repeatedly. Cis-M who endeavor to trans toward more cis-F seem to fixate on clothing. Understandably, this is one "layer of the onion" that can be donned, tweaked, adjusted, varied. There are infinite external, sartorial signifiers of "female" -- It's a $361 billion industry in the US. Let us consider too that "costumes and disguises" fundamentally entail clothing and signifying accouterments (Sherlock Holmes, Deerstalker, calabash). Uniforms signify membership, rank, vocation. Much gender performance (J. Butler) is ineluctable. This performance, or "presentation" is inseparably bound up in clothing and the expression of fashion. Objectification to be sure. "Fetish" is a cultural idea, another arbitrary signifier.