☆☆☆ "Appropriate & subvert the patriarchal semiotic hegemony of the hetero-normative dyad!" ☆☆☆

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Victor Victoria Meets Victoria's Secret: Semiotics & Gender Presentation

Julie Andrews, "Victor Victoria" (1982), Victor is cis-F, presenting full-timed in public as "male" and as a "drag queen" (female) in a 1934 Paris burlesque.

This is the classic comedy structure, romantic interest and confused identities in the characters. "Connie & Carla" (2004) use the same concept, two women in a "drag queen show" who otherwise present as cis-M in order to conceal their real identity from pursuing mobsters.

Victoria's Secret -- www.VictoriasSecret.com

Faux News was reporting just this morning that Urban Outfitters and some other corporation were getting into trouble for suggestive commentary printed on their garments and provocative styles. Sex is highly inflammatory stuff!

Since Blanchard and the whole "autogynephilia" debate/discredit/deconstruct narrative is the focus of these blog portals, let's talk about the semiotics of clothing and how it might function as a "fetish."

Semiotics is the field of linguistics dealing with signs, symbols and their cultural meaning.  "Semes" are discrete bits of semiotic narrative. Semes convey meaning, expressed as semantics. Words are semes. Clothing is semantic. Narratives link semes together to create a heuristic -- a narrative story.


Charles S. Pierce, in the late 19th Century categorized icon, sign, symbol, index.

Icon -- a design or object which connotes something else. Christian cross, Star of David are icons, a portrait is an icon. Icons are characteristically freighted with a great deal of cultural meaning, cultural baggage. The "Peace sign" is an icon. Connotation is a dimensional taxon.

Sign --  a directly correlated object of denotation. Denotation is categorical, a single "meaning." Red octagonal means "stop." Triangle containing an exclamation is cautionary. The "pants" and "dress" signs on the restrooms denote "male/female."

Symbol -- connotes an abstract metaphor. The Christian cross, the Star of David are signs, but they are also symbolic, connoting the abstract metaphysics of their respective religious orders. Seasons can be symbolic. Ceremonial dress, robes are symbolic -- priests, academic, uniforms . . .

Index -- is an indicator of a relationship. Smoke is an index of fire. Bruising is an index of impact trauma. Body odor, tooth decay are indices of poor hygiene.

Clothes, fashion is a socio-cultural mechanism which encompasses all four, icon/sign/symbol/index.  An obvious example of these four characteristics in clothing would be a wedding gown. Similarly, a prom-dress, tuxedo, dinner jacket, "coat and tails" or high-top silk hat reflect properties of all four semiotic categories. These are formal attire and reflect a formalized socio-cultural "meaning."

As human beings, stark naked, we "present" a plethora of gender semes. And since this is, after all, a blog circle about trans gender, I expect we need not list the gender semes in the human form. Most of us spend a great deal of time and effort neutralizing, covering, disguising, denying these gender semes. Let's assert here that most of these psychic efforts at neutralizing physiological semes contributes directly to "gender dysphoria." This view of dysphoria is pretty much the diagnostic criteria of the [patriarchal] medical / psychiatric hegemony.

The patriarchal medical hegemony would remove these semes surgically, medicate these semes with HRT. In my view, this protocol raises serious Hippocratic issues: "First do no harm." and SRS is arguably the surgical removal and/or modification of otherwise healthy, viable, functional organs, body parts, bone structure. There is nothing pathological about my organs nor my endocrine system.

What is pathological is the socio-cultural constraint imposed upon my person with respect to the external semantic expression of my innermost ontological and epistemological being.

Nudity for the most part, is not the normative context for socio-cultural discourse. Nudity in most cultural contexts is sexually charged, freighted with gender heuristic. Cultures mediate this naked sexual firestorm with clothing. (Let's concede here that a great deal of clothing "fashion" actually fans the flames of this sexual firestorm.)

Clothing and fashion very much mediate a semantically founded heuristical narrative about our sexual boundaries. Fashion provides a medium through which we present to others our socio-cultural status as a potential mate -- the categorical dyad of sexual reproduction and the continuation of the species. This would be the "hetero-normative dyad" . . . Cis-F, cis-M, sexual reproduction, progeny.

Unlike the human body, the semes attributed to fashion are arbitrary. This is the arbitrary Saussurian semiotic nexus in the signifier/signified heuristic of fashion and clothing. Styles and labels denote "men's" and "women's" but the labels are arbitrary, socio-culturally derived from the discourse of the interpretive community.

This is Humpty Dumpty: "It's means what I say it means!"

Radical gender theorists would argue that the interpretive community is patriarchal, hegemonic, and very much categorical with respect to gender presentation founded in a "hetero-normative dyad" of "masculine" and "feminine."

"Hetero-normative dyad" is a term used by Dr. Judith Butler, Ph.D. UC Berkeley,  Comparative Literature, "Gender Critical Theory" http://complit.berkeley.edu/?page_id=168

I cannot post this photo of Dr. Judith Butler without adding the comment that this particular "presentation" for Butler is iconic -- as in this is in essence the "Judith Bulter brand." Let's note too that the presentation is very "non-binary." The button placket on the coat is "women's." The shirt sports  "masculine" neck detail. Black is pretty gender neutral. Black is also symbolic.  Hairstyle is somewhat "more masculine." Devoid of jewelry, frills, lace, etc., Butler here presents "non-binary" "non-hetero normative" and dimensionally "more non-binary and less feminine."

No photos of me, but for the record, cis-M, and "more non-binary, less masculine." Hair past my shoulders, 6 earrings, a fairly extensive fashion palette of "unisex" styles in "gender neutral colors," sometimes labeled "women's" and sometimes labeled "men's." Bulter appears cis-F but more gender non-binary with sartorial semes of "male." I appear cis-M but more gender non-binary with sartorial semes of "female." Non-binary presentation is a mixed message, a semantically problematic, de-constructed, heuristic which confronts and subverts the hetero-normative narrative.

Both Butler and I present as our "cis gender" but consciously endeavor to appropriate, deconstruct, problematize the "gender semes" that affix to clothing. The semes form a narrative. The narrative organizes a heuristic. The heuristic may altogether present a "genre" -- a literary and linguistic term, but in French also the same word for gender. The heuristic narrative is "mostly cis-sexual" but potentially subject to a great deal of semiotic deconstruction.

We don't do HRT, no SRS . . .

Ontologically we're somewhere in the middle, between cis-F and cis-M. We do not feel "a female trapped in a man's body." What we mostly feel is that the ontological/epistemological "me" has decided to deconstruct our own personal gender heuristic. We're tweaking the arbitrary semes of fashion. Problematizing labels.

We're not looking to medically reconstruct our person according to the hegemonic semantics of the hetero-normative dyad. What we seek is a poetics of gender wherein the "authors" are allowed to express innovative, integrated, authentic gender heuristics.

If gender presentation seemingly functions as a mechanism for setting sexual boundaries, arguably, mate selection might entail more discursive engagement than the mere surface interpretation of materials draped on a physical form. 

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