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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Recasting the Referent

"Recasting the referent as the signified" -- Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex"

We've been reading from an historical perspective as regards whatever it is we're discussing in this sex/gender orientation issue. We use the phrase "whatever it is" because the referent keeps recasting. 

What is the signified to which we refer? 

Foucault notes that "homosexual" as a concept emerged somewhere late 19th or early 20th Century as an outcome of statistical distribution compiled by Kinsey and others. On the bell curve distribution of sexuality "homosexual" falls a couple standard deviations from the norm -- a couple standard deviations from the "hetero-normative dyad." Accordingly, because of homosexual orientation falling outside the normative standard, it was labeled (referent) as "deviant."

Let's note for the sake of illustration here that Albert Einstein falls a couple standard deviations from the norm and is by definition "deviant." Einstein is deviant, but arguably not pathological. 

Accordingly, it is a simple move to recast "deviant" as "pathological," and it was not until 1974 that the DSM moved "homosexual" off the list of "pathological sexuality."  Homosexuality may be statistically deviant, but homosexuality is not pathological. (Although some teleological schema appertaining to sexual conduct would disagree.) There are admittedly homosexual persons whose sexual behaviors are pathological, but it's not on account of their sex choices for partners. 

This sexual orientation that constitutes "trans" is statistically "deviant" -- outside the hetero-normative dyad. DSM 5 just recast the referent for this group. No longer "Sex/Gender ID Disorder" this ontological status has been recast as "Gender Dysphoria."  Moreover, it's only "dysphoria" when this sex/gender identity "causes significant distress in daily functioning." 

Revision of the DSM 5 argues a rationale that those seeking medical treatment for sex/gender issues need to have a diagnostic code that affords providers a referent that qualifies for medical care. In essence "dysphoria" retains the status of a pathology. 

And so, the [hetero-fascist masculinist] medical establishment has come up with a litany of referents connoting pathological "disorders" for those of us who are not ontologically situate in the hetero-normative dyad: 

Transvestite, transvestic fetishism, cross-dresser, gender ID disorder, gender dysphoria, transsexual, transgender, trans, butch, dyke, non-binary, queer, invert, sexual deviant (pathos), drag queen, drag king, etc . . .  

What is this signified that these pathologically denotative referents signify? Our field (arguably lacking a non-pathological, significantly neutral, non pejorative referent) comprises those of us who identify outside the hetero-normative dyad.
 
Our field asserts that sex is a biological function and that gender comprises a socio-cultural construct. Culturally, gender adheres to a dyadic schema of "male" and "female" -- derived from a biological basis for reproductive function.The current "trans" status is that individuals with "dysphoria" may require "transition" from presentation as one gender to presentation as the other gender. 

And of course the [hetero-fascist masculinist] medical hegemony provides "treatment" for these pathologies -- with a fiscally incentivized boost from Big Pharma. "We have drugs and surgery for these pathologies."

We are provided with two choices: male or female. These two options are determined by the hetero-normative dyad that recognizes two sexes, male/female. But gender presentation is a socio-culturally determined paradigm of semes which convey socio-linguistically (socio-culturally) one's sexual status. The literature in "trans" (transmogrified referent forthcoming . . . ) cites a litany of gender presentation which fundamentally serves as a social code for conveying one's sexual/gender status. This gender coding is arguably a linguistic dialect that is "read" by the linguistic "in group" and too often "mis-read" by socio-cultural out-group individuals. 

Because the signified/signifier relationship is arbitrary (F. DeSaussure, Course In General Linguistics, 1916 ) The signifiers of gender are often mis-read. E.g. Is a trans cis-M who presents "gender fluid," "gender ambiguous," "non-binary," "trans-female" or any other number of signifying terms for gender identity, is this person a "trans male" or a "trans-female" ??? Let us add to this interpretive quandary that this person may be sexually attracted to those of the same sex, the opposite sex, or both. How is this "gender code" read? How is it mis-read? Is it "intelligible" ???

Currently we have a medical hegemony which somewhat reluctantly and without a great deal of informed socio-cultural insight will "transition" individuals -- surgery and hormones -- into "the other sex." This transitional procedure has been called SRS (sex reassignment surgery), and is now referred to as "gender confirmation," "gender resolution" etc.

The histories of these medical interventions read like a chapter from Frankenstein. 

In surgical transition male to "female" the testes are removed (orchiectomy), the penis is literally skinned, turned inside out and inserted through the pelvis into the abdomen. (Penile inversion technique) There this structure is secured (sutured) into place and the "vagina" it creates must be systematically dilated with a "form" (dildo) to keep the tissues from adhering, closing up, and otherwise compromising sexual penetration. Vaginoplasties -- surgical construction of a vagina, labia, etc. often results in loss of nerve sensation. Adhesions are common, as are infection and loss of sensation in the surrounding tissues. Removal of the testes necessitates a lifetime of HRT (hormone replacement therapy).  Lack of androgens (testosterone) puts the individual at risk for osteo and cardio issues. 

Female to male surgeries are every bit as complex and raise an array of medical issues.The "Pedicle Flap" procedure entails grafting skin from the radial forearm or interior thigh, forming a "double tube" and securing this structure to the pubis/and thigh in order to provide blood supply. Invariably this structure/procedure is described as "resembling a suitcase handle." Like M to F surgeries, this procedure is fraught with post-operative complication. Moreover, the "penile structure" does not function anything like a penis, cannot pass urine, cannot become erect. 

But we digress -- Google provides an exhaustive reference to both these procedures. 

Let us assert here that medical science cannot turn a female into a male, nor a male into a female. At best these procedures are superficial and cosmetic. And then we have the whole existential/ontological issue of the person not being socio-culturally reared in the target gender.

Let us further assert that it is not one's biological sex which engenders dysphoria. Rather it is the socio-cultural paradigm of the hetero-normative gender dyad which instills dysphoria. Gender dysphoria might be considered (should be considered) a cultural/linguistic issue rather than an ontological pathology. 

Gender as a socio-cultural issue has significant influence upon one's epistemology. The socio-culturally constructed gender dyad is fixed, rigid and dogmatic. This dogma is the foundation for TERF (Trans Exclusive Radical Feminist) rejection/exclusion of "trans-women" from "women only" functions. The TERF argument is that men who become "trans-women" are not women, but rather they are men in masquerade and interlopers with an epistemology of "male privilege."

The ontological question then is how do we signify those [of us] who do not comfortably conform to the dogma of the socio-cultural gender dyad? What is the signified that all these referents signify?


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