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Woolf's Orlando and the Resonances of Trans Studies (Virginia Woolf) (Critical Essay)

Genders 2010, June, 51

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[1] Scholars have recently begun to create theoretical models that help us to register important differences within contemporary transgendered identifications. In 1990, Judith Butler's Gender Trouble denaturalized norms of gender and sexuality, performing a critique of prior feminist work on gender that not only influenced subsequent directions in feminist studies but also initiated queer theory. Yet as Jay Prosser argues in Second Skins, queer theory in the 1990's often deployed gender instability or fluidity as a trope for queer sexualities, a move he finds exemplified in Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's Tendencies. This tendency to subordinate the study of gender to the study of sexuality and to emphasize the fluidity of both was challenged both by Prosser's book and by Judith Halberstam's Female Masculinity. These books draw attention to desires for bodily transformation and fixed cross-gender identifications that were obscured by the "fluidity" model. [2] There are important differences between Prosser's and Halberstam's positions, however. Halberstam only partially concurs with Prosser's critique of a kind of postmodern fluidity that would have one making rapid changes in gender presentation from day to day: she allows for "some degree of movement" in gender, especially over long stretches of time (147). Also, although both Prosser and Halberstam situate their work under the banner "transgender," Prosser is principally concerned in Second Skins wih transsexuality. Though he critiques Butler's early work for its elision of questions of transsexual embodiment, his argument--upon which Gayle Salamon has recently placed considerable pressure--is very hard to sustain when extended to the broader range of transgender practices, particularly those forms that do not rely on bodily interventions. Halberstam, by contrast, opens up the category "transgender" to include a wider range of embodiments. She argues for the inclusion of butch subjectivity and challenges from numerous angles the implicit hierarchy that privileges the trans-ness of persons that desire or obtain sex reassignment surgery.

Woolf's Orlando and the Resonances of Trans Studies (Virginia Woolf) (Critical Essay)
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  • Category: Reference
  • Published: 01 June 2010
  • Publisher: Genders
  • Print Length: 35 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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