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Assuming a Body

Assuming a Body: Transgender and Rhetorics of Materiality

Gayle Salamon
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Assuming a Body
    Book Description:

    We believe we know our bodies intimately-that their material reality is certain and that this certainty leads to an epistemological truth about sex, gender, and identity. By exploring and giving equal weight to transgendered subjectivities, however, Gayle Salamon upends these certainties. Considering questions of transgendered embodiment via phenomenology (Maurice Merleau-Ponty), psychoanalysis (Sigmund Freud and Paul Ferdinand Schilder), and queer theory, Salamon advances an alternative theory of normative and non-normative gender, proving the value and vitality of trans experience for thinking about embodiment.

    Salamon suggests that the difference between transgendered and normatively gendered bodies is not, in the end, material. Rather, she argues that the production of gender itself relies on a disjunction between the "felt sense" of the body and an understanding of the body's corporeal contours, and that this process need not be viewed as pathological in nature. Examining the relationship between material and phantasmatic accounts of bodily being, Salamon emphasizes the productive tensions that make the body both present and absent in our consciousness and work to confirm and unsettle gendered certainties. She questions traditional theories that explain how the body comes to be-and comes to be made one's own-and she offers a new framework for thinking about what "counts" as a body. The result is a groundbreaking investigation into the phenomenological life of gender.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52170-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Philosophy, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    (pp. 1-10)

    Assuming a Body is a project that works questions of embodiment through phenomenology (primarily the work of Merleau-Ponty), psychoanalysis (the work of Freud and Paul Schilder), and queer theory in order to consider how each of these disciplines conceives of the body. I seek to challenge the notion that the materiality of the body is something to which we have unmediated access, something of which we can have epistemological certainty, and contend that such epistemological uncertainty can have great use, both ethically and politically, in the lives of the non-normatively gendered. Throughout, the book takes up recent theorizations of transgendered...

  5. PART ONE What Is a Body?

      (pp. 13-42)

      Of what use might psychoanalytic theory be to those of us trying to bring attention to transgender within contemporary discussions of embodiment and gender? I would suggest that recent writings on transgender share a number of concerns and questions with the domains of psychoanalysis and phenomenology: how does the body manifest a sex? How can we account, in a nonpathologizing way, for bodies that manifest sex in ways that exceed or confound evident binaries? An understanding of transgender that wants to proceed by challenging a rigidly binaristic understanding of sex might find useful tools in theories that put similar pressure...

    • 2 THE SEXUAL SCHEMA: Transposition and Transgender in Phenomenology of Perception
      (pp. 43-66)

      In Phenomenology of Perception Merleau-Ponty makes but a single reference to what might be called mixed-gender embodiment: “A patient feels a second person implanted in his body. He is a man in half his body, a woman in the other half” (88). This remark would not seem to promise much for thinking about non-normative gender configurations. We are introduced to this person of indeterminate gender as a “patient,” already marked by some indistinct but defining sign of emotional or mental distress. That patient is doubly confined within a binary system of gender. Even though this patient is, phenomenologically speaking, both...

  6. PART TWO Homoerratics

    • 3 BOYS OF THE LEX: Transgender and Social Construction
      (pp. 69-93)

      San Francisco, historically and practically the epicenter of North American queer culture, has exactly one lesbian bar.¹ There are, of course, plenty of opportunities for lesbians to meet and frolic throughout the city, and on most nights of the week one can easily find a club or bar hosting a women’s night or, barring that, some other lesbian-friendly space. But San Francisco’s only seven-days-a-week self-proclaimed “dyke bar” is the Lexington Club. The club regularly advertises in local newspapers as “a totally gay club where every night is ladies’ night.” The Lex, as it is affectionately termed by its patrons, sold...

      (pp. 95-128)

      What is the relationship between women’s studies, feminism, and the study of transgenderism and other non-normative genders? In asking after the place—or lack of place—of transgender studies within the rubric of women’s studies, I want to suggest that feminism, particularly but not exclusively in its institutionalized form, has not been able to keep pace with non-normative genders as they are thought, embodied, and lived. Recent contestations around the term transgender echo some of the same concerns about referentiality and identity that have surfaced in the past through the circulation of the terms queer and woman within feminist discourses....

  7. PART THREE Transcending Sexual Difference

    • 5 AN ETHICS OF TRANSSEXUAL DIFFERENCE: Luce irigaray and the Place of Sexual Undecidability
      (pp. 131-144)

      Luce Irigaray raises a number of questions in “Place, Interval” about place, sexual difference, and the body as it is given through relation.¹ I want to ask whether a nonheteronormative reading of body and relation is possible within the logic of Irigaray’s work in An Ethics of Sexual Difference and, if so, what room might be made for sexual relationships that fall outside the scope of the strictly heterosexual or bodily and identificatory configurations that cannot be understood as strictly male or female. I want to follow Irigaray in insisting on the importance of a theory of place and relation...

      (pp. 145-168)

      Elizabeth Grosz’s “Experimental Desire: Rethinking Queer Subjectivity” opens with a quotation from Jasper Laybutt, a “‘male lesbian,’ female-to-male transsexual” who ruminates about the categorical significance and the ontology of queerness, issues that are the essay’s central concern:

      To me, queer transcends any gender, any sexual persuasion and philosophy. Queerness is a state of being. It is also a lifestyle. It’s something that’s eternally the alternative. To both the gay and lesbian mainstream. What’s queer now may not be queer in five years’ time. If transgender queer was accepted by both communities, then there would be no queer. It’s a reflection...

  8. PART FOUR Beyond the Law

    • 7 WITHHOLDING THE LETTER: Sex as State Property
      (pp. 171-194)

      It is a commonplace to speak of gender transition as a border crossing of sorts. The figuration of a transperson traversing a border in her passage from one gender to another is perhaps the most common trope used to describe transition in both literary and theoretical works, those written by transpeople and nontranspeople alike. In this final chapter I want to move beyond the observation that transpeople have been the figures of border crossing to claim that this figuration has implications that have not been much explored and I want to look at two of them. First, understanding transgender as...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 195-204)
    (pp. 205-216)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 217-226)