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Changing Sex and Bending Gender

Changing Sex and Bending Gender

Alison Shaw
Shirley Ardener
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 158
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  • Book Info
    Changing Sex and Bending Gender
    Book Description:

    Anthropologists and historians have shown us that 'male' and 'female' are variously defined historically and cross-culturally. The contributions to this volume focus on the voluntary and involuntary, temporary or permanent transformation of gender identity. Overall, this volume provides powerful and compelling illustrations of how, across a wide range of cultures, processes of gender transformation are shaped within, and ultimately constrained by, social and political context. From medical responses to biological ambiguity, legal responses to cases brought by transsexuals, the historical role of the eunuch in Byzantium, the social transformation of gender in Northern Albania and in the Southern Philippines, to North American 'drag' shows, English pantomime and Japanese kabuki theatre, this volume offers revealing insights into the ambiguities and limitations of gender transformation.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-885-8
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Shirley Ardener
  5. 1 Changing sex and bending gender: an introduction
    (pp. 1-19)
    Alison Shaw

    An Indian folk-tale tells the story of two Rajas who agree that if one of them has a son and the other a daughter, their children will marry. When they both have daughters, one Raja disguises his daughter as a boy and raises her as his son. This does not solve the problem of her biological sex, however, and at her marriage the deceit is discovered and the boy’s father declares revenge. Desperate, the girl attempts suicide by throwing herself into the river Juma, but instead emerges from it transformed into a male. Her grateful father builds temples on the...

  6. 2 Is it a boy, or a girl? The challenges of genital ambiguity
    (pp. 20-38)
    Alison Shaw

    In contemporary Europe and the United States, an infant’s sex is often ascertained before birth through amniocentesis or ultrasound scan and, if not, it is one of the first things to be examined at birth. Almost universally, the first statement made about a newborn baby is its sex. ‘What have you got?’ the midwives persistently asked me, when I had just given birth to a healthy baby. It took me some minutes to realise what they were asking for; I had not thought to look at the baby’s genitals.

    We would expect this focus in societies where gender has considerable...

  7. 3 Why should biological sex be decisive? Transsexualism before the European Court of Human Rights
    (pp. 39-59)
    Marie-Bénédicte Dembour

    Some individuals grow up with a feeling of certainty, developed from an early age, that they belong to the sexoppositeto that which they were assigned at birth on anatomical grounds (see Shaw’s contribution in this volume). Severe depression is a typical outcome of the split between physical appearance and personal sense of gender identity. This condition is now medically recognised and known as ‘transsexualism’ – which can be a move either from male-to-female or, less commonly, female-to-male (British Medical Association 1995: 1011, but see Reid 1995: 38–9).

    If the condition is diagnosed and therapy is sought, hormonal...

  8. 4 Two views on the gender identity of Byzantine eunuchs
    (pp. 60-73)
    Shaun Tougher

    The gender identity I shall consider here is that of the eunuch; the specific context is the Byzantine Empire, the name given to the continuation of the Roman Empire in the east. The Byzantine Empire was centred on the ancient Greek city of Byzantium (modern day Istanbul), which was renamed Constantinople by the Emperor Constantine the Great (306–37). Its existence can be dated from 330 (the year of the official dedication of the city) until 1453 (the year of the fall of the city to the Ottoman Turks). Its language was predominantly Greek, its religion Christianity. Whilst I will...

  9. 5 The third sex in Albania: an ethnographic note
    (pp. 74-84)
    Roland Littlewood and Antonia Young

    The institution of a third gender (or third sex¹) is not uncommon in non-industrialised societies (Whitehead 1981, Roscoe 1994), be they those with a distinctive male/female difference, or, less commonly, those where the difference between the sexes is not conspicuously heightened. The instance we wish to consider here is a phenomenon observed in the mountain villages of Northern Albania, and to a lesser extent Kosova, Serbia and Montenegro, where one finds something like a third sex recognised. This is a society where male/female differences are certainly heightened, at least in European terms.

    ‘Sworn virgins’ have been reported in the Western...

  10. 6 Living like men, loving like women: tomboi in the Southern Philippines
    (pp. 85-102)
    Mark Johnson

    This chapter provides an ethnographic account of individuals in the Southern Philippines who are identified, by themselves and others, astomboiort-birds,¹ that is, as female-bodied individuals who identify with and choose to live ‘like men’.Tomboimasculine identifications are registered among other things in dress and bodily comportment, in occupational and leisure pursuits, and in their desire for, and sexual relationships with, feminine-identified female-bodied individuals – that is, women. However, whiletomboisee themselves as being ‘like men’, they do not talk about themselves exclusively in terms of masculine identifications. Specifically, they distinguish themselves from other masculine-identified malebodied...

  11. 7 One of the gals who’s one of the guys: men, masculinity and drag performance in North America
    (pp. 103-118)
    Fiona Moore

    Over the years, numerous studies have been done of ‘drag performance’, a comedy performance by cross-dressed men in North America and Europe. These focus on drag as a form of gender crossing, a part of sexual politics, or an act of misogyny. Few, however, investigate the relation of drag to the expression of masculinity. On the basis of fieldwork in and around the Sunday-night drag show at a Canadian bar, I would argue that drag is used by straight and gay men to symbolise their respective conceptions of, and positions on, masculinity and the tensions relating to it.

    Drag, for...

  12. 8 Male dames and female boys: cross-dressing in the English pantomime
    (pp. 119-137)
    Shirley Ardener

    The English have had a long fascination with the grotesque and the vulgar. Formerly, for example, we found geurning (making ugly faces framed in a horse’s halter) a highly comic form of entertainment. More recently, the knobbly knees competitions at holiday camps, and the risqué seaside postcards featuring large fat women and small skinny men, similarly play with exaggerated physicality. On television we had the Benny Hill shows with their ‘exaggeratedly built’ scantily dressed girls; Eric Morecambe with his risible unfitting clothes and crooked spectacles; and the ludicrous cross dressing of the Two Ronnies, Barker and Corbett – they all...

  13. 9 Cross-dressing on the Japanese stage
    (pp. 138-149)
    Brian Powell

    This chapter considers cross-dressing on the Japanese stage in terms of performance history. Japan can boast of more than six centuries of sophisticated theatre, beginning with the elegant and deeply spiritual genre ofthat emerged at the end of the fourteenth century. Since that time many other genres have developed as new audiences, new times and new practitioners have presented themselves. Unlike European theatre traditions, in which a new development has usually displaced or superseded what existed before, Japan’s new genres have always existed alongside what they have challenged, the old being preserved after the new has developed.¹ The...

  14. Notes on contributors
    (pp. 150-151)
  15. Index
    (pp. 152-158)