Gender Trouble Couplets, Volume 1
(excerpted from Section 3, “Gender: The Circular Ruins of Contemporary Debate”)
by A.W. Strouse
Is Gender what you have or be?
Is Gender just made culturally?
Could we construct it differently?
Is there a possibility
of any gender agency?
Is Gender’s universal axis
then always framed as different Sexes?
And is there ever any Gender
that’s to the gendered Subject prior?
Now some would say this very notion
of Gender as man-made construction
or even syllogistically
encoding Bodies culturally
in meanings anatomically
assigned and coded passively
as though it weren’t Biology
but forces awfully culturally
that thereby frame our destiny.
And then in Simone de Beauvoir
(within her classic oeuvre) are
these thoughts you may have read before:
A woman’s not as woman born
but she becomes as she would learn.
Preceding Gender? There’s an ego
an Agent (whom we call Cogito)
who at some point takes on a Gender
and therefore might have picked the other.
Construction then is not a choice?
or does compulsion steal one’s voice?
And does compulsion come from Sex?
or made as Culture so expects?
In fact there isn’t any Body
which would not ALWAYS ALREADY be
encoded by us culturally
so that it’s just fallaciously
some preordained Biology
is basis for Ontology.
It looks like Sex by definition
is Gender, which is a construction.
And then this issue of construction
must founder on the rock, convention
debating if the Will has force
or if some Fate would Will coerce?
Given then such characteristics
it all is traced back to Linguistics:
how our debate is so constrained
because (as I have just explained)
the Body’s written in these terms
receiving as a set of Norms
a Will that is appropriative
or otherwise interpretative—
and so the Body’s made to fit
the meanings inscribed onto it.
The Body too is a construction
its meaning post hoc through deduction.
And neither does it exist ever
as prior to that marker Gender.
Therefore critiquing insistence
that the Body has existence
both in and through this mark of Gender
we simply cannot any longer
assume the Body’s neatly filled
with Essence or that it’s instilled
with whatsoever Self has willed.
So have not we discovered whether
it’s either Sex or either Gender
that’s firstly fixed, or is it free?
Or what if what it’s seen to be
is actually a limitation
and just a pre-fab supposition
which is some claim of Humanism
wrecking all our radicalism?
A.W. Strouse teaches medieval literature at The New School. Strouse is the author of My Gay Middle Ages (punctum books, 2020) and Transfer Queen (punctum books, 2020).