. 5
( 8)


the story gives allomothers a starring role because of the contributions
they make to human intelligence in providing resources to weaned
children and allowing them to remain children. Finally, the story
highlights the importance of humor, kindness, and integrity in com-
pensating for human vulnerability. The characters in this story, in
short, are not men and women but members of communities.
If we adopt the view of textual interpretation I laid out in chapter 3,
this second story is at least as compelling as the first in integrating the
parts of our evolutionary history into a unified whole. Indeed, it integra-
tes same-sex and opposite-sex pairings, makes sense out of the develop-
ment of human childhood, and explains the longer lives of humans as
compared to primates. Nevertheless, it is possible to think that the story
Wright and Low tell is more integrative in that it appears to cohere better
with the findings of other sciences, including studies of the brain. In the
next section of this chapter, I therefore want to look at some of these.

In the behavioral ecologist account that Low gives, the different func-
tions of the sexes in mating effort and parental effort lead to gender
S E X A N D S C I E N C E 137

differences in mental capacities. As befits an evolutionary history in
which, she claims, men search out nubile mates and provide resources
for their own and their families™ survival, men are better with num-
bers, maps, and spatial analysis.44 As befits the role she gives women
as sedentary nurturers, women notice things, are more sensitive to
others and can recall the location of objects.45 Hence, men tend to give
directions in terms of streets and miles while women tend to cite
Low™s explanations here seem to fit with unrelated studies of
mental characteristics. According to these studies, infant girls who are
only a day old react more intensely than day-old boys to the sound of
another™s trouble. As adults, women have an acuter sense of smell
than men; they are more sensitive to touch; and even the hair cells in
their inner ears vibrate more intensely.46 In tests of the ability to
visualize and rotate three-dimensional figures in their heads men
outperform women by around 67 percent and they do better in maze
performance, angle-matching tasks, and in a test called the block
design test. Twelfth-grade boys outperform twelfth-grade girls on the
Advanced Placement physics exam. Indeed, a study of thirty years of
math and science testing found that boys outnumbered girls in the top
10 percent of scores by three to one. ˜˜In the top 1 percent, there were
seven boys for every one girl. In some mechanical“vocational tests,
such as electronics and auto repair, there were no girls in the top 3
percent.™™47 Test results of verbal abilities move in the opposite direc-
tion. The same thirty-year study that showed boys at the top in math
and science found girls consistently at the top in reading comprehen-
sion and writing skills.48 Some of these differences are more stable
than others but even those that have decreased in the last thirty years
have not disappeared.
Given the history of intelligence tests, however, we might rea-
sonably be suspicious of such results. In the first part of the twentieth

44 45 46
Low, Why Sex Matters, p. 46. Ibid., p. 47. Blum, Sex on the Brain, p. 68.
47 48
Ibid., p. 58. Ibid., p. 58.
138 A F T E R I D E N T I T Y

century, Jews were found to perform so much more poorly than gen-
tiles on intelligence tests that scientists insisted that Jews were genet-
ically inferior to gentiles and Congress passed laws that restricted
Jewish immigration into the United States.49 In contrast, studies
from 1947 to 1984 found that Jews performed better on intelligence
tests than gentiles did. The discrepancy in the results of the two texts
cannot be attributed to improvement in the living conditions of
Jewish immigrants from the first to the second part of the twentieth
century because the findings spanned different economic classes.
Instead, Troy Duster attributes the discrepancy to the conduct of the
testing itself.50 Might not the same be said for studies of male and
female intelligence?
Take one of the popular versions of the test for differences in the
spatial abilities of men and women. In it, subjects sit in dark rooms in
front of rods placed within large vertically held frames. Their task is to
keep the rod perpendicular to the floor as the researcher tilts either the
frame or the chair in various directions. In five of twelve such studies
examined, no differences were found between those identified as men
and those identified as women. In the remaining seven, those identi-
fied as men performed better.51 Of course, model and block-building
are popularly defined as ˜˜boy™™ activities. Hence, it is perhaps not
surprising that men do better on the test. Girls may have had less
chance to build things and hence be less experienced with spatial
relations and, if so, it remains unclear what the findings mean for
their innate abilities. Basing her own suspicions about the meaning
of the results upon cross-cultural studies, Anne Fausto-Sterling claims
that ˜˜sex-related differences in visual“spatial activities are strongest
in societies in which women™s social (public) roles are most limited,
and . . . these differences tend to disappear in societies in which

Troy Duster, Backdoor to Eugenics (New York: Routledge, 2003), p. 11.
Ibid., p. 11.
Anne Fausto-Sterling, Myths of Gender: Biological Theories about Women and
Men, revised edn. (New York: Basic Books, 1992), p. 31.
S E X A N D S C I E N C E 139

women have a great deal of freedom.™™52 Yet, although one explanation
of the differences between male and female scores may involve public
roles, another may have more to do with comfort levels: perhaps, for
social and cultural reasons women are simply less comfortable in dark
rooms than men are, particularly if those conducting the test are male.
Women may perform more poorly on the tests for reasons therefore
wholly unconnected to their mental capacities.
Studies of the brain are supposed to by-pass these sorts of prob-
lems with intelligence tests by looking directly at brain structure and
function. Women have been found to possess corpus callosi that are
more bulbous than those of men, neurons that are packed more tightly
together in the temporal cortex than are those of men, and limbic
systems that are more active in a region linked to a quick verbal
response than are male limbic systems. The latter, in turn, are more
active in a region linked to a quick physical response.53 Yet, like
intelligence tests, studies of the brain have a suspicious history.
Anne Fausto-Sterling notes that ˜˜scientific™™ studies once found differ-
ences in ˜˜Negro™™ and ˜˜Caucasian™™ brains,54 claiming that Negroes had
smaller frontal lobes than so-called Caucasians, larger parietal lobes
than Caucasians, and a left“right asymmetry in lobes that was the
reverse of the Caucasian one. These differences, in turn, were said to
explain the ˜˜undeveloped artistic power and taste™™ of blacks as well as
their characteristic ˜˜lack of self-control, especially in connection with
the sexual relation.™™55
Even if brain studies are currently more sophisticated, they
remain notoriously difficult. The corpus callosum, for instance, is
connected in multiple ways to other parts of the brain and is very
difficult to isolate in exactly the same way in the different brains.

52 53
Ibid., p. 35. Blum, Sex on the Brain, pp. 60“61.
See Robert Bennett Bean, ˜˜Some Racial Peculiarities of the Negro Brain,™™ American
Journal of Anatomy, 5, 1906, pp. 353“432. The terms ˜˜Caucasian™™ and ˜˜Negro™™ are
Bean, ˜˜Some Peculiarities of the Negro Brain,™™ p. 377. Also cited in Ann Fausto-
Sterling, Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality (New
York: Basic Books, 2000), p. 122.
140 A F T E R I D E N T I T Y

Hence, it is unclear whether scientists always obtain the sort of
measurements that can permit meaningful comparisons. Even more
perplexing, perhaps, is the conclusion from a meta-analysis that
pooled together the data from a large number of smaller studies. This
meta-analysis found ˜˜no gender difference in either absolute or rela-
tive size or shape of the CC [corpus callosum] as a whole or of the
splenium.™™56 A similar finding held for Negro and Caucasian brains:
blind studies found no group differences that could outweigh individual
differences and further casual inspection found no differences at all.57
Notwithstanding such suspicions, scientists may ultimately
locate indisputable differences in male and female brains as well as
clear differences in their intelligences. On the other hand, the expect-
ation of these differences may be another theoretical commitment,
similar to the idea of racial difference. Yet, suppose it does turn out
that male and female brains differ and that men and women have
different mental strengths. The brains of left- and right-handed people
also differ but we do not connect these differences to personality traits
and abilities. Indeed, for much of our history, we have assumed they
are malleable and that left-handed children could and should be taught
to write and eat with their right hands. Far from indicating something
about identity, differences between left- and right-handers were
thought to be entirely erasable. Why, then, should we suppose that
structural differences in the brain say anything more fundamental
about identities as men and women?
Before we decide on the meaning of test results we acquire from
brain or intelligence studies, we should first ask why we are interested
in the particular identities we are comparing. We should keep in mind
that both people and their brains differ in all sorts of ways and that we
can compare and contrast them along different routes, according to
different criteria, and with regard to different interests. Why, then, are
scientists even interested in differences in male and female brains?

56 57
Fausto-Sterling Sexing the Body, pp. 131, 135. Ibid., p. 123.
S E X A N D S C I E N C E 141

Duster argues that interests in differences between groups usually
point to concerns a higher socioeconomic class has about a lower
one. ˜˜In a culture where race and sex are firmly rooted categories of
differentiation and sustained stratification, we should expect both
common sense and probing inquiry into the intelligence differences
between the races and into the biological destiny of females.™™58

˜˜The Big T,™™ Andrew Sullivan writes about testosterone ˜˜correlates with
confidence, competitiveness, tenacity, strength and sexual drive.™™59 It is
a ˜˜facilitator of risk: physical, criminal, personal™™ and goes a long way to
explaining why there are four times as many male criminals as female
ones and why most violent crimes are committed by men.60 ˜˜The Big T™™
also explains why the sacrifice of quantity of life for intensity of expe-
rience is a ˜˜deeply male™™ trade-off.61 Testosterone ˜˜affects every aspect
of our society, from high divorce rates and adolescent male violence to
the exploding cults of bodybuilding and professional wrestling. It helps
explain, perhaps better than any other single fact, why inequalities
between men and women remain so frustratingly resilient in public
and private life.™™62
For health reasons, Sullivan must inject himself with testoster-
one every two weeks and his expertise on its results issues from the
effects he personally experiences, not only in increased lust but also in
mood, physique, and behavior:

Losing my temper in a petty argument; innumerable traffic
confrontations; even the occasional slightly too prickly column
or e-mail flame-out. No doubt my previous awareness of the
mythology of testosterone had subtly primed me for these feelings
of irritation and impatience. But when I place them in the larger

Duster, Backdoor to Eugenics, p. 22.
Andrew Sullivan ˜˜The He Hormone,™™ New York Times Magazine, April 2, 2000,
downloaded from ˜˜New York Times Archives,™™ download, pp. 4“5.
60 61 62
Ibid., download, p. 8. Ibid., download, p. 12. Ibid., download, p. 1.
142 A F T E R I D E N T I T Y

context of my new testosterone-associated energy, and of what we
know about what testosterone tends to do to people, then it seem
plausible enough to ascribe some of this increased edginess and self-
confidence to that biweekly encounter with a syringe full of

Or course, Sullivan is no scientist, but his account nicely cap-
tures some popular assumptions about the connection between tes-
tosterone and ˜˜manhood.™™ Moreover, scientific studies often support
this idea. Thus, critics of David Reimer™s gender reassignment often
point to the ˜˜masculine™™ hormones that bathed his brain while in
utero and that must, they think, have had consequences for his behav-
ior.64 Despite their emphasis on up-bringing in the acquisition of
gender identities, John Money and Anke Ehrhardt also point to the
exposure to fetal androgens that causes ˜˜masculine™™ behaviors in girls.
According to other studies, male songbirds sing and female songbirds
do not. Nevertheless, if injected with sufficient amounts of testoster-
one, females sing like males.65 Male sparrows are more nurturing than
many males of other bird species. Nevertheless, if injected with tes-
tosterone, they fly off in pursuit of female sparrows, in complete
disregard of their new baby chicks.66 Female rats curve their backs in
the presence of male rats in a submissive manner. Injected with
testosterone, however, they ˜˜will be more aggressive and try to
mount other female rats.™™67 As for human beings, Congenital
Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH) is the condition in which fetuses with
XX chromosomes are exposed to elevated amounts of androgens, the
precursors of testosterone, in the womb. According to a study by
Melissa Hines, Charles Brook, and Gerard S. Conway, individuals
affected by the condition ˜˜are more likely than other girls to prefer

Ibid., download, p. 3.
See Milton Diamond and Keith Sigmundson, ˜˜Sex Reassignment at Birth: Long-
term Review and Clinical Implications,™™ Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent
Medicine, 151, 1997, pp. 298“304.
Anne Moir and David Jessel, Brain Sex: The Real Difference Between Men and
Women (New York: Delta Books, 1989), p. 27.
66 67
Blum, Sex on the Brain, p. 172. Moir and Jessel, Brain Sex, p. 26.
S E X A N D S C I E N C E 143

toys that are normally preferred by boys (e.g. cars) and less likely to
prefer toys that are normally preferred by girls (e.g. dolls). They also
show increased preferences for boys as playmates and for boy-typical
activities.™™68 Hines, Brook, and Conway note that these character-
istics ˜˜are seen on questionnaires, in interviews, and in direct obser-
vation of toy choices.™™ Moreover, they find them ˜˜when girls with
CAH are compared to unaffected female relatives, as well as to con-
trols matched for background factors like age and parental socioeco-
nomic status.™™69 ˜˜Jane™™ is typical:

She was noticeably rougher and tougher in play. She was an
intensely physical, outdoor person. She also went out of her way to
seek out the company of boys as playmates. She had no time for
dolls, preferring to play with her bother™s trucks, cars and building
blocks. At school she was a late developer in reading and writing.
She would also get into trouble for starting fights.
As a young teenager, she refused to be a bridesmaid at her
cousin™s wedding. Later, she displayed no interest at all in babies.
Alone among her female friends, Jane always refused to baby-sit.
She had absolutely no interest in feminine clothes.
When she got married, she had an unromantic, down-to-earth
view of marriage. She describes her husband as ˜˜my best friend.™™
When she had children, she was devoted in equal measure, to her
family and to her career. Her hobby is orienteering, the strenuous
cross-country sport where success depends on stamina and an
accurate sense of direction.70

Studies of both animals and human beings, then, seem to
confirm the connection between testosterone and ˜˜manhood,™™ or at
least masculine attitudes and behaviors. Yet, Fausto-Sterling, for one,

Melissa Hines, Charles Brook, and Gerard S. Conway, ˜˜Androgen and Psychosexual
Development: Core Gender Identity, Sexual Orientation, and Recalled Childhood
Gender Role Behavior in Women and Men with Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia
(CAH),™™ The Journal of Sex Research, 41, 2004, p. 75.
69 70
Ibid., p. 75. Moir and Jessel, Brain Sex, pp. 29“30.
144 A F T E R I D E N T I T Y

remains as suspicious of these studies as she is of brain comparisons.
CAH-affected girls must be monitored for a potentially life-threatening
electrolyte imbalance and can be treated with cortisone to inhibit the
overproduction of androgens. Moreover, CAH infants are often born
with large, ˜˜masculinized™™ genitals that are often surgically reshaped
or ˜˜corrected.™™71 Fausto-Sterling argues that these surgical corrections
and treatments may explain the behavior of those with CAH as much
as or more than the presence of testosterone in utero. She also simply
distrusts the claim that there are differences between CAH-affected
females and non-CAH-affected ones. In this connection, she cites
studies that either do not find significant patterns of differences
between the two groups or find ones that seem peculiar at best. For
example, one study reports that CAH-affected children tend to spend
more time caring for their pets than do children without the condition.
The study thus concludes that although CAH-affected girls are less
interested in human infants than are unaffected girls, they are ˜˜not
less nurturant overall.™™72 As Fausto-Sterling remarks, however, this
conclusion ˜˜would imply that testosterone interferes with the devel-
opment of interest in infants, but that some general character called
nurturance, which could get directed everywhere but to children,
existed independently of high androgen levels.™™73
The Hines, Brook, and Conway study as well as Sullivan™s report
are equally remarkable for the assumptions they make as to what
manhood is. The fact that male sparrows injected with ˜˜the Big T™™
fly off rather than attending to their off-spring is meant to show the
link between testosterone and male behavior. But why does flying
away from one™s young mean that one is behaving in a masculine
way? If the answer is that the sparrows are flying off to pursue female
sparrows and are doing so in an indiscriminate way, why suppose
that this activity correlates with being male or behaving as one?
The assumptions here are that testosterone makes a sparrow

See Moir and Jessel, Brain Sex, p. 30.
72 73
See Fausto-Sterling, Sexing the Body, p. 75. Ibid., pp. 289“290, n. 129.
S E X A N D S C I E N C E 145

indiscriminately interested in whatever female sparrows fly by and
that a lack of discrimination is somehow masculine. Yet, if
Roughgarden and others are correct about male coyness, we might
wonder about this correlation. Moreover, if studies since the 1970s are
correct, it may be that female sparrows are as interested in female
sparrows as male sparrows are. If so, following sparrows would seem to
be an indication of the way testosterone increases a sparrow™s interest
in other sparrows rather than an expression of ˜˜manhood.™™ Likewise,
it may be that injecting human individuals with testosterone from an
external source makes them impatient and increases their ˜˜confidence,
competitiveness, tenacity, strength, and sexual drive.™™ Nevertheless, it
remains equally unclear how these characteristics are meant to corre-
late with something called masculinity.
There is no reason to dispute the endocrinological differences
between men and women. Males have more testosterone on average
than females do. Yet, even if they are also stronger on average than
females, it is certainly unclear that they are more confident, compet-
itive, tenacious, or sexually driven on average. Moreover, many males
are stronger than other males as well. Again, with Duster, we might
ask why we should be interested in the strength difference between
men and women and not that between men and men. Why not say that
increasing the amount of testosterone in a body increases ˜˜confidence,
competitiveness, tenacity, strength, and sexual drive™™ without bring-
ing sex or gender into the analysis at all?
Actually, it is far from clear that testosterone does increase
confidence, competitiveness, or tenacity, whatever we might say
about strength and sexual drive. Tests of male tennis players after a
match show that the winner has higher levels of testosterone than the
loser. Yet, before the match, tests show that both possess similarly
high testosterone levels. Only after the match have the winner™s levels
gone even higher while the loser™s have significantly decreased.74 This

Natalie Angier, Woman: An Intimate Geography (New York: Anchor Books Edn.,
2000), p. 271.
146 A F T E R I D E N T I T Y

finding suggests that the anticipation of competition raises levels of
testosterone and that success in competition occasions an even
greater spike. Conversely, losing depresses testosterone. Hence, it is
not clear that increasing the amount of testosterone in one™s body
increases one™s confidence, competitiveness, or tenacity. Rather, the
causal chain seems to run the other way: increased confidence, com-
petitiveness, or tenacity increases one™s testosterone levels. There is
another inference “ if fanciful “ we might want to draw from these
findings. If competition and winning produce high levels of testoster-
one and if losing a match lowers testosterone, then perhaps we have an
additional explanation for why women™s bodies, on average, possess
less testosterone than men™s: constant and intractable identification
as a woman is already a losing proposition.
What are we to make of the description of ˜˜Jane?™™ Suppose she
was rough and tough as a child and suppose she had no time for dolls,
was a late developer in reading and writing, refused to be a bridesmaid
at her cousin™s wedding and did not like to baby-sit. Suppose as an
adult, she has an unromantic, down-to-earth view of marriage and is
devoted in equal measure to her family and to her career. Hines, Brook,
and Conway understand these behaviors and preferences as inter-
linked parts of her gender anomaly caused by her exposure to uterine
androgens. But how do these features of ˜˜Jane™s™™ character link up
with one another? What is the connection supposed to be between
learning to read later than one™s peers and refusing to be a bridesmaid?
Moreover, how does whatever link such characteristics are meant to
have to one another pertain to sex or gender? Why suppose that a lack
of interest in baby-sitting and an unromantic, down-to-earth view of
marriage have any relation to sex or gender, let alone to one another?
Indeed, if an absence of interest in babies, a lack of romantic senti-
ments, and an equal devotion to career and family are meant to char-
acterize men, this idea is surely a surprise to many of them, despite
their exposure to fetal androgens.
Yet another study focused on the effects of testosterone on
women and found that women with high levels of testosterone tended
S E X A N D S C I E N C E 147

to be career women. In contrast, ˜˜lower-testosterone women usually
had a great deal more interest in children and in dressing up. They
liked makeup; they liked jewelry. They liked cooking better than the
high-testosterone women did. They enjoyed interior decorating
more.™™75 The implication of this study is the same as that of the
Hines, Brook, and Conway study: high levels of testosterone move
women in a masculine direction, signified here by an interest in
careers. In contrast, comparatively low levels of testosterone move
women towards more feminine interests, signified here by interests in
jewelry and interior decorating. To be sure, it seems bizarre that
testosterone could have such definitive tastes. Even if we were to
decide that an interest in jewelry is a feminine interest, despite the
number of men who share it, we would still want to know why low
testosterone would lead one to this interest. Moreover, given the
results of the effects of competition on levels of testosterone in the
body, it is surely more reasonable to assume that individuals engaged
in careers have higher levels of testosterone than those without them
just because they are in more competitive environments. If so, the
study™s causal account is again backwards: higher levels of testoster-
one do not cause an interest in careers; instead, the pursuit of a career
raises levels of testosterone. Likewise, lower levels of testosterone do
not cause an interest in jewelry or interior decorating. Instead, a lack of
competition lowers testosterone. Perhaps lowering one™s competitive
urge also leaves space for the emergence of interests in jewelry and
interior decorating. Or perhaps researchers have simply been misled
by the introduction of sex and gender into endocrinology to suppose all
sorts of strange bedfellows, including connections between low levels
of testosterone, lack of interest in a career, and a love for bejeweled
None of the studies we have looked at so far suggests that our
hormones need to be understood through the perspective of sex and
gender. One can increase the amount of testosterone in one™s body by

Moir and Jessel, Sex on the Brain, p. 184.
148 A F T E R I D E N T I T Y

injecting oneself with it and doing so may make one more impatient,
confident, competitive, tenacious, stronger, and more sexually driven.
One can also increase the amount of testosterone in one™s body by
putting oneself in a competitive environment. Similarly, one can take
pills to become less depressed, or one can go running. We do not
associate either one of these activities with sex and gender. Why should
we associate testosterone levels with sex and gender any more than we
connect serotonin levels with sex and gender? Many of our most pop-
ular ideas about testosterone are simply circular: testosterone can be
thought to lead to typically male behaviors only if certain behaviors
such as an interest in careers and a certain degree of impatience, con-
fidence, competitiveness, tenacity, strength, and promiscuity have
already been interpreted as male. Similarly, a relative lack of testoster-
one can be thought to lead to typically female pursuits only if interests
in jewelry and interior decorating have already been interpreted as
female. If, instead, we associate a relative lack of testosterone with
losing a match, we might be led to ask what match women have lost.
In any case, if the question remains why we should necessarily
associate testosterone only with the male sex and especially with the
masculine gender, moving from humans to rats fails to make the
association any clearer. The studies of the effects of injecting female
rats with testosterone are supposed to show that testosterone leads to
male sexual behaviors insofar as the female rats attempt to mount
other rats. Other studies are meant to show the obverse: injecting male
rats with estrogen leads them to adopt female sexual behaviors in as
much as they present themselves in a receptive position to other
rats.76 Yet, in a series of studies in the 1940s and 1950s, Frank
Ambrose Beach already observed the same mounting patterns in unin-
jected female rats as well as in male and female rats injected with
estrogen.77 The claim, then, that a rat mounting another rat is

Ibid., pp. 163“164.
Fausto-Sterling, Sexing the Body, p. 209. See Ambrose Beach, ˜˜Execution of the
Complete Masculine Copulatory Pattern by Sexually Receptive Female Rats,™™
Journal of Genetic Psychology, 60, 1942, pp. 137“142.
S E X A N D S C I E N C E 149

exhibiting male behavior while a rat presenting itself in a receptive
position is exhibiting female behavior is peculiar. It is more likely that
both are just exhibiting rat behavior.
As Fausto-Sterling explains, hormone studies are even more exas-
perating than even the foregoing considerations suggest. For, it is not
simply the behaviors to which androgens and estrogens are meant to
lead that are identified as either male or female but androgens and estro-
gens themselves.78 In 1889, the French physiologist Charles Edouard
Brown-Sequard hypothesized that male gonads secreted substances con-
trolling male development and in 1891 reported renewed vigor after he
began injecting himself with crushed guinea pig and dog testicles.79 In the
1920s and 1930s scientists isolated secretions from the ovaries that they
considered decisive for the female ˜˜character.™™80 Accordingly, scientists
named the secretions in terms of the site where they had initially found
them: androgens for the substances isolated from testes and estrogens for
substances from the ovaries. From the beginning, then, estrogens and
androgens became the ˜˜sex™™ hormones and were associated with the
characteristic behaviors of different genders. Indeed, by linking hormones
to sex and linking sex to sexual object-choice, researchers came up with
an explanation for homosexuality: it was caused by the presence of estro-
gen in men.81 Conversely, interests in properly male activities such as
suffrage were caused by the misplaced presence of androgens in women.82
Unfortunately, researchers had to modify this elegant theory in
1934 when Bernard Zondek found estrogen in the testicles of a virile
stallion.83 They had to modify it even more thoroughly when they

See Adele E. Clarke, Disciplining Reproduction: Modernity, American Life Science
and the Problems of Sex (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1998),
pp. 125“128.
Nelly Oudshoorn, ˜˜Endocrinologists and the Conceptualization of Sex, 1920“1940,™™
Journal of the History of Biology, 23 (2), 1990, p. 165.
80 81 82
Ibid., p. 166. Ibid., p. 176. Fausto-Sterling, Sexing the Body, p. 154.
Adele Clarke quotes an interview with Bernard Zondek: ˜˜To this day, I do not
understand how it is that the high concentration of estrogen in stallion testes and
blood does not exert an emasculating effect. F[the interviewer]: It is fortunate for the
stallion that he has no chance of knowing your trouble.™™ Disciplining Reproduction,
p. 126.
150 A F T E R I D E N T I T Y

discovered that androgens and estrogens converted into one another.
Other studies in the 1930s, as well as more recent studies, chart the
effects of hormones on such phenomena as human growth, fatty depos-
its, and kidney weight. According to Fausto-Sterling, then, testosterone
and estrogen are simply ˜˜powerful growth hormones affecting most, if
not all, of the body™s organic systems.™™84 Their association with sex and
gender is both confusing and confused.

Denise Riley recounts the attempt of Renaissance feminists to restrict
their status as women to their mortal bodies and to insist that it did
not penetrate to their immortal souls. These feminists were willing to
concede that women were composed of ˜˜deprived, passive, and mate-
rial traits, cold and moist dominant humours and a desire for comple-
tion by intercourse with men.™™85 Nevertheless, they insisted that
women™s souls were neuter. While their identity as women might be
an aspect of their earthly existence, it was no part of their identity in
the afterworld. If women were ˜˜the inferior of the male by nature,™™
they were ˜˜his equal by grace.™™86 Women were women only on a
temporary basis, then, as part of a temporary existence. In their souls
and essence, they were not women at all. By the eighteenth century,
this attempt to reserve femaleness for a temporary existence had
failed. The identity of being a woman pervaded all of one™s identity,
penetrating to one™s very soul. Theorists such as Rousseau insisted
upon it: ˜˜The soul of a perfect woman and a perfect man,™™ he famously
wrote, ˜˜ought to be no more alike than their faces.™™87
Many contemporary researchers seem to agree. Sex and gender
are central to every facet of our evolutionary pre-history. They divide
our brains and they name our hormones. Indeed, the discovery that
testosterone and estrogen are multi-site chemical growth regulators

Fausto-Sterling, Sexing the Body, p. 193.
See Denise Riley, Am I That Name: Feminism and the Category of ˜˜Women™™ in
History (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1988), p. 24.
86 87
Ibid., p. 25. Cited in Riley, Am I That Name, p. 36.
S E X A N D S C I E N C E 151

has not undermined their position as sex hormones. Instead, if estro-
gens and androgens regulate human growth, fatty deposits, and kidney
weight, then our growth, weight, and kidneys are gendered as well. As
Fausto-Sterling writes, ˜˜Chemicals infuse the body, from head to toe,
with gender meanings.™™88
Yet, the findings of evolutionary psychology, brain and intelli-
gence studies, and endocrinology raise interpretive complexities.
With regard to no part of the evidence to which they refer is there
only one story we can tell. We can tell different stories about the
evolutionary situation, depending upon whether we focus on differ-
ences between males and females or on shared tasks, activities, and
interests. We can also tell different stories about the brain. In the first
place, scientists disagree. Some have found differences between male
and female brains and some have not. Some are able to correlate the
differences they perceive with differences in the abilities and intelli-
gences of men and women and some cannot. In the second place, there
are probably countless ways to look at brains and countless differences
between individuals to examine, including differences between left-
handers and right-handers. Hormones also admit of different interpre-
tive gambits. To be sure, their entanglement with masculinity and
femininity provides for vexingly circular ideas: attitudes and behav-
iors are given sexes and genders because sexes and genders are already
associated with attitudes and behaviors. Moreover, hormones are seen
not only as causes of sexed and gendered attitudes and behaviors, but as
sexed and gendered themselves. Yet, even if we confirm endocrinolog-
ical differences between male and female bodies, it is difficult to see
how we get from these differences to Sullivan™s syringe of manhood.
We need not make men and women, males and females central
to our evolutionary history, our brains, or our hormones. Indeed, we
can give community members, individuals, and growth regulators
equal billing. But if so, we might question the uses of science in
enforcing sex and gender identities. In reflecting on past uses of

Fausto-Sterling, Sexing the Body, p. 147.
152 A F T E R I D E N T I T Y

sciences, Duster offers a useful reminder: ˜˜In the fifteenth-century
Spain of Torquemada, people routinely raised the question about the
biological differences between believers and heretics, between
Christians and Jews, posited the natural superiority of one group
over the other and invoked the known procedures for coming to
terms with the available knowledge.™™89

Duster, Backdoor to Eugenics, p. 3.
Rethinking sex and gender

A survey of behavioral ecology fails to show that male and female
differences provide the sole or even most important motor for
evolutionary development, while surveys of brain studies and endo-
crinology fail to show that brains and hormones are fundamentally
sexed. Still, these failures need not lead us to question whether
we are men and women at all, or whether there are any differences
between men and women. Instead, they raise the question as to why
we are so interested in precisely these as opposed to the myriad of
other differences and other motors of change. In this chapter, I want
to suggest that our identities and identifications as men and women
have the same status as identities and identifications as Red Sox and
Yankees fans or Irish Americans and Polish Americans. Identities
and identifications as men and women are no less partial than the
other identities and identifications we possess. Nor are differences
between men and women, however different cultures define them,
any less situationally restricted than differences between left- and
In order to make these claims, I shall argue that, like these other
identities and identifications, our identities and identifications as
men and women are understandings of who and what we are. As
such, they are historically ˜˜effected™™ and intelligible parts of only
particular interpretive wholes. As I did in the case of racial identity,
I shall use accounts of the socially constructed status of sex and gender
to set the stage for my claim. The accounts in which I am interested
confront questions about the scope and consistency of constructions
of sex and gender. Further, they raise the issue of whether we can or
should simply dismantle them.
154 A F T E R I D E N T I T Y

There are many investigations into the construction of sex and gender,
most of which focus on the construction of women. Here I take up
Denise Riley™s 1988 book, Am I That Name: Feminism and the
Category of ˜˜Women™™ in History,1 because it is explicit about a prob-
lem I want to raise. Riley™s aim is to show that histories of women are
misleading precisely because they assume that women have a history.
In her view, the ˜˜arrangement of people under the banners of men and
women™™2 is so intertwined with particular cultural conceptualiza-
tions of nature, the soul, the social world, and the body that the
arrangement is always a specific arrangement. It is peculiar to what
we might call a specific language game or discourse and cannot subsist
outside of it. The language games are impermeable: women have no
history because there is no historical thread that leads from one con-
struction of their identity to another.
Riley focuses on what she sees as three separate and unrelated
constructions of women. According to the medieval theology on
which early feminists insisted, the identity of individuals as women
pertained only to their life on earth. It had no existence in the after-
world or with regard to an individual™s immortal soul. To be sure,
women™s earthly and mortal bodies exuded a greater sensuality and
their corporeal existence therefore had the potential to pollute their
souls. For just this reason, however, sixteenth- and seventeenth-century
feminists took it upon themselves to prove and protect the sanctity
and sex- and gender-neuter status of the soul. They sought to prove it
through demonstrations of their learning and rationality.3 They tried
to protect it by advocating women™s sanctuaries devoted to education
and freed from the sensual and soul-polluting temptations of sexual
intercourse.4 These attempts failed. Riley claims that by the eight-
eenth century the sensuality of women™s corporeal nature pervaded
their identity and their identity included their souls. Moreover, since

Denise Riley, Am I That Name: Feminism and the Category of ˜˜Women™™ in History
(Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1988).
2 3 4
Ibid., p. 7. Ibid., pp. 26“28. Ibid., pp. 11, 31.
R E T H I N K I N G S E X A N D G E N D E R I D E N T I T I E S 155

women now simply were their bodily sensuality, their existence and
moral character were bound to it. In the second construction of women
on which Riley focuses, women™s morality was nothing more or less
than her chastity. ˜˜The whole moral potential of women was therefore
thoroughly different, and their relation to the order of moral reason was
irretrievably not that of men™s.™™5
Riley thinks the introduction of the concept of the social in the
nineteenth century brought with it a third set of building blocks for
the construction of women. The relevant opposition was no longer
that between body and soul or moral reason and corporeal sensuality.
Rather it was that between social beings and political ones. Because
the social world was conceived of as a household writ large and
because women were meant to be uniquely suited for domestic
responsibilities, women could properly extend their sphere of domes-
ticity beyond their own families to include a concern for the hygiene,
education, sexuality, childbearing, and child-rearing of the population
as a whole. Upper-class women thus took up new philanthropic roles
that focused on the causes and prevention of illness and delinquency
while working-class women became objects for upper-class philan-
thropy. Nevertheless, Riley thinks that what was most important
about this new conceptual constellation linking women to the social
world was what it precluded. The new construction of the social world
reconstructed women in its image. Yet, it also set women in opposi-
tion to a construction of the political sphere which, for its part,
became a masculine domain of juridical and government power. To
allow women entry into this sphere would have been unreasonably to
contaminate important matters of war and peace with feminine ques-
tions of health, housing, and care.
In Riley™s account, not only do women have no history; even
within a particular historical period they possess no common features.
Take the efforts of early twentieth-century British women to gain
suffrage and thereby transform themselves from social beings to

Ibid., p. 40.
156 A F T E R I D E N T I T Y

political ones. In arguing against extending the suffrage to women,
anti-suffragists often claimed that women were different from men.
They were meant to have greater talents and affinities for domestic
and social work, which would be grievously dissipated were they to
trespass onto political turf. When suffragists countered that women™s
difference from men indicated just how important their participation
in politics would be, since it would add new perspectives and raise new
issues, anti-suffragists reversed themselves and denied that there was
any difference between men and women at all. ˜˜As citizens . . . they
are sufficiently represented already. To give them the franchise would
just double the number of voters, without introducing any new inter-
est.™™6 Likewise, when suffragists argued that women™s lives were
influenced by political decisions and therefore that women should
possess the right to influence them, anti-suffragists responded that
women™s nature as generous but impulsive creatures suited them for
only an indirect influence, through their more rational husbands and
fathers. Yet, when suffragists insisted that women were no more
impulsive than certain men “ the Irish, for example7 “ anti-suffragists
replied that the very impulsiveness of certain men meant that grant-
ing women the vote could lead to domestic violence if they were to
disagree with impulsive husbands and fathers.8
Women, then, are not only ˜˜diachronically™™ but also ˜˜synchroni-
cally . . . erratic.™™9 They are both equal to men by grace and thoroughly
inferior in body and soul; they are both natural beings and social ones;
they are both the same as men and ineradicably different. Given these
constructions, Riley concludes that ˜˜There aren™t any women.™™10
There is no continual substrate, ˜˜women,™™ who could possess a his-
tory. Instead, there are only the constructions of different language
games that possess different and even competing purposes.

Cited from Anon. in Riley, Am I That Name, p. 71.
See speech by Arabella Shore in Riley, Am I That Name, p. 77.
See Riley, Am I That Name, pp. 67“95. I have somewhat modified the sequences of
arguments and replies as Riley states them.
9 10
Riley, Am I That Name, p. 2. Ibid., p. 2.
R E T H I N K I N G S E X A N D G E N D E R I D E N T I T I E S 157

To be sure, this conclusion is not the only one to take from the
account that Riley offers. Her argument about women is a version of
Foucault™s argument about homosexuals: homosexuals have no his-
tory but are rather made up at a precise point in the nineteenth
century.11 Likewise, women have no history because who they are is
constructed out of radically different building blocks at different times
and sometimes out of radically different building blocks at the same
time. Yet, Foucault™s thesis is not uncontroversial, and we might say
the same for Riley™s: it is not clear that the discontinuities that Riley
finds in constructions of women are really discontinuities. In many
cultures and in the popular imagination, women continue to be con-
nected, either more or less, with sensuality, a natural suitability to the
domestic sphere, a comparative indifference to reason, and a tenuous
hold on the political domain. These connections are not exclusive
descriptions of women, nor are they perhaps even predominant ones.
Yet, their persistence suggests that we might consider the history of
women less as a set of disjunctions than as a series of separate strands,
each of which possesses more or less influence at different times. In
other words, descriptions of women are elements of an interpretive
history. Just as various interpretations of Hamlet possess an afterlife
that continues to influence how we understand the play and that
receive more or less prominence at different times, various interpre-
tations of women have afterlives that continue to influence how we
understand who and what they are.
Riley™s account also leads to what she herself acknowledges as a
problem, for if ˜˜there aren™t any women,™™ what becomes of struggles
on their behalf? If we claim that women do not exist as enduring
entities, what do we do about the associations and descriptions that
do endure? Riley asks, ˜˜Does all of this mean, then, that the better
programme for feminism now would be “ to minimize ˜women™? To
cope with the oscillations by . . . downplaying the category?™™12 This

See Michel Foucault, A History of Sexuality, Vol. I: An Introduction, Robert Hurley,
trans. (New York: Random House 1978).
Riley, Am I That Name, p. 112.
158 A F T E R I D E N T I T Y

question reproduces the question we raised about racial identities.
Race is a historically developed means of distinguishing people, one
that devolves from, and issues in, shameful practices, actions, and
institutions no matter how internalized it becomes as a mode of
identity. Why, then, not simply declare that there are no blacks,
whites, Asians, Latinos, or Latinas? One answer to this question
looks to the historical legacy of identifying people in racial terms
and insists that we need to continue to identify ourselves and others
in racial terms if we are to ensure that we correct the horrors done by
these terms. Another answer to the question sees our ˜˜constructed™™
racial identities as sources of pride. While there may be no races, there
are people who possess racial identities and who take them to be
central features of their life and self-esteem. Riley seems to think
that both are good answers as applied to women. In the first place, in
the case of women, as in the case of blacks and minorities, inequalities
persist. Hence, she argues, we cannot always take as our political
principle the fact that ˜˜there aren™t any women.™™ In the second
place, although feminism ought to direct ˜˜an eagle eye™™ at any use or
definition of the term ˜˜women™™ and to question the purposes for
which it is used,13 at times there is no alternative to a politics of
identity. Feminists need to be strategic, determining when to insist
on the non-existence of women and when, conversely, to struggle for
their recognition:

Feminism must be agile enough to say, ˜˜Now we will be ˜women™ “
but now we will be persons, not these ˜women™.™™ And, in practice,
what sounds like a rigid opposition “ between a philosophical
correctness about the indeterminacy of the term, and a strategical
willingness to clap one™s feminist hand over one™s theoretical mouth
and just get on with ˜˜women™™ where necessary “ will loosen.14

To illustrate her point, Riley offers the example of women work-
ers. She thinks that feminists ought to continue to argue against the

13 14
Ibid., p. 2. Ibid., p. 113.
R E T H I N K I N G S E X A N D G E N D E R I D E N T I T I E S 159

idea that ˜˜women workers™™ are more interested in nine-to-five posi-
tions or in positions with flexible hours than they are in positions that
pay well. Although the former sorts of position are better suited to
caring for children and husbands, feminists need to insist that women
workers are just as interested in higher incomes as men are. On the
one hand, this insistence leaves ˜˜the annoyingly separable grouping
˜women workers™ untouched.™™ On the other hand, by countering
familiar stereotypes, Riley thinks, the argument ˜˜successfully mud-
dies the content of that term.™™15
Joan Wallach Scott expands on this idea in comments on Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission v. Sears, Roebuck & Co.16 In
this case, the Commission (EEOC) argued that Sears discriminated
against women by denying them access to its commission sales posi-
tions, which were typically its highest-paid jobs. The government™s
witness, Alice Kessler-Harris, tried to support the government™s case
by pointing to differences in the different job choices different indi-
viduals make and thereby dismantling the ˜˜annoyingly separable
grouping ˜women workers™.™™ As Sears noted, however, in a book
Kessler-Harris had previously published, she had argued that women
did prefer work that could be made compatible with domestic respon-
sibilities and in doing so she stressed just this ˜˜annoyingly separable
grouping ˜women workers™.™™ The government lost the case.
Nevertheless, Scott tries to explain Kessler-Harris™ position:

In relationship to a labor history that had typically excluded
women, it might make sense to overgeneralize about women™s
experience, emphasizing difference in order to demonstrate that the
universal term ˜˜worker™™ was really a male reference that could not
account for all aspects of women™s job experiences. In relationship
to an employer who sought to justify discrimination by reference to
sexual difference, it made more sense to deny the totalizing effects

Ibid., p. 113.
See Joan Wallach Scott, ˜˜The Sears Case,™™ in Joan Wallach Scott, Gender and the
Politics of History (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), pp. 167“177.
160 A F T E R I D E N T I T Y

of difference by stressing instead the diversity and complexity of
women™s behavior and motivation.17

In relation to labor history, then, we are to pursue a politics of
identity, taking up the cause of the ˜˜annoyingly separable grouping
˜women workers™.™™ We are to demand recognition for their unique
needs and aspirations and distinguish these from those of male work-
ers. Further, we are to assure that women are not required to cut and
prune their working identities to fit a model of working people geared
to men. In contrast, in relation to a form of employment discrimina-
tion that tries to use differences between men and women to preclude
the hiring of women for certain positions, we are to stress the diversity
of women and deny that the ˜˜annoyingly separable grouping ˜women
workers™™™ exists at all. Still, what are the standards for this sort of
strategic feminism? How do we know when to emphasize sex or
gender identities and when to dismember them? Moreover, how
does a strategic feminism counter a strategic sexism? Why not, for
example, refer to ˜˜women workers™™ in relation to alleged employment
discrimination, as Sears™ own expert witness, Rosalind Rosenberg did,
and, conversely, stress that ˜˜there aren™t any women™™ in relation to
labor history? Where do we obtain standards for doing one or the
Not all theorists pursue the strategic approach to women™s iden-
tity that Riley and Scott employ. Kate Bornstein appeals to the possi-
bility of playing with sex and gendered identities and Judith Butler
appeals to the possibilities of subverting them. Although both are
useful in helping us to rethink the status of our identities as men
and women, they raise additional normative questions.
Bornstein is disturbed about identities as men and women
because she regards them as club or class memberships that are simply
oppressive. They are oppressive, first, because men are members of a
higher class than women are; but they are oppressive, second, because
everyone is required to be a member of one class or club or another.

Ibid., p. 170.
R E T H I N K I N G S E X A N D G E N D E R I D E N T I T I E S 161

˜˜Why,™™ she asks, ˜˜do we have to be gendered creatures at all?™™18 In
reflecting on her decision to undergo genital surgery, Bornstein insists
the motivation for her decision was not that she thought she was
really a woman or that she ˜˜hated™™ her penis. Rather, what she hated
was ˜˜that it made me a man.™™19 The possession of a penis does not
simply make certain actions and activities possible. It is a club card
that brings with it a set of physical and behavioral requirements as
well as a list of mandated objects of desire and a certain power relation
to other human beings. There are, moreover, no exceptions to possess-
ing one of only two club cards: ˜˜In this culture, the only two sanc-
tioned gender clubs are ˜men™ and ˜women.™ If you don™t belong to one
or the other, you™re told in no uncertain terms to sign up fast.™™20 Yet, in
belonging to one or the other, Bornstein thinks we neglect other
possibilities. Indeed, she likens gender membership to alcoholism:
˜˜It™s something we do to avoid or deny our full self-expression.™™21
What are the possibilities that membership in either a male or a
female club precludes? Here Bornstein offers a confusing set of pros-
pects. At times she talks about a third gender, a transsexuality some-
where between man and woman and transgressive of both:

There is black on one side of a spectrum, and
on the other
with a middle ground of grey, or
some would say there™s a rainbow between the two.
There is
left and
and a middle ground of center
There is birth on one side,
and death on the other side

Kate Bornstein, Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us (New York:
Vintage, 1995), p. 58.
19 20 21
Ibid., p. 47. Ibid., p. 24. Ibid., p. 45.
162 A F T E R I D E N T I T Y

And a middle ground of life
Yet we insist that there are two, and And we insist that this
is the way of nature.22
only two genders: male and female.

The insertion of a middle term between men and women cannot
resolve the concern that Bornstein has with gender clubs and oppres-
sive gender codes, however. She points to the hijras of India and the
berdaches of American Indian cultures as examples of third genders
that are accommodated and even highly regarded in their respective
cultures.23 Yet if membership in the classes or clubs of men and
women is oppressive, why will adding new clubs help? Will these
new clubs not have their own set of membership rules and their own
behavioral codes? If we replace alcoholism with another addiction,
do we deny any less of our full self-expression, whatever that is?
Bornstein sometimes abandons the idea of membership in a third
gender and refers instead to a ˜˜gender fluidity™™ that allows one to
take up a limitless number of genders ˜˜for any length of time, at any
rate of change.™™24 The fluidity is meant to permit us to live beyond
rules because we are constantly leaving one gender for another. Yet,
presumably in taking up a limitless number of genders, we must also
take up the codes and rules of these genders, and hence become subject
to their codes and rules for however long we take them up. How, then,
do we live beyond codes? Why is moving between sets of rules better
than living under one set?
In the end, and despite her question about why we need to be
gendered creatures at all, Bornstein denies that she wants a world
without gender: ˜˜I love playing with gender and I love watching
other people play with all the shades and flavors that gender can
come in.™™25 On this last of Bornstein™s solutions to gender, it is a
performance. In being socialized into either the male or the female
club, one learns to move in certain ways, to wear certain clothes, and
to adhere to certain behaviors, such as making eye contact if one is a

22 23 24 25
Ibid., p. 49. Ibid., p. 131. Ibid., p. 51. Ibid., p. 58.
R E T H I N K I N G S E X A N D G E N D E R I D E N T I T I E S 163

man and ending statements on a high, questioning note if one is a
woman. Belonging to the male or female club, then, is simply a ques-
tion of putting on a male or female act. Drag performances are impor-
tant for Bornstein because they make this act explicit by revealing the
extent to which gender can float free of bodies. Moreover, they exag-
gerate the codes and rules of gender and in so doing reveal just
how artificial they are. Drag intentionally mixes and matches differ-
ent bodies with different gender traits, performs certain cues on the
˜˜wrong™™ body type, and twists behaviors around ˜˜to a point of
humor.™™26 Bornstein herself contravenes prescribed gender policies:
˜˜As part of learning to pass as a woman,™™ she announces about the
counseling she went through before her genital surgery, ˜˜I was taught
to avoid eye contact when walking down the street; that looking
someone the eye was a male cue. Nowadays, sometimes I™ll look
away, and sometimes I™ll look someone in the eye “ it™s a behavior
pattern that™s more fun to play with than to follow rigidly.™™27
Nevertheless, it is not clear how effective playful performances
are as a means of exposing the artificiality of sex and gender. Bornstein
need not insist that drag is always transgressive. Yet, she does suggest
that it reveals gender to be nothing more than a performance. Because
men can ˜˜do™™ women as well as women can, all that being a woman
amounts to is this sort of performance. But, even if men ˜˜do™™ women
as well as women do, surely part of the humor in the performance is
our ˜˜theoretical commitment™™ to the idea that the people performing
as women are not women. Indeed, this humor arguably reinforces the
theoretical commitment: we ˜˜know™™ that the flamboyantly feminine
woman on stage is ˜˜really™™ a man. What is funny is how well he does
˜˜female™™ without having the ˜˜genes™™ for it. What drag shows is the
skill with which certain people can artificially reproduce what is
natural to others. No more than berdaches or hijras, then, does drag
defy the gender memberships that Bornstein criticizes.

26 27
Ibid., p. 137. Ibid., p. 27.
164 A F T E R I D E N T I T Y

There is, furthermore, an element of chic in Bornstein™s analy-
sis. For, if we in the West can play with different wardrobes, what
about those who are imprisoned unless they wear a veil? If those in the
West can play around with gender codes, giving off male cues in what
count as female bodies, what about those who can be stoned unless
they strictly follow gender rules? For those for whom the smallest
transgression of rigidly defined female roles is grounds for exclusion or
even death, highlighting the virtues of drag appears not only utopian
but also somewhat tactless. More to the point and like a strategic
feminism, it provides no guidance on when we should play with
gender and when we should take it seriously. If members of certain
societies cannot play with gender without risking their lives and if
their sex and gender identities are forced upon them as the prescribed
nature of every action they take, do we not need to think about the
justifiable scope of gender identities rather than simply fooling around
with them? Riley™s reflections raise the question about when we
should be women and when we should not. Bornstein™s comments
raise a similar question: when should we play with gender identities
and when should we ask directly whether we possess them in the
context at issue?
Butler is far more reflective than Bornstein about such norma-
tive questions, but ultimately her analysis raises yet more questions.
If Riley™s and Bornstein™s reflections lead to the question of when we
should accept or reject, occupy, or vamp on our gender identities,
Butler™s reflections raise the broader questions of which identities
we should subject to these questions, and why. She begins with the
disciplining power of what, following Adrienne Rich, she calls a
˜˜compulsory heterosexuality.™™28 The starting point for scientific
studies begins with male and female bodies that are meant to be
fundamental, ahistorical facts. Male bodies find their natural expres-
sion in masculine identities while female bodies find their natural

See Adrienne Rich, ˜˜Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence,™™ in
Elizabeth Abel and Emily K. Abel, eds., The Signs Reader: Women, Gender, and
Scholarship (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1983).
R E T H I N K I N G S E X A N D G E N D E R I D E N T I T I E S 165

expression in feminine identities. Natural desires, for their part, are
all heterosexual. Butler turns this analysis on its head, however. What
we begin with are the disciplining practices of a reproductive sexuality
that work to maintain a ˜˜normal™™ heterosexuality by creating a binary
system in which only two forms of coherent identity are possible and
in which those two forms are aligned with only two sorts of body.29
˜˜Men and women,™™ Butler writes, ˜˜exist . . . as social norms.™™30 In this
binary system, combinations of bodies, identities, and desires that
contravene the norms count as deviations. Moreover, they are studied
and further disciplined as such, as deviations for which we must find
the cause as well as the cure. A compulsory heterosexuality thus sets
up the matrixes of body, identity, and desire that decide which sub-
jects can count as intelligible and which must be seen, instead, as
deviant or ambiguous. As Butler puts the point, ˜˜Subjects are consti-
tuted through exclusion, through the creation of a domain of deau-
thorized subjects, presubjects, figures of abjection, populations erased
from view.™™31
On this analysis norms are double-edged swords. On the one
hand, they are, Butler says, ˜˜what binds individuals together, forming
the basis of the ethical and political claims.™™32 On the other hand, they
are a form of violence, providing ˜˜coercive criteria™™ for what counts as
evaluatively normal and what is, instead, ˜˜deauthorized.™™ Norms
determine those whose activities, interests, and attitudes are intelli-
gible because they fit the norm as well as those whose activities,
interests, and attitudes are not intelligible because they do not.
Consequently, any appeal to norms in the name of undoing violence
and coercion is an appeal to standards that are themselves violent and
coercive. At the same time, because the subject that is produced

Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New
York: Routledge, 1990), p. 17.
Judith Butler, ˜˜The Question of Social Transformation,™™ in Judith Butler, Undoing
Gender (New York: Routledge, 2004), p. 210.
Judith Butler, ˜˜Contingent Foundations: Feminism and the Question of
˜Postmodernism,™™™ in Feminist Contentions, p. 47.
Butler, ˜˜The Question of Social Transformation,™™ p. 219.
166 A F T E R I D E N T I T Y

through normative violence is not only produced but also continu-
ously reproduced, this constant reproduction opens up the possibility
of what Butler calls resignifications. Reproduction allows for ˜˜rede-
ployment, subversive citation from within, and interruption and
inadvertent convergences with other [power/discourse] networks.™™33
In trying to find an example for this resignification, redeploy-
ment, and subversive citation from within, Butler, like Bornstein,
points to the ways in which sex and gender provides a form of enter-
tainment, ˜˜play, pleasure, fun, fantasy.™™34 Moreover, like Bornstein
she emphasizes drag performances. In Butler™s account, drag perform-
ances serve to illuminate an implicit ontology in which certain
identities count as real and authentic while other ones do not.
A drag identity is viewed as an unreal one, excluded from the main-
stream and regarded as less valuable than other identities. In other
words, to perform femininity on one sort of body is authentic; to
perform it on another is not. By making the arbitrariness of this
distinction clear, drag identities expose the violence and exclusion at
the core of ˜˜authentic™™ identities. Moreover, drag shows that our
implicit ontology is ˜˜open to rearticulation™™35 through its ˜˜citation™™
or repetition in the identities it excludes:

Although there are norms that govern what will and will not be real,
and what will and will not be intelligible, they are called into
question and reiterated at the moment in which performativity
begins its citational practice. One surely cites norms that already
exist, but these norms can be significantly deterritorialized through
the citation. They can be exposed as nonnatural and nonnecessary
when they take place in a context and through a form of embodying
that defies normative expectation.36

Butler™s argument, then, is that we can appeal to norms and
change them at the same time. If certain identities are normal and

Judith Butler, ˜˜For a Careful Reading,™™ in Feminist Contentions, p. 135.
Butler, ˜˜The Question of Social Transformation,™™ p. 214.
35 36
Ibid., p. 214. Ibid., p. 218.
R E T H I N K I N G S E X A N D G E N D E R I D E N T I T I E S 167

others are not, we can simultaneously, as drag does, cite and subvert
the standard in question. Yet, even if citing can also be subversive,
which identities should we submit to such subversive citation and
which should we protect from it? Butler writes, ˜˜What moves me
politically, and that for which I want to make room, is the moment
in which a subject “ a person, a collective “ asserts a right or entitle-
ment to a livable life when no such prior authorization exists, when
no clearly enabling convention is in place.™™37 She does point out that
both Nazis and anti-apartheid South Africans fall into this space: anti-
apartheid black South Africans sought to vote without an enabling
convention and Nazis asserted a right to a certain kind of life for which
there was no precedent in the Weimar Republic. What, then, is the
difference between the two? Butler again appeals to violence and
exclusion: whereas the Nazis tried to intensify it, the anti-apartheid
movement sought to undo it. She concludes that the task of radical
democratic theory is to ask what resources we need ˜˜in order to bring
into the human community those humans who have not been consid-
ered part of the recognizably human.™™38
Still, it is not clear that Butler can specify her appeal here to the
˜˜recognizably human™™ in any way that would allow us to exclude
Nazis and include anti-apartheid fighters. As she emphasizes, the
idea of the human is itself a norm and, as such, it both circumscribes
and excludes. But then how do we know whom and what it legiti-
mately encompasses and whom or what it does not? If our goal is ˜˜to
bring into the human community those humans who have not been
considered part of the recognizably human,™™ then we might think that
the worst Nazi war criminals fall into this category and that we should
seek to make them part of the recognizably human. Further, we might
think that although the Nazis sought to intensify violence and exclu-
sion, we should also think ethically about the violence against, and
exclusion of, the Nazis. Should we bring them into the recognizably
human community? Should we bring in rapists and serial murderers

37 38
Ibid., p. 224. Ibid., p. 225.
168 A F T E R I D E N T I T Y

as well? On the one hand, Butler is not against leveling ˜˜judgments
against criminals for illegal acts and so subject[ing] them to a normal-
izing procedure.™™39 Moreover, she thinks this normalizing procedure
can be decided on when ˜˜we consider our grounds for action in collec-
tive contexts and try to find modes of deliberation and reflection about
which we can agree.™™40 On the other hand, she asks whether we have
˜˜ever yet known the ˜human™™™41 and is suspicious of agreement
and the collective consideration of grounds for action where these
involve social integration or common orientations. On the one hand,
the norm of ˜˜the recognizably human™™ is meant to allow for standards
for action and character that make it possible to condemn and exclude
those responsible for genocide and mass murder. On the other hand,
any agreement on these standards has to be regarded with suspicion:

Do we need to know that, despite our differences, we are all oriented
toward the same conception of rational deliberation and justifica-
tion? Or do we need precisely to know that the ˜˜common™™ is no
longer there for us, if it ever was, and that the capacious and self-
limiting approach to difference is not only the task of cultural
translation in this day of multiculturalism but the most important
way to nonviolence?42

The norm of ˜˜the recognizably human™™ thus possesses and even
hones the same double-edged character as the norm of the recogniz-
ably male and recognizably female. It provides both a standard for
inclusion and exclusion and an objection to processes of including
and excluding. Yet, for this reason, it is not clear how we can appeal
to the norm of the recognizably human to resolve the ˜˜normalizing™™
violence of our other norms. The questions remain. When should
we emphasize our identities as women and when should we reject
them? About which identities should we be playful? Which identities
should we try to bring into the human community and which should

39 40 41 42
Ibid., pp. 221“222. Ibid., p. 222. Ibid., p. 222. Ibid., p. 221.
R E T H I N K I N G S E X A N D G E N D E R I D E N T I T I E S 169

we try to keep out? In what follows, I want to return to the conditions
of our understanding of texts in order to consider these questions.

According to the account I gave in chapter 3, textual understanding
moves in a circle. We understand parts of texts in terms of the whole
and understand the whole in terms of the parts. Moreover, these
circles are historical ones. We approach texts from within historical
perspectives that these same texts have contributed to effecting or
forming. The same holds for our understanding of one another: we
understand one another in terms of identities that are parts of the
histories in which we live and, in turn, understand our histories in
terms of the identities that we employ for understanding one another.
These identities include sex and gender ones. Just as we cannot go
back before the point at which the Oedipal complex became a meaning
that Hamlet can possess for us, we cannot go back before the point at
which boys and girls, men and women became identities that individ-
uals can possess for us. Nor are these identities any more limited by
our intentions than are the meanings of texts by their authors™ inten-
tions. Kate Bornstein may never have formulated an intention to be a
man and, indeed, she may have formulated the intention not to be one.
Nevertheless, her possession of particular genitalia made her intelli-
gible as one. Just as Freud has come to be contained in Hamlet whether
Shakespeare put him there or not, being a man has come to be con-
tained in a penis, whether its owner puts it there or not. Bornstein™s
play, ˜˜Hidden: A Gender,™™ which is part of her memoir,43 provides
a direct parallel to the experience that Du Bois had with trading
visiting cards:

I™m four and a half years old, my first day of nursery school . . . These
are the days when the boys and girls have to play separately “ so I start
to go off with the other little girls to play. And this teacher . . . says,

Part Six of Bornstein, Gender Outlaw.
170 A F T E R I D E N T I T Y

No No Dear, this is the line for the little girls. And I say, I know, I™m a
little girl. And you know the look that grownups can give you “ the
one that says you are loathsome and sick and vile and about to be
abandoned. She gives me that look. And I know I™ll have to pretend to
be a little boy from then on.44

Just as it was not part of Du Bois™ intention or original self-
understanding to be different or a black while trading visiting cards,
it was not part of Bornstein™s to be a boy while on the playground.
Nevertheless, the understanding the teacher has of him as a boy
becomes available to him as a way he comes to think he can be intelli-
gibly understood. Moreover, just as Du Bois™ new self-interpretation
with the racial identity it contains offers him an interpretive framework
for understanding and living his life, Bornstein™s self-understanding
with the sex and gender identity it contains offers her a way of thinking
about and ultimately changing her life. What Du Bois and Bornstein
understand, then, when they understand themselves in racial or sex and
gender terms, are different texts than those with which they begin.
These texts are the ones they must take up in new understandings of
their futures.
Yet, there is no one interpretive tradition or set of historical
relations from the point of which Hamlet is uniquely intelligible.
Nor is Bornstein uniquely intelligible as a man or a woman. In the
first place, there are different ways of being a man and being a woman.
Just as we cannot restrict legitimate understandings of texts to one
canonical understanding, or restrict legitimate understandings of
racial identities to one way of being a certain race, we cannot restrict
legitimate understandings of men and women to only one way of being
either. One may be a man because of one™s brain sex, or one™s body sex,
or some other way, just as one may be morphologically, culturally, or
ethnically black and be so in different ways. In the second place, just as
we cannot restrict legitimate understandings of one another to racial
understandings, we cannot restrict legitimate understandings of

Bornstein, Gender Outlaw, p. 176.
R E T H I N K I N G S E X A N D G E N D E R I D E N T I T I E S 171

others and ourselves to understandings in terms of sex and gender.
Instead, we will understand others and ourselves in various different
ways, as professors, chess-players, and so on and all of these identities
will have the same interpretive status. If Hamlet is no more funda-
mentally Freudian than it is existentialist and individuals are no
more blacks and whites than they are baseball fans and opera buffs,
they are also no more men and women than they are a myriad of other
identities, including blue-eyed people and scuba divers. All of these
identities are equally versions of who and what we are and are valuable
only to the extent that they supply interpretations of identity that
can be integrated with the context of which they are a part. What is
problematic about sex and gender understandings of ourselves and
others, then, is just what is problematic about racial ones. The prob-
lem is not that these understandings do not articulate identities we
possess within certain situations. Instead, what is problematic is that
these understandings attempt to monopolize who or what we are, to
obscure the equal status of other identities and identifications, and to
appear in contexts in which they make no sense and on which they
have no purchase. Sex and gender identities, like racial ones, are
possible only on a non-dogmatic basis, one that recognizes the equal
status of other identities and acknowledge men and women as identi-
ties that appear only within specific horizons of interpretation.
It is arguable, however, that identities as men and women are
psychologically more fundamental than this analysis gives them
credit for being. They may not be central to all scientific endeavors
and it may be possible to rewrite sciences currently written in terms of
them without them. But these expectations may be na±ve when it
comes to moral psychology. Our sustained gender identities as men
and women are arguably not simply one way of understanding who
we and others are, intelligible only within restricted, situational
contexts. Instead, these identities function for everyone as basic to
our sense of who we are. Thus, Bornstein™s sex and gender self-
interpretation seems to have been more than the result of simply
one interpretive framework applied to understanding and living one
172 A F T E R I D E N T I T Y

or a few parts of her life. Rather, the question of which sex or gender
she ˜˜really™™ was became the defining question of her life and the one
that has continued to orient the actions and positions she takes.
Moreover, if we look at other transsexual memoirs and autobiogra-
phies, the suggestion that sex and gender are somehow fundamental
in and to all life-situations is even stronger. For these memoirs and
autobiographies express the sense that their writers have of possess-
ing authentic sex and gendered selves that are at odds with their
external appearance. Thus, Jan Morris begins her memoir, ˜˜I was
three or perhaps four when I realized that I had been born into the
wrong body and should really be a girl.™™45 Raymond Thompson
writes, ˜˜My body didn™t exist in the way it was born; for me it only
existed in my inner identity as a male.™™46 Most poignantly, perhaps,
Jennifer Finney Boylan claims that ˜˜The awareness that I was in
the wrong body, living the wrong life was never out of my conscious
mind “ never.™™47 Such statements seem to indicate that interpreta-
tions of who we are as men or women have a status that our other
self-interpretations as body-surfers and professors, for example, do
not have and that they reach to a deeper and more basic level of who
we are. Individuals do not come to think that they were born into the
wrong racial or ethnic body. They do not realize as children that they
should really have been born black although they have white bodies,
or that they are Chinese at a fundamental level although they appear
to be English on a superficial one. Nor do they think they are ˜˜really™™
a right-handed person in a left-handed body or that they are living the
wrong life as a left-hander. Yet Morris goes so far as to associate her
sex and gender identity with her soul.48 She considers whether her
˜˜conundrum™™ might be a consequence of a mid-twentieth-century
society that required and elicited strictly differentiated sex and



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