Legally Blonde: Transsexual Womanhood and Judith Butler’s Polysyllabic Arias

There’s a lot to be learned on a Gender Studies M.A. Course, lol.

Fiona Evangeline Leigh
Prism & Pen
6 min readNov 6, 2023


Cheeky cig moment

I stared at the red submit button with my heart in my throat.

My trigger finger had been hovering above it for a few days now.

Now was the time.

Here for the Grace of Goddess go I….


Hey presto, my first assignment for the Women’s/Gender Studies M.A. course was carried away for marking by a digital angel. There was no going back now. Viva la Revolution, I got the fucker done!! A Mardi Gras of victory and relief pulsed through me as I stared at the green “Submitted” notification on the screen. I felt the green tick in my heart. I’d thought myself incapable of getting it done. I even thought that I had an undiagnosed learning difficulty at one point, as my eyes, but not my brain, tripped and scuffed their shoes on the jagged rocks of Judith Butler’s theories.

Gender trouble is right! My brain felt like an old dish cloth reading her work.

But I had come a long way in a week and a half.

It occurred to me that I finally felt Legally Blonde, and that the intellectual and emotional pressure I’d experienced researching and writing my paper had made a student of me, perhaps for the first time in my life. And not only that, my conception of who I am had shifted too. In the toil and trouble of timid and bewildered student-hood, I’d emerged a rookie academic.

I ain’t a zirconium no more, darling.

The nebula of theories that had shocked my brain with their hieroglyphic-like impenetrability suddenly began to make sense. Shadows began to form in the pea-soup fog and torn vocal fragments of the Greats could be heard and understood by my peasant’s mind. So, essays aren’t just a necessary evil after all. I could see the point of them. Writing about Butler’s concept of Gender Performativity had had an alchemical effect on me… now the neurasthenia had worn off.

Cork Jazz Festival shenanigans with the M.A. girls

The beauty of doing a gender studies course for a person like me is that it gives me new lenses to look at my form and function in this new world I’ve opened my eyes to. And that new world is not just the library of University College Cork, a polis in its own right. It’s the everyday, mundane one that said library has had such a profound effect upon. The world in which I go to the corner shop for a pack of JPS gold and a liter of milk. The hidden systems of power that holds society in place and my relation to them.

As I strutted through Casement Square, aware of the fatberg of taxi drivers that use the place as an official rank, in my high heels, I was not creating a stink by doing so. I was not some sort of aberration to small-town Catholic eyes. It occurred to me that I had to re-evaluate my social role, the gleaming new space I occupy, in a new way. A way that excluded possible threat of violence or an eruption of creeper’s erections.

The gender revolution, as I know it, began in the hallowed halls of universities.

I went to a lecture Laura Mulvey gave at York University in 2004 and was irked by what I saw as a self-satisfied academic performance, a puffed-up thrill in the complexities of her own esoteric notions. I probably wanted to go have a drink at the student’s union, hence my contempt. I was due my painkiller. I sneered at her. In the same way a farmer from the black heartland of West Cork would a well-heeled bon vivant enjoying a coffee in the window of Bewley’s on Grafton Street. I had no conception that the work Mulvey and her ilk were doing would help engender such a tectonic shift in the way society regards gender and sex. Thar’s a glitch in the Heterosexual matrix and riots of color, and the protean entities that harbor them, are allowed through to take positions in a life formerly denied them. And that’s what I love about it all.

We can exist.

Halloween Hi-Jinks at work

I can exist.

I can be creative in my approach to gender and that’s okay.

It’s even changed the totalitarian Catholic regimes of Ireland, this reliance on prismatic colors. This is nothing short of a miraculous feat. Great healthy tracts of arable, liberal-humanist land can be found on my daily struts to the train station in Cobh. There are no convulsions of disgust, just the odd, discreet side-eye or murmured expletive. And all this created by the hidden, intersecting discourses propounded by Butler, Mulvey and Julia Serano. I am no longer freakish perhaps…to myself or the world around me. The rebel in me winces in mild disappointment. One likes to make an entrance and hog the limelight and revel in an epic grabbing of glances. But it’s not just about surface-level courtship behavior. It’s about the colors I have got going on inside me too.

Any positionality that can be found outside the bog of dysphoria is very welcome indeed.

I grew tired of waiting on tenterhooks for a man’s recognition of me as desirable to flare like a will-o-the-wisp and validate my being. It was a banquet when I got the look and a famine without it. It was a case of an old problem with a new name. I’d been more accustomed to being erased than being allowed to exist, of never quite measuring up. This is the legacy of being shoehorned into a family unit with a narcissistic mother at the helm of it, watching every move I made with a crow’s eye.

I carried these dynamics into my journey, the click and whir of the old mechanics alive and putrid; my determination to change powered by my horror of my own measly soul. Hence Fiona’s breached birth in Beijing, a daughter of damage and drink with a mania to have my own desirability reflected at me by those around me. It led to nightmarish scenarios, a lot of near-nudity and shouting.

Transsexual Mug shot Ho!

True recognition comes from the inside.

This is something I preach a lot but seldom feel. Maybe learning about Trans history and philosophy has planted a wee spark in my core, illuminated me with delight.

Yes, delight. You read that right mi amigo.

To find sustenance in spaces previously obscured by writhing cloud formations are one of the things that make this life worth living. The development of my voice in all this wonderful discourse, the sudden jete in value my lived experience has acquired by wrestling with all this erudition, has created a shift in my old narratives of glory and inevitable defeat. It’s not an everyday thing for me to feel evangelized by a university course. It’s a wonderful feeling. My gut feels like a purse full of gold.

Because when it all comes down to it, language has helped to call us trans folk into social existence.

It has helped refine and define our positions within the world, especially in Ireland. That’s not to say that everything is bippity boppity boo in the garden. It’s far from it. Backlashes lay hidden and tense as snares, just waiting for happenstance to activate them. The old wrong place-wrong time- wrong person routine. Dysphoria will negate me again as it always does.

What I’m saying is that I am happy to discover my own agency in this palpitating and gory world and that this has been made for me by the polysyllabic arias of Butler, Mulvey and their ilk.

And for that words cannot express my gratitude.

all’s good when you got a cheeseboard.



Fiona Evangeline Leigh
Prism & Pen

An Irish writer, transgender woman and singer currently living in the Republic. Has just completed a memoir Marabou Barbie.