Trans Sandwiched
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Trans Sandwiched

Rethinking Gender Performativity While Listening to Torrey Peters

Perhaps we can speak of Gender Role Performativity instead?

Today, I want to explore the concept of gender and gender roles, partly as a bridge building exercise with people who are sympathetic in some way to the concept of gender performativity. As I have said in the past, I reject the idea of gender performativity, and I actually think that it is anti-trans. However, I also like to build bridges with people who see things differently, and find out where we might have common ground. I believe it is always good to build bridges.

Recently, I watched an interview by the American Library in Paris with trans author Torrey Peters, most well known for her novel Detransition, Baby. Peters, who I think is sympathetic to gender performativity, explained that if gender was just defined as being a man, for example, it would be missing a lot of the nuances. She gave the examples of being a woodsman, a lumberjack, and a father, as different ways of doing a gender. She also said this was a trans insight, in that trans people who transition have to find a gender role that works for them, and actually be a gender within a gender. This insight, however, is applicable to non-trans people too.

I actually found her explanation interesting. I can’t accept that being a woodsman, a lumberjack or a father is a ‘gender’, because that would be against my understanding of science. According to my scientific understanding, gender is basically the neurological part of biological sex, and I believe that diluting this understanding is harmful for trans people who suffer from gender dysphoria. On the other hand, if you substitute ‘gender’ with ‘gender roles’, what Peters was saying makes perfect sense to me, and I find it a genuinely interesting and useful insight. This shows that we do have plenty of common ground here after all. Indeed, if we speak of ‘gender role performativity’, then I can certainly support the idea, because I would honestly find it useful.

I also suspect the reason why they don’t call it ‘gender role performativity’ is because ‘gender roles’ have a long history of being considered inherently oppressive and limiting in feminist theory. I mean, radical feminists traditionally call for ‘gender abolition’, something which I believe is misguided and misses the positive aspects of having gender roles. Historically, gender roles were indeed rigid, and placed unfair limitations on what women could do for a career, for example. However, society has since progressed, and we should not be forever condemned to that kind of worldview. In today’s context, embracing a gender role that feels right for you can be liberating and empowering. This, I believe, is actually a core trans insight, because as part of transitioning, many trans people have found meaning and confidence in adopting a gender role that they like. I think this part of the trans experience definitely deserves further exploration.

TaraElla is a singer-songwriter and author, who recently published her autobiography The TaraElla Story, in which she described the events that inspired her writing.

She is also the author of The Trans Case Against Queer Theory.




Because the fundamental experience of being trans is being eternally sandwiched between forces bigger than yourself. Forces with their own agendas, who use trans people for their own purposes.

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Author and singer-songwriter. Doing sociology and philosophy by looking at Western politics and culture. Moral Libertarian.

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