Sunday, August 29, 2010

Dueling Dualisms by Anne Fausto-Sterling

In the first chapter of her book, Sexing the Body, Anne Fausto-Sterling pulls a part our understandings of what is normal and what is natural. She challenges the facts that we understand to be true; that there are two sexes, male and female, two genders, men and women, and two sexualities, heterosexual and homosexual (and maybe bisexual). She asks tough questions and uses real life examples that make these black and white extremes seem less fixed.

She begins by telling the story of Maria Patiño, an Olympic runner, whose life was destroyed when mandatory sports sex testing proved she was not female. Because she was one of many people born with sex characteristics that do not fit neatly into the box male or female, she had to fight in court to prove her femaleness and womanhood. Eventually she triumphed but this is still an issue today. Last year, South African runner Caster Semenya was publicly labeled intersex after smashing a world record time in the women's 800 meters. She has been the subject of cruel jokes and commentary for over a year before she was also allowed to return to track officially as a woman.

These two examples are a small window into the negative affects of thinking about sex and gender along an "either/or" frame. When one is either male or female, straight or gay it limits people's understanding of what true diversity there is in the world. Part of queer theory, or thinking about things outside of the "norms" of society, is not limiting possibilities to two "either/or" options. It's not about making new "norms" either. It's about recognizing the many ways that human beings can come to be and interact with each other. "Dueling Dualisms" is asking readers to think beyond competing polar opposites and really deal with all the shades of gray in between.

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