Saturday, July 2, 2011

Judith Butler / Gender Trouble: Drag Queens and Gender Performance

In "Gender Trouble" Judith Butler introduced her famous notion of gender as performance and of the relation between identity and performativity.  One cultural phenomenon that according to Judith Butler exposes the performative nature of gender is that of the drag queen. Drag for Butler raises some serious question regarding gender identity: is the man appearing in women's cloths is essentially a man in a custom with only the exterior appearance of a woman? Or is it that the overt femininity displayed by him proves that his essence is after all a feminine one, in spite of his male body? These doubts reveal for butler, in the example of the drag queen, the instability of the relationship between sex and gender, and attest to the performative nature of masculine or feminine identity. The construction of gender identities is produced through repetitive performance of behaviors, physical stylistic expressions, without which the man/woman distinction has no sense. Thus the drag queen exposes gender as a cultural code which relies on imitation and reappearance, lacking any initial, essential truth. The parody of the drag performance accentuates to the point of radicalization the norms of gender performance. Thus drag queens enable the recognition of the mimicry at the base of any structure of identity, and the absence of any authentic source.

The parody of drag is for Judith Butler an important way to resist the power structures which regulate our lives and identities by ridiculing normative cultural expressions and performances. Drag performance aims at destabilizing the "truth" of sexual and gender identity by pointing to the fact that there is no obligating reason that necessitates the constants mimicry of performed identities. Drag therefore exposes the social coercion at the base of the performative nature of identity. Furthermore, the drag parody for Judith Butler points to the fact that, since there is no essential or initial basis of gender identity, that it can be disrupted, undermined, broken, turned over, resisted, altered and altogether be a subject over which to cause some "gender trouble".

See also: Judith Butler / Bodies that Matter

Judith Butler / Performative Acts and Gender Constitution
Judith Butler / Critically Queer 

Additional books by Butler to check out:

RC Series Bundle: Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (Routledge Classics)