Judith Butler Thinks You’re Overreacting

I want to talk for a moment about categories. You have occupied many — butch, queer, woman, nonbinary — yet you’ve also said you’re suspicious of them.

At the time that I wrote “Gender Trouble,” I called for a world in which we might think about genders being proliferated beyond the usual binary of man and woman. What would that look like? What would it be? So when people started talking about being “nonbinary,” I thought, well, I am that. I was trying to occupy that space of being between existing categories.

Do you still believe that gender is “performance?”

After “Gender Trouble” was published, there were some from the trans community who had problems with it. And I saw that my approach, what came to be called a “queer approach”— which was somewhat ironic toward categories — for some people, that’s not OK. They need their categories, they need them to be right, and for them gender is not constructed or performed.

Not everybody wants mobility. And I think I’ve taken that into account now.

But at the same time, for me, performativity is enacting who we are, both our social formation and what we’ve done with that social formation. I mean, my gestures: I didn’t make them up out of thin air — there’s a history of Jewish people who do this. I am inside of something, socially, culturally constructed. At the same time, I find my own way in it. And it’s always been my contention that we’re both formed and we form ourselves, and that’s a living paradox.

How do you define gender today?

Oh, goodness. I have, I suppose, revised my theory of gender — but that’s not the point of this book. I do make the point that “gender identity” is not all of what we mean by gender: It’s one thing that belongs to a cluster of things. Gender is also a framework — a very important framework — in law, in politics, for thinking about how inequality gets instituted in the world.

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