Butler and Identity

Hey all, I’m Chloe, a third year Political Science major. I found Butler’s work to be particularly difficult to tackle. She develops a very intricate system of viewing gender and sex and identity that I will attempt to tease out a bit.

Butler views the categories that we impose on gender and sexual identity as problematic. She challenges the idea that we are every able to actually define one’s sexuality, positing that the more one discloses using these normative terms that they are not actually achieving transparency or disclosure, but are rather using terms that hide much more than they claim reveal. Thus, these categories do not cover the particularities of the human experience.

Instead, Butler claims that identity is created through the repetition of one’s self and thus, the self creates the effect which it wishes to express (p24). Hence gender identity is not as concrete as one might believe, but rather a result of a set of personal particular experiences that are forced to be expressed a certain way as a result of hegemonic heterosexual norms. People may not have an inner sex that fits into the binary created by these norms. Butler discusses performativity in gender identity that is a result of this repetition and place under heterosexual norms – consolidating and affirming of who you are to yourself and others. Again, we see that these categories of identification cannot possibly express one’s particular identity as they claim to do.

However, Butler does acknowledge, at length, that she recognizes that these categories of identification are necessary in order to allow political minorities to gain traction – without identifying as a group, there would be no way to advance the minority political agenda. Thus, while Butler views these categories as problematic, she recognizes their necessity.

So what I’m left wondering is, what would replace gender identity in Butler’s world? Could we live without the categories of gender identification that we use today?


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