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A personal take on Judith Butler, Queer Theory and T.E.R.Fs

Updated: Oct 22, 2021



Butler argues that feminism loses traction when we cannot agree on a clear definition of what a woman is, how we define the term. Take TERFS for example, a term that is sometimes used as an insult in my demographic. Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists are at one extreme end of this argument, they believe trans and non-gender conforming folks aren't entitled to reap any of the rewards from feminism's wins. In the eyes of TERFs, they are an attack on feminism because they essentially let people with penises or who are intersex into women's worlds, and have not experienced the same hardship placed upon them societally from having had a vagina and womb. I would argue (and perhaps Butler would agree) that to exclude such people from the title woman on the premise that they do not have a womb and setting the criteria of woman to revolve around reproductive ability is essentially reducing a woman to what is in between their legs and is inherently sexist itself - it is the moment when feminism implodes unto itself.

If we can basically reduce everyone down to what genitalia they are born with then not only does it allow sexism to breed but it assumes heteronormativity and that queer relationships are a diversion from the median. Because, nature. Once we separate sex from gender and see gender as an outward expression (Gender performativity) that is not reliant on organs but on the way one wishes to present, we can more easily accept that relationships don't need to revolve around two people having a fitting set of genitals.


It is important to point out here that the term 'normal' when used to describe a majority can be technically correct if we say 'hetero relationships are normal' but the exclusion happens when normalcy is assumed or expected and diversions from that are 'other', rather than the it being a spectrum.


It's also important to point out that I understand Queer Theory can easily be reduced to an study of relationships. By using an example of my personal relationship I don't mean to assume that my own analysation of gender norms only benefits queer relationships - It is for the benefit of individuals firstly and relationships are a good example to use when talking about expectations to perform gender roles.


My partner is a transgender woman, and I am cisgender (meaning that I comfortably identify with the sex indicated by the genitals I was born with, cis is sometimes a slur to TERFs).

For the first four years of our relationship (before she began to publicly transition) we were considered a 'normal' hetero couple, and into the latter two and a half we are considered lesbians in some circles, queer in others, still hetero or blasphemous to some. While the labels around what we are and what we are not have changed, the binding forces in our relationship haven't really changed at all. So this is where queer theory takes my interest, and I must admit, until my own personal relationship was no longer effected by the constructs of gender, I couldn't fully understand this argument and took more of a 'genitalia are the main contenders but others are allowed to be included because I'm not a bigot' approach. So, I credit Judith Butler for introducing me to queer theory but really they gave me the language. Much of it came the other way around for me, so rather than de-structuring my understanding of gender expectations and then opening up my view of heterosexuality as default, the evolution of my relationship (as I was still inside it) pulled me out of heterosexuality through a gentle broadening of the boundaries. To me and my partner, there is no discerning difference between our relationship and a heterosexual one, and I have been shown first hand that relationships, hetero or not, do to not rely on a balance of masculine and feminine.


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References:

Butler, Judith. Gender trouble. routledge, 2002.

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