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Documenting Sex and/or Gender. Montrer patte blanche as Ambiguous Expression of Proving One’s Credentials

Sanja Milutinović
p. 195-203

Abstract

L’allegoria di La Fontaine “montrer patte blanche / mostrare la zampa bianca” (cioè identificarsi, presentare le proprie credenziali) – dalla sua favola “Il lupo, l’agnello, il bambino” — verrà usata per illustrare il problema di come documentare il sesso e/o il genere. Nella prima decade del ventunesimo secolo, i corpi legislativi di certi paesi social-democratici (ad esempio, Australia, Nuova Zelanda, Nepal, Germania) hanno cambiato il sistema binario di presentazione del sesso o genere nella documentazione ufficiale, introducendo una terza possibilità — quella della indeterminatezza del genere. La domanda che verrà affrontata, avendo come punto di vista quello dell’ontologia sociale, è la seguente: è ora possibile produrre un documento di identità ufficiale senza conoscere precisamente il sesso della persona in questione?

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Termini di indicizzazione

Keywords :

sex, gender, identity

Parole chiave :

sesso, genere, identità
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Testo integrale

  • 1 See, for example, Phyllis 2000; Preves 2003.
  • 2 See Garber 1997.
  • 3 These practices have been corrected in certain countries. Since 2011, Australia has introduced the (...)
  • 4 «In contrast with the true hermaphrodites, the pseudohermaphrodites possess two gonads of the same (...)

1It is noteworthy that cases that bring into question the inscribing of sex in Ids are still statistically rare. We learn about them in newspapers, but more often in books of fiction, from the stage or from films1, where we are confronted with the difficulties of transsexual persons’ lives. Usually this takes the form of presenting the long-term process of sex reassignment, by showing its various levels – the psychological, the hormonal, and finally the surgical. Less often we encounter transgender individuals who perform their gender (like transvestites2), or come up against technical, that is, administrative barriers in certain normative measures (such as the attempt to correct and inscribe a new sex in an Id or a birth certificate)3. The history of the practice of mandatory identification through sex designation is very rich, for which there are myriad cultural, normative, and security reasons (for instance, a person’s wish to conceal his or her original sex cannot outweigh the public interest in protection against fraud). However, in comparative studies of cultures on the Indian subcontinent or in Indonesia, there are numerous cases that negate the sexual binary and confirm the possibility of the existence of at least three intersexes, “herm”, “merm”, and “ferm”, as Anne Fausto-Sterling suggests in her research4.

2I will try to offer a sort of introductory remark for the eventual obsolescence of entering the sex in Id documents. My intention will also be to show the extent to which sex and gender differ when it comes to their ontological status, if they even have one. Rather, in lieu of status, rooted in the static “being”, I will speak of a kind of dynamic ontology embedded in “becoming”.

1.

3Quite recently, in May 2011 the International Association of Athletics Federations (Iaaf) has approved the adoption of new rules and regulations governing the eligibility of females with hyperandrogenism to take part in women’s competition based on a case of a South African runner, Caster Semenya. As it was reported in “The Guardian”, “The decision of the Iaaf council is the culmination of an 18 month-long review by an expert working group which has studied issues relating to the participation of female athletes with hyperandrogenism, a condition involving overproduction of male sex hormones”.

4The aim of that working group was to avoid a repeat of the gender row which engulfed 800m runner Caster Semenya who won at the World Championships in Berlin in 2009 and was subsequently sidelined from running as the Iaaf looked into her high levels of testosterone. A remark is given that the competition in athletics will continue to be divided by gender, recognizing that there is a difference in sporting performance between elite men and women, predominantly due to higher levels of androgenic hormones in men. In this sense,

  • 5 Karkazis et al. 2012: 3-16.

a female with hyperandrogenism who is recognized as a female in law shall be eligible to compete in women’s competition in athletics provided that she has androgen levels below the male range (measured by reference to testosterone levels in serum) or, if she has androgen levels within the male range she also has an androgen resistance which means that she derives no competitive advantage from such levels5.

5Actually, the work of that expert group initiated twenty years earlier, when Maria Patiño, Spain’s top women hurdler, after passing through “the femininity control office”, failed the gender control. She may have looked like a woman, had a woman’s strength, and never had reason to suspect herself that she wasn’t a woman, but her Dna examination revealed XY cells and she was stripped of her medals even though she was born with a condition known as Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (Ais) that basically made her by-all-appearances female just with recessed testicles that wouldn’t be apparent without a thorough medical exam. Despite the fact that Spanish officials asked her to fake an injury in order to bow competition, which she refused, she competed and won gold in 60m hurdles, collapsing at the finish line. After her Dna test result was revealed, she returned to Spain in disgrace. Fighting for two years for reinstatement, she eventually won on the basis of her body condition, meaning that her faulty receptors actually made her resistant to the additional testosterone and thus did not give her a competitive advantage.

6We may still remember a long list of Russian or Rda female athletes showing quite astonishing characteristics of hyperandrogenism in early seventies and even eighties. But returning to the most recent report, the above-mentioned pool of international medical experts finally stipulated, «a female athlete who declines, fails or refuses to comply with the eligibility determination process will not be eligible to compete in the women’s competition»6.

7In other words, in the world of social objects, the formal declaration of one’s sex still guarantees the first step in proving one’s credentials. However, what if a change of sex is fluid enough to lead to a complete incongruence with the declared sex in the normative sense?

8Let me briefly bring up Lafontaine’s parable Montrer patte blanche, from his fable “The Wolf, the Goat and the Kid”. The possibility of montrer patte blanche only repeats the pattern of the already established paradigm of standardization, i.e. normalization, represented in one’s documents, where one becomes part of a community based on convention, and not on any (possible) ontological grounds. In other words, the formal declaration of one’s credentials, in a perverted way, fits into the existing system of normative values. To show the incompatibility of the normative world with the ontological category of sex-change, I would like to, primarily as a thought experiment, offer a reading of Lafontaine’s fable. My intention is to demonstrate how an act of identification that references sex may become contradictory and insufficient, not only in terms of practical normativity, but also in an ontological sense. The play of metaphor and rhetorical figure in this picturesque and authentic reworking of Aesop’s original story actually corresponds to concrete, real life examples. The thought experiment I propose shows the full complexity and pliability of Caster Semenya’s potential sex attribution based on successive substance controls. Measuring the increase or decrease of the testosterone levels in the blood is at variance with giving a static declaration of sex in her/his Id (an ambiguity presented even in the pronoun “her/his”).

  • 7 Braidotti 1994; Colebrook 2002; Grosz 2011; Patton 2010; Massumi 2002; Stagoll 1998.

9The second element of my experiment puts into play the ontological use of the word “becoming”, which at once covers concepts of being and time, and gives to the ontology a dimension of dynamism. In using the gerund or verbal noun of the verb “to become”, expressing the action as continuance, I follow Deleuze, much like many before me7.

10Far from competitive fields, publicity and press, there are people who express a tendency towards sex or gender change. They are known as “intersex” subjects and again like Anne Fausto-Sterling I may confirm that the sex is a vast, infinitely malleable continuum that defies the constraints of certainly more than two categories that we recognize as male/female. Challenging this kind of categorization it is precisely with this concept of “becoming” that I will try to defend the idea of a kind of dynamic ontology that allows “queer” subjects to thematize themselves and leaves them the freedom not to inscribe their sex and gender in the official Ids. But before I do this I would like to remind you briefly of:

2.

  • 8 Jean de la Fontaine (1860), Fables of La Fontaine, translated by E. Wright, Jr.

The wolf, the goat, and the kid by Jean de Lafontaine8

As went the goat her pendent dugs to fill,
And browse the herbage of a distant hill,
She latched her door, and bid,
With matron care, her kid; –
My daughter, as you live,
This portal don’t undo
To any creature who
This watchword does not give:
«Deuce take the wolf and all his race!»
The wolf was passing near the place
By chance, and heard the words with pleasure,
And laid them up as useful treasure;
And, hardly need we mention,
Escaped the goat’s attention.
No sooner did he see
The matron off, than he,
With hypocritic tone and face,
Cried out before the place,
Deuce take the wolf and all his race!
Not doubting thus to gain admission.
The kid, not void of all suspicion,
Peer’d through a crack, and cried,
Show me white paw before
You ask me to undo the door.
The wolf could not, if he had died,
For wolves have no connection
With paws of that complexion.
So, much surprised, our gormandizer
Retired to fast till he was wiser.

11What is Lafontaine saying about our identity in the course of his morality teaching about what to do when an interloper is preparing to attack? How do we arrive at the point of requiring identification in order to pass from one world into another, in order to change place, to enter into a new community, or even to exit the old community? What makes us become part of a community? Is there any possibility to choose, to change one’s identity without resorting to violence? Who are you? Where are you coming from? Are you black or white, guilty or innocent, short or tall, male or female? Show me your papers! What changes and, what does not, in circumstances in which changes are evident? Like in Kripke’s semantics of possible worlds, does belonging to different worlds still keep one identical? Does your sex/gender express one of your essential properties? Is it possible to change your sex/gender and still remain identical? Consequently, what happens when you are technically allowed to change your name? Does it all depend on what you utter, how you declare yourself? Are you still the same/identical or do you become an Other? How is this change reflected in your credentials?

  • 9 See Lakoff and Johnson 1980.

12Lafontaine’s manner in sketching out these fables, given that he is a proper moralist, is to strongly stress certain parts, emphasizing their general importance without naming them explicitly: the wolf is evil and black, the kid-goat white, candid. The word candid comes from the Latin for white, candidus, and much like in Rome, the kid-goat is, literally a candidates, or chosen soldier in its community. The metaphor of whiteness is used strictly to preserve someone’s prestigious social identity. A figure of speech when a single ontological descriptive characteristic becomes an ontological entity9, the candidate already represents some sort of elite that plays the prestigious role in its community. The semantic field of the white color also reminds us of Roman candidates for public service, dressed as they were in a white toga. Once more, candid also means innocent, so the kid is a priori innocent. The kid is innocent, and interestingly enough also cunning in using words other than the password. Taught to defend himself, he comes up with this magical formula: «Deuce take the wolf and all his race!» / «Foin du Loup et de sa race», thus identifying the enemy through making distinctions between the genders of wolf and goat. Let us look briefly at the password. In the French original it represents the archaic expression of “disgust”, “contempt” and, as a euphemism, the “devil”. Just like in the English translation when it is announced through the word “Deuce”, “the doubled creature”, “the demon”. Interestingly, over time the morality of the fable (expressed in the search for a form which best articulates fear of the enemy) has demurred. However, the reference to Lafontaine changed and the fable itself has been transposed. Only the key moments remain throughout, and even these only heavily edited. The transition from black to evil, as well as from white to innocent is enhanced by the cunning, which crosses onto the black side. In one of the variants of the story, the cunning wolf – because he is a doubled creature, a deuce, so adept and persistent at masquerading – conceives of a terrible bestiality in order to pass for a goat that it dips its paw in white flour. This transition of gestures is always quick and we could easily say that it speeds up as the story moves and time passes. Information and impressions abound, and the sudden reversal is drawn in a quick move, leaving the kid ever more vulnerable while we increasingly identify with it. In other words, regardless of the change in appearance, the fable warns us that it is impossible to escape one’s essence, i.e. the wolf its wolf essence, this foremost figure of its belonging to the wolf gender and its appearance in the world.

13It is obvious that Lafontaine is a master of dialogue, for it is in the dialogue that he achieves the exceptional persuasion, vividness, powerful psychology and drama. The word is, even when uttered by the animal, the key to the resolution of the whole situation. However, it is not only the uttered words that are problematic in the personification. Despite signifying movability and changeability, despite constantly varying through rhetorical figures, words refer to fixed essences. But they also refer to doubled essences.

14A seemingly truthful tale about a terrified attempt at survival becomes a symbolic protocol of identification where specific entities are divided – in Lafontaine’s fable between wolf and goat – already enriched by their properties (good/bad, naïve or candid/cunning…) that leave their traces in written documents. And so it is not enough to utter one’s name, one must also furnish material evidence (however piled up and redundant) of belonging: given name, family name, race, gender, occupation, height, weight… Which gender, which sex do I belong to and how important is that, in recognition of my role in a particular community? We ought to wonder then to what extent does ontology guarantee the criteria, based on which we differentiate sex and gender?

3.

15Commonsensically, there are many similarities and differences among the male and female. Caster Semenya the 800m runner, and Usain Bolt the sprinter are both athletes, they can both be classified as such and we know that insofar as our classificatory purposes may vary, the genera of one system may be the differentia of another. For example, athletes and mind sport players are generically humans, but are differentiated into athletes who use their physical strength and those who use their mental abilities. It is conceivable that Semenya or Bolt can run and be trained; they can undergo medical treatments. But is it conceivable that after period of time one of them changes sex?

  • 10 See Freeland 1998; McGowan 1992.

16As soon as we understand that there are two significantly different families of dual phenomena (such as male and female sex), distinguished also by their specific relations, the vast field of ontological duality emerges despite the material facts provided in sciences. Numerous categorical dualities, which are operational not only in mathematics, like finite/infinite and discrete/continuous, but also in the epistemic grounds of almost all sciences are well known. If we refer to the tradition of Aristotle’s writings On Generation and Corruption and its reception through centuries, the male/female category figures in the same register as matter/form; nature/nurture; potential/act; quality/quantity; one/many; identity/difference; individual/universal; part/whole… Different authors of twentieth century feminism criticize this binary model10. Instead of the ontological status of mentioned duality, the engagement and emancipatory enthusiasm of the feminists ensured that the attempt to arrive at a new model of the community was made through a political and epistemological critique of binary structures. While gender studies investigate the overcoming of any form of dualistic categorization considering gender above all as a social construct, new insights in cognitive sciences, biology and philosophy of biology brought back the question of essence and its manifestations. It is truly no longer enough to make the distinction that Aristotle made between male and female based exclusively on visible male/female properties. It becomes necessary to establish nearly mathematical models to determine the degree of feminine or masculine features thus proving that biology needs to overcome previously determined ontological characterizations and surpass pure materiality.

17I have spent some time on Lafontaine’s fable indicating how “natural”, and “normal” it is to want to belong to the protected mass of the big, mainstream body of togetherness. Therefore I am not surprised by the need of wolves to dip their paws into flour, thin their voices to be what they are not. Of course many “wolves” want to be satiated and not to have to pass through interminable questionings and rejections of identification. Wolves too would like to establish their norms, their measures of value and their roadmaps. The problem occurs when they do it by emulating the existing paradigms. The problem also occurs when they are unable to articulate their needs in a new way.

  • 11 See Bruder et al. 2008: 763-771.
  • 12 See Massumi 1992: 140.
  • 13 Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 8.

18This is why bridging the gap between the essentialist (sexual difference) and constructionist or gender models, I wished to refer to Deleuze’s concept of “becoming”, a sort of simultaneous coming and going in a borderland zone between two ends. “Becoming” describes the continual production (or “return”) of difference immanent within the constitution of events, whether physical or otherwise. It is the pure movement evident in changes between particular events. Still “devenir/becoming” does not represent a phase between two states or a range of terms. As continuous (and alive, which allows us to recognize Bergson and his conception of life in the background of the continuity), becoming is the very dynamism of change that tends to no specific goal. In that sense, as an ontological category becoming is a kind of being that avoids the practice of “montrer patte blache” / “showing one’s credentials”, or any necessarily false act of identification since the identity process is universally true only in case if at any moment every individual may provide its genome (its unique genetic Id – even in the case of the monozygotic twins11). Instead of declaring anyhow insufficient sex/gender identity in Id’s we may suppose a different kind of document that will correspond to one’s unique genome. Of course, we can also insist upon a fact that one should always show the same “white paw”, or “non-white paw”. But one can cunningly decide to play with others and to play with her/himself and put his/her paw into the flour. In this sense the production of subjectivity is not based on any prescribed code, but is creative and artistic, and also includes ethical and aesthetic dimensions punctuated by moments when being white or black, that is, male or female, simply would no longer remain static. The human experience per se may be considered as a condition of possibility, or “the inventive potential”, as Brian Massumi wrote more than twenty years ago12, of becoming-other, that is, different from the present self. The dynamics of becoming thus describes a process in which any given multiplicity “changes in nature as it expands its connections”13.

19Becoming, while “taking place” in a gap created by non-place, is nonetheless a zone of indetermination, of indiscernibility of sets of living creatures same as sets of things, beasts and persons.

20It seems that one such action could be in the effort, coming on the heels of the long struggle to establish positive differences between gender and sex, to finally arrive at raising the gender and sexual marking to a more general level and completely be left out from identification processes.

21A few questions thus remain in suspense: What are, then, the ontological reasons for having our sex written out in our Ids? Even with contemporary technology, are unique forms of identification not possible that would rid us of any discriminating practices?

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Bibliografia

Braidotti, R.
– 1994, Nomadic Subjects, New York, Columbia University Press

Bruder, C.E.G. et al.
– 2008, Phenotypically concordant and discordant monozygotic twins display different Dna copy-number-variation profiles, “American Journal of Human Genetics”, 82: 763-771

Colebrook, C.
– 2002, Understanding Deleuze, Crows Nest, Allen Unwin

Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F.
– 1987, A Thousand Plateaus, London, Continuum

Fausto-Sterling, A.
1993, The five sexes: Why male and female are not enough, “The Sciences”, 33: 20-24

Freeland, C.A. (ed)
− 1998, Feminist Interpretations of Aristotle, University Park, The Pennsylvania State University Press

Garber, M.
– 1997, Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing and Cultural Anxiety, London - New York, Routledge

Grosz, E.
– 2011, Becoming Undone, Durham-London, Duke University Press

Karkazis K. et. al.
– 2012, Out of bounds? A critique of the new policies on hyperandrogenism in elite female athletes, “The American Journal of Bioethics”, 12: 3-16

Lakoff, G. and Johnson, M.
− 1980, Metaphors We Live By, Chicago, The University of Chicago Press

McGowan T.D.
− 1992, The metaphysical science of Aristotle’s “Generation of Animals” and its feminist critics, “Review of Metaphysics”, 46: 307-341

Massumi, B.
– 1992, A user’s guide to capitalism and schizophrenia: deviations from Deleuze and Guattari, Cambridge (Mass.), Mit Press
– 2002, A Shock to Thought: Expression After Deleuze and Guattari, London - New York, Routledge

Patton, P.
– 2010, Deleuzian Concepts: Philosophy, Colonization, Politics, Palo Alto, Stanford University Press

Phyllis, W.
– 2000, Is it a Boy or a Girl?, Great Falls, Discovery Channel

Preves, S.
– 2003, Intersex and Identity: The Contested Self, New Brunswick, Rutgers University Press

Stagoll, C.S.
– 1998, Deleuze’s Becoming-Subject: Difference and the Human Individual, PhD thesis, University of Warwick

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Note

1 See, for example, Phyllis 2000; Preves 2003.

2 See Garber 1997.

3 These practices have been corrected in certain countries. Since 2011, Australia has introduced the possibility of marking the symbol “X” in the place provided for gender. http://www.nbcnews.com/id/44532536/ns/travel-news/#.UxLu1fR5MX4 (page accessed 2 March 2014). The most recent example of Germany, as a legislatively stable democracy, shows this clearly. See http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/10/germany-third-gender-birth-certificate (page accessed 2 March 2014).

4 «In contrast with the true hermaphrodites, the pseudohermaphrodites possess two gonads of the same kind along with the usual male (XY) or female (XX) chromosomal makeup. But their external genitalia and secondary sex characteristics do not match their chromosomes. Thus merms have testes and XY chromosomes, yet they also have a vagina and a clitoris, and at puberty they often develop breasts. They do not menstruate, however. Ferms have ovaries, two X chromosomes and sometimes a uterus, but they also have at least partly masculine external genitalia. Without medical intervention they can develop beards, deep voices and adult-size penises». Fausto-Sterling 1993: 20-24.

5 Karkazis et al. 2012: 3-16.

6 http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2011/apr/12/iaaf-athletics-rules-hyperandrogenism-caster-semenya (accessed 3 March 2014).

7 Braidotti 1994; Colebrook 2002; Grosz 2011; Patton 2010; Massumi 2002; Stagoll 1998.

8 Jean de la Fontaine (1860), Fables of La Fontaine, translated by E. Wright, Jr.

9 See Lakoff and Johnson 1980.

10 See Freeland 1998; McGowan 1992.

11 See Bruder et al. 2008: 763-771.

12 See Massumi 1992: 140.

13 Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 8.

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Per citare questo articolo

Notizia bibliografica

Sanja Milutinović, « Documenting Sex and/or Gender. Montrer patte blanche as Ambiguous Expression of Proving One’s Credentials », Rivista di estetica, 57 | 2014, 195-203.

Notizia bibliografica digitale

Sanja Milutinović, « Documenting Sex and/or Gender. Montrer patte blanche as Ambiguous Expression of Proving One’s Credentials », Rivista di estetica [Online], 57 | 2014, online dal 01 novembre 2014, consultato il 22 novembre 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/estetica/758 ; DOI : 10.4000/estetica.758

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