I've been subconsciously challenging the binary system ever since I was a child. As I continued to grow and mature, I found myself increasingly perplexed by the pervasive imposition of the rigid categories of "Male" and "Female" on virtually every aspect of our lives. This rigid binary system seemed inadequate to me as it does not represent the rich and diverse reality of so many people who do not neatly fit into these predefined categories. It raised so many questions about inclusivity, a societal structure's fairness and the equality of marginalised people who just do not conform (good ol Libra always striving for balance).
In 2002, my friend Karin played me the "Allegory and Self", a music album by Psychic TV. Little did I know that delving into the story of Psychic TV would lead me to discover the science and literature behind the construction of sexuality and identity. Though I never struggled with my identity, I could undoubtedly feel a sense of 'belonging' as the visibility for non-binary people became more accepted within the dominant culture.
Subsequently, the book "Sexing the Body" became an eye-opening cornerstone in my maturation towards who I am today, and it is with great honour to have had a discourse with the Author Anne Fausto-Sterling. The following interview was conducted via email over the past couple of weeks. I patiently awaited Anne's responses while she probably hid from the influx of tourism on the Northeastern cost of the USA.
1. Throughout your career, what would be the most surprising shift in our understanding of gender construction that have led you to reevaluate beliefs you held for example in your thirties?
In my thirties (i.e. during the 1970s) we were elated to have a new distinction--sex versus gender, which we feminists used to argue against biological determinism and for social, political and economic equality. At the time I did not really recognize that the distinction, which had immense political utility, still had a problematic binary core. Currently, in my 70s, I have been trying to reconceptualize matters to allow non-binary diversity. The biggest conceptual tool now at my disposal is the recognition that sex (a.k.a. biology) is changed by gendered experience and that most things that we have in the past tried to assign on a sex VERSUS gender basis are really the overlapping portion of a Venn Diagram that we call gender/sex. Or, if we are including sexual orientation in the discussion: gender/sex/uality. (I can provide you with an image of this, or see diagram in Chapter 10 of the 2020 edition of Sexing the Body.)
When I started at Uni beginning of this year I bought some textbooks and the woman at the counter asked me what my Major was.
When I replied Gender Studies with a minor in Criminology she said that everyone who starts Gender Studies turns so angry as their study progresses… I believe that is because we are confronted with so much data that is often aggravating.
2. In your opinion, how can we avoid getting angry and bitter while exploring the complexities of gender, its relationship with societal injustices, and the challenges it presents while staying on our goals and maintain a positive outlook?
3. Why do you think academia continues to showcase one-sided and outdated research, such as the studies by Bailey and Zucker on sexual orientation or the controversial work of Dr. Money, who fabricated the debunked John/Joan case? Do you think potential dangers arise from solely focusing on outdated research without acknowledging current knowledge?
4. A fashion question :)
Many scholars have highlighted the ways that gender is performative. Clothing can be a great and also fun tool to express one's identity.
Do you use fashion to express yourself or have a different approach to how you dress, and if so, who are your favourite designers?
5. On a personal note, I hold great respect for your work and admire your contributions to the field of Gender studies. With that in mind, if you had the opportunity to make a wish for one scientific advancement that could be proven, what would it be, and what is the reason behind your choice?
This is a tough one because I don't see the world that way. What I really wish for has started to happen, which is a paradigm shift from the over-simplified understanding of organismal development as linear and gene based, to an embracing of complexity, to seeing organisms as dynamic bio-environmental productions.
Thank you Anne for taking the time to answer these questions and thank you for your immense contribution to making the world a more inclusive and understanding place.
You can follow Anne Fausto-Sterling on her: