Boundary work, sexual passing and hybrid bodies. From Agnes to Cheryl Chase
Dipartimento di Studi Sociali e Politici University of Milan Milano, Italy
In Western modernity, bodies "between the sexes"have been object to a normalising gaze that was both fascinated and disgusted by their "difference". If the "impure" is that which is situated between the classifications of culture, sexually hybrid bodies are a potent object of both repulsion and fascination. Transvestites, transsexuals and hermaphrodites have equally been indicated as figures who make visible the taken-for-granted and yet normative character of gender and sexualitity. Stressing transgression, contemporary post-structuralist gender theory may run the risk to obliterate embodiment and its differentiated social organization. In this paper I want to take seriously embodiment as subjective experience. To do so I go back to a foundational moment and re-consider the debate on trassexualism in sociology as initiated by Garfinkel's classic work on sexual passing. This masterpiece is revealed in its actuality, limitations and strengths on the backdrop of current post-structuralist gender theories. Comparing and contrasting the consolidation of the social persona of the "transsexual" and the "hermaphrodite", the paper thereby explores how embodiment as experiential subjectivity must be considered along with boundary work predicated on sex categories, gender and sexuality. To conclude the paper offers a reflection on the politics of embodiment aimed at accounting for materiality as a distinct, yet culturally framed, level of reality.