Out in the Bay: 'Gender is queer for everyone,' says Utah prof

  • by Kendra Klang and Eric Jansen
  • Thursday October 7, 2021
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Kathryn Bond Stockton, a dean and English professor at the University of Utah, is author of "Gender(s)" published by MIT Press, 2021. Photo: Lisa Duggan
Kathryn Bond Stockton, a dean and English professor at the University of Utah, is author of "Gender(s)" published by MIT Press, 2021. Photo: Lisa Duggan

According to author and academic Kathryn Bond Stockton, "gender is queer for everyone." When she says "queer" she doesn't mean only in the LGBTQIA+ sense — she means the dictionary definition: strange. "Gender is strange," she writes, "even when it's played straight."

In her new book, "Gender(s)," she takes a questioning approach and encourages her readers to do the same. Stockton, a dean and English professor who teaches queer theory and theories of racialized gender at the University of Utah, asserts that gender is always racialized ("Gender norms in this country have been white norms") and is intimately associated with money.

In "Gender(s)" and on this week's Out in the Bay, she dismantles the concept of the gender binary, helps us understand the difference between "sex" and "gender," and argues that for many of us, our surfaces — from genitalia to hair and clothing — may disagree with our internal biological layers, our mysterious thoughts, our behaviors and our sense of self. Essentially, she contends, everyone's gender is queer in these ways.

"Look at the definition that is most common right now for transgender: 'Somebody who does not feel right in their sex assigned at birth,'" said Stockton. "To be defined as trans, you need not have a hormonal regimen, ... biomedical intervention or surgery. You just need to not feel right in your sex assigned at birth. That defines many of us."

She finds the concepts of "opposite-sex" and "same-sex" troubling, and definitions of masculine and feminine "confounding." For example, Stockton said if we attribute bravery to masculinity, "I would say that to grow another human being in your womb ... for nine months, and to have to get that little grown body out of you through a vagina strikes me as one of the bravest things I've ever heard tell of. So I just don't know where we'll get deciding which human traits are masculine or feminine."

Stockton also suggests on Out in the Bay replacing the term "cisgender" with "cis-surface." It's easy to see someone and based on appearance, presume them cisgender, she says, but we "don't know what goes on behind that surface ... I want to see a severing between that surface and that depth."

Stockton said of her partner: "If she would pass you on the street, you might think she was a normative woman in some way. But 'cisgender' definitely does not fit her. She's been partnered with a big ol' queer all this time, and she also has ways that in no way, shape, or form match her sex."

Hear much more from Kathryn Bond Stockton on this week's Out in the Bay. The program airs at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, October 7, on KSFP, 102.5 FM San Francisco only; at 5 p.m. Friday, October 8, on KALW, 91.7 FM SF Bay Area-wide; and again at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, October 9, on KSFP. It is available anytime on Out in the Bay's website.

Kendra Klang produces and Eric Jansen hosts Out in the Bay — Queer Radio from San Francisco. Learn more and listen at https://www.outinthebay.org/

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