Third sex or dissident representations?: Possible performativities in social consensus

The idea of sex and gender as separate categories was introduced to social life during the early 1970s. As Fausto-Sterling mentions, second wave feminists argued that the understanding of sex as a binary attribute -male/female- imposed on people at birth was used by social institutions to perpetuate gender inequality between men and women.

In 1972, John Money and Anke Ehrhardt (sexologists) proposed a differentiation in the same way. Understanding sex as physical attributes, determined by anatomy and physiology. And taking into account the behavioral expressions of the <I> to determine gender identity, these in turn are shaped by social forces.

On the other hand, the category of sex must also be observed in its interior in relation to the social context: “The sex of a body is too complex a matter. There is no black or white, but degrees of difference. (…) One of the main theses of this book is that labeling someone as male or female is a social decision. Scientific knowledge can assist us in this decision, but only our conception of gender, and not science, can define our sex. What’s more, our conception of gender affects the knowledge about sex produced by scientists in the first place”.

In this sense, the author agrees with Preciado that the idea of sex as a binary classification of people is imposed based on the medical discourse, while leaving aside the social and cultural burden that the previously agreed concepts of masculinity and femininity entail.

By deepening the relationship between identity and social experience, it is obtained that the latter is neither individual nor fixed, but is determined by the context in a fluctuating way. In line with this statement, it is possible to bring the concept of performativity enunciated by Butler: “To say that gender is performative means to say that it has a certain expression and manifestation; since the ‘appearance’ of the genre is often mistaken for a sign of its internal or inherent truth. Gender is conditioned by mandatory norms that make it define itself in one sense or another (generally within a binary framework) and therefore the reproduction of gender is always a negotiation of power”.

The philosopher develops that although the norms predetermine the actions of each person, these are also influenced by their desire. Then, by differentiating the categories of gender and sexuality, both are interrelated and dialogue with external conditions (social-cultural) to later become actions.

Within the framework of this theory, the question arises as to whether the idea of the third sex is sustainable. If it is only considered that within the categories of sex and gender binary masculine or feminine identification is possible, any corporality and expression found in the middle of such extremes is relegated. As Preciado tells in an interview on the spanish television channel Betevé, the dissident representations of the sex-gender system are discriminated against and considered pathological. From there come the categories of transsexuality and intersexuality, in response to the crisis of a binary system that instead of modifying and expanding its conception, begins to make corrections according to the pre-established sex-gender system.

Likewise, the acceptance of a third sex perpetuates the conditioning function of belonging to a third category, immobile and subordinate to social-cultural norms, continuing a system that, although it introduces a new conception, does so by identifying it as the surplus of the binary system, that doesn’t fit. As Butler puts it, “Performativity is a process that involves shaping our performance in ways that we don’t always fully understand, and acting in politically consistent ways. Performativity has completely to do with ‘who’ can be produced as a recognizable subject, a subject who is living, whose life is worth protecting and whose life, when lost, is worth longing for.”

In closing, it can be observed that those who do not fit into the category of “recognizable subjects”, according to Butler, are women, queers, transsexuals, the poor and the stateless. This form of discrimination is in line with the exclusion experienced by lesbians -Preciado- in the political representation of feminist movements, due to their lesbo-hatred, and homosexual movements, due to their misogyny. There it can be observed that even the same groups, representatives of the excluded minorities, can act in a discriminatory way with different sectors that make up their struggle.

From that criticism began “a process of fragmentation and displacement that calls into question the affirmation of a single feminist subject and a single homosexual subject… a process very similar to the one that will take place in the 1980s in feminism and the American homosexual movements and that will give home to the queer movements ”. To make the expression of multiple performativities possible, without them being socially rejected, it is essential that the movements that fight for the recognition of people’s rights respect the inclusion of different sectors.

To Comunicar Igualdad | Feminismos en América y Europa | 2020

  • Preciado, Paul B. 2013. “Terror Anal Manifiestos recientes”. Buenos Aires. La isla de la Luna.
  • Butler, Judith. 2009. “Performatividad, Precariedad y Políticas Sexuales”. En: AIBR, Revista de Antropología Iberoamericana, Volumen 4, Número 3
  • Fausto-Sterling, Anne. 2006. “Cuerpos sexuados. La política de género y la construcción de la sexualidad”. Buenos Aires. Melusina.
  • YouTube: Entrevista a Paul B. Preciado: “Soy un disidente del sistema sexo-género” — Àrtic | betevé




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Ale Funes

Ale Funes

Culture. Art. Queer identities.

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