Friday, September 1, 2017

Beyond Male and Female: On Transgender & Non-Binary Genders

We have always existed, 
and we will continue to fight 
until we are all safe and free.”

Laverne Cox

Course Description and Outcomes

Gender is personal and political. Gender is not just a set of physical or mental characteristics but an ongoing social conversation between identities, expressions, and relations that fight to order how we define bodies, how we divide bodies, and what roles or values these bodies will possess. Histories and narratives form and repeat when readers follow debates on gender in society. These narratives influence cultural imagination with tales that reflect and resist public concepts of gender, sexuality, race/ethnicity, disability, and class. In this seminar, we explore how rhetoric and worldviews have worked together to form diverse genres of texts and embodiment that have come to be collected under the name, “transgender,” as well as other forms of gender beyond the binary categories of “male” and “female.” By tracing a cultural genealogy that spans the western Middle Ages to today, we map how texts in the history of gender reinforce and resist mechanisms of control. This course asks: how is gender not just something you have but something you do? How does the doing of gender shape your embodiment? How do the lack or existence of disability access and gender-neutral bathrooms create and enforce divisions without active intentionality in the community that occupies the place? As part of the course, participants will engage with a variety of religious, scientific, and cultural texts, including selections from the Bible and Greco-Roman mythology, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), films such as the Danish Girl and the Transformation, as well as the biographies of Caitlyn Jenner and Jazz Jennings.

Course Objectives (Reflecting SAGES Learning Outcomes)
By the end of the course you will be able to

  • Sympathize across multiple perspectives in academic conversations 
  • Analyze ethical debates and offer critical inquiries 
  • Research relevant historical contexts and scholarship 
  • Argue in written and oral forms according to the dialectic method 
  • Honor the diversity of genders and be communicate them clearly


Selections from the Reading List

Beyond Male and Female (or as my students say the B[a]MF seminar) is divided into two primary sections: the Binary and Beyond the Binary. The first half of the class focuses on the history of the gender binary, where does it come from and why do we use it? These questions are tackled over two subsections focused around Religion and Science. Throughout this section, students analyze the arguments historically made in support of the binary and learn to see the cracks in the argument as well. In the second section, Beyond the Binary, the course focuses on issues in the Intersex and Transgender communities. The intersex section begins with mythic origins, moves through modern science, and then concludes with two memoirs. One memoir tells the story of a non-binary intersex person and the other one tells the story of a "trans" woman intersex person). The final weeks of class are spent examining transgender and its intersections with disability, class, race, and age. How does being transgender influence how we experience other parts of our lives and how do other parts of our identity influence how we experience transgender?


Section 1: the Binary


  • The Bible, 
    • “Genesis 1-2,” 
    • “Leviticus 21-23,” 
    • “Isaiah 56,”
    •  “Matthew18-19” 
  • Nicholas Constas (Trans.), The Life of Saint Marinos 
  • Susana Aiken and Carlos Aparicio (dir.), The Transformation (1996) 
  • Caitlyn Jenner, Secrets of My Life

  • Heldris of Cornwall, The Romance of Silence
  • Dylan Scholinski, The Last Time I Wore A Dress
  • Tom Hooper (dir.), The Danish Girl (2016) 
  • Leelah Alcorn, Transgender Queen of Hell 
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) 


Section 2: Beyond the Binary

Intersex and Non-Binary Identities
  • Plato, “Tale of Aristophanes,” 
  • Ovid, “Tale of Hermaphroditus” 
  • Anne Fausto-Sterling, Sexing the Body, 
    • “Dueling Dualisms” 
    • “Do Sex Hormones Really Exist?” 
  • Hida Viloria, Born Both
  • Thea Hillman, Intersex 

Transgender and Intersections of Disability, Race, Class, and Age
  • Eli Clare, Exile and Pride 
  • Janet Mock, Redefining Realness 
  • Jazz Jennings, Being Jazz


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