Postmodernism and structuralism: a taster

February 17, 2009

What theories are useful for creating a freer, more equal world for transsexual and transgendered people? I’ll look very briefly at some of the ideas coming from two sets of theory: postmodernism and structuralism.

Postmodernism can be a bit difficult to get to grips with, because it sees everything as being relative, in other words there are no ultimate truths or realities and everything is made up by all of us in interaction with each other. Reality is seen as being fluid, multilayered, contradictory and full of irony. Postmodernism is terribly dodgy if you take it too far: clearly we all have very real needs and experiences. However it’s useful for understanding some trans people’s experience, which is of realities that change or are different from rigid male/female categories. Perhaps particularly the varied experiences of transsexual people in transition, intersex people and transvestites. And in terms of society, one can argue that ‘man’ and ‘woman’ as the ‘only way to be’ are made-up terms anyway. It’s just that everyone takes them for granted to the extent that they actually believe they are real and that everything which does not fit is somehow ‘wrong’ or ‘sick’. But it does not need to be that way.

Getting back to people’s needs and experiences brings one slap bang up against the realities of the human need for an identity which works and which makes sense in the world around one. And of course, the rampant and insidious transphobia which trans people face from so rampant and insidious transphobia which trans people face from so many quarters. This is where structuralism comes in. Structuralism looks at the way social structures, for example medicine and education, affect people and also at the ideologies (widely held sets of beliefs) which impact on our lives. At present heteropatriarchal structures and ideologies are considered ‘normal’ in mainstream Western society. In other words, men and women are thought to have certain ‘correct’ roles, ‘male’ values are dominant over ‘female’ ones, homosexuality is thought to be less good than heterosexuality, trans is thought to be abnormal and so on – these ideas affect trans people on the street, in the hospital, the workplace and the bedroom.

From A Taster by Surya Monro (via GENDYS Journal)

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