Gender performance



Michel Foucault on the use of American pragmatism


If there is something that bothers current Gender studies it is the operation of subjectivization and the embrace of female subjectivity implicit in the Beauvoirian cogito: “one is not born a woman: one is owed”. It is argued against that it refers to a given anteriority, homologating the sexual cut. Thus, ultra-contemporarily, a claimed non-binary thought programmatically stands up against such modulations.

Granting that Simone de Beauvoir knew how to distinguish between gender positions and sexuality, and had the merit of realizing that sex does not cause gender, some denounce that, ultimately, the philosopher considered femininity innate, confirming her ideal normativity . See the homologation of his and her metaphysical presence in the categorical signifiers of the final call “to self-awareness” launched in the conclusions of the second sex. Where it can be read that: “…men and women must affirm without equivocation their fraternity” (Beauvoir, 1976, II, p. 663).

Em gender problems, Judith Butler will say that, working with a physical body prior to the perceived body, Beauvoir sees nature as a resistant materiality. And he will ironize becoming a woman, noting that, in the dynamics of this becoming, which at the same time ties and unties gender and sex, making the gender problem exit through one door and enter through the other, the transformed subject was already there , since always, in the shoes of the agent of transformation. The phrase on which the famous saying is based “is curious and even a little absurd, because how can you become a woman if you are not a woman from the beginning?”, he exclaims and asks (Butler, 2019, p. 193).

Much of the long chapter “Subversive bodily acts” in which the volume practically consists will revolve, then, around the supposed inability of this French matrix – to which Julia Kristeva, today guardian of the Beauvoir legacy in the world – belongs, to detach sex and gender, giving sex as the analytical attribute of the human.

Such disarms cannot be done without an intellectual change of guard. It is Michel Foucault mainly who supports the Butlerian thesis that the body is not sexual before being given as such by the discriminating powers of discourses – medical, legal, ethical, literary. Thus, it is mainly the archeology of History of sexuality that this Berkeley professor trained at Yale, birthplace of the deconstructionists, should be able to put the gender trouble in the enunciative norms of the genre, speaking in truths produced by repressive bodies, from the letter of their legislation.

This is what she starts with for the formulation of “gender performance”, a central concept of hers, using the relationships between saying and doing that underlie the notion of “performative” language, referring to the disturbing opposition between linguistic functions. simple description of actions, or locutionary, and linguistic functions of passage to the act, or illocutionary, as in phrases like “I promise” or “I accept”. In this Californian context, doing things with words will be extrapolated to the theatrical language of drag queens, where the same practical extension will be located.

The hypothesis is that the mise-en-scéne of these figures of bearded men dragging their dresses and sparkles (I drag) across the stages of life has the ability to make male and female happen before the unarmed spectator, without a solution of continuity, overturning generic sharing. O speech act of the body unfolded in gay and lesbian would disdain compelled discursive acts, which are performative without knowing it. In this simulation – explains Judith Butler – the imitation is of imitation, without reference to any original. The parody is of the idea of ​​original itself, without fixing the image of the Other. Thus, the natural effect is already beginning to be undone. As she exclaims questioningly, in the preface to Gender trouble: “It would be drag an imitation of gender, or would it dramatize the significant gestures through which gender is established? (Butler,2019, p. 9).


If Judith Butler, in dispute with Beauvoirism, bets on something as far from existentialist freedom in the face of birth destiny as the mechanics of transformism, surprisingly, Paul B. Preciado, in fact your reader, will take the possibilities of transforming the same sexual destiny to the new possibilities brought by more than advanced capitalism, which, in the subtitle of Text Junkie calls “pharmacopornographic” (Preçado, 2018).

To the liberating parody of drag queens, which is still based on signs, it will counter another claimed comedy, which moves towards supporting “biotechnologies” and “prosthetic technologies”. The “Testo” with “s, for “testosterone”, talks about this. In the times we live in, hormonal, surgical, genetic and aesthetic resources have already changed everything, including in terms of contraception and assisted procreation, which puts heterosexuality in crisis, he notes. It is necessary to revert all these practices, which until now were disciplinary, into indiscipline. This is what, in a post-Foucauldian tone, calls the “biodrag dimension” (Preçado, 2018, 229).

This fight with near and distant references goes as far as, beyond the defense he makes of a new gender, capable of being technologically and pharmacologically assembled, called “contrasexual” (Preciado, 2014), all of Preçado’s theorizing insurges against psychoanalysis. Entering the scene in the new millennium, with a contrasexual manifesto, in which he will demolish, no longer the discursive norm, as in Michel Foucault, but the normative anatomy, this transsexual born a woman and hormonally evolved into a man, who defends the combative use of an artificial virile member, without intending that the male supplanting the feminine, goes beyond relegating the issue of the penis to nosological oppression, as was done in the past.

Radical, it includes in psychiatry, where Lacan begins, the psychoanalytic path, in the context of which the aforementioned issue is central. He thus scandalously discredits Freud and Lacan. To this end, crossing Foucault and Derrida, it brings to the field the pharmaceutical Derridian: poison medicine. Doped and mechanical, your contrasexual will be something like the Androgyne before the fall, who no longer cares about being cut in half, as he can now medically cure himself of the curse.

All this radicality calls for big gestures. Thus, in 2019, coming from a drug-based journey, which allows him precisely to reverse the Text in “Testo”, or to perform the fluidity of his more than modern sexual condition, adding a beard and mustache to a woman's body, he will erupt into a Parisian colloquium of the School of Freudian Cause on “Women in Psychoanalysis”, to make Kafka's monkey Report for a gym, which questions established knowledge. In front of the scientific community gathered there, he will put sexual difference in the bag of violent framings of normal and abnormal. More than that, he will claim to be in the shoes of the abnormal. The speech, bombastic in style, would serve as the basis for his book the following year, in whose title the deviant output vibrates: I am a monster that speaks to you.

The criticisms that queer zones send to trench feminism receive repairs back. Illustratively, there are strong notes on the use that Butlers and Preçados make of John Austin's performativity, Michel Foucault's epistemology and Jacques Derrida's deconstruction, which come to us today from French currents of studies in the rebellious fields of structuralism and post-structuralism in which the new zones queer are inspired.

Some of the cruelest come from the editor of the complete works of Roland Barthes and dedicated commentator on the master, Éric Marty. It strikes him that, when referring to the great French thinkers of the late 20th century, Butler moves towards a “sociological” or “psycho-sociological” reflection, as is his support for the subversion of “gender performance”, which with them has nothing to do with, if not antagonistic to, the passage to the assertive letter of demands. Even because the drag of Butler is not that of Jean Genet, nor does it come from the avant-garde arts but from the variety show, it seems to him incompatible with the particular sensitivity to the significant games of sources, if not with the baroque of the imposing theoretical arsenal with which he plays (Marty, 2022, p. 12)


Determined to affirm with Barthes, Foucault and Derrida that, not even because it is considered a social construction and an ambiguous thing, sex has its power diminished, Marty relies mainly on Barthes' two concepts, the “myth” and the “zero degree of scripture” – the second renamed “Neutral”, with a capital letter, an insinuating nomenclature when thinking about sexual identifications –, to note that the alienation of sexuality is consubstantial with the alienation of or through meaning. What makes him think that what is difficult is not freeing sexuality from its bonds, with some libertarian project, but “disentangling it from meaning, including transgression as meaning” (Marty, 2021, p. 162).

Underline “transgression as meaning”. This means that the transgression is reversed. The Barthesian orbit is one of suspending the paradigm, not imposing the counter-paradigmatic. Contrasexuality, in this case, is in the crisis of writing, rather than in the sexual crisis. Thus, the transvestite The Empire of signs of Barthes is not the one who installs himself in femininity, but the one who makes its code present, in a double notation. Then yes, it is in the absence of the original, in pantomime rather than in mime, as it is in the affixed juxtaposition of signs. The mimetic of drag It's the cliché. So too with Butler's Foucault.

The mythifying accommodations apply to Preçado, which refers disidentification to the technical management of genres. If we agree with Marty, it is to be feared that the transobject that is the “biodrag” may be nothing more than a kind of behaviorist. More than that, given the activism of gender theorists, it is worth asking the Barthesian author of Modern sex whether, at the pragmatic point it reached, the LGBT cause did not have the potential to bring the monitor and punish (Marty,2021, p.15).

*Leda Tenório da Motta She is a professor at the Postgraduate Studies Program in Communication and Semiotics at PUC-SP. Author, among other books, of One hundred years of Modern Art Week: The São Paulo cabinet and the conjuration of the avant-gardes (Perspective). []


BEAUVOIR, Simone. Le second sex I, II. Paris, Gallimard Col. Folio Essais, 1976.

BUTLER, Judith. Gender problems. Feminism and subversion of identity. Translated by Renato Aguiar. Supervision by Joel Birman. Rio de Janeiro, Brazilian Civilization, 2019.

MARTY, Eric. Le sexe des modernes. Pensée du Neutre et théorie du genre. Paris, Éditions du Seuil, 2021.

PRECIADO, Paul B. Testo Junkie. Sex, drugs and biopolitics in the pharmacopornographic era. Translated by Maria Paula Gurgel Ribeiro.n-1 Edições, 2018.

PRECIADO, Paul B. Contrasexual Manifesto: subversive practices of sexual identity. São Paulo: n-1 editions, 2014.

PRECIADO, Paul. An apartment on Uranus. Chronicles of the crossing, Translated by Eliana Aguiar. Rio de Janeiro, Zahar, 2020.

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