Judith Butler Discussion:
Judith Butler is a well known gender theorist. In Undoing Gender, she examines some of the ways that norms and expectations about gender function in society. In this section from that book, she specifically investigates how these factors played a role in the life of David Reimer, who was born a male but surgically altered as an infant and raised as a female.
Three terms need to be differentiated in order to understand Butler’s essay: sex, gender, and sexuality. Sex is the biological/anatomical form of an individual. Gender is the set of norms and expectations associated with masculinity and femininity; it is socially constructed, not biological. Sexuality is the expression of desire.
Because David eventually decides to return to life as a male, Butler could easily make the argument that he was born a male, so there was always something essentially masculine about him. In other words, one’s gender is determined by one’s birth sex. This is not Butler’s argument. What does David’s life illustrate, in her opinion? What prompted the actions of his parents and his doctors? Were their actions justified? Who has the right to decide how a person should identify?