In the children’s book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), the main character, Alice, encounters a hookah smoking caterpillar who, in place of saying hello, slowly asks, “Who are you?” Alice, startled by the question and confused by her day’s adventures, answers that she does not know anymore, so changed she has been by her stay in Wonderland. The Caterpillar argues that it is silly for her to be confused and Alice responds, “When you have to turn into a chrysalis…and then after that into a butterfly, I should think you’ll feel it a little queer.” (Carroll 1865: 60-61).
In every encounter we have with others, we are (consciously or unconsciously) asking ourselves who (or, better, WHAT) that person is, particularly in terms of gender (as well as race). Usually, when others are “doing gender” in a normative way, we do not notice this practice. But, occasionally, when we encounter someone whose gender is not clear, we may, much like the caterpillar encountering the three-inch-tall child, be more overt in our questioning. In this talk, I explore this process of attributing gender to others, which I term “determining gender.” Using examples from controversies over transgender rights bills and transgender athletes, I argue that beliefs about gender are deeply intertwined with ideas about sexuality in a way that reproduces gender inequality and has profound implications for transgender rights.LIB 100 and LIB 201 approved!
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