Disciplining Gender: Rhetorics of Sex Identity in Contemporary U.S. Culture

By John M. Sloop | Go to book overview

ONE
Re-membering David Reimer
Heteronormativity and Public Argument
in the John/Joan Case

There is a tendency to think that sexuality is either constructed or determined; to think that if it is constructed, it is in some sense free, and if it is determined, it is in some sense fixed. These oppositions do not describe the complexity of what is at stake in any effort to take account of the conditions under which sex and sexuality are assumed. The “performative” dimension of construction is precisely the forced reiteration of norms. Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter

We define bodies in the first place only when we are conflicted, as a society and often within ourselves. Alan Hyde, Bodies of Law

In mid-March 1997, a radio report told the story of a male infant whose penis had been excised as the result of an accident during a circumcision procedure. In consultation with physicians, the parents requested that the child, after additional surgery and ongoing hormone therapy, be “reassigned” as female. 1 The news reporter observed that the case, which came to be known as the John/Joan case after the child's female and male pseudonyms, was especially interesting because the child— then reassigned as a young girl—had a twin brother and hence had been used by medical psychologist John Money as a case study in the social constructedness of gender. 2 Indeed, because Money frequently reported in both the popular and the medical press on the success of the reassignment, the case had been pointed to for years as key evidence for the social construction view of gender.

Nevertheless, the report went on, a recent article in a medical journal was claiming that the child had never comfortably accepted the reassignment and had in fact actively resisted living as a girl. Finally being told as a teenager that “she” was originally a boy, the youth made an immediate decision to be surgically and socially reassigned once again, this time as a male (now known as David Reimer). 3 The report implied

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