Tongue Untied, Tongue with Tongue; Mining the Binary Matrix

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“I am not a woman and I am not a man. I would like the European Community to take out the “F” sign on my ID. I think that it is a discrimination sign and everyone of us should go to the European Community and say: “I do not want to be identified by my genitals!” (Beatriz Preciado in a video recording of the debate entitled “The Return of Dolls” – for link see the end of the article).

This introductory quotation is taken from the video recording of the debate, entitled “Il ritorno delle bambole” (The Return of Dolls), between Michela Marzano, an Italian philosopher, writer and author of the book “Volevo essere una farfalla” (I Wanted To Be a Butterfly), Beatriz Preciado, a Spanish philosopher, writer and author of the book “Pornotopia” and Natasha Walters, a British writer and author of the book “Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism”, which took place at the Teatro Comunale in Ferrara (Italy) in autumn 2011, to tackle in continuation of this text the question of deconstruction of the binary man/woman system. What is the role of language as a means of expression? How is the relationship between body, language, subjectivity and politics articulated nowadays? In addition, how can we be constituted as political subject in spite of our non-defining identity?

Although we came to the realization already in 1980s and 1990s that sex and gender are not some natural state but a representation of an individual in the sense of the particular social relation, which is established based on the rigid conceptual opposition of two complementary and at the same time exclusive categories – that is, the opposition that includes all people – this system still remains a firm and stable framework resisting any change and transformation. Still more, we recently witness the return of naturalization and keep turning in the politically binary regime of gender: woman (femininity) and man (masculinity). According to Batriz Preciado, especially sex persists as the last remnant of nature; even after technology has completed its task of constructing the body.

In 1947, the American scientists who conducted research and experiments to enable the technical reconstruction of intersex children came up with the term “gender”. The sexologist John Money who first used the term “gender”, as Preciado writes, assumes that the configuration of a subject’s sex can be influenced by means of various interventions such as surgery, hormonal and psychological therapy. With the term “gender”, the medical discourse unravels the arbitrary basis of sex and its constructivist character. At the same time, it opens up the path to new forms of resistance and political action.

As has been noted by Preciado, the term “gender” has been taken over later on by feminism. But while perserving the metaphysical binarism (sex, gender) that was in a crisis at that point, it winded up in a dead-end of the modern supposition that the body is the given biological matter – gene code, sexual organs, reproductive functions – the point at which two feminist positions meet: essentialism and constructivism. If sex was natural, definitive and untransferable until that point, we now have gender as synthetic, supple, changeable, transferable, imitative, technically produced and reproduced. Preciado therefore indicates that understanding sex and gender in the sense of technological intervention (technologies of gender) resolves the contradiction of essentialism and constructivism. Thus we can replace sex and gender with the word “technogender” now, as she points out, because the bodies can no longer be isolated from the social forces of sexual difference construction. It can easily be claimed that it is impossible to determine where the boundary lies between natural bodies and the beginning of the intervention of artificial technologies such as cyber implants, electronic prostheses, hormones, tablets, organ transplantation… The new biotechnology simultaneously acts on both the body and social structures through which it regulates and controls cultural differences. This new stage of modern societies whose goal is the production and control of life itself, was named biopolitcs by Michel Foucault in his last phase of work. It can also be called the society of control (Deleuze and Guattari) or the pharmacopornographic society (Preciado).

In 1990s appeared a new differentiation between man and women “bio”, that is, between those who keep the sex that “determined” them at birth and the men and women “trans or techno” who want to change their sex using technical, prosthetic, performative and legal procedures. Despite this difference, we can state following Preciado that both statutes of gender (bio and trans), regardless of the difference, are now technologically produced since they both depend on methods of visual recognition, the performative production of control and common morphological control. The difference between the two, as has been noted by Preciado, depends on resistance to norms, on conscience and the degree of awareness that the production of masculinity and femininity are basically techo-social processes of recognition in the public space.

Nowadays it is possible to understand sex, gender and sexuality as discursive constructions that can be given new meanings through linguistic performativity (drag king, drag queen, cross-dressing, hormonal experimentation…) or directly by means of surgery. It has become clear that man and woman exist as a social norm that is maintained by means of the technology of body control: pharmacological and audio-visual techniques that constantly distort the reality that surrounds us. Preciado names this psycho-political technology of the formation of subjectivity with fixed gender and sexual identity (I am a man, I am a woman, I am heterosexual, I am homosexual…), “gender programming”. The current possibility for the different construction of gender and sexuality at the margins of the hegemonic discourse of a heteronormative regime allows us to take an eccentric position in our relationship towards the binary system in which we are caught through the deactivation of this “gender programming”, de-identification and de-naturalization.

If we are neither women nor men, then how can we understand our existence through language? What is the relation between the binary system of gender (man/woman) and language? Does language encode power relations and in what way? Although language allows boundless freedom, we are at the same time confined within a linguistic structure that first demands that we are assigned a sex and gender and consequently restricts us to two existing categories; that is, male or female. Gender in language therefore forces every individual to mark in their speech which gender category they belong to. In the same way as it is done with the inscription in the civil register. The only exception now is Australia, where people who submit a medical certificate confirming that they are intersex persons will be issued a passport with the designation “X”, which will identify them as “undefined, non-specified or intersex”.

When filling in the form, most women probably enter “F” instead of “M” confirming, each and every time, the entry in social relations register as a woman. This does not only mean that others then perceive us as women but that we represent ourselves as women. “While thinking that we were the ones who marked the square with an “F”, says Teresa de Lauretis, “quite the contrary, it was this ‘F’ that marked us.”[1] Will it be possible to say in the future: “While thinking that we are the ones who mark our gender identity in personal identification documents as ‘X’, on the contrary it will be this ‘X’ that will mark us?”

Does the sign that we are biologically female condition our linguistic form of expression? Why is this so? Does the sign that we are biologically male condition our linguistic form of expression? Why is this so? And if our sex is neither female nor male, which language should we use to express ourselves outside the binary, sexually conditioned language matrix? And if our gender is neither female nor male, how can we use personal pronouns, noun declensions, verb conjugations so as not to be defined by gender in the framework of two existing options?

As has been noted by Monique Wittig, the right to use language in this way does not represent freedom of choice but the obligation to register oneself within the binary heteronormative system. It is about political categories based in the heteronormative society that has, as claimed by Wittig, its own inquisitors, a number of laws, courts, terror and forms of mutilations of body parts so that they can control our existence. Nobody is allowed to be a subject without a gender and while the male gender still means universal appropriated by male, we, that is all the others, are limited to a particularity from birth. New names are inscribed in the already existing system and bind themselves to its basic principles, although it is nowadays more than evident that these categories are discordant. Shifting from the binary gender matrix, we can see how it is also the language that forcefully gives us a form and operates in the reality. If language can maintain the body, then it can also threaten its existence.

It is the oppression that creates gender and not the other way around, which would mean that it is gender that creates oppression and thus the cause and origin of one of the most basic types of oppression lies in that same gender, that is, in some “natural” division into male and female that had existed long before society. This is why categories of sex should be disqualified in politics and philosophy, as well as gender in language, or at least modified their use, wrote Monique Wittig, who tried with her work (L’Opoponax (1964), Les Guérillères (1969) and Le Corps Lesbien (1973)) to transform the language of “minorities” (women, lesbians) that was shoved into a subhuman category from the particular to the universal through the usage of the indefinite form, plural (in French “on”, “elles”) and transformation of personal pronouns (j/e). As she has shown, around the dimension of gender defined person in language all other dimensions are organized and in the moment when this is subverted nothing remains untouched. The words in their word order and mutual relationships shift and activate the entire language constellation, which starts to fold and redirect in numerous directions. A structural change in language enables them to acquire a different aspect. Their tone and colour have changed.

Since we are constituted and interpellated as subjects in language through a selective process that regulates intelligible and unintelligible subjectivity, as it has been argued by Judith Butler, language thus conditions social relations, simultaneously representing a restriction and an option. According to Butler, when Frantz Fanon claimed that “The black is not a man”, he introduced a critique of humanism that showed that the human in its contemporary articulation is fully racialized (founded on racial differentiation) and that no black man could qualify as human. With this words he also formulated a critique of masculinity, implying that the black man is effeminized and at the same time, as Butler writes, he showed that masculinity is a racial privilege related to the notion of human. This way, discrimination is not only articulated in gender terms, as has been written by Barbara Smith, but also in racial terms. Women of colour are exposed to sexism and racism and experience racism as women of colour. In this sense, the racial scope has been called into question, in which, through the intensive exclusion of all minority groups, the category of human was articulated. Therefore, the rearticulation of the human category starts right at the point when the excluded talk to this category and from this category. Butler asks: “If Fanon writes that ‘a black is not a man,’ who writes when Fanon writes?” And continues: “That we can ask ‘who’ means that the human has exceeded its categorical definition, and that he is in and through the utterance opening up a different future.”[2]

If there are norms of recognition by which the “human” is constituted, then these norms are codes of power operations, and therefore it follows that the struggle for the future of humanity works in and through such norms. The power relations operates in language in a restrictive way as something that tries to stop different articulation but this as such nevertheless moves forward. According to Butler, this double movement on the level of utterance, image and action articulates as the struggle with the norm. Those of us who are illegible, unrecognizable or “inexistent” nevertheless speak in the terms of the “human,” opening new space that is not yet fully constrained by the existing power relations. Linguistic resignification therefore allows to open up new contexts and talk in a way that still has not been legitimized. It becomes a struggle for new and future forms of legitimization to ensure equal space for everyone. But if we do not work simultaneously in the fields of philosophy, politics and economics, as Wittig argued, then it is not even possible to change language, because just as we are marked in it by gender, we are marked by sex in society. If our existence is conditioned with language, can we imagine a subject on the margins of the linguistic legitimacy?

In her book “The Second Sex” (Le Deuxième Sexe) Simone de Beauvoire claimed already in 1949 that “One is not born a woman, but rather becomes one” and in this way indicated the social construction of sexual difference, the product of which is woman. Monique Wittig has written that we should ask ourselves about the meaning of the term feminism, which itself contains the word “femina” (woman) and means somebody who fights for the rights of women. She warned that a careful distinction has to be made between “woman” as myth and “women” as a class. “Because ‘woman’ does not exist for us: it is only an imaginary formation, while ‘women’ are the product of a social relationship.”[3] As a radical emancipation strategy, Wittig’s statement that “Lesbians are not women” opened up new possibilities for political action. She claimed that only the abolition of all existing categories can bring about real change. Therefore, it is not a question of replacing the category “woman” with the category “lesbian”, but rather to use it as strategic position to abolish the heterosexual regime. The lesbian as defined by Wittig falls beyond the categories of gender (male-female), because s/he is neither economically, neither politically, neither ideologically a woman. “Not only are we not women,” says Marie Hélène Bourcier, “we also do not need to become one.”[4]

In Slovenia, as stated by Marina Gržinić in the radio show Lezbomanija (September 2011) which is hosted by Nataša Sukič on Radio Študent, Ljubljana, we can say that “Before being feminist, we were lesbians”. It was about a redefinition of the very point of struggle for the abolition of discrimination, continued Gržinić, and with it also about a redefinition of the political subject and its history, which has become a strategic weapon in the concrete social space. In this way she indicated to the necessity for persistence on the rearticulation of the political subject of the feminist movement, which in the 1980s in Slovenia expressed itself first as a political lesbian stance. Lesbians that took the position through language and performativity and articulated it in connection with the gay and punk scene, as well as in connection with transsexual and theoretical political positions, thus have taken the stand for the political emancipation of history, politics and gender already in times of socialism. After several decades have passed, the most important analysis concerning the capitalist Slovenia and the EU are still articulated by the radical section ŠKUC-LL (in the form of texts, books, performances, etc. by Tatjana Greif, Nataša Sukič, Suzana Tratnik, Nataša Velikonja, Urška Sterle, Kristina Hočevar, Petra Hrovatin and others).

De-identification with the woman, its decentralization and the deconstruction of the woman as the subject of the historical feminist struggle, and later on as well the deconstructive analysis of masculinity and male gender (“One is not born a man but rather becomes one”, “Gay are not men”), in addition to the process that was triggered by the fact that lesbians, gays, transgender, intersex, transsexuals, women of colour, “chicanas” (Mexican American women) … took the stand on the level of statement, brought about the formation of identities that are not fixed but change through the constant process of becoming. If this is true on the linguistic performative level, as Gržinić claims, the problem persists because it is possible and necessary to transcend worlds in language but the capitalist mode of production with its logic of co-optation, discrimination and exploitation (the logic of biopolitical legal regulation) is at work all the time.

Nowadays we are caught in a new stage of capitalism called postpolitical, – here, as Lopez Petit writes, politics has taken on its most archaic forms; that is, exclusion (social death), blackmailing and robbery (the economic crisis and anti-crisis measures) and war,- or pharmacopornographic, as named by Preciado, referring to the processes of the biomolecular (pharmaco) and semio-technical (porno) control of subjectivity. Accumulation through dispossession, the decomposition of society, the devalorisation (not yet complete) of state institutions, the explosion of inequality, precariousness … is simultaneously accompanied by the articulation of new forms of control of subjectivity using technical, biomolecular and media platforms in the “former” first capitalist world and consequently through new forms of colonization in all other worlds. The techno-social-economical megasystem is at work that incessantly aims at the infinite accumulation of capital and control of subjectivity. It neutralizes and absorbs any subversive potential of political action and finally depoliticizes any political intervention. Precisely this biopolitical economical turning point and the identification of capitalism with reality signifies that life itself has become the field of political struggle.

The reconfiguration of feminism through confrontation with the postcolonial thinking, woman of colour and lesbian feminism as well as with the theory and queer activism, – which is nowadays exposed to the accelerated process of mercantilisation and recodification by dominant discourses and is therefore losing its political potential –in the present stage brought about transfeminism, which at the borders of the political makes us experiment with multiplicity. Transfeminism in the sense of the plurality of feminisms and as political philosophy of multiplicity arises after queer critique and, as Preciado puts it, spreads through fragile but still widespread networks, through strategic alliances and synthetic bonds, through the same channels within which global capital circulates.

Thus nowadays we talk about the eccentric (Teresa de Lauretis), nomadic (Rosi Bradiotti), fragmented subjects (Gayatri Spivak), hybrids, cyborgs (Dona Haraway), non-natural, non-ontological, postnational, postgender and political postidentities, in other words, about a multiplicity of feminist subject that shows the simultaneity and transversality of discrimination and oppression, as well as the complex power relations that efface the existence of any “privileged” point of struggle. Taking a look back at “Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza” (1987) by Gloria Anzaldúa, we can say that mestizos, mulattoes, the perverse, problematic, inert and – in addition to all this, following the traces of Virginie Despentes – prostitutes, raped, biomale dissidents, lesbians, gays, transsexuals, transgender, intersex … that is, everyone who crosses the borders of the “normal” are nowadays residing here. Transfeminism occupies the border space, which becomes the position of those for whom the binary categories man/woman are too tight and at the same time stresses the fact that our common basis of oppression remains capitalism, coloniality and heteropatriarchy. The biological principle and ontological difference are called into question through positions that deconstruct the concept of “woman” and “man” in favor of the political thought of differential differences, undisciplined sexual, ethnic and racial multiplicity, which according to Antonella Corsani goes beyond the binary system as the epistemological and political core and cause new shifts of categories, discourses, political forms and borders.

As Judith Butler says: “They call us by our name but we are simultaneously and to the same extent dependent on the names by which we have never been called. And if we would want to merge all names by which we had been called, would not that multiplicity present a dilemma for our identity?”[5] Therefore, political postidentities are not politics of closing or group identity, but rather from the critical position in relation to normalizing and disciplinary effects, as well as to the control of identity formation, establish compromise with the constant process of becoming. If differences are the product of oppression, or rather if oppression is something that creates differences, then the de-identification or de-link from the identities that we have been given by techno-semiotic systems of control, and the proliferation of postidentity positions is nowadays a political strategy that through the merging of singularities, whose result is “we” and the politicization of life, allows us to open – here and now – other, new and common worlds. This is possible not only from the theoretically-political aspect because feminisms have deconstructed the subject “woman” and thus opened the way for new transfeministic manifestations but also due to the need to understand each individual as a multiplicity.

The total financialization of the world, the financial crisis, war, new forms of proletarization, pauperization, inequality, racism, homophobia and transphobia – one percent of the rich and 99 percent of the poor – all this gives us a basis, as Marina Gržinić writes in the introduction to the recently published journal by Tatjana Greif (Skozi razbito steklo (Through the Broken Glass)), that after the proletariat, multitude, cognitariat and anonymat we can nowadays again speak of the political category of “the wretched” (Frantz Fanon) – we could also say the degraded, bad, monstrous, anormal, eccentric, deviant subjects of transfeminism – who do NOT accept the assignation of some specific “natural” place in the process of the racialization of society that would ensure our rights, which are at the same time only minority rights and determined by some alleged “natural” majority place, with its role and social function.

Here and now in the context of the deepening of the financial and political crisis, it is urgent to connect transversally, on the line of impossible alliances (for the ruling class impossible), “all Marxist classes” in the further, possible and common fight against global capitalism, coloniality and heteropatriarchy. At the same time, the first thing to do in Slovenia, in the case of the referendum call related to the new Family Code (proposed by the Civil initiative (homophobic “majority”), which the latter oppose in order to serve the Church and capital which persist on biological sex and control of the private property of heterosexual family, and which was approved by the Constitutional Court!), is to circle YES! to the not yet modified proposal of the new Family Code and make a next step towards the emancipation of the Slovenian social and political space.

Tjaša Kancler, February 2012

Dismembrement of Body 5:


[1] De Lauretis, Teresa, Diferencias. Etapas de un camino a través del feminismo, horas y HORAS, Madrid, 2000.

[2] Butler, Judith, Deshacer el género, Paidós, Barcelona, 2006.

[3] Wittig, Monique, El pensamiento heterosexual y otros ensayos, Egales, Barelona, 1992.

[4] Corsani, Antonella, Beyond the Myth of Woman: The Becoming-Transfeminist of (Post-)Marxism, A Review of Theory & Literary Criticism; Vol. 36 Issue 1, 2007.

[5] Butler, Judith, Lenguaje, poder e identidad, Síntesis, Madrid, 1997.


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Corsani, Antonella, Beyond the Myth of Woman: The Becoming-Transfeminist of (Post-)Marxism, A Review of Theory & Literary Criticism; Vol. 36 Issue 1, 2007.

Greif, Tatjana, Skozi razbito steklo, (uvodni tekst, Marina Gržinić), Škuc (Zbirka Vizibilija), Ljubljana, 2011.

Gržinić, Marina, Capital Repetition, revija Reartikulacija, št.8, 2009.

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Frantz Fanon, Upor prekletih (original Les damnés de la terre, 1961), Cankarjeva založba, Ljubljana, 1965.
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Preciado, Beatriz, Testo Yonqui, Espasa, Madrid, 2008.

Wittig, Monique, El pensamiento heterosexual y otros ensayos, Egales, Barelona, 1992.
VV.AA, Trans/Forming Feminisms. Trans-feminist Voices Speak Out, (ed. Krista Scott -Dixon), Sumach Press, Toronto, 2006.

VV.AA, New Feminism, Locker (ed. Marina Gržinić /Rosa Reitsamer), Vienna, 2008.

*Beatriz Preciado in a video recording of the debate entitled The Return of Dolls –