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It was a strange, busy day when the phone rang and I heard Athina tell me: “Your interview with Judith Butler is scheduled for tomorrow at 17.00 at the hotel Caravel. She will be expecting you, she won’t have a lot of time I’ll have to pick her up for her lecture at Panteio University. “ I said ok, hung up the phone and called my friend Maria, who had informed me in the first place that Judith would be coming to Athens. I screamed on the phone “Maria tomorrow is the interview with Judith” but she was busy and was kind of angry with me. Then I thought of Katerina but she didn’t have the time either. I must confess that the decision to go by myself was kind of hard. The very idea of interviewing Judith was an amazing feat. I had so many things to tell her…but by myself? I met her on the entrance of the hotel where she was posing for a photographer. I immediately felt an intimacy, she was butch just like me, she was cool and comfortable with the camera. She glowed and her glow cast my fears and anxiety aside. We sat down inside in the restaurant, she ordered green tea and I ordered a diet coke. She had swam earlier in the swimming pool, she loves to swim, that’s why she chose that hotel because of the swimming pool. And she loves yoga as well! I learned about that later on of course…
Maria Cyber: When you talk about gender and especially when you started writing Gender Trouble, did you do it because you had questions concerning your own gender?
Judith Butler: Don’t we all?
Maria Cyber: It took me a long time to understand myself and figure out what my ‘problem’ was, because a lesbian identity just wasn’t enough. And I had trouble with the lesbian organizations because I behaved like a boy and in 1997 when I was dating a butch girl she told me of the transgender movement and I immediately wanted to find out more about it. That’s how I found out about you and Kate Bernstein. Bernstein writes in a non-academic language.
Judith Butler: Yes she does.
Maria Cyber: She is direct.
Judith Butler: This is true.
Maria Cyber: You can talk in an academic, theoretical, philosophical language and the people who go through changes with their bodies can’t easily follow the academics, is it important for you for people to understand you and to feel like you can help them?
Judith Butler: Yes I do want to help people, that’s true. But look I have to talk with the psychologists, the psychiatric organizations, lawyers, with people who are trying to remove the stigma of the ‘pathology’ of homosexuality, transgender and intersex. I have helped to write the books on what intersex is, to make the films that explain it and to create arguments for those who aren’t in some organization so they can learn and understand. We are fighting on many fronts, other times I am out on the streets, protesting and supporting gay, queer, trans activists with any way that I can. Other times I am just a street dyke, that’s how I was raised , that’s what I am and that’s what I call myself. A street dyke. I had to learn how to buy a
silk shirt; it wasn’t something easy for me I had to learn it nobody taught me. Maria Cyber: You clearly state that you are a lesbian?
Judith Butler: I am a lesbian.
Maria Cyber: I am so happy to hear you say that, after all the press releases that the Pulantza Foundation has issued, it hasn’t mentioned anything about your work with gender, I was afraid that it might have been an identity you had left behind.
Judith Butler: I am a street dyke…it is one of the primary things of my personality and that’s what I am no matter how much I talk to the academics and the philosophers and even when I am fighting for Palestinian rights it isn’t something that I shy away from but rather bring it into focus. And I believe that queerness is about alliance it isn’t just about me and my identity.
Maria Cyber: I had read in an interview of you that queer movements can be antifeminist.
Judith Butler: I don’t believe that they are antifeminist, but I believe that there are a lot of feminists who think that. That queer is antifeminist, that transgender is antifeminist…That’s not right.
Maria Cyber: Maybe the text interpretation was wrong…
Judith Butler: Possibly.
Maria Cyber: Because it said that you believed that the queer movement could be antifeminist.
Judith Butler: In an article I wrote I describe the problem that some queers believe that feminism is over and that we are now post-feminists or antifeminists and that there are feminists who believe that queers and trans can be antifeminist and I try to look at both sides of the argument and this is something that I am against. So you probably saw the description of what people think which isn’t what I believe.
Maria Cyber: I have had problems with the feminist
movement as well, for the dildo for example.
Judith Butler: They had a problem with that?
Maria Cyber: Yes of course, they still do.
Judith Butler: What’s their problem? Don’t they find it pleasurable?
Maria Cyber: They have a problem with it because they think that the dildo is a penis substitute.
Judith Butler: They probably don’t understand it. The penis is the substitute for the dildo. It’s a joke but it’s important because it asks the question, what comes first? The dildo or the penis?
Maria Cyber: There was a big problem in accepting intersex people in the lesbian community.
Judith Butler: I’m sorry to hear that.
Maria Cyber: Even in the chat room of LesbianGr if
there is just one FTM he is kicked out. Things in Greece when it comes to matters of gender are a bit better now but they still have a long way to go. Have you ever read the Well of Loneliness?
Judith Butler: Yes.
Maria Cyber: What do you think about it? Everyone says that it is the first lesbian book ever written but I believe that it is the first female to male book ever written.
Judith Butler: This is interesting; I believe that there are a lot of complex connections in there. You can consider yourself as a trans in a lesbian relationship but what is it then? Is it a lesbian relationship or is it a transgender relationship? Or does it constantly change and you can’t define it? I think everyone should relax with all these categories and that way the person who goes through all these ‘sex changes’ during the course of a relationship, we can define this if we use a more complex vocabulary but I am not going to. Is it lesbian or is it transgender? Maybe it is both.
Maria Cyber: How did you feel when you read it?
Judith Butler: I understood it, I felt the book and the way of writing that you mention but look, you can be transgender in a sexual relationship, you can be occasionally transgender out on the street but only in those circumstances you may be transgender. While some other people might be transgender in other aspects of life or even in all. There is a great spectrum concerning transgenders, others may tell you that their sexuality hasn’t changed that they have always been a straight male for example and that he has always love men. And now that he is a man this hasn’t changed. And there are others who may say that they are lesbians and yet when they are with women they feel more like men and their sexuality ends up changing their gender. We must allow for all these different combinations and some wish to differentiate gender and sexuality and some don’t.
Maria Cyber: I believe that these are two different things. Your gender is one thing and your sexuality is another. Do you believe that they are different? If I was 18 now and the transgender movement was what
it is today I would have made the corrective surgery, I felt a lot like a little boy when I was a teenager, now that I am 40 I am glad I haven’t.
Judith Butler: It is historic now that I am 53 and…
Maria Cyber: What’s your sign?
Judith Butler: Pisces.
Maria Cyber: I’m an Aquarius.
Judith Butler: We are both in the water then. Well for me, being butch was very important while I was growing up…I had problems when I was young as well, I didn’t know where I belonged, am I a lesbian? Am I a feminist? And I never liked the idea that if I was a feminist that meant that I had to have sex in a certain way. I disagreed with that notion when I was 18 and still disagree with it 35 years later. No feminist can tell you how to have sex, that is fascist. You can be a feminist and have sex with a dildo, be penetrated with a dildo or penetrate someone with a dildo, have anal sex, be into s/m, this doesn’t concern me.
Maria Cyber: Would you ever have a sex change?
Judith Butler: Being butch has allowed me to be in a special ‘world’ since it wasn’t exactly feminist. It’s true that over the years I have seen many butch women turn transgender. If the transgender movement was what it was 30 years later would I be transgender? May be. It’s difficult for me to think like that.
Maria Cyber: Now that I am 40 I would never have the surgery, with all the hormones etc.
Judith Butler: Because you have grown older with your body, you see that you can’t take it and you can’t reverse certain things so you have to be very careful on what you choose.
Maria Cyber: Do you think that your gender and your sexuality change as you get older? When I was younger I felt like a boy and now I feel 50-50. And I feel like giving people advice, ‘Wait, don’t touch your breasts, just wait’. Do you feel like this too? That people who have gender dysphoria should wait?
Judith Butler: I don’t say make the change as soon as you can and I don’t tell them to wait either. What I say is, there is something that needs changing but try to understand first what that thing is, there is a need to change something and you can’t fight it but you can’t change it until you know for sure what that is.
Maria Cyber: As you grow older do you see changes in your butchness?
Judith Butler: Yes it changes but it depends on who you are with as well. It doesn’t change radically, I won’t ever associate with certain types of girls, I have my standards, I am quite predictable but on the other hand there are things that might come up depending on who you are with. Even your body can change depending on who you are with. If it didn’t change it would have been like taking your sexuality for granted. It is a way with which to associate your self with someone else so there are levels to this. It can allow you to be more vulnerable or steady as a rock. It depends.
Maria Cyber: I never thought about it like that because I always thought that it changed because I am changing.
Judith Butler: But we are always changing with other people. At least that’s how I see it.
Maria Cyber: I have www.lesbian.gr for over 12 years now and it has personal ads. Over 20.000 and in the first years there was a high visitation from men, they wanted to have sex with lesbians. Now 10 years later there are only a few of those ads. Most of them want to be penetrated by women and to be submissive. And I see this as a mirror of society. Do you think so?
Judith Butler: Of course it is a social phenomenon. If you look at the personal ads it is like a mirror of society. There are many issues but the strongest of them is today’s men’s passivity. A lot of men pay to be slaves to women but they don’t want this in their ‘official’ relationships and they set it apart.
Maria Cyber: The internet grants you anonymity and you have the comfort level to differentiate your official
relationships from your hidden desires.
Judith Butler: I remember reading Kate Millett and her critique on literary pornography. She had begun to describe the pornography to which she was against and I felt aroused by this as I was reading it and I thought to myself, ‘Now I’ve done it. I’m in trouble.’ Because what I wanted was wrong according to this feminist. So there was a schism.
Maria Cyber: I felt that I was right once I discovered the dildo and it offered me the penis that I wanted and I didn’t care what anybody said.
Judith Butler: Good for you.
Maria Cyber: And then I made some art pornographic photographs where I had inserted the dildo in my girlfriend’s anus and wrote, ‘Love me tender love me true but fuck me hard’ and another where a woman opens her feet wide and it wrote ‘Deep inside me I am a good girl’ and I distributed these photographs in the form of a flyer to the lesbian movement and they would tear them up in front of me. And the worst thing
is that they said that they rejected me because I reproduced the male aspect of pornography but for me it was my own pornography.
Judith Butler: I think that masculinity has a different experience according with each body. Some men experience their masculinity in a different way than women who feel masculine. Why must we think that masculinity is male? Why can’t there be different types of masculinity? Even men have second thoughts on their masculinity, ‘Am I big enough? Do I fuck right?’
Maria Cyber: I am a woman and I have periods and PMS but when I am in the mood I feel like fucking like a man or what is commonly known to be a man. And my partners enjoy this and we bask in our fantasies.
Judith Butler: Sometimes you must allow some fantasies to come true. Just as the dildo always stays hard and even some heterosexuals prefer it. How can we explain this? These are complex issues. I am not sure anymore which is more important.
Maria Cyber: Have you ever been to Lesbos?
Judith Butler: No I haven’t but I would love to.
Maria Cyber: Where do you live now?
Judith Butler: In San Francisco. In the center of it all.
Maria Cyber: Have you written something in ‘Gender Trouble’ that you have changed your mind about?
Judith Butler: All the time. I am always changing my mind. I can tell you a lot of things.
Maria Cyber: Tell me one.
Judith Butler: I can’t think of one now.
Maria Cyber: With the recession do you think that matters of gender have any bearing now?
Judith Butler: Yes because it is all connected. You can’t discuss about social violence if you can’t discuss about violence against queers, transgenders, gay, women…
Maria Cyber: For example, for people who are starving like in Africa, who cares about gender there?
Judith Butler: It matters because a lot of transgenders lose their jobs, their rights to live. HIV has brought all this to the forefront, safe sex practices, the economic hold that western societies have over Africa and the interests of the pharmaceuticals. All of this is connected. Queer activists are still working in Africa. How can we set these apart? Even in the sex industry, the sex workers have to have unions, to have pensions, medical insurance and other work rights. There is a lot of trafficking and the sex workers have to protect themselves and that has to do with worker’s rights, health, poverty, social violence. And what about police violence? On immigrants, queers, gay, etc. So we have an alliance of those who are more vulnerable to police violence, an alliance of minorities.
In the press release it mentioned that
you are active in matters of immigrants as well. Would you like to tell me about that?
Judith Butler: It is a big issue in the States, in Europe,
even here in Greece. It is a big issue. And that has to do with their rights or lack of those. We have more police on borders, a lot of illegal immigrants without medical care who are being taken advantage of.
Maria Cyber: Do you deal mostly with queer immigrants or immigrants in general?
Judith Butler: I believe that there are alliances between them.
Maria Cyber: What do you do in your everyday life?
JudithButler: I have been doing yoga for 6 years, I swim every day.
Maria Cyber: Do you drink?
JudithButler: I love red wine and greek food. I also love old films like those with Marilyn Monroe.
Maria Cyber: How about music?
JudithButler: I listen to whatever my son listens to.
Maria Cyber: You have a son?
JudithButler: Yes he is 15. My girlfriend gave birth to him and I adopted him. He is straight but loves gay people. He is a pro-gay activist. We are a queer family.
Maria Cyber: How long have you had a relationship?
JudithButler: About 19 years.
Maria Cyber: Monogamous?
JudithButler: We have an understanding.
Now we are in the lobby of the hotel with Athina and a dear friend of Judith who is Greek and lives in Paris. We are discussing Panos Koutras’ new film ‘Strella’. I say goodbye and I realize that I am not a professional reporter I feel like I want to meet the person I am interviewing. Anyway I hope you enjoyed it Thank you
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