16 Problematising Gender and Sexual Identities

Valerie Harwood & Mary Lou Rasmussen
The relevance or irrelevance of a patient’s sexual orientation brings to mind the challenges that clinicians and psychopathologists face when trying to understand the role of culture in psychological disorders. (Davison, 2001, p. 697) The above quote by Davison (2001) is suggestive of his critique of the role of culture in the production of discourses1 of identity – a critique noted in his discussion of the conceptual and ethical issues that may arise in therapy with gay men, lesbians and bisexuals. Davison argues that “psychological problems are for the most part constructions of the clinician. People come to us in pain, and they leave with a more clearly defined problem or set of problems that we assign to them” (p. 696, emphasis in original). While we concur, at least partially, with Davison’s observations - we would argue further that all problems assigned within the therapeutic context are systematically formed, and are thus not simply representations of pre-existing objects. In this chapter we propose extending Davison’s (2001) critique of the role of culture in the production of discourses of identity.


specifically, we question the notion of essentialised sexual and gender identities, what can be described as the idea that such identities are ‘givens’ somehow empirically connected to pre-existing objects. Our discussion in this chapter thus aims to develop a way of engaging a critique that can interrogate both the notion of these essentialised identities and the discursive practices that construct them. To contest this notion of essentialisd sexual and gender identities we find it necessary to ask how such ‘givens’ operate in psychological discourses and how it is that they are able to function in this way. We suggest that

Out in the Antipodes psychological discourses include, but are not restricted to, clinicians. These discourses, as Harwood (2000, 2003) argues in her discussion of conduct disorder and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed., [DSM-IV], APA, 1994), are extremely influential in both the construction of ‘mentally disordered subjectivities’ and in informing knowledges of these identities. We thus assert that psychological discourses extend far beyond the walls of the clinic, the knowledge of the clinician, and what could be called the ‘self knowledge of the patient’. Thus, whilst we concentrate in this chapter on the production of clinical knowledge, we follow Rose (1985, 1989) in recognising that the ‘psy’ discourses produce far-reaching discursive practices (see also chapter by Semp). discourses produce ‘givens’ about gender and sexuality. From this This raises perspective, we find it imperative to interrogate how psychological important questions regarding how to approach such a task, questions such as how do we develop an analysis that can engage both the discursive repertoires that construct essentialised notions of sexual and gender identities, while simultaneously considering how essentialised objects function in psychological discourse? Perhaps, even more pressingly, it may be possible to use such an approach as an ongoing practice, one that can support a persistent critical engagement with these notions of sexual and gender identity. In this chapter we suggest that Michel Foucault’s notion of

‘problematisation’ can be used to address these two concerns, namely, that ‘problematisation’ can be drawn on to investigate the constructions of essentialised sexual and gender identities, and that it can also be used to develop an ongoing practice of critique. In addition to drawing on the work of Foucault, our analysis engages with the work of Judith Butler. Specifically, we focus on the Butlerian notion of performativity.3 The idea of performativity, “that identity is performatively constituted by the very ‘expressions’ that are said to be its results” (Butler, 1990, p. 25), draws

and argue that a practice of problematisation is useful in engaging with these ‘givens’ or what could also be described as the ‘familiar’ notions of sexual and gender identifications. performativity can be used to create an awareness of how essentialised subjects are reified through psychological discourse. unchanging of constitutive” (Fuss. and how it can be deployed to consider the reification of identity. a notion that appears to be the foundation of much psychological discourse about sexual and gender identities. Following this we outline the Foucauldian notions of problematisation and truth and discuss how these can be used to consider the ‘problem’ of gender and sexual identity. We thus deploy these theoretical strategies to problematise the truths associated with sexual and gender identifications in psychological discourse. This allows us to examine the ways in which such theories can be used as an ongoing practice to challenge the assumptions attached to the production of sexual and gender identities.4 We begin with a discussion of the notion of ‘essentialised sexual and gender identities’. In short. 2). p. Because we perceive these expressions as produced we can effectively argue against the notion of some essentialised quality. Questioning the Notion of Essentialised Sexual and Gender Identities Our point of departure in this discussion stems from our observation that essentialising notions of sexual and gender identity are frequently deployed .Problematising Gender and Sexual Identities partially on Foucault’s analysis of discourse. 1989. In the context of this chapter we deploy this idea in order to convey our understanding that sexual and gender identities are expressions and therefore not “irreducible. This leads to a discussion of queer theory. From this discussion we turn to a consideration of how Butler’s notion of performativity can be used to engage with the idea of problematisation as an ongoing practice.

2001). Maeve Malley (2002) argues that “[t]he task of systemic therapists is to recognise the difference between the issues and patterns of being which are specifically associated with the fact that lesbian and gay sexual identity is different from heterosexual identity. the foundation. 2003. Lasser & Tharinger. 2). unchanging…” (p. We argue that it is this understanding of essentialised identity that provides the setting. but rather. Whilst we discuss Barlow and Durand’s (1999) apparent convictions later in this chapter. & Croteau. For instance. rather than the more generic issues common to any population” (p.Out in the Antipodes but often go uninterrogated in psychological discourses. 2000. here we draw attention to their assumption that there is an essential gender identity. . or what Fuss (1989) describes as a “true essence… irreducible. 239. in a discussion of the efficacy of systemic therapy in working with clients who are lesbian and gay identified. emphasis added). Brish. a depiction that appears to support their pathologisation of ‘mistaken gender identity’. and arguably. This observation was apparent in the literature review we conducted on clinical conceptualisations of subjects who identify as lesbian and gay (Bahr. These authors appear to view people who identify as lesbian and gay as somehow discrete from people who identify as heterosexual. Safren & Rogers. to draw attention to and question the way that they appear to be predicated on a notion of discrete sexual identity categories. for various analyses of the significance of sexual and gender identity categories in contemporary research relating to the therapeutic process. This is not to imply that sexual identities may not be a valuable object of analysis. gay and bisexual as having ‘patterns of being which are specifically associated’ with their sexual identifications. It is also explicit in David Barlow and Mark Durand’s (1999) depiction of what constitutes ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ behaviour. While sexual identities may be salient in clinical conceptualisations. we are concerned by this tendency to situate people who identify as lesbian.

by helping them to investigate and confront their own fears and biases” ( p. bisexual clients’. We contend that at issue here is that we need to ask the question. gay men and family therapy: A contradiction in terms?’. co-authored with Fiona Tasker entitled ‘Lesbians. Building on this notion of essential differences between sexual identities. The notion of sexual identity as an issue is raised by Safren and Rogers. They suggest that clinicians who are training new therapists to work with gays and lesbians “can…decrease homophobia by making a concerted effort to heighten their awareness of the gay person’s issues and. Once again. 4). Bernard and Goodyear’s (1992) discussion of the clinical supervision of mental health professionals is couched in a similar vein. Malley contends that “attention needs to be paid to how family therapists (be they heterosexual. they argue. within this approach to family therapy there appears to be an implicit assumption that there may be essential differences between clients with different sexual identifications.1999. lesbian or gay male) might need to adapt or expand their thinking and their practice in order to work with lesbians. the “danger of this lack of differentiation is that heterosexual patterns…will be imposed upon lesbian and gay relationships” (p. Malley and Tasker go on to warn against the tendency to treat lesbians and gay men in the same ways as heterosexual clients because. lesbian. This imperative to develop an ‘awareness of gay person’s issues’ may also tend towards a process of universalising the ‘gay subject’. bisexual. bisexuals and gay men” ( Malley & Tasker. in an article on ‘Cognitive-behavioral therapy with gay. 12).Problematising Gender and Sexual Identities In another article. These authors note that: . 220). ‘what is assumed or implied by such assertions of a universal subject?’ This may help draw attention to the essentialising assumptions that lay behind such claims. p.

‘natural’ and arguably. the question that needs to be posed in relation to such essentialising conceptions of sexual identity is just what are the assumptions that underlie such understandings? One way in which to interrogate these assumptions is through the lens of queer theory.Out in the Antipodes …there is some suggestion in the literature that many therapists. Harold Beaver argues that: . 630). 630) Safren and Rogers also note that the opposite can occur. 2001. What we argue is that attention also needs to be paid to how sexual and gender identities are conceptualised within broader clinical conceptualisations. and in so doing. when providing treatment to GLB populations. and is at the root of multiple clinical issues. In so doing. lesbians and heterosexuals has been challenged by queer theorists who have sought to interrogate the interrelationship between heterosexuality and homosexuality. In the following discussion the question could be raised as to whether sexual orientation is downplayed or overemphasized. gay and bisexual as immutable objects. We suggest that attention to this polemic obfuscates the assumptions of essentialism that underscore either argument. p. unquestionable. and that “therapists overemphasize the role of sexual orientation” (p. we are working against the tendency to classify people who are lesbian. presents this particular notion of identity formation as ‘familiar’. For instance. (Safren & Rogers. From our perspective. may downplay the role of sexual orientation when it is actually of high importance to a client. Using Queer Theory The understanding of a clear distinction between gays.

Markowe (2002) goes on to suggest that future European research in this area should develop “a continued and extended emphasis on social and cultural aspects. Booth & Rogers). 227). Dawes’ observation holds true in this study of clinical conceptualisations of sexual identifications insofar as majority public opinion tends to reflect reified assumptions about sexual and gender identity. . p. (Beaver as cited in Sedgwick. Some of the complexities associated with this task are apparent in the way that Robyn Dawes considers how clients respond to such claims when they are made by mental health experts (see also chapters by Semp. in her discussion of European perspectives on lesbian and gay identity. 205). as well as on the individual” (p. 10) Beaver seeks to disrupt the relationship between heterosexuality and homosexuality as he believes this relationship constitutes the latter as deficit and the former as the norm. 1990. also argues the importance of analysing heterosexual identity when considering diverse sexual relationships between men and women. Disrupting the pervasive belief that homosexuals and heterosexuals are fundamentally different is a difficult task. A major reason we believe in the experts is that their views so often coincide with popular opinion” (p. 239). In this regard Dawes (1994) argues that “[o]ur intuitive beliefs about mental illness itself reinforce our acceptance of the authority of mental health experts.Problematising Gender and Sexual Identities The aim must be to reverse the rhetorical opposition of what is “transparent” or “natural” and what is “derivative” or “contrived” by demonstrating that the qualities predicated of “homosexuality” (as a dependent term) are in fact a condition of “heterosexuality”. Laura Markowe. Such an assumption is evident in Malley’s (2002) belief that “lesbian and gay sexual identity is different from heterosexual identity” (p.

We maintain that identity matters in all sorts of ways since it serves to give a sense of ‘self’. if these identities or categories are perceived to be in a constant state of process they might provide the basis for “creative ways of life” and for “refusing existing lifestyles” (Foucault. but from an understanding that does not assume an essentialised identity. But it is problematic when this ‘identity’ is assumed as essentialised identity. “Queer theory follows feminist theory and gay/lesbian studies in rejecting the idea that gender and sexuality are essential categories. As Mary Klages argues. 177). but they can be deployed for more sinister ends. .Out in the Antipodes An important point with which to grapple concerns how it may be possible to draw on queer theory – and still engage in the political work of identity. determined by biology or judged by eternal standards of morality and truth” (Klages. p. 1996). as Foucault (1997b) notes “…one of the main moral obligations for any subject is to know oneself. to tell the truth about oneself.6 We thus suggest utilising queer theories to disturb such familiar understanding of sexual identity categories. 210). Queer theorists are not preoccupied with the appropriate nomenclature for people with diverse sexual and gender identities so much as the relations between certain identities and their construction by competing community and political interests (Jagose. It is understood that some identities are unavoidable. and to constitute oneself as an object of knowledge both for other people and for oneself (p. 369). 1997. Here we turn to Foucault (1996b). 369). but. It is from this perspective that we argue that notions of identity can be deployed as significant political practices. In order to negotiate the trap of affirming oneself as a homosexual. 1996b. Foucault reconfigures the notion of what a homosexual is.5 as instrumental in the production and pathologisation of desire (p. Identity politics and identities can be used for the affirmation of rights. p. We see this task as a critical one because. or what he terms “categories”. who conceives of identities.

we argue that there is a need to think of ways to engage critically with this process of objectivisation. To do this we draw on Foucault to consider the problematisation of sexual and gender identities in psychological discourses. Therefore these clinical conceptualisations – and their interrogation is a crucial issue. 1994). the way in which subjects constitute themselves is integrally related to the knowledges that are authorized by ‘mental health experts’ (Dawes. and for Foucault these problems included ‘madness’. 171).7 As can be seen in this quote. ‘crime’ and ‘sexuality’.Problematising Gender and Sexual Identities For this reason. we wish to reiterate that when the subject constitutes itself as an object of knowledge it does not do so ‘in isolation’. ‘problematisation’ refers to the consideration of a specific ‘problem’. Thus. It is thus important to develop a means to critique the essentialised and reified notions that appear to underpin much of the clinical discourse about sexual and gender identity. To further tease out this important point. phenomena. Foucault asked: ‘Why for example. It is because of this that we turn to a consideration of how particular ‘sexual and gender identities’ come to be considered as ‘problems’ that need to be defined. processes) became a problem” (p. including knowledges relating to sexual identity. Foucault (2001) describes the process of problematisation as a consideration of “how and why certain things (behaviour. certain forms of behavior were characterized and classified as ‘madness’ while other similar forms were completely neglected at a given . Considering the Problem of ‘Sexual’ and ‘Gender’ Identities In light of the above discussion of how sexual identities are situated as the object of contemporary clinical conceptualisations. The subject draws on numerous discourses. including clinical conceptualisations of sexual and gender identities (and the way that these proliferate as discursive practices in Western cultures).

for example. the same question of problematization for sexuality’ (p. and can also refer to the name of a task. the task of problematisation. 171). emphasis in original). This idea is further elucidated by Foucault (2001) when he poses the question “How and why were very different things in the world gathered together. In each of these questions Foucault (2001) draws attention to how that which constitutes the familiar notion of mental illness came to be thought of as a problem. that he “set out from the problem that sexual behavior might pose for individuals themselves” (p. 258). and for “sexuality”. analysed. This point is explicated in Rabinow’s (1997) statement that Foucault “defines his object of analysis (and also his task)” as problematisation (p. not what are the problems of gender and sexual identity. characterized. how is it that psychological discourses constitute gender and sexual identities as problems? In addition to being an invaluable means of analysing the ways in which gender and sexual identity is considered a problem. Foucault (1996a) explains that he studied the problem of madness in terms of how it “poses problems for others” (p. and treated as. 171). We contend that this is an extremely useful way of reconfiguring the apparently familiar object of gender and sexual identities. ‘sexuality’) was considered in terms of the way it might pose a ‘problem’ for a group or an individual.Out in the Antipodes historical moment. xxxvi). the same thing for crime and delinquency. ‘mental illness’? What are the elements. This point is also made by O’Leary (2002) who states “Problematization is. 258). Thus in each of these examples a specific problem (‘madness’. but rather. therefore. both the subject matter of Foucault’s history and the contemporary project of Foucault’s critique” (p. Using this approach. . we can ask. problematisation can be used to refer to a process. which are relevant for a given ‘problematization?’”(p. 117. Thus problematisation can identify a process whereby (and especially historically) something becomes a problem. To demonstrate this point.

Problematising Gender and Sexual Identities Whilst this distinction may appear subtle. how may this process of categorising certain sexual identities pose problems for practitioners and their clients. we can consider how Michael Bahr. as alluded to above. we are asking how is it that sexual and gender identities are a problem and are problematised in psychological discourses? By this we mean to ask how is it that these are treated as problems. as we will discuss in the next section. That is. and why do psychological discourses so frequently constitute them as such? This raises an associated question. Bahr et al. Before moving to a discussion of performativity and problematisation as process (or. we are moving from an approach where we may consider sexual and gender identities as ‘problems’. a ‘contemporary project’) we firstly need to consider how problematisation can be used to analyse what we consider to be the problem of essentialised sexual and gender identity. this idea of ‘problematisation as process’ can engage with Butler’s notion of performativity. we argue that it is significant in that. 2000.’s . we can ask how it is possible that certain sexual identities are the object of psychological conceptualisations. Barbara Brish and James Croteau might come to entitle an article ‘Addressing sexual orientation and professional ethics in the training of school psychologists in school and university settings’ when the article specifically focuses on ‘the needs of sexual minority youth’ (Bahr et al. emphasis in original). For instance.. In this way it can be used as a means to think differently about the ‘givens’ of sexual and gender identity. Returning to our discussion of the first interpretation of problematisation. In asking these questions we are. namely. turning around the inquiry. after O’Leary (2002). to one where we ask how is it that these things are constituted as problems. Or more precisely. as clinical issues that are necessary to be known.

This example of the obfuscation of heterosexual identifications is one instance where we can consider how it is that sexual identities are made problems – and thus problematised by psychological discourses. it may have deleterious effects. this can be It is this precise argued to suggest that it is by obfuscating heterosexual identifications that non-heterosexual identifications can become problems. When the notion of ‘sexual orientation’ becomes synonymous with ‘sexual minority youth’. action of problematisation. of rendering ‘sexual identity’ problematic. it is possible to see how such psychological discourses are instrumental in reinscribing the heterosexual/homosexual binary.. that gives us insight into how these notions are constructed. emphasis in original) While Bahr et al’s motivation is to help clinicians affirm ‘sexual minority youth’. 218. . ( Bahr et al. More explicitly. That is. it enables us to do what we suggested at the outset of this chapter – to extend Davison’s (2001) consideration of the role of culture in psychological disorders. to construct a critique that can render perceptible the very actions that construct essentialised (and sometimes pathologised) sexual and gender identities. 2000. p. implicitly confirming the status of heterosexuality as the only legitimate sexual identity. Undoubtedly.Out in the Antipodes impetus in their discussion of professional ethics is to encourage colleagues to be more inclusive of ‘sexual minority youth’. Further. the field of school psychology has focused less upon the needs of sexual minority youth relative to other distinct cultural groups. they state: Sexual orientation represents one of many salient dimensions of cultural diversity…Despite the increasing diversity of our schools and society. one of the explanations of this lack of understanding about sexual orientation is a reluctance to combat persisting stereotypes and stigmas.

1998).. 1996a.8 However. it is important to note that this conceptualisation of discourse does not ignore the influence of notions of truth. Spurlin. 456). (p. Indeed. We argue . Kirk & Kutchins. as well as the organization I am functioning within and the perspective of those referring to the service. p. The import of truth in our culture is emphasised by Foucault (1978) when he states that “. May states: My initial training. discourse which passes for the truth and thus holds specific powers” (p.Problematising Gender and Sexual Identities As we have argued above. analysing how gender and sexual identity is problematised can be used to critique the assumption of an essentialised object. 456) In her analysis of her psychosexual caseloads May (2002) underscores the constraints associated with the discursive construction of mental disorders in the DSM-IV. Some of the limitations of discourses that assume “pre-existing objects” (Foucault. 4). Furthermore.. considering the way in which discourses are “systematically forming the objects of which they speak” offers an important angle of critique of the inherent truth of mental disorders. 257) are highlighted by Kathryn May (2002) in her discussion of her psychosexual work with “clients presenting with gender dysphoria (transpeople) in the UK” (p.ours is a society which produces and circulates discourse with a truth-function. are all grounded in medical discourse and all perceive the client’s presenting issues as problematic and pathological…I cannot ignore the possibility that I may be limiting who transsexual clients are able to be through my utilization of restricted conceptual frameworks. 1995. 1992. the veracity of the assertions made in the DSM-IV regarding the objective existence of such mental disorders has been and continues to be the subject of continuing debate (Hacking.

Drawing on this we suggest that the need for truth and the need for a psychological theorisation of sexual and gender identity share a relationship that is concerned with the need for knowing the sexual and gender identity of the subjects of psychological practice. which both demands and obfuscates the need Problematisation as an Ongoing Practice: Engaging Performativity As discussed above. to define. problematisation can also refer to a process. emphasis in original). In this way problematisation can be used to analyse the discourses involved in the ‘problem of sexual identity’ (including those that essentialise it) that are deployed in clinical conceptualisations. in addition to referring to an object.9 Responding to these questions. it does not seek to ‘find’ or represent ‘sexual identity’ as an essentialised object. In the above section we discussed how sexual and gender identity is construed as a problem. notions frequently premised on the idea of an essentialised sexual and gender identity. It is precisely this need to know. 117. a knowing dependent on a notion of truth. problematisation can be understood as a specific process of analysing how a problem such as ‘sexual identity’ is constructed. In view of the above points. In this section we move to consider how . Such a critique could pose questions such as. To again quote O’Leary (2002) problematisation can then be considered “…both the subject matter of Foucault’s history and the contemporary project of Foucault’s critique” (p.Out in the Antipodes that grasping the extent of this ‘need for truth’ is crucial to conceptualising the pressing need to define sexual and gender identity. we argue that one must necessarily engage critique in terms of notions of knowing and truth. ‘how is a person established as a gay or lesbian object of knowledge?’ And ‘how is it that such an object needs to be identified?’. In so doing.

Bodies that matter. In the context of this discussion of the problematisation of gender and sexual identity in psychological discourses. and the engagement in an ongoing practice of problematisation. to materialize the body’s sex. (p. rather. 233). to materialize sexual difference in the service of the consolidation of the heterosexual imperative. One way to engage in an ongoing practice of problematisation of sexual identity is through an awareness of the operation of the Butlerian notion of performativity. notions of sexual identity can be considered in terms of a twofold application of problematisation: the recognition of the production of sexual identity as ‘a problem’. 2) Butler deploys the notion of performativity in order to “critique a prevailing truth-regime that [she] perceives to be pervasively heterosexist” (p. In Butler’s (1993) terms: Performativity must not be understood as a singular or deliberate “act. performativity is invaluable in examining constructivist10 and essential discourses. Here we suggest that by drawing on this perspective. From our perspective. more specifically. as the reiterative and citational practice by which discourse produces the effects that it names…the regulatory norms of ‘sex’ work in a performative fashion to constitute the materiality of bodies and. By engaging with this notion of performativity it may be possible to distinguish the ways in which processes of repetition may appear to create unified sexual . Butler elaborates this notion of performativity in her seminal text.” but.Problematising Gender and Sexual Identities ‘problematisation as a task’ can be utilised as an ongoing practice to interrogate the psychological discourses of sexual identity. an awareness of performativity helps us to undo the connection often made between the continuous repetitions of essentialising norms of sexual and gender identity and the notion that these identity categories are authentic.

Butler argues against versions of constructivism that presume “that construction operates deterministically or that presuppose a voluntarist subject who makes its gender (or sexuality) through an instrumental action” (p. . 1993.Out in the Antipodes and gendered subjects. this distinction Butler draws between performance and performativity is critical. performance as bounded act is distinguished from performativity insofar as the latter consists in a reiteration of norms which precede. 9). 1993). 234). Through performativity we can understand how this process of iterability is continually played out in psychological and other discourses through a “regularized and constrained repetition of norms” (Butler. 107). this productive capacity of discourse is derivative. a practice of resignification. constrain and exceed the performer and in that sense cannot be taken as the fabrication of the performer’s ‘will’ or ‘choice’” (p. For Butler. not creation ex nihilo” (Butler. This Butlerian notion of performativity. Rather. “(i)n no sense can it be concluded that the part of gender that is performed is therefore the “truth” of gender. “however. may also be posited against constructivist notions of the subject which may insinuate that construction is a process initiated by a subject or an act “which happens once and whose effects are firmly fixed” (Butler. 1993. 7). The distinction Butler draws between performance and performativity is partially informed by her critique of versions of constructivism and essentialism. 1993. a form of cultural iterability or rearticulation. In relation to our consideration of the problem of psychology and sexual and gender identity. p. which emphasises the historicity of discourse. p. Butler recognises the capacity of people to undertake particular performances of identity but distinguishes this notion of performance from her theorisation of performativity (Butler. It is critical given that using the lens of performativity we can think beyond individuals acting themselves and consider how particular performances are always already constituted through language. p.

May is disturbed by the theoretical impasse implicit with these different understandings of the subject. . a psychosocial treatment to address the problem of “mistaken gender identity” (p. and male and female. particularly where this is used as a measure of the desirability of medical intervention” (p. performativity shows us how sexual and gender identities are produced through a process of repetition. 450). Thus in this instance we can argue how problematisation as an ongoing practice provides a useful way to engage with these theories of the subject. This approach to GID is underpinned by the authority of the DSM-IV. we suggest that this practice of problematisation can engage the notion of performativity. This hypervigilance might also counter attempts to reify notions of lesbian and gay. which the authors state they have ‘successfully’ deployed. 1999. which contains the specifications that allow clinicians to diagnose people with this disorder. since performativity helps us to think about how the problems of sexual and gender identity are created. For us this is a salient point. The treatment strategy. One example of the value of deploying this notion of performativity can be found in May’s (2002) observation of the disjunctures between “performative notions of gender identity and preoccupations with more rigid stability of gender identity.Problematising Gender and Sexual Identities 95). in their textbook for psychology students. It is such reifications that allow David Barlow and Mark Durand (1999) to recommend. p. Such observations beg the question of how therapists working with transgendered clients might negotiate these antinomic theories of the subject. Further. 307). is designed to enable their (male) clients to “act in a more typically masculine manner…avoiding ridicule by simply choosing to behave differently in some situations” (Barlow & Durand. 307) or Gender Identity Disorder (GID). Hence.

Second. and accompanying patterns of ‘sexual arousal’. enabling the male client described not only to “behave like a 17-year-old-boy. but also to feel like a 17-year-old-boy” (p. psychopathology. 2000. based as it is on normative criteria and habituated as it is to changing behaviours to . p. We contend that Barlow and Durand’s conception of such treatment as necessary is underpinned by several assumptions. First. that there is some general agreement about what constitutes ‘typical’ masculine and feminine behaviours. 307). clinician’s who are cognisant of the notion of performativity may adopt a different approach to the problem of sexual and gender identity. p. Butler. And. is not endeavouring to critique heterosexuality.Out in the Antipodes The treatment regime described by Barlow and Durand also incorporates “procedures…to alter…patterns of sexual arousal” (p. 233) that Butler seeks to question through her theorisation of performativity. that these heteronormalizing11 assumptions about ‘typical’ patterns are desirable. 137). a position which clients will surely recognize. it could be that here is the basis for mutual empathy and authenticity…The cognitive/behavioural framework used extensively in psychosexual training and therapy. Rather than endeavouring to ‘alter patterns of behaviour and arousal’. third. This point is illustrated by May (2002) who draws on feminist and queer theory to argue: …it may be more productive therapeutically and personally to admit to the very sense of being ‘at sea’ on questions of identity and embodiment. 307). but rather to critique processes of heteronormalization and to argue that “[j]ust because something is statistically normal doesn’t mean it should be normative” (Jagose & Warner. Importantly. 1993. that nonheterosexual identifications and/or desires are somehow reflective of In the assumptions underpinning this psychosocial treatment strategy it is possible to see the “pervasively heterosexist truth regimes” (Butler.

though we would suggest that May’s approach is more congruent with the ongoing practice of problematisation we advocate in this chapter. Where Barlow and Durand identify somebody as having ‘mistaken gender and identity’. is likely to be especially weak in work with transsexuals. practices. May struggles with the constraints of the definitions she is called upon to deploy in the provision of services to clients who are seeking gender reassignment. 114) For this reason. We would not seek to argue that either strategy is more authentic. Conclusion In engaging in this analysis we are not advocating a definitive solution to the problem of sexual and gender identity. our goal in this chapter has been to argue for the cultivation of problematisation as an ongoing practice that can be used to continually . it cannot easily express the intangible. 460-461) By analysing the treatment strategies deployed by Barlow and Durand (1999) alongside those deployed by May (2002). It is more on the order of ‘problematization’ – which is to say. and thoughts that seem to me to pose problems for politics. it is possible to observe the different sexual and gendered objects clinicians may construct when they engage in discourses and practices of identification. To emphasise this distinction we draw again on Foucault (1997a): It is true that my attitude isn’t a result of the form of critique that claims to be a methodological examination in order to reject all possible solutions except for the one valid one. the development of a domain of acts. (p.Problematising Gender and Sexual Identities fit circumstances. (p. it has no appreciation of relativity with regard to definitions.

p. 117).Out in the Antipodes interrogate the ways in which sexual and gender identity are conceptualised as problems in psychological discourse. the practice of problematisation and the focus on performativity may enable practitioners to understand the fundamental importance of how they come to conceptualise sexual and gender identity as a problem. 160). establishes it as an object. unchanging. This ongoing practice calls for the “development of a given into a question. as an object. 49. referring to contents of representations) but as practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak” (Foucault. 2 Many popular understandings of identity are linked to essentialising discourses. 1972. and reflects on it as a problem” (Foucault. Referring to this statement. Diana Fuss defines essentialism “as a belief in a true essence-that which is most irreducible. 1997a. 118. In her influential study of essentialism and feminism. emphasis added). Together. emphasis in original). but of the ongoing political contestation and reformulation of the subject” (Butler. the psychological practices that reify gender and sexual identity and then reflect upon these as a problem? Notes 1 Foucault describes the relationship of discourse to its object. This brings us to close this discussion with the following: “(t)hought is freedom in relation to what one does. which is “a crucial part not only of subject formation. p. We also advocate pairing this practice of problematisation with an awareness of the role of performativity. it is possible to grasp the significance of asking the question – how can thought establish. and therefore . where discourses are treated no longer “…as groups of signs (signifying elements. These discourses tend to establish causal links between identities and a person’s social experience or behaviour. this transformation of a group of obstacles and difficulties into problems to which diverse solutions will attempt to produce a response. 1997a. 1997. the motion by which one detaches oneself from it. p. this is what constitutes the point of problematization and the specific work of thought” (Foucault. p.

gender or sexuality. 2003).Problematising Gender and Sexual Identities constitutive of a given person or thing” (Fuss. 20. at different moments and in different institutional contexts. 2). 3 For further discussion of performativity see Rasmussen and Harwood (2003). p. 1983. 9 This question mimics Foucault’s “How was the subject established. misguided notion that queerness equates to resistance against all norms (see Dean. to buy into essentialism in the very act of making the charge. desirable. as a possible.To insist that essentialism is always and everywhere reactionary is. emphasis in original). how it is deployed. in our view. p. 6 Also see Butler’s interview with Pheng Cheah and Elizabeth Grosz (1998). to a significant degree. 10). where Butler clarifies her position relating to the value of strategic essentialism. rather: “…the radicality or conservatism of essentialism. In Butler’s schema sex. Ken Plummer and Michel Foucault (Epstein. Steven Epstein characterises these constructivist positions on ‘homosexual’ identity formation as demonstrating “that the notion of ‘the homosexual’ is a sociohistorical product. depends. 11 In an interview with Annamarie Jagose. Foucault disdained the term ‘identity’ because of its associations with essential notions of the subject. not universally applicable…[they] focused attention on identity as a complex developmental outcome. p. 1987) and Judith Butler. a somewhat reductionist view of queer theorising. it is to act as if essentialism has an essence” (Fuss. or even indispensable object of knowledge” (Foucault. 1997b.. 1989. p. 17). and where its effects are concentrated. 227). Micheal Warner argues that while resistance to heteronormalization might be considered an integral aspect of queering. 1993. 1987. . gender. 2000. 7 This publication is made from a transcription of lectures given by Foucault at the University of California at Berkeley. 87). 4 We have elsewhere explored the importance of this idea of the ‘interrogation of the familiar’ by drawing on Foucault’s notion of an ethics of discomfort (Harwood & Rasmussen. p. 10 Constructivist theories of the ‘homosexual’ self have been formulated in the work of Mary McIntosh. this is not the same as saying that “queerness resists all norms” (Jagose & Warner. the consequence of an interactive process of social labeling and self-identification” (Epstein. on who is utilizing it. 5 As indicated above by Hall.. Fuss argues further that essentialism is not intrinsically good or bad per se. 8 This draws on the idea of ‘angles of scrutiny’ discussed in Harwood and Rasmussen (2003). 2000). therefore none of these categories represents the truth of one’s body or provide the ground for the authenticity of one’s sex. 1989. For an example of this. and sexuality are conceived as constructs that might be defined by their “constitutive instability” (Butler. Jeffrey Weeks. for the constructionist. p.

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