10 January 2011

Sexing the Body


My latest Strange Horizons column has been posted. It's about one of my favorite books of nonfiction, Ann Fausto-Sterling's Sexing the Body.

I first tried to write it as a straightforward appreciation, but for reasons that will become obvious from the column, I couldn't do that right now. So I broke the voices in my head into two configurations, X and Y, and had them talk to each other -- they're neither and both "me", and that proved to be just the distancing effect I needed.

Here's a sample:

X: Anyway, what I was saying was that I wanted to talk about Sexing the Body, which was one of those books that, when I first encountered it, completely changed my way of viewing the world.
Y: No it didn't.
X: What?
Y: I was there. You first read it for a graduate course on sexuality and science where a chapter was in the course packet. You sought out the book for a paper you wrote about Eugen Steinach, one of the crazier of the crazy bunch of early endocrinologists. That summer, you read the whole book cover to cover. Then a few months ago, you read the whole thing again.
X: Yes, and it completely changed my—
Y: No, no, no. It confirmed what you already believed, even if you couldn't quite articulate it as well as you could after you read the book.
X: How did it confirm what I already believed if it was full of information I'd never encountered before?
Y: Because you already believed that social construction is a more satisfactory explanation of just about everything than biological determinism is. And you've got a complex relationship to your own gender identity, so naturally you were receptive to a book that complexifies questions of gender.
X: Well, yes. But it also blew my mind.
Y: Because yours was the sort of mind ready to be blown. Plenty of people you've foisted the book off on have found it a good cure for insomnia.
X: Well, anyway, it doesn't really matter. What matters is it's a hugely important book, and the reason I wanted to write about it was that it's such a convincing argument against so many of the idiocies about gender that get tossed around in the media and popular culture, and, indeed, enter academia through pseudosciences like "evolutionary psychology," which seems to me about as valid as Scientology.

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