THIS (QUEER) WOMAN WHO IS NOT ONE, AND THE OTHER WHO IS, Gender Ontoformativity and Experimental Writing
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In this paper, I explore a foundational feminist contradiction, apparent when lesbianism becomes feminism’s theory rather than its practice, and crucial for understanding femininity, the intransigence of gender, and feminist solidarity in the present. If a lesbian is ‘the rage of all women’ against the contempt in which women are held (Radicalesbians,  2000, 234), how can we understand radical lesbian feminists’ continuing contempt for trans women (Raymond, 1979, 1994; Jeffreys, 1990; Stanley, 2000; Bettcher 2009, 2014)? Trans women ‘provide key evidence about how gender categories are sustained’, yet many radical lesbian feminists figure them as ‘hostile outsiders’ (Connell, 2012: 860). To explore this contradiction and consider its implications for the present, I turn to a 1977 text by radical lesbian feminist Nicole Brossard and a 2007 text by trans lesbian Trace Peterson to argue that what lesbians and trans women have in common is the condition of being 'spat summarily out of reality' (Frye, 1983: 173) and yet finding, astonishingly, that one's existence can be articulated. To make this argument, I focus, not on the problem of identity, but on the ontoformative character of gender. As an alternative to being ‘attacked on the street for just existing’ (Peterson, 2016), experimental writing offered Peterson the possibility of ‘modelling potential realities that might be habitable’ (2015b: 475). In Brossard’s words, ‘if patriarchy can take what exists and make it not, surely we can take what exists and make it be’ (1988a: 103). In the words of trans feminist scholar Raewyn Connell, ‘social practice continuously brings new social reality into being’ (2012: 866). What radical lesbian theory from the 1970s shares with contemporary theorising by trans women is the insight that identifying with men is expected. It is in identifying with women that we are most at risk.
- Department of Drama