The End of Gender: A Psychological Autopsy

By Shari L. Thurer

I started writing this September 15, 2008, and never came back to it:
It’s a long explanation with how I ended up with this book, and it’s not precisely what I thought it would be… way more Postmodern Queer Theory than future cyborg gender bending and androgyny, but I am sort of digging it. It’s scholarly, but not to a fault (although I have had a few classes in literary theory), and I think I am getting to the good part.

UPDATE January 2, 2009

OK, I was sure that I reviewed this book already. Sure of it. I have forgotten a lot of the specific details, and I’ll look around in a few places online (I KNOW I wrote about this book), and update with more particulars if I find them. My general memory of this book is that it was very thought-provoking, but very dense and academic, and I don’t know that it’s accessible to the average reader. Remember that review of mine about the Food of the Ancient World? That book was pretty academic and dry, but it was accessible. More than half of this Thurer book is presenting and analyzing the arguments of other Postmodern Queer Theorists, and explaining the value and history of psychotherapy. Psychotherapy as a practice is not something I understand completely, having never undergone it myself. I know why people go and I know that they often benefit from it, but the Freudian stuff has been pretty well debunked and parts of psychotherapy on a theoretical level are highly contested (among the general population). The author is definitely making the psychotherapy argument, though, and is a practitioner, I believe. The bulk of the people in the book whose lives are provided as examples of the complex ways we have of thinking about gender are psychotherapy patients.

What is Ending for Gender is the duality of the male/female identity. I got this book because I was looking for information about the end of biological dimorphism, which is a topic that futurists and cyborg feminists (yeah, they have those) speculate about. Once we all upload to the mainframe, you know… gender will be irrelevant if we are all living inside a giant server. This Thurer book was not speculative at all. Anyone can look around and see how androgyny is becoming more visible in Western culture. “Male” and “Female” behaviors are losing their distinctness, and even though particular acts or customs may be coded “male” or “female,” it doesn’t mean that the people acting are men or women.

It’s getting hard for me to review this book without becoming inaccessible myself. So after you followed me down the primrose path, here’s my nutshell commentary:

1. The book is for an academic audience.

2. Gender is bending.

3. The culture insists on keeping gender separate, which stresses some people out.

4. Even cultural insistence on the duality of gender can’t keep it from evolving.

5. Lots of academics have written about this.

6. Psychotherapy is an excellent vehicle for discussing this topic.

I don’t know about the last part. I’m sure being caught between roles or being penalized for not fitting into a category is traumatic, but I think that others can conduct the gender conversation outside of the treatment room. Not everyone who doesn’t fit exactly has trouble accepting it. I suppose I am not one to talk, because I seem to fit pretty comfortably inside my gender roles (although I am less nurturing and empathetic than I ought to be), but if you are having psychological problems because of gender, other things are going on. I get that you should have a psychological evaluation before gender reassignment surgery, but being born into the wrong body doesn’t mean you can’t get the groceries bought or show up at work.

I should end this before I get in trouble or before I go off on what it means to have a “disease” and blow my remaining 6274 characters. I’m not saying that transsexuals should put up with the body they don’t want, either. I just don’t equate every psychological problem with “crazy.”

Nuff said. Comment if you like. Maybe I’ll have my thoughts together by then.

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