The performativity of science

Thomas Beattie is hot right now. Pregnant transmen boggle our imaginations. Pregnant? you say. And he says he is a man??

How can this be?!?

Mr. Beattie’s claims that the FtM community hasn’t been very supportive of him. While I’ve only read positive support for his decision (on Facebook in particular), I’ve seen this negative behavior before. Way back in the 90s (which belies current statements that Thomas Beattie is the world’s first pregnant man) Matt Rice got stalked on-line by another FtM, enraged that Mr. Rice would choice to bear a child after declaring himself a man. Vague and not so vague threats were made.

That degree of hatred suggests to me that we’ve not really evolved beyond our own instilled binary notions of gender. That after all this time, after Kate Bornstein and Riki Ann Wilchens and Judith Butler and genderqueer, and fuck the binary, all of us - and most certainly transsexuals - believe that our biology is really real.

We believe that our biology - manifest in our bodies - really determines our gender.

But I want to delve into biology as it is manifest in our social and cultural practices. That is to say, I want to discuss how biology, and all of science, is socially constructed. The progressive left’s efforts at gender radicalism point out - rightfully so, I believe - that gender is largely a set of socially agreed upon scripts. Where transfolks and genderqueer people run into trouble is when we change those scripts.

But in this rubric, while we have popularized the phrase gender as performance almost ad naseum, we have not similarly popularized the phrase science as performance.

So I ask, why? Why, despite the efforts of feminist scholars Donna Haraway, sociologist Bruno Latour and others, do we on the progressive left still believe that science is a set of facts that exist outside the instruments we have used to discover this facts, that these facts exist throughout time (i.e. metahistorical), and that these facts do exist outside our thinking about them.

In essence, we’re still dating Newton (universalism) while Heisenberg (relativism) is our man.

Even as I write this last sentence, I’m thinking, Oh God. Science! Math! Physics! Calculus! They are never going to read on.” We ignore science because we’re often not very good at it - if grades are the determining factor - but we do so at our own peril.

I wish not to be alarmist but rather to suggest that when we ignore science as part of the stories we tell about our gender, we fail ourselves. Failing to grasp all the plot points, and the complexities those plot points suss out, that adding this character Science to our story brings out, we resign ourselves to the very binary we seek to dismantle.

Over the next several posts I will talk about the history of science, the construction of scientific facts, the inaccuracy of terms like natural and biology, quantum mechanics, and how of this relates to Mr. Thomas Beattie.

Stay tuned and thanks for reading.

About Archives Feed Home Search
Diaries of a Grumpy Old Transman