Judith Butler on Their New Book, Joe Biden, Ron DeSantis, and Nex Benedict


If somebody tells you, “This is who I am, this is my felt sense, this is how I live, this is how I want to live, and please recognize me in this way,” you’d be, I think, quite rude and damaging and hurtful not to accept what they say to you. So I had to adjust a lot of different presuppositions I had from my own lesbian, gay background.

I also see that there’s a proliferation of terms that people like and are experimenting with, and it’s hard for me to master that list; I don’t think I ever will. But I appreciate that there’s an experimental practice going on, and that people are trying to figure out ways of living to the side of normative categories. We all stand to learn from that.

TV: It’s nice to hear what older generations are learning from mine, because I feel like I’ve been learning so much from the cultural works that came out around the same time as Gender Trouble, like Dykes to Watch Out For or Stone Butch Blues. I’d initially learned more about these concepts from Tumblr and other online spaces, but going through older works helps remind me that there were queer and trans people in the past.

JB: That’s important. Some of the people in my generation complain, These young people, they don’t realize that there was a feminist movement, a gay and lesbian movement, before they came along and started recreating the wheel. My guess is that young people are going to choose what from that history is relevant to them and helpful to them, and what is not. I think we all need to resist presentism – that is, the belief that we are in the present, so we’re the most enlightened people ever. Maybe on some issues, but maybe not on all.

I hope debates like that don’t end up producing different kinds of camps that don’t speak to each other and can’t ally with one another because, as I said, there’s a lot of anti-trans legislation that we all need to be fighting, no matter how we identify.

This is happening everywhere, and it’s done in the name of “saving the children” from “harm” — harm done by gender, or trans people, or drag performers who want to read at libraries. You have to ask yourself: What are they imagining, what kind of harm can happen there? Then they do harm in the name of preventing harm, and people get confused because they want to be against “harm.” We all want to be against harm, I presume. And yet, we need to be out there and speaking in more public ways, in order to explain the harm that’s actually being done and why it’s unjust.

TV: We’re speaking shortly after the death of Nex Benedict. In an early statement, Oklahoma Rep. Mauree Turner used the term of “transgenocide” to describe what’s happening in U.S. politics. Given that, we’re looking at 2024, the Biden White House has been pretty tepid on LGBTQ+ issues

JB: He thinks we’re in his pocket. He appointed Buttigieg to transportation or something, and he thinks we’re in his pocket.

TV: So what are you thinking about, this election year?

JB: I think it’s really hard for trans advocates to trust that they have a strong alliance with feminists or on the left. Transphobic feminists are [loud]; they do not speak for everyone, and an increasing number of feminists, in my view, are identifying as trans feminists, allies, and that’s super important… They’re getting on board a little late, but here they are. Then [on] the left, there is what I’ve come to think about as a soft-patriarchal left that doesn’t want anything bad to happen to LGBTQI+ peoples, but it’s secondary, or tertiary oppression, not the main thing.

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Tags: gender, higher education, joe biden, lgbtq rights, nonbinary, ron desantis, transphobia

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