Gender Fluidity Is Like Jell-O

Jeanette Falotico, Staff Writer

Jell-O is beautiful. It’s sweet, and it’s soft. It’s fluid and stunningly real. It’s loved because we appreciate the scholarship behind the bounce that we know is Jell-O.

Jell-O is also sticky. It’s messy, and it’s slippery. Its complexity and non-conformity make its fluidity unsettling and misunderstood due to its unmanageability.

But the dynamics of Jell-O are only part of the gender fluidity story; we must also consider the box. Exquisite while holding pretty pearls of perception or fabulous shoes, heteronormative boxes may also be finite and constraining. Like gender and sexuality, the composition of Jell-O is unknowable until you release it from the box of conventional humanity and add the character of life. This recipe for life’s journey is not rigid and rule-riddled. Instead, it is infinitely better when enjoyed outside the box.

As a heterosexual, cisgender woman of age, experience and wisdom, I am obsessed with the keywords gender fluidity and the interpellation of the queer performative. Having met the divisive word queer on the playground in the 1970s, I wouldn’t appreciate the fluidity of queer until someone close to me claimed the term as her identity almost 50 years later. Today, while I embrace her identity, I mourn the safety, security and stability of the conventional box. So, how does the present-day fluidity of Jell-O flourish amongst the convention of today’s box?

Contemporary queerness does not just represent lesbian and gay sexualities; instead, queerness, as a characterization, runs the gamut of intersectionality from “gender … to race, with their attendant differences of class or ethnic culture, generational, geographical, and socio-political location,” according to Teresa de Lauretis, a scholar who writes on queer theory. While the fluidity of queerness spans aged cohorts and continents and represents a myriad of colors and classes, its core of “gay sexuality in its specific female and male cultural (or subcultural) forms act as an agency of social process whose mode of functioning is both interactive and yet resistant, both participatory and yet distinct, claiming at once equality and difference, demanding political representation while insisting on its material and historical specificity,” de Lauretis wrote. The dichotomy of the words de Lauretis uses to describe the formative agency of social process and the mode of functioning is where I start to see the connection to modern gender fluidity.

Specifically, as de Lauretis posits, the mode of functioning is “interactive and resistant, participatory, and distinct, equal, and different, political, and historical.” I wonder, do these antithetical terms subliminally flex the muscle of queer performativity as fluid instead of authoritative and binding? To answer this, I examined the works of Judith Butler.

According to Butler, “the term ‘queer’ emerges as an interpellation that raises the question of the status of force and opposition, of stability and variability, within performativity.” In reviewing this text, we again see the duality of language used to describe queer performativity. Relating Butler’s to de Lauretis’s theory, we see both authors lay the foundation on which future scholars would reconstruct the interpellation of gender fluidity. As a nod toward the construct of authoritative and binding, I will apply Butler’s belief that, “performative acts are forms of authoritative speech.” .

Supporting the idea of fluidity in creating power in words, Butler writes “if a performative provisionally succeeds . . . then it is not because an intention successfully governs the action of speech, but only because that action echoes a prior action, and accumulates the force of authority through the repetition or citation of a prior, authoritative set of practices.” Butler says, “in this sense, no term or statement can function performatively without the accumulating and dissimulating historicity of force.”

Thirty years after de Lauretis’s and Butler’s writing, we have had the benefit of time and experience to consider how the force of discursive queerness in the context of gender fluidity has gained authority in redefining modern conventions. We recognize that the keywords gender fluidity continues to evolve with time, as Butler wrote, “in spite of their authors, and sometimes against their authors’ most precious intentions.”

Today, as we consider Butler’s own keyword performative, we see a movement from sexuality to identity. For example, note how today’s gender fluidity as an identity emerges as a performative interpellation of jargon like (and/or), (she/him), (they/them), and (both/neither), to name a few. As Butler says in, they/her notes, “this is not to suggest that an exclusionary matrix rigorously distinguishes between how one identifies and how one desires; it is quite possible to have overlapping identification and desire in heterosexual or homosexual exchange, or in a bisexual history of sexual practice.”

This analysis brings me to my conclusions. Like Jell-O, language and theory are wiggly and jiggly, and while the conformity of the box may remain the same, the civility of convention has evolved over the course of time to support the character of life.

Thank you for asking.