transsexuality through the eyes of Baudrillard

Before you read this excerpt, I must say it makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable and angry… the presumption is, a “transsexual” or “transvestite” is sexually repulsive to normal humans as Baudrillard describes former porn star La Cicciolina as devoid of all sensuality — “a numbed android who by virtue of this very fact was perfect raw material for a synthetic idol”. (The idol Baudrillard refers to is Madonna, the virgin.) There is a sardonic quality to his work as Baudrillard uses the transexual body to argue the myth of sexual liberation. However the lack of voice given to the individual who chooses to transition from one sexual identity to another, reflects that all too familiar strategy of using ‘the other’ as an example. Furthermore, this is not a discussion on sex as a category of male-female but sex as an activity altered through the use of prosthesis. So why not use breast implants and dildos as an example – implants are clearly designed for the pleasure of the sexual partner or flaneur as nearly all feeling is removed from the breast during the surgical procedure and the object of desire is grossly exaggerated to ensure clear view from quite a distance. See Orlan and the Work of Art in the Age of Hyper-mechanical Organic Reproduction.

Jean Baudrillard, The Transparency of Evil
excerpt from pgs. 2o-25

Transsexuality – “The sexual body has now been assigned a kind of artificial fate. This fate is transsexuality — ‘transsexual’ not in any anatomical sense, but rather in the more general sense of transvestism, of playing with the commutability of the signs of sex — and of playing, in contrast to the former manner of playing on sexual difference, on sexual indifference: on lack of differentiation between the sexual poles, and on indifference to sex qua pleasure. Sexuality is underpinned by pleasure, by jouissance (the leitmotiv of sexual liberation); transsexuality is underpinned by artifice — be it the artifice of actually changing sex or the artifice of the transvestite who plays with the sartorial, morphological or gestural signs of sex. But whether the operation in question is surgical or semio-urgical, whether it involves organs or signs, we are in any case concerned with replacement parts, and since today the body is fated to become a prosthesis, it is logical enough that our model of sexuality should have become transsexuality, and that transsexuality should have everywhere become the locus of seduction.

We are all transsexuals, just as we are biological mutants in potentia. This is not a biological issue, however: we are all transsexuals symbolically.”

Baudrillard continues his discourse by using La Cicciolina as an example: “Is there any more marvellous incarnation of sex — of sex in pornographic innocence? …the ideal woman…complete with a carnivorous erotic ideology that no modern woman could possibly expouse — except, that is, from a transsexual, or a transvestite, these being the only people left who live through the signs of and overdrawn, rapacious sexuality. (he lists Michael Jackson and Madonna the pop star as)…mutants, transvestites, genetically baroque beings whose erotic look concealrs their generic lack of specificity. They are all ‘gender-benders’ — all turncoats of sex.” (In other words – traitors)

Baudrillard continues to exclaim that “everyone becomes the manager of their own appearance.” Since the technology is available, is this such a bad thing? I guess it depends on whose point of view you ascribe to: a famous French male whose speciality is cultural criticism or a gender-bender?

4 thoughts on “transsexuality through the eyes of Baudrillard

  1. laureen

    I would like to add the following: People continue to use language of this kind in everyday conversation. The other day, I was having dinner with my partner’s friend – a 50 something year old college educated male – he was poking fun of my identity in the same way Baudrillard uses highly sexualized transsexuals as an example – I can not stop thinking about his reaction when I showed him how angry this made me – trying to make him understand how men in my life have continually used these kinds of accusations as means of establishing power over me. He called me over sensitive.

  2. Justin

    You’re missing this point: it’s not just about transsexuality… it’s about “Trans” as a political/social motif.

    With the tool of trans we can better understand why he speaks of La Cicciolina and Michael Jackson.

  3. Justin

    P.S. Baudrillard does not think transsexualism is bad, in fact, he might even embrace Trans as a method of destroying gender and ethnic divisions (re-read Michael Jackson section…)

  4. laureen

    I agree that Baudrillard does not think trans is bad. It is his use of language that bothers me. In using the words “play” for example. This is the difference with being an insider vs. an outsider. Those experiencing trans in the first person do not “play” with their own identity. Mostly it is the language – us vs. them that creates hierarchy.

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