The Construction of Gender in Paris Is Burning

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Gender and Sex

Gender and sex are two terms useful when studying the culture of a community. These are terms used interchangeably although they hold differing meaning. Gender refers to the range of characteristics referring to or differentiating between femininity and masculinity, while sex is the biological trait of a human being and other mammals which refers to either male or female. Gender is typically constructed through culture and learned through socialization, media, and parents. More so, the gender of an individual can readily be determined by observing physical traits such as dressing code, actions, sounds, and behaviors understood to be common in either male or female. On the other hand, sex is biologically determined whereby the male is typically known to carry XY chromosomes, while females carry the XX chromosomes. It is difficult to change the sex of an individual since it is chromosome determined. Secondary characteristics used to indicate the sex of an individual include penis, vagina, and breasts although they can be interfered via surgery or hormone therapy, therefore, being not much reliable.

The Documentary Paris Is Burning

The documentary Paris Is Burning by Jennie Livingston indicates a vital aspect of the African-American and Latino gays and transgenders’ life which existed in New York around the 1980s called the balls (Livingston). Fashion, body appearance, and behavior were the most important components of the balls, always organized at Harlem. In the balls, transgenders were always judged according to their ability to perform as real women (Livingston 0:25-13:32). There were various social labels performing in the balls, and they included “pretty girl,” “luscious body,” “high fashion winter sportswear,” “schoolboy schoolgirl,” “butch queen,” “town and country,” “military,” “businessman of the 80’s,” “high fashion Parisian,” as well as “high fashion eveningwear” (Livingston). By the look of these social labels, it is evident that society defined sexuality through performativity as well as camouflaging while performing. On the other hand, a combination of fashion, behavior, and confidence was used to indicate gender.

How to Build a Man

The article How to Build a Man by Anne Fausto-Sterling states that the gender of an individual is constructed not born (Fausto-Sterling 244). The article concentrates on a study which was conducted by Money in the 1950s aiming at extending the embryological understanding into the world of psychological understanding. According to Money, human beings are born the same, but potential male takes one direction while potential female takes the other direction as the path begins to fork rapidly. The process involves social construction whereby masculinity is constructed “through social discourse, that array of happenings that covers everything from music videos, poetry, and rap lyrics to sports, beer commercials, and psychotherapy” (Fausto-Sterling 244). Money gives several road signs which direct an individual to the pat of male or female, and they include chromosomal sex, gonadal sex, fetal hormonal sex, internal morphologic sex, external morphologic sex, and brain sex (Fausto-Sterling 245). Also, it is a requirement that an individual must produce the correct pubertal hormonal sex as well as be able to reproduce the correct proactive sex determining gene (SDY) (Fausto-Sterling 245).

Works Cited

Fausto-Sterling, A. “How to Build a Man.” Science and Homosexualities, edited by Vernon A. Rosario, Routledge, 1997, pp.244-248.

Livingston, Jennie, director. Paris Is Burning. Miramax, 1990.

September 25, 2023




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