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Essay Humanities Nonfiction Social Sciences

Tearing and Wearing the Skin: Negotiation Beyond Genders

By Yu-Chien Wu, 2012

Judith Butler argues that it is on and through bodily surface that gender identification sediments and consolidates as an imaginary morphology; Judith Halberstam, meanwhile, stresses the metaphor of an identity mask in relation to skin. While their ideas continue to be important to the discourse of gendered identity, I assert the need for reconsidering the role of skin as ‘mirror/screen’ that goes beyond an invariable topography or a superficial mask. Didier Anzieu’s theoretical work, Skin Ego, departs from the notion of seeing skin as a two-dimensional interface and, instead, it asks the reader to view it as the screen of sensations received and also as a projection of the psyche. Through the medium of skin, notions of gender and the sexed body intersect with each other. In this article, I will be discussing the failed surgery of the transsexual artist Nina Arsenault, and also the projects of two heterosexual artist couples, Breyer P-Orridge and SUKA OFF, who attempt to break down gender categories with the idea of ‘becoming one’. By analysing these works, I demonstrate how the unmaking of gender identity is approached through the skin as a nexus that, on the one hand, is configured by social norms and, on the other, reflects a possible glitch in the process of normalisation once the skin is seen as the crossover where the senses and self-identification collide.

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