Performative Nuance

Performative does not mean intentional

Ok, so. I’m a descriptivist. I believe that what language commonly means should be how it is defined, not that it’s common meaning should be re-defined to meet a dictionary definition. And with that said:

Everyone is using performative wrong and needs to fucking cut it out.

Ok, not quite. but. performative enters the lexicon of my culture(and most of its use in english afaict) via butler. Judith butler has the key insight that “gender is performed” – one second while I use my favorite meme-

A photo of jusdith butler overlaid with the text "gender: Yer doing it"

Which everyone and their liberal friend promptly took to mean that gender was just about what clothes you wore and how you acted, and that by intentionally dressing a certain way, you could perform a different gender- put on a dress, you’re a woman for the night, and a suit and binder tomorow, a man. Identity was a shorthand for your performance, later superseding it.

With everyone thinking that, it became a way to dismiss certain things- what you’re doing(cough, nuance) is performative, and therefore lesser.

Sadly, butler didn’t mean it like that. Butler(correctly) understood that gender is not an individualized property, and that by intentionally changing your performance, you can intentionally change your gender. She meant that we perform all aspects of gender- our personal presentation, the elements of that that are intentional and otherwise, how we speak, act and react, and how we relate to others.

When a dude puts on a dress for haloween and goes around acting like a misoginist dude in a dress, he’s not performing a different gender to when he puts on a manky t-shirt and smelly jeans(sorry. I’m channeling run ins with old housemates).

When a trans woman, who acts and reacts based on an internal self-image of womanhood, wanders around in baggy jeans and a hoodie, holding herself to patriarchal beauty standards and afraid to leave the house at night, she’s not performing masculinity.

Even, when a dude dresses up “perfectly” to “pass” and tries to act as a woman, and his self image is that of a man, he’s going to act like a man(albeit a man pretending to be a woman), based on an image of masculinity. He’s going to(subconsciously) think less of and dismiss womens opinions. He’s going to creep on them, and his actions are going to move based on how he sees himself. He’s going to perform masculinity- not based on his “essential maleness” but based on his vision of himself as a man, and that visions relation so societies ideals of masculinity.

Anyway, this is to say: performance, as conceived by butler, isn’t(just) about intentionally acting in a certain way, but about how a social reality(gender) is created and reproduced by the actions of groups of people.

It doesn’t mean anything is fake, or inferior, or disingenuous.

It means it’s consistently reproduced by the actions of people, creating a set of social beliefs.

But you don’t have to use it how I say. Use it how you want. Just don’t pretend the way you’re using it is the same way butler uses it.