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Playing and Passing: Expressions of Identity and the Destabilization of Gender Construction


In this dissertation, I demonstrate that non-traditional gender expression by women has significantly developed and expanded ranges of acceptable gender performance for all people. The gender deviancy these women communicate functions not only to promote gender fluidity but to undermine compliance with constructed images of originality.

"Playing and Passing: Expressions of Identity and the Destabilization of Gender Construction" addresses women who resist gender conformity. Notions of how women should express gender, either in deference to or in rebellion against the social construct, work against the free production of gender identity. In the first five chapters of this dissertation, I use literature to examine butch/femme identities, bois, female-to-male transsexuals, transgender, and other less traditional genderqueers. I look at both mandates about the rights to gender and the ways lesbian and genderqueer women have confronted and subverted the heterosexual construction of gender. In the sixth and final chapter, I analyze the non-fictional space of the Michigan Women's Music Festival thus showing the real-world applicability of my analyses.

My broader goal is to show how gender rebels in all of their forms ultimately work to liberate all people from restrictive formulas for behavior and identity. Both inside and outside of queer culture, lesbians rail against the social restrictions that disallow the celebration of the female body in all its options of gender presentation, from high femme to stone butch, from androgyny to versatile gender dynamism. Ultimately, I highlight the past, the progress, and the goals of women working to emancipate gender and to disrupt the congruency of biological sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation as a fundamental truth.

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