Big Question: What is self-determination?

Throughout this unit, we have explored the gendered division of labor that continues to persist today. This discussion culminated with Dean Spade’s “Resisting Medicine, Re/modeling Gender,” in which he calls for medical and legal institutions to listen to the voices of gender transgressive people. Spade celebrates the possibility of a society that would make “a commitment to self-determination and respect for all expressions of gender” (23). This concept of “self-determination” more broadly means the right to realize one’s full potential, regardless of class, gender, socioeconomic situation, or societal expectations. Self-determination also implies that no other person but oneself should have the right to choose one’s identity. For, we have seen the dangerous repercussions that result from others taking control over one’s own self-expression. In “My Body, My Closet: Invisible Disability and the Limits of Coming-Out Discourse,” Ellen Jean Samuels warns against assuming one’s outward appearance is indicative of one’s inward identification: “Such constant and invasive surveillance…almost always involves a perceived discontinuity between appearance, behavior, and identity” (247). We must take seriously the fact that this tendency effectively prohibits self-determination. Therefore, society must overcome its need to superficially organize the identities others choose to present—especially because that choice has no effect on anyone but that person. As Spade rather movingly proclaims, an environment that supports self-determination, “believes me without question when I say what I am and how that needs to look” (23). What an open, liberating world that would be. 

Samuels, Ellen Jean. “My Body, My Closet: Invisible Disability and the Limits of Coming-Out Discourse.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 9.1-2 (2003): 233-55. Project Muse. Web. 12 Nov. 2012.

Spade, Dean. “Resisting Medicine, Re/modeling Gender.” Berkeley Women’s Law Journal (2003): 15-37. Web. 14 July 2003.


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