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‘The Body is a Bloody Battlefield’:
Gender (De)Constructions in Angela Carter’s The Passion of New Eve and Jackie Kay’s Trumpet

Butler’s iconic Gender Trouble (1990) represented a major breakthrough in the field of Gender Studies and Queer Theory. It also gave coherence to an, until then, rather fragmented body of critical work. Apart from re-appraising poststructural views of gender, Butler also conceptualised a new landmark discursive theory, performativity – or gender as constructed through conscious iterative operations – and she articulated a series of critical approaches to the socio-political understanding of gender that have resonated throughout Western academia. The fictions of postmodern British writers like Angela Carter or Jackie Kay seem to celebrate a debt to such deconstructive practices of gender, and they have become the narrative loci for the interplay, experimentation and blurring of gender boundaries.

In this paper I offer a broad-brush discussion of these narratives in relation to the broader critical framework of Gender Studies,[1] mainly by assuming a dialectical approach in the discussion of the characters Tristessa, Eve(lyn) and Joss Moody.[2]  I read Carter’s novel The Passion of New Eve (1977) alongside Baudrillard’s philosophical argument of simulation as formulated in Simulacra and Simulation (1981) and Butler’s notion of gender as ‘not a founding act, but rather a regulated process of repetition […] of cultural ‘”inscription”’.[3] I then consider the characters in Jackie Kay’s Trumpet (1998) and the construction of performative (trans)gender as a case of epistemic crisis that leads to a brief discussion of Julia Kristeva’s concept of the ‘abject’. Throughout, I pursue to engage these texts with a broader discussion of gender practices as part of a biological ‘given’. Tangentially, this paper seeks to expand current trends in transgender and cross-dressing studies which envisage these ‘gender blending’ practices as socially subversive and culturally enriching.[4]

Gender as a ‘Performative Effort’: Gender Simulacra in The Passion of New Eve

In The Passion of New Eve, Evelyn, an arrogant young man who has used and abused women is kidnapped and transformed into a woman (Eve) by Mother, the queen goddess of the desert who once fashioned herself under the knife. Eve(lyn) eventually encounters Tristessa, the transvestite actress, the female impersonator, the Hollywood simulation. She is described by Eve as an ‘illusion in a void,’ a ‘reflection on the screen,’ ‘the invention of all our imaginations and yet […] real’.[5] Her throne of artificiality is crowned by a surrounding cohort of simulacra: the ‘cunningly executed waxworks’ of Jean Harlow, Marilyn Monroe and other Hollywood film stars. Tristessa’s female performance, as much as it might be personal, is here re-inscribed within the enclosing walls of cinematic representation.[6] Tristessa is simultaneously all women and none, she is the mirror of a mirror; a mere simulation of Hollywood feminine ephemera. In a conversation, Eve confesses to her that she ‘came to me in seven veils of celluloid and demonstrated, in [her] incomparable tears, every kitsch excess of the mode of femininity’.[7] Tristessa’s overdone recycling of the universal woman explodes the boundaries of femininity as culturally conceived and lays bare its socially constructed representations. In her shroud of simulated images, she will ‘live as long as persistence of vision’.[8]

Let us consider for a moment, Butler’s concept of gender performance(s). On their quality as simulated patterns of behaviour, Butler argues that:

As imitations which effectively displace the meaning of the original, they imitate the myth of originality itself. In the place of an original identification which serves as a determining cause, gender identity might be reconceived as a personal/cultural history of received meanings subject to a set of imitative practices which refer laterally to other imitations and which, jointly, construct the illusion of a primary and interior gendered self or parody the mechanism of that construction. [...] The action of gender requires a performance that is ‘repeated’.[9]

If we bring this discussion into the realm of Baudrillardian simulacra understood as ‘the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal’ that substitutes ‘the signs of the real for the real,’ then Tristessa, in her redundant impersonation of feminine ideals, becomes the ultimate simulacrum of womanhood as filtered through the powerful cultural catalyst of Hollywood.[10]

In an essay on the femme fatale, author and feminist Angela Carter herself acknowledged that, in her cinematic construction, the actress is ‘perceived not as herself but as the projection of […] libidinous cravings’.[11] Tristessa loses all her inherently intransferable reality to become another semiotic entrapment. Initially an archetype and an example to follow, when Tristessa is discovered to be a man and forced into the patriarchal position of the rapist by the maniac Zero, she is suddenly rendered a bad copy, another simulacrum devoid of any real referential capacity. Stripped, Tristessa is nothing but:

her own shadow, worn away to its present state of tangible insubstantiality because, perhaps, so many layers of appearances had been stripped from it by the camera – as if the camera had stolen, not the soul, but her body and left behind a presence like an absence that lived, now, only in a quiet, ghostly, hypersensitised world of its own. […] Tristessa, the sensuous fabrication of the mythology of the flea-pits. How could a real woman ever have been so much a woman as you?[12]

Tristessa is just another ‘fake waxwork’, another performance; Tristessa is hyperreality. At the same time, Tristessa is incapable of ever being empirically a woman, entangled as she is in labyrinthine strands of representation and referenciality. She is the ‘alpha female’ of the species; so much a result of deposited cultural excrescence that she exceeds all possible notions of the intelligible human subject, of the female subject.[13]

We eventually discover Tristessa has approached Mother in search of a sex change. She refuses, not just because Tristessa is ‘too much of a woman, already,’ but because when Mother subjected him to the first tests, ‘she was struck by what seemed to her the awfully ineradicable quality of his maleness’.[14] Carter, rather than suggesting that Tritessa’s capability to impersonate completely the feminine sex stems solely from her inherent femininity, is here proposing a new sexual paradigm that escapes all gender taxonomies: a new sexual hybrid, both male and female, as Eve is also seen, that needs not reject its male identity to be able to disclose and inhabit his/her female side. Eve explains this apparent oxymoron:

Masculine and feminine are correlatives which involve one another. [...] [T]he quality and its negation are locked in necessity. But what the nature of masculine and the nature of feminine might be, whether they involve male and female […] that I do not know. Though I have been both man and woman, still I do not know the answer to these questions.[15]

This passage is particularly empirical in its refutation of any knowledge not purely solipsistic. An important part of what constitutes gender archetypes is governed by social convention, and, what is more important, these are governed by educational gender binaries so rooted within the textual mosaic of our consciousness as to be practically axiomatic, or as Carter puts it when trying to explain Tristessa: ‘he, she – neither will do for you’, ‘we are outside history’.[16] Moira Gartens has pointed out this need to elude binarism and embrace, not the neutralization of gender, but what she calls the ‘multiplicity of differences’.[17] Carter seems to be telling us that this newly fabricated syllogism that Tristessa symbolises is, to our society, still an ungraspable concept, Butler’s ‘unintelligible gendered sel(f)’.[18]

In the novel, Tristessa is described as ‘the greatest female impersonator,’[19] ‘an anti-being that existed only by means of a massive effort of will and a huge suppression of fact’.[20] Equally, Eve, surgically enhanced as a woman, confesses: ‘I only mimicked what I had been; I did not become it’.[21]

Following this line of thought, critic Aidan Day has read Carter’s novel as being, essentially, against the biological essentialism of gender,[22]  and Linden Peach, in an argument somewhat similar to Butler’s theory of performative discourse, has argued that:

The key issue for Carter is that the biological differences between men and women are not as important in the construction of gender identities as their elaboration in complex cultural codes which lay down the appropriate or inappropriate behaviour and physical appearance for each gender.[23]

Eve is abducted and brain-washed, her feminine side filtered and articulated through Western simulacra of womanhood: chastity and purity (Mary and the child), motherhood (animals suckling), decentred phallocentrism (images resembling female reproductive organs), and she is finally ‘castrated with a phallic symbol’, a knife.[24] However, after seeing his/her own body and realising that, on becoming his/her own fantasy, he/she finds himself/herself arousing, he/she is locating the very limits of the appropriation of gender based on a biological discourse.[25] Eve comments: ‘I have not yet become a woman, although I possess a woman’s shape. Not a woman, no; both more and less than a real woman’.[26] Most relevant, perhaps, is her ‘programming’ through cinematically encoded iconography:

This intensive study of feminine manners, as well as my everyday work about the homestead, kept me in a state of permanent exhaustion. I was tense and preoccupied; although I was a woman, I was now also passing for a woman, but, then, many women born spend their whole lives in just such imitations.[27]

Looking at her Frankensteinian reality, Eve realises that the feminine sensibility that was instigated on her is partly derived from revisiting Tristessa’s female impersonation(s). Similarly, Evelyn only interiorises and inhabits Eve after he/she has married Zero. This encounter with an extreme and grotesque model of castrating patriarchy is the final catalyst, his/her biggest ‘apprenticeship in womanhood’.[28] Evelyn, although surgically turned into woman, only really becomes Eve after he has experienced the political and domestic situation of ‘woman’. Gender is not a restructured face, but a reconditioned psyche.

The reasoning behind Mother’s psycho-surgery is that ‘a change in appearance will restructure the essence,’ but this surgery turns out to be insufficient and inadequate.[29] We should, however, also understand this operation not as intending to eliminate Eve(lyn)’s virility, but rather as an opportunity to push it into new meanings of masculinity. When Evelyn challenges Mother to give him a reasonable explanation as to why he is being castrated, she replies ‘I think your pretty little virility is just darling, harmless as a dove, such a delight! [..] But are you sure you get the best use of it in the shape you are?’[30] Gender, in the shape of Eve, is here again being reworked: swallowed, reconstructed and regurgitated; the parts will no longer fit a being which exceeds its own significance. Like the part liberating hybrid, part Hollywood projection that is Tristessa, these gender-troubled narratives are hinting at the exhaustion of gender meaning and the black hole of gender designation. Trumpet offers a different, yet just as complicated, scenario.

Gender as a ‘Biological Given’: Transcending Gender in Trumpet

Trumpet tells the story of a jazz musician, Joss Moody, born a woman but who lives as a man until his death. Allegedly based on the life of Billy Tipton, Trumpet explores and challenges essentialist gender taxonomies. In a discussion of Trumpet, a critic identifies Kay’s intention to ‘balance the role nurture plays in individual identity against the power of nature – genes and blood’ and the aptness of the liberating and ‘gender-free’ language of music. In an interview, Kay herself has admitted to the importance in her narrative of a sense of ‘fluidity in a person’s identity’, the realisation that the self is in fact a collection or ‘multiplicity of selves’.[31] Since Trumpet does not really offer a first-person account of Moody’s own story, perhaps to enforce the fact that gender is unfortunately still generated externally by a repressive social apparatus, I concentrate here on how the diverse reactions of others to his ‘real’ self might reflect social views of gender whilst still permitting this multiplicity of identity.

Millie’s position, as the understanding wife, is crystal clear: ‘[Moody] liked being a man. Pure and simple. […] I can’t see him as anything other than him, my Joss, my husband. It has always been that way since the first day he told me. […] I didn’t feel like I was living a lie. I felt like I was living a life. Hindsight is a lie’.[32] From the day Moody discloses his secret, ‘she’ becomes an unmovable ‘he,’ a new type, perhaps, of masculine palimpsest that will not succumb to biological determinism. The obvious tensions build up eventually: ‘I feel furious with him. Why can’t he give me a child? He can do everything else. Walk like a man, talk like a man. Why can’t he get me pregnant?’[33] This crisis is resolved when Joss replies that: ‘Miracles are not possible. […] You never said I was expected to perform a fucking miracle, did you?,’ and with Millie’s acknowledgement that she has ‘hurt his pride […] his manhood’ comes a joint effort to find an alternative (ad)option.[34]

Exit Millie; enter Colman. Moody’s adopted son only manages to grapple with his new-found reality at the very end of the novel, however, when he finally rejects the temptress figure of the journalist. Initially, Colman cannot fully grasp his father’s reinterpretation of his corporeality and feels betrayed. He describes him as ‘the man who pretended to be a man and fetched up a woman at his death. Conned his own son’.[35] Colman finds himself trapped in some uncanny unresolved Oedipal complex: his first perception of his father’s new reality sets him thinking back to his early memories, and diagnosing them as ‘some weird Freudian dream’.[36] He also seems to recognise Freud’s (in)famous notion of ‘penis envy’ in Joss: ‘What is it that is eating me? [...] It’s probably the fact that my father didn’t have a prick,’ and later ‘he had to do this big masculine number on me because he didn’t have one. He wanted one and he didn’t have one, did he […] My father couldn’t cope with me becoming a man […] Probably jealous of my cock now I think about it’ and he even fantasises of Moody wearing a dildo.[37] The trumpet in the title could therefore be understood as being constructed here as a phantasmatic replacement for the ‘lost’ phallus that Joss never had, the only biological constraint that kept him, in Colman’s view, from being a man in full. However, the heaviest burden for Colman appears to be his refusal to believe, not so much in Joss as a father figure, but rather in the lack of trust that Joss seems to have placed on him by keeping him in the dark. Once this trauma is overcome, pity, understanding and love ensue. Moody is newly invested with socially accepted ‘masculinity’, but this gender re-appropriation is much more problematic than it might at first appear.

Moody’s body, his physical being, is a locus of gender confusion, of ‘gender blending’. In this sense, it confuses easy readings of a repressed lesbian or transsexual identity. His body was materially feminine, but his use of gender discourse and the fact that to surgically morph her biological self ends up being unnecessary and redundant, points to the difficulty of psychological interpretation. Was Moody a man or a woman? I want to argue that he stands for an in-between entity that manages to establish its ontology by choice but is nevertheless reduced to his materiality after those iterative performances end.[38] The revealing responses of other characters to encountering Moody’s ‘body of evidence’ serve to illustrate this point.

When Doctor Krishnamurty is removing the bandages that have concealed Joss’s breasts, ‘each wrapping of bandage […] fe[els] unmistakably like a layer of skin’ and the breasts themselves appear void of any meaning, unreal and inappropriate.[39] The skin itself is compared to a snake’s, and the consequent metaphorical image of Joss shedding her first layer of skin, one that can no longer serve any real purpose, is thus significant for more than one reason: firstly, because the superannuated condition of this symbolical hide points towards the idea that the physical can actually be rejected and somehow expelled, or in this case, enclosed and trapped away from biological semiotics. Secondly, because the image seems to suggest that once death infuses its demystifying law over the physical it ceases both to signify and to conceal: we are only left with the carnographic, and what we thereby encounter might not be heteronormatively conceivable.[40] What Joss’s bandages seem to be uncovering, ultimately, point towards ontological gender concerns.

Also, in a moment that seems to point towards arrested development, the reader is informed that the breasts have not aged, as if Joss’s sole willpower is sufficient to obliterate this particularly ‘abjected’ bodily reality, so much so that the doctor, overwhelmed with an imprecise feeling of ambiguity on filling in the medical certificate, is forced to seek comfort in the biological solace which comes with the momentary epiphanic relief that she is indeed ‘in possession of the female body parts’.[41] Let us consider the following passage:

She crossed ‘male’ out and wrote ‘female’ in her rather bad doctor’s handwriting. She looked at the word ‘female’ and thought it wasn’t clear enough. She crossed that out, tutting to herself, and printed ‘female’ in large childish letters.[42]

Here, the doctor encounters what Marjorie Garber has termed a ‘category crisis,’[43] an epistemological cul-de-sac, where in a moment of horror, neither signifier seems able to contain, or even convey, the signified; or as Colman puts it, ‘the image of my father in a woman’s body’.[44] Similarly, Holding, the funeral director, also identifies this linguistic chasm and is equally unable to overcome it: ‘he still found himself referring to [the body] as ‘Mrs Moody’s husband’. He didn’t know what else to call it but “Mrs Moody’s husband”'.[45] Only the knowledge of Joss’s original sex enables him to perceive womanly shapes in her dead body, but once her new identity is established, all stable notions of ‘being’ collapse. Millie envisions this visual anxiety of the androgynous body as shattering, and she announces a need to move beyond the hermeneutical constraints of language and meaning: ‘Joss Moody is not Joss Moody. Joss Moody was really somebody else. Am I somebody else too. But who else was Joss? Who was this somebody else?’[46] Joss’s body (even in its most entropic state) pushes both physical and epistemological boundaries, becoming one big monument to liminality. Through Joss’s body, consensual concepts of gender are deconstructed and the result is a challenging (dis)embodiment, especially after her death, which carries out a series of inherent ‘displacement activities’.[47] The funeral director, on seeing Joss’s corpse and the absence of the penis, cannot withhold a feeling of tremendous uneasiness, ‘as if he had done something wrong. As if he was not doing his job properly’, which takes him to re-evaluate his preconceived notions of ‘the differences between [men and women]’.[48] This new parallactic view of gender is brilliantly illustrated through his subsequent confessional argument:

All his working life he has assumed that what made a man a man and a woman a woman was the differing sexual organs. Yet, today, he had a woman who persuaded him, even dead, that he was a man, once he had his clothes on. That young man believed his father was a man; who was he to tell him different?[49]

The consequent gender blurring seems thus to transcend the physical, to trasncend biological determinism.[50] Millie elaborates on this when she attempts an explanation of their sexual life: ‘[w]hen he gets down, and he doesn’t always get down deep enough, he loses his sex, his race, his memory. He strips himself bare, takes everything off, till he’s barely human’.[51] The language here is shared with that of another scene in which Millie describes what takes place during Joss’s other equally climatic experience, playing music: ‘[h]is story is blowing in the wind. He lets it rip. He tears himself apart. He explodes. Then he brings himself back. Slowly, slowly, piercing himself together’.[52] Note how in both instances, Joss’s body is being portrayed, metaphorically, as exceeding and reconfiguring its limits, as somehow inhuman or monstrous in its capacity to outdo taxonomical flesh demarcations.[53]  

The deliberate use above of the term ‘abjected’ to describe Joss’s treatment of her concealed breasts[54] also seem to construct the body through a model that seems consistent with Julia Kristeva’s notion of the ‘abject’ as ‘a sudden emergence of uncanniness’ in the self, of unrecognisable familiarity, that needs be rejected, vomited and eradicated from the system.[55] In fact, Colman confesses that ‘the idea of my father getting periods makes me want to throw up’ and that ‘his pubic hair and breasts looked grotesque, monstrous’.[56] Once the nausea is overcome, once Moody’s confusion of polarised conventions is expelled, the ghost is exorcised. This initial revulsion is finally understood for what it really is (and has been) all along: love and affection and his previous attitude termed cowardice.[57] In essence, Colman has undergone the tug-of-war struggle of the vicariousness of experience.

It is also natural, however, for this rejection to start within the self, in the form of what we could term a feeling of an ‘inappropriate biology’. The abjected part of the self, in Joss’s case her female breasts and in Tristessa’s her penis, are loathed for working against the mind itself, against the project of disentanglement from the asphyxiating claws of biological sex. However, these texts suggest the possibility of living with these so-called biological ‘mistakes’, these remnants, without the need to excise them or fully reject them. Tristessa tells Eve:

I used to conceal my genitals in my anus. I would fix them in position with Scotch tape, so that my mound was smooth as a young girl’s. But when the years passed and my disguise became my nature, I no longer troubled myself with these subterfuges. Once the essence was achieved, the appearance could take care of itself.[58]

This accounts for Joss’s friends being unable to think her in terms other than ‘man’. The ‘essence’ Joss exuded was a man’s, and not even the physical world could, in life, prove him wrong. However, the being he ended up ‘becoming’ transcends all expectations of gender binaries and thus pursues a decentralization of gender hegemony, the staging of, in Kay’s own words, ‘a bloody battlefield’.[59] 

Conclusion: A Politics of Exhaustion?

In Why Feminism?,Lynne Segal’s recent revision of gender politics does not provide a very encouraging prospect for the future of strategies of gender subversion. She argues that the current disturbance of gender binaries does not necessarily lead to a destruction of boundaries, but can potentially reify them. She postulates that ‘an awareness that gender is “socially”, “performatively” or “discursively” constructed, is very far from a dismantling of gender’. She then proceeds to echo Jay Prosser’s proposition that we reject ‘the transgressive / literalizing binary to suggest instead that we simply listen carefully to transsexual and transgendered narratives for what they tell us about the continuing cultural force of feelings of biological embodiedness, and related gender belonging;’ ‘their possibilities as ‘foundational power[s]’.[60]

‘Should we do that with all the symbols, Leilah? Put them away, for a while, until the times have created a fresh iconography?’ asks Eve near the end of Carter’s novel, laying bare the exhausted semiotics of gender.[61] Her claim that ‘I am not natural […] even though, if you cut me, I will bleed’, seems particularly illustrative of Butler’s rendering of gender identity as biologically insufficient and inevitably interlocked with performance into ‘a regulatory fiction’.[62] Her conclusion that confusion of gender boundaries is essential to a fruitful destabilisation of ‘compulsory heterosexuality,’[63] seems to point at The Passion of New Eve and Trumpet’s efforts to demonstrate how gender is always halfway between reality and fabrication.

Both texts also seem to hint at a very poststructuralist view of language as lacking real physical referents; as incapable of representing accurately, and therefore as ultimately disconcerting. Millie, on trying to come to terms with her own understanding of her relationship with Joss, laments that people ‘will find words to put on to me. Words that don’t fit me. Words that don’t fit Joss. They will call him names. Terrible vertigo names’.[64] Thus, these new bodies, these new ‘males’,[65] these ‘fantasies of themselves’ supersede and advance their own textual and sexual discourses and pave the way for innovative conceptions of gender and contrasting legitimations of feeling that might aid towards the formation of a new geography of gender.[66] Rosi Braidotti, drawing on the work of Irigaray and Deleuze, has proposed a new understanding of these nomadic subjectivities in the process of becoming as inherently positive and as compatible with ‘feminist practices of sexual difference’.[67] They thereby open up, in Jay Prosser’s words, ‘a transitional space between the [binaries];’[68] they create much-needed grey zones, areas of transition, and this seems to me an urgent critical undertaking which deserves attention, for it is as much imbricated with the discourse of gender studies, as it is with that of post-war narratives and, in a broader sense, fiction itself.

Bibliography [back to top]

Baudrillard, Jean, Simulacra and Simulation, trans. by Sheyla Faria Glaser (Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 1994)
Blending Genders: Social Aspects of Cross-Dressing and Sex-Changing, ed. by Richard Ekins and Dave King (London and New York: Routledge, 1996)
Braidotti, Rosi, Metamorphoses: Towards a Materialist Theory of Becoming (Cambridge, Oxford and Malden, MA: Polity, 2002)
Bullough, Vern L. and Bonnie Bullough, Cross Dressing, Sex and Gender (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993)
Butler, Judith, Gender Trouble (London and New York: Routledge, 2008)
__________, Undoing Gender (Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2004)
__________, Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex” (New York and London: Routledge, 1993)
Carter, Angela, The Passion of New Eve (London: Vintage, 2007)
___________, Nothing Sacred (London: Virago, 1992)
Day, Aidan, Angela Carter: The Rational Glass (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1998)
Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983)
Garber, Marjorie, Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing and Cultural Anxiety (New York: Routledge, 1992)
Gatens, Moira, Imaginary Bodies: Ethics, Power and Corporeality (London: Routledge, 1996)
Gish, Nancy K., ‘Adoption, Identity and Voice: Jackie Kay’s Inventions of Self’, in Imagining Adoption: Essays on Literature and Culture, ed. by Marianne Novy (Michigan: University of Michigan, 2004), pp. 171-191
Herrmann, Anne, ‘Travesty and Transgression: Transvestism in Shakespeare, Brecht, and Churchill’ in Performing Feminisms: Feminist Critical Theory and Theatre, ed. by Sue-Ellen Case (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990), pp. 294-315
Jove, Nicole Ward, ‘Mother is a Figure of Speech’ in Flesh and the Mirror: Essays on the Art of Angela Carter, ed. by Lorna Sage(London: Virago, 1994), pp. 136-170
Kay, Jackie, Wish I Was Here (London: Picador, 2007)
_________, Trumpet (London: Picador, 1999)
_________, The Adoption Papers (Glasgow: Bloodaxe Books, 1998)
_________, Off Colour (Glasgow: Bloodaxe Books, 1998)
King, Jeannette, ‘A Woman’s a Man, for A’ That’: Jackie Kay’s Trumpet’, Scottish Studies Review, 2:1 (2001), pp. 101-108
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Prosser, Jay, Second Skins: The Body Narratives of Transsexuality (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998)
Punter, David, ‘Angela Carter: Supersessions of the Masculine’ in Critical Essays on Angela Carter , ed. by Lindsey Tucker (New York: G.K. Hall and Co., 1998), pp. 142-58
Segal, Lynne, Why Feminism?: Gender, Psychology, Politics (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999)
Salamon, Gayle, Assuming a Body: Transgender and Rhetorics of Materiality (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010)
Solomon, Alisa, Redressing the Canon: Essays on Theatre and Gender (London and New York: Routledge, 1997).

Notes [back to top]

[1]I am here deliberately conflating Gender Studies with Queer Theory and, more generally, to all work that considers gender as its interdisciplinary locus.

[2] Unfortunately, there is no space in this paper for a demythologising reading of female archetypes, but other critics have devoted discursive space to this particular matter: See Nicole Ward Jove, ‘Mother is a Figure of Speech’ in Flesh and the Mirror: Essays on the Art of Angela Carter, ed. by Lorna Sage (London: Virago, 1994), pp. 136-70 for an exploration of Carter’s negotiation of the mother figure in Eve.

[3] Judith Butler, Gender Trouble (London and New York: Routledge, 2008), pp. 198-99.

[4] See Blending Genders: Social Aspects of Cross-Dressing and Sex-Changing, ed. by Richard Ekins and Dave King (London and New York: Routledge, 1996), pp. 1-4, for a prescription and development of this term. I am understanding ‘transgender’ here as it has been theorised by Butle herself in Undoing Gender (Abington and New York: Routledge, 2004): ‘[t]ransgender refers to those persons who cross-identify or who live as another gender, but who may or may not have undergone hormonal treatments or sex reassignment operations’ (p. 6). In that sense, transgender becomes a deliberately open ‘umbrella term’ that does not exclude but embrace transvestism.

[5] Angela Carter, The Passion of New Eve (London: Vintage, 2007), pp. 110, 118.

[6] Carter, Passion, p. 117.

[7] Carter, Passion, p. 71.

[8] Carter, Passion, p. 119.

[9] Butler, Gender Trouble, pp. 188-91.

[10] Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation (Michigan: University of Michigan   Press, 1994), pp. 1-2. This is not to suggest that the ‘artifice’ of transgendered femininity is doubled in comparison to that Hollywood actresses who were “originally” female, but rather that the construction reveals the lack of a referential ‘real’ in order to reveal the constructed nature of the ‘feminine’.

[11] Angela Carter, Nothing Sacred (London: Virago, 1982), p. 132.

[12] Carter, Passion, pp. 123, 29.

[13] The category of the human itself remains a thorny issue to poststructuralist gender debates. Butler herself still acknowledges its belonging to a discourse much imbricated in patriarchal and colonial practices of power. See Undoing Gender, p. 13-16.

[14] Carter, Passion, p. 173.

[15] Carter, Passion, p. 150.

[16] Carter, Passion, pp. 143, 125.

[17] See Moira Gatens, Imaginary Bodies: Ethics, Power and Corporeality (London: Routledge, 1996), pp. 3-17 and 72-3.

[18] Butler, Gender Trouble, p. 32.

[19] It is no coincidence that Tristessa is an actress. Numerous publications have pursued studies on the subversive gender possibilities of theatre, especially when linked to cross-dressing and gender performance. For a discussion on the cross-dressed heroine as metaphoric gender discourse, see Herrmann, Anne, ‘Travesty and Transgression: Transvestism in Shakespeare, Brecht, and Churchill’ in Performing Feminisms: Feminist Critical Theory and Theatre, ed. by Sue-Ellen Case (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990), pp. 294-315, and for a consideration of butch performances, see Alisa Solomon, Redressing the Canon: Essays on Theatre and Gender (London and New York: Routledge, 1997).

[20] Carter, Passion, pp. 144, 129.

[21] Carter, Passion, p. 132.

[22] Day, Aidan, Angela Carter: The Rational Glass (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1998), p. 130.

[23] Linden Peach, Angela Carter (London: Macmillan, 1998), p. 126.

[24] Carter, Passion, p. 70.

[25] David Punter has also voiced his incapacity, as a reader, to envisage Eve(lyn) as other than male or, in other words, his inability not ‘to respond as a male to the residual male in Eve’. See David Punter, ‘Angela Carter: Supersessions of the Masculine’ in Critical Essays on Angela Carter, ed. by Lindsey Tucker (New York: G.K. Hall and Co., 1998), pp. 142-58 (p. 54).

[26] Carter, Passion, p. 83.

[27] Carter, Passion, p. 101.

[28] Carter, Passion, p. 107.

[29] Carter, Passion, p. 68.

[30] Carter, Passion, p. 66.

[31] Jeannette King, ‘A Woman’s a Man, for A’ That’: Jackie Kay’s Trumpet’, Scottish Studies Review, 2:1 (2001), 101-108 (pp. 107, 106), and Nancy K. Gish, ‘Adoption, Identity and Voice: Jackie Kay’s Inventions of Self’ in Imagining Adoption: Essays on Literature and Culture, ed. by Marianne Novy (Michigan: University of Michigan, 2004), pp. 171-19.

[32] Jackie Kay, Trumpet (London: Picador, 1999), pp.264, 35, 95.

[33] Kay, Trumpet, p. 37.

[34] Kay, Trumpet, pp. 38-9, my italics.

[35] Kay, Trumpet, p. 46.

[36] Kay, Trumpet, p. 60.

[37] Kay, Trumpet, pp. 66, 123, 163, 169.

[38] Butler has expanded on the importance of iteration to gender performance in her equally seminal Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex (new York and London: Routledge, 1993).

[39] Kay, Trumpet, p. 43. This is a recurrent preoccupation in Kay’s work. Another character, in the short story ‘What is Left Behind’ (2006), confesses: ‘[m]y body takes leave of itself. My body leaves my skin behind’ (Wish I Was Here (London: Picador, 2007), p. 23). This example also serves to posit Kay’s approach to physical self-awareness: as in Joss’s case, the essence is evacuated, and all that is left behind is skin, not even a body.

[40] In Undoing Gender, Butler herself explains that the only way forward from this socio-political economy of taxonomic demarcation is a move away from ‘anatomic essentialism’ (8) and to challenge the institutions by which humanly viable choice is established and maintained and is a prerequisite for the exercise of self-determination’ (7). The only way to move forward from this stagnated position would seem to move from ‘doing’ theory to effecting ‘political’ change.

[41] Kay, Trumpet, p. 114.

[42] Kay, Trumpet, p. 44.

[43] Garber, Marjorie, Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing and Cultural Anxiety (New York: Routledge, 1992), p. 16. The word is coined from a discussion on the crisis in knowledge that arises from the gender ambiguity caused by the cross-dresser and the transsexual.

[44] Kay, Trumpet, p. 63.

[45] Kay, Trumpet, p. 111.

[46] Kay, Trumpet, p. 99.

[47] Kay, Trumpet, p. 105.

[48] Kay, Trumpet, pp. 109, 108.

[49] Kay, Trumpet, p. 115.

[50] Butler theorises the inevitability of this situation when she argues that set notions of gender can only be truly altered when the ‘grammar’ of gender itself is challenged (Butler, Gender Trouble, p. xx). Joss’s body works towards a general destabilisation of gender binaries by fighting against its biological givens.

[51] Kay, Trumpet, p. 131.

[52] Kay, Trumpet, p. 136.

[53] In her acclaimed poem ‘The Adoption Papers’ (1991), the adopted child undergoes a similar epistemologic breakdown when she tries to comprehend the physicality of her biological mother. She describes her as ‘too many imaginings to be flesh and blood’ (The Adoption Papers (Glasgow: Bloodaxe Books, 1998), p. 33). Like Joss, she is superhuman, extraordinary, unrepresentable.

[54] The abject is also a particularly resonant motif in Carter’s novel. Eve also acknowledges her own ‘abject state’ (Carter, Passion, p. 83) on waking up as a woman, and it is only after she meets Tristessa that she can somehow come to terms with this new, overimposed sexuality.

[55] Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984), p. 2.

[56] Kay, Trumpet, pp. 67, 265.

[57] Kay, Trumpet, pp. 210, 243.

[58] Carter, Passion, p. 141.

[59] Kay, Trumpet, p. 9.

[60] Lynne Segal, Why Feminism?: Gender, Psychology, Politics (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), pp. 63, 65-6.

[61] Carter, Passion, p. 50.

[62] Carter, Passion, p. 50, andButler, Gender Trouble, p. 192.

[63] Butler, Gender Trouble, p. 192.

[64] Kay, Trumpet, p. 154.

[65] This is perhaps an overgeneralization. For a more nuanced discussion of how transgendered experiences can help elucidate our thinking about gender and embodiment itself, see Gayle Salamon’s Assuming a Body: Transgender and Rhetorics of Materiality (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010).

[66] Kay, Trumpet, p. 190.

[67] Rosi Braidotti, Metamorphoses: Towards a Materialist Theory of Becoming (Cambridge, Oxford and Malden, MA: Polity, 2002), p. 5. Unfortunately, there is no space here for a full consideration of her theoretical contribution to the fields of Feminism, Gender Studies and Queer Theory, but further work on her concept of ‘figurations’ and rhizomic understanding of gender cartographies could be very enlightening for a more nuanced appreciation of how such gender re-appropriations can be seen as not necessarily centred around nostalgia or loss.

[68] Jay Prosser, Second Skins: The Body Narratives of Transsexuality (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), p. 16.