Beyond Sex and Gender

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Wendy Cealey Harrison & John Hood-Williams

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    Preface

    Even though my co-author, John Hood-Williams, was tragically killed when we were only a very short distance into the work of writing it, the book that follows remains a work on which both of our names appear. In fact, John only ever saw the final version of the first substantive chapter (Chapter 2: ‘The Old Configuration’), which we had worked up collaboratively. However, he had written a first draft of portions of what are now Chapters 3, 7 and 9, and there was already work in print, both single- and joint-authored, which was to have constituted some of the foundation for other chapters, as indeed it has. Versions of some of the material on genetics appeared in a series of articles by John over the last few years, notably in ‘Is the Genetic Sexing of Humans Tautological?’ (1995), ‘Sexing the Athletes’ (1995) and ‘Goodbye to Sex and Gender’ (1996). An early formulation of a portion of Chapter 10, originally written by John and subsequently significantly reworked, has also appeared under both our names in New Formations as ‘Gendered Melancholy or General Melancholy?’ Effectively, however, those portions of text written by John before he died, (including that portion of Chapter 10) have been comprehensively revised and, in many cases, all but rewritten, which was inevitable in view of the need to produce a work that was coherent.

    The more forceful reason for thinking of this as a shared work, however, has to do with the unique intellectual and pedagogic partnership that we had formed over the preceding ten years. We had differing intellectual formations and our own individual take on things, but on this project we genuinely thought our thoughts together and had managed, I believe, to construct what is probably a fairly rare thing: a joint voice. Although we undoubtedly had quite different writing styles, in the articles we published together we didn't intend readers to be able to see the joins. All of our discussions were aimed at working out what we thought, as a unit. At the time of John's death, we still had intellectual work to do in two fairly substantial areas, and the completion of that investigation has undoubtedly affected the configuration of the whole. Writing out of a fractured dialogue, in the ensuing silence, inevitably made me wonder how the resulting book would differ from what would otherwise have been produced. Inevitably, it is neither the book that we would have written together, nor the book that I would have written had I embarked on the project by myself from the outset. However, we had decided essentially where we were going and I think I have been reasonably faithful to that trajectory.

    Beyond Sex and Gender is the outgrowth of what was initially an undergraduate (then also postgraduate) course that John and I devised as far back as 1989 and team taught until 1999, originally called ‘Explorations in the Study of Gender’ and subsequently ‘The Problem of Sexual Difference’. As the change of title might indicate, we had difficulty in devising a name for work that was intended to take us beyond the sex/gender distinction. The first title indicated ours and our students' exploratory forays into new terrain but, because it retained the term ‘gender’, inadvertently produced the problem of attracting those who thought of such courses primarily in terms of issues of inequality and who found our rather different agenda somewhat bewildering. The second more confident title was nevertheless a compromise because it tended to evoke a psychoanalytic problematic to which we were sympathetic – one might even say fairly committed – but whose universalism we were also throwing into question. In that sense, though, the very problem posed by the sexual difference framework (as we chose to understand the term) refers in an indexical way to that whole complex of difficulties which surround the issue of the allegedly foundational and transhistorical character of ‘sex’, and this makes it peculiarly appropriate as a characterization. In spite of these small local difficulties of nomenclature, however, it was a consistently enjoyable course to teach and I should like to thank all of its students, past and present, for the many stimulating and engaging discussions that we shared over so many years.

    Annette Devine also provided invaluable support to both John and myself in the early stages of the project, and, since then, has been a source of innumerable and invaluable practical and emotional moments of sustenance. She also undertook small pieces of research when I was unable to find the time to do so. I should like to thank her, above all else, for her unstinting guidance and help, and for having that very rare quality, which is wisdom. I should also like to thank my sister, Michèle Harrison, for the many stimulating discussions we shared over the months of the book's composition, and, especially for her sage words about Foucault, to which I am indebted for some of the discussion in Chapter 11, and about many other things. My parents, Marion and Reginald Harrison were, as always, indefatigably encouraging. Mike Kelly provided the conditions in which work on the book was both valued and possible, transforming the culture of a department in which research had been a matter of ‘sink or swim’ into somewhere where intellectual work was treated in the way that it deserves. Chris Rojek was as understanding an editor as any author could hope for and helped me to make the transition to carrying on with the project alone after John was killed. Elizabeth Wells grappled gamely with the complexities of my author-formatted text, which nearly defeated both of us when the files became corrupted. Finally, but by no means least, Richard Oels provided invaluable support and, crucially, cooked me innumerable meals when I had no time to stop, and patiently transcribed my corrupted files almost byte by byte. Inevitably, one has to say that, in spite of use of the word ‘we’, and notwithstanding all of this wonderful support, responsibility for the text, with all of its possible deficits, rests finally with me. The book is dedicated to John's memory, since it was he who pushed me, finally and not so many years ago, to get into print.

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