In “Boys of the Lex,” Gayle Salamon discusses the ways in which gender and gender expression are perceived. Salamon states, “To offer the category of real gender in an attempt to discipline what are perceived as the excesses of theoretical gender is to domesticate gender as it is lived and to deny its considerable complexity, which often outpaces our language to describe it.” (72) In other words, gender is both internal and external, and usually the social is inextricably linked to the personal.
This chapter is an attempt by Salamon to discuss the difficulties of labeling gender a ‘social construct’ while simultaneously showing that it is. Salamon quotes Jason Cromwell: “’If gender were only important in social situations, then transpeople would not know that their gender is different than what societies dictate they should be according to their bodies.’” (80) The idea of gender as a social construct that is only relevant when other people are present does not take into account what happens when we are alone. We do not stop presenting when no one else is around. Some of us may act differently under public scrutiny than we do at home, but this does not mean we become nothing.
One of Salamon’s and other trans* theorists’ problem with gender as construction is the fact that it only allows for men and women. Gender is not thought of in terms of language, because it is seen as a personal, political, or social decision. But without looking toward language, we can only ever have two allowable modes of gender expression. Queer communities across the globe have been attempting to gain recognition for third gender pronouns such as sie and hir, but generally speaking they have not been taken up. When Sweden attempted to add the gender neutral “hen” to its online dictionary, not even the official print dictionary, it was lambasted as “feminist activists who want to destroy our language.”
Salamon says in this chapter, “A reading of gender…that focuses exclusively on the agency of the individual misses this entire matrix of power in which gender takes shape.” (80) Individuals choose in which way they express themselves and their gender, but this expression happens in conjunction with the society surrounding them and the very language with which it is expressed.