Rowan Bell, "Playful Resistance: Gender Norms as Games", (MB 310)

Rowan Bell
University of Missouri
Middlebush MB 310

Most gender norms are bad and should be resisted. However, they are also violently enforced. If we don’t follow them fluidly and effortlessly, we put ourselves at risk—particularly if we're trans or gender-nonconforming. For pragmatic reasons, then, we need to treat gender norms as authoritative and action-guiding. How should we understand and navigate these conflicting demands? I argue that we should treat the normative authority of gender norms the same way we treat the rules of a game. Drawing on C. Thi Nguyen's account of gameplay as inverted agency, I argue that we can temporarily adopt gender norms as action-guiding for specific purposes, while maintaining broader commitment to the moral and political goals of resisting them. Entering this state of inverted agency enables us to temporarily act as if gender norms have normative authority. We can therefore fluidly and effortlessly follow gender norms when necessary, while retaining the capacity to abandon them at will—just as we might take up and put down the rules of a familiar game. I discuss the possibilities this framework allows for creative resistance. I examine the ways in which we can adopt an attitude of playfulness, in the sense articulated by María Lugones, towards harmful gender norms. In short, treating gender norms as games enables trans people to explore and express our agency within rigid, harmful normative structures which seek to curtail it, while also turning those structures on their heads and using them for our own purposes.