“(Korea) Minister of Justice is trying to avoid the inevitable.”
The world’s lowest total fertility rate of 0.78 shows the ‘reproductive (pregnancy, childbirth, and raising) crisis’ that Korea is facing, but Korea is still a society with strong pressure on ‘normal families’. The National Human Rights Commission of Korea recommended in 2005 to revise the ‘Basic Act on Healthy Homes’, which recognized only ‘units consisting of marriage, blood, and adoption’ as ‘family’ to accommodate various types of families. Even after 18 years, the Basic Act on Healthy Families remains the same, and the ‘Living Partners Act’, which recognizes two adults who are not related by blood or marriage, as a ‘family relationship’ has not crossed the legislative threshold.
Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon said at the Legislation and Judiciary Committee of the National Assembly in June that the Life Partner Act was premature, citing issues such as allowing same-sex marriage. Judith Butler , Chair Professor of Comparative Literature at UC Berkeley, commented that the South Korean government was “trying to avoid the inevitable” when asked about this remark in an e-mail interview. It was an answer based on optimism that it would happen someday.
We interviewed Butler, the representative philosopher of post-structuralist feminism, via e-mail. In 1990, Butler published <Gender Trouble>, which developed the theory of gender performance, shaking up his feminist discourse and influencing queer studies. He is an influential scholar in Korea to the extent that many books have been translated, including <The Body Embodying Meaning>, <Hate Speech>, <Life at Risk>, <The Mental Life of Power>, and <Bodies in Solidarity and Politics of the Street>. all.
Butler, who planned to visit Korea to attend a conference ahead of the publication of <What kind of world is it now> (Changbi), which contains suggestions for the post-pandemic world in June, could not come to Korea due to personal circumstances. Butler was asked questions about current issues in Korean society, <Gender Trouble>, which challenged gender dichotomy, and inequality in the world exposed by the pandemic. Following is the transcript of the interview. Butler’s response is in bold.
“Lesbian pregnancy ’embarrassing’? Do you feel afraid?”
Q. _ The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Law v. Wade decision, which guaranteed abortion as a constitutional right. The Constitutional Court of Korea made a decision that ‘abortion crime’ is unconstitutional four years ago, but discussions on alternative legislation are idling in the National Assembly. Mifepristone, a component of the lactostasis inducer ‘Mifeprixin’, was designated as an essential drug by the World Health Organization ( WHO ), but its introduction in Korea failed. Regarding the right to abortion, South Korea seems to be in its infancy, while the United States seems to be advancing and then retreating.
-Both South Korea and the United States have made decisions to strengthen the power of the state over women’s bodies and over the bodies of pregnant people. Procreation should be a right and an expression of autonomy. Opposition to abortion not only strengthens the power of the state, but also strengthens the patriarchal family structure.
Q. _ South Korean conservatives accuse gender of being a ‘trouble’ and dividing the heterosexual-centered family system. Enactment of an anti-discrimination law also seems far off in Korea.
-It is unclear whether Christian nationalists advocate the order of the state or the order of nature. Nature allows for diversity, and we should all affirm a world in which diversity is respected. (※ Christian nationalists use the ‘natural order’ as a reason to oppose homosexuality, but in reality, it means that they support the artificially created national order.)
Q . The Seoul Metropolitan Government banned the use of the plaza at the Seoul Queer Festival in July. How should we respond when political forces tolerate discrimination.
– It is essential to hold protests online or in public places and disperse events in an unpredictable way. Korean activists should establish good resistance strategies by contacting activists in Turkey . ( ※In the early 2000s, President Erdogan Türkiye, who said that discrimination against LGBTI people was inhumane, used ‘opposition to homosexuality’ as a political framework and said, The minority will disappear” is expressing a strong stance.)
Q . Kim Kyu-jin, a Korean national lesbian, is about to give birth after receiving an in vitro procedure. Since Korean hospitals provide sperm only to legal couples, heterosexual couples in common-law relationships, he went to Belgium to receive the procedure. Although he knew it would be controversial, he said, “I disclosed the pregnancy because I wanted people to know that there are same-sex couples who give birth to children.” Is there anything you would like to say to Koreans who are perplexed by the lesbian pregnancy and to Mr. Kim Kyu-jin?
-Congratulations for living according to Kim Gyu-jin’s wishes. Perhaps those who are ‘baffled’ by his decision are actually in awe of his courage. There are many kinds of families and many kinds of parents in the world. Being a good parent means loving and caring for your children. Good parents can be found both within and outside heterosexual marriage. Marriage is not a prerequisite for being good parents. It is important to separate sex from reproduction, reproduction from heterosexual marriage, and good parenting from the institution of marriage, whether heterosexual or same sex.
Q. You live as a family with your college classmate, Wendy Brown. When his son, Isaac Butler-Brown, was asked when he was young, “Isn’t it strange that our family of two women is a married couple?” The real difficulty is that there are two scholars in the family.”
– He has a great sense of humor.
Q. _ I think that the ‘freedom with diversity’ you mentioned is more difficult to implement in reality because it is an abstract expression.
– Not at all abstract. If conservative parents have queer or transgender children, they can make a simple decision. Will you love and affirm your child, or will you stigmatize and drive him away? Christian love says to love your child. We must create spaces where we can live, breathe and love each other without fear of violence or exclusion.
“Serena Williams beats men, what do you think?”
Laurel Hubbard, a member of the New Zealand women’s national weightlifting team, competed in weightlifting at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Although he was born a male, he underwent gender reassignment (sex reassignment) surgery in 2012 and met the International Olympic Committee ( IOC ) standard (※ blood concentration of the male hormone testosterone must be less than 10 nanomoles per liter of blood during the 12 months immediately preceding the competition) to qualify for the Olympics. participated in He fails to win a medal. On the other hand, American swimmer Leah Thomas won the competition by setting a new record by participating in the women’s division of the 2021 competition organized by the National Collegiate Athletic Association after gender confirmation. Their appearance caused controversy in the sports world.
Na Hwarin, who also underwent gender confirmation surgery in Korea, set a record of two gold medals in the cycling category at the Gangwon Provincial Sports Festival last June. It is the first time in Korea that a transgender person has won a women’s event. Ms. Na is 180 cm tall, weighs 72 kg, and has a skeletal muscle mass of 32.7 kg. She underwent gender confirmation surgery from male to female. He said he decided to compete “because he wanted to be controversial.”
Like the ‘men’s national soccer team’ and ‘women’s national soccer team’, sports, unlike other fields, are separated by biological gender. Can transgender people participate in sports? The claim that transgender people have a physical advantage that adversely affects sports fairness, that the physical advantage of transgender people has not been scientifically proven, and that it is discrimination that prevents transgender people from participating in competitions is in conflict. Hormone treatment after gender determination affects muscle and bone density compared to men, but there are not many studies on how much it affects. There are various differences in women’s strength, but some argue that it is right that discussions considering the differences are blocked at the source.
Q. _ In March, the World Athletics Federation banned transgender people from participating in the women’s division. The International Swimming Federation ( FINA ) changed its rules so that only transgender women who underwent surgery before the age of 12 could participate in the women’s team, effectively banning transgender people from competing. How do you view this complex issue?
-Currently, standards are different for each association and there is no consensus on transgender participation as a woman. In 2021, the IOC revised its guidelines to require transgender and intersex women to reduce their testosterone levels to less than 10 nanomolar per liter for 12 months . At the time, the Olympic Committee cited research showing that testosterone levels between women and men can overlap, and that many women already have higher testosterone levels than men.
In 2015, men’s testosterone levels were thought to be as low as 10 nanomoles per liter, but it has been found that even men who play elite sports can have as low as 7 nanomoles per liter. “The science has advanced,” said Dr. Richard Budget, IOC medical and scientific director, meaning that sports performance does not correlate with testosterone levels in a predictable way . When creating guidelines for each region and sport, the factors of testosterone levels and male puberty can be one of many factors, but I do not think they can be the only or decisive
factor . Those who argue that transgender women have an advantage on the playing field because of their hormonal makeup do not take into account the complexities of hormonal interactions with the environment. Going through male puberty doesn’t make everyone a great athlete.
Q. _ Hwarin Na said that she wanted to show that it is unfair for overseas gender-confirmed players to participate in the women’s team. And he says it’s fair to divide the sports competition division into ‘men’s’ ‘women’s’ and ‘transsexual’ divisions. How should we look at his argument?
-In her prime, Serena Williams could beat most men on the tennis circuit. What do you think about this.
Those who believe that transgender people can participate in women’s sports cite the United States, where there was racial discrimination against the claim to divide competitions. In the United States, where racism was severe, there was a separate league made up of blacks and Latinos. Separating and excluding minorities from the majority group is itself discrimination. There is also a realistic theory that a single league can be formed when the transgender population is less than 1%.
Park Han-hee, the first openly transgender lawyer, said in an interview for the book <Everyone’s Playground>, “LGBTQ people are constantly being asked to ‘stay with each other’.” If you express it roughly, it will inevitably feel like ‘getting rid of it’.”
“No one can fight hatred alone”
<Gender Trouble>, published in 1990, is a classic of feminist theory that overturned the paradigm of existing feminism by breaking down the distinction between sex and gender . Butler questions the distinction between biologically determined ‘sex’ and culturally constructed ‘gender’ in the book. This distinction, he says, feeds the illusion that sex is the fundamental basis of gender.
Butler sees sex as culturally constructed, just like gender. If feminism emphasizes femininity, the dichotomy of women and men cannot be dismantled, so to Butler, gender is an ‘artificial object that changes infinitely and floats freely’ and is a concept in which sex, class, race, ethnicity, and region are intertwined.
For Butler, gender is a concept of ‘performance ‘ and is in a repetitive process. Through this, he attempts to dismantle the dichotomy of ‘male and female’. What Butler emphasizes is a free subject free from gender. His theory naturally influenced queer theory. Butler also actively supports the LGBT rights movement.
Q. _ It has been 33 years since <Gender Trouble> came out. How did you achieve the goals you wanted to achieve through the book?
– Books have their own lives. Sometimes I achieve goals I hadn’t intended. And what I intended when I wrote the book changed during the process of acceptance and translation. What is certain is that I wanted to speak out for the freedom of gender. We sometimes think of gender in a narrow sense, but it can be limiting and painful for many people. I wanted you to think about how often feminists assume heterosexuality when writing about gender. I also wanted everyone to think about the way they implement gender norms in their lives.
Q. _ People still ask why there are biological differences if gender is the result of repeated performance .
-Biology is clearly a factor in all contexts of gender. I believe that biology and culture influence each other. We are determined neither by biology nor by culture. Because the site where the two interact varies according to time and space, gender is both imposed and created. Performativity describes the way we embody social norms. Biology is part of that embodiment, but biology does not answer the question ‘how to live’. The answer to that question lies in our behavior, in the historical world where biology, genetics, history and culture come together in dynamic ways.
Q. Recently, a research team led by Professor Cara Wall-Scheffler of the University of Washington in the U.S. surveyed more than 1,400 hunter-gatherer societies around the world over the past 150 years. Of the 63 records of hunting, 50 of them (79%) depicted women hunting. It is said that the stereotype of gender division of labor, in which men often go hunting and women gather fruit, is wrong. Can this study be explained with the concept of ‘performativeness’?
– You shouldn’t be asked to explain everything with performativity. What’s interesting about your example is that we often approach gender and sexual differences with strong biases. These biases can also be found in some scientific and anthropological studies. Scholars must learn to discern biases or illusions in the hypotheses they study. In trying to prove that there are fundamental and timeless differences between men and women, we can miss evidence that challenges our basic assumptions. Relying on the hunter-gatherer framework can make it difficult to properly explain how gender works to digital nomads and part-time instructors.
Q. _ You mentioned the importance of translation as what you mean by gender freedom depends on the context. What kind of attitude should Korean feminists in non-English speaking countries have?
-I think it is important to approach expressions such as gender and sexuality, individuality and embodiment, and equality in multiple languages. English speakers often believe that English can be generalized about the world. It is a mistake, and it is a form of cultural imperialism. As a framework for thinking that gender matters, translation should be highly encouraged.
Q. _ Can you and I discuss gender issues in different languages?
-Of course. It is possible if both of us understand and are willing to learn a little bit about the other language.
Q. _ You said, “If you are a feminist, you should object to the idea that someone should be discriminated against on the basis of ‘gender’” and that feminism that hates transgender people is unacceptable.
-Perhaps feminists will have to resolve that ambivalence. It makes no sense to oppose transgender rights at a time when nationalism and fascism are trying to take away the rights of women, transgender people, gays and lesbians, migrants and minorities.
Q. _ I tried to come to Korea ahead of the publication of <What kind of world is it now> in June, but I couldn’t. At the time, the Korean Christian community was against your coming. In Korea, with the Yoon Seok-yeol government taking office, the phenomenon of backlash and hatred is getting stronger, such as trying to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. Women and minorities express a sense of helplessness in this movement.
– Build both a regional network for support and a transnational network for solidarity. No one can fight ignorance and hatred alone.
“Why does power want to save the economy rather than people?”
In <What kind of world is it now>, Butler diagnosed the tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic. The coronavirus violently exposed the injustice of the world, first attacking vulnerable groups such as developing countries, people of color, and the low-income. The damage caused by the virus has been extreme in developing countries, especially in former colonies, compared to developed countries that have the capacity to develop and distribute vaccines. Statistics show that people of color are three times more likely to be infected and twice as likely to die than white people in the United States. Quoting Max Scheler, Butler asks the question, “What kind of world is it that such terrible things can happen?”
The virus also revealed the violence of political power, which speaks of ‘economic priority’. The Trump administration said, “Just let the virus circulate quickly,” and showed a pose that it didn’t matter if the vulnerable were sacrificed to revive the economy. Even though complete immunity is impossible, many governments have tried to stimulate the economy by easing quarantine measures. Butler says this ‘economic priority’ is a violent measure that comes from the idea that a certain amount of the population can and cannot help but sacrifice. He refers to this economy-first policy as ‘the politics of death’ by citing Mbembe.
Butler also analyzes how mourning is discriminatory. The deaths of American citizens, white, wealthy, and married people are mourned more grievously than those of undocumented immigrants, people of color, poor, and queer people. The death of the former is listed in the obituary column of the newspaper, and the death of the latter is accepted as acceptable to some extent for economic gain.
Q. _ The virus attacked vulnerable groups first스포츠토토. What scene do you remember?
-We knew that the workers who brought us food were exposed to the virus, but we were able to stay home and work from home without being exposed to the same risk. The severe inequalities were local and global.
Q. _ Some deaths can be mourned and some deaths cannot. At the same time, you analyzed that the pandemic situation also provided an opportunity to experiment with new and alternative communities.
-There were immunocompromised people in need of help on our streets, and in San Francisco, the homeless couldn’t “flee home.” But on the other hand, it was necessary to form a community to sustain life. It often meant caring for people we didn’t know, people who weren’t part of our family or community. There was a common weakness that we shared.
Meanwhile, Butler did not mention in the book the explosion of hate and hate crimes against Asians in the United States during the pandemic. Regarding this, Kim Eung-san, a professor at the Department of Asian Languages and Literature at the University of Washington, said, “It is regrettable that Butler does not say a word in this book about the explosion of hate and hate crimes against Asians in the United States under the pandemic situation.” However, in an interview response, Butler criticized the US political forces after the corona, saying they tried to foster anti-Asian hatred and created an intolerable form of racism.
Q. Since the pandemic, hatred of Asians in the United States has intensified. You didn’t mention this in the book, so did you think it was inappropriate for China to be mentioned?
-Mentioned (Butler refers to ‘China’ in the main text and ‘ the China virus ‘ in footnotes). The virus was initially dubbed the ‘Chinese virus’ and Trump tried to foster anti-Asian hatred through it. He hinted that China spread the virus to other countries, sometimes deliberately. The fear that all people from Asia are carriers has become an irrational belief, resulting in intolerable forms of racism.
Viruses that spread across borders and immune systems paradoxically demonstrated that we are interconnected. Butler connects his concept of ‘interdependence’ with Merleau-Ponty’s concept of ‘interweaving’, explaining that as organisms living together on this planet, we are intertwined, influencing and constructing each other. “As frustrating as it is, recognizing the existence of inequality can be a starting point for change,” he says.
The pandemic situation has also allowed us to experiment with alternative communities. Butler said, “’Black Lives Matter’ ( Black Lives Matter Movement Against Police Violence Against Black People in America), ‘Not One Can Be Lost’ ( Ni Una MenosNon-violent resistance, such as Argentina’s campaign against misogynistic crimes), is a seed of hope” “A network of solidarity cannot be built all at once, but we must live together (…) towards a world where everyone feels ‘worthy of living’. We have to move on,” he suggests.
Q. _ Even so, when was the moment when you felt the hope of interdependence for humans during the pandemic?
-When we sing together online, when we mourn together online, when we take to the streets to remember George Floyd, when we hold rallies against police brutality and call for greater justice and equality. Even if we were wearing masks and staying away. When we got together like that, we cared for each other, and I hope that caring will help rebuild society.