Gender and Sexual Fluidity in 20th Century Women Writers: Switching Desire and Identity


My forthcoming book, Gender and Sexual Fluidity in 20th Century Women Writers: Switching Desire and Identity published by Routledge, expands the horizon and discourse of 20th Century literature and writing through the lens of gender, sexuality, and identity. My book elicits openings, possibilities, and ambiguities in recreating and celebrating variant sex and gender roles and identities through under-read, brilliant, modern and post-modern women writers.

I specifically reveal where and how gender and sexual variances create, revise, redefine, and play with language, roles, desires, bodies, public and private sex practices, and identity in the action known as “switching.”  My work gives the switch some room to play as I deconstruct sites of switching that are excitingly and surprisingly prevalent in literature, media, culture, subcultures, and our lives. The identities revealed create and give space to a great deal of gender, sexual, and identity play and masquerade (whether they are stable or in flux).  

Through introducing the theoretical model, practice, and typology of “the switch” and “switching” a radical acceptance, understanding, and a new theory for living and honouring all the sides of a person emerge.  This emergence has the impact of immediately and powerfully validating people’s lives and experiences; by extension, the possibility for all people to live with greater freedom, self-expression, and authenticity through exploring different desires, roles, and practices is established.

Both an academic version and a “for the people’s” version of my work on switching are being published.

In the academic version I look at the intersecting practice of non-normative gender, sexual, and identity switching that my chosen experimental authors and their characters play with: Gertrude Stein, Jeanette Winterson, Kathy Acker, Eileen Myles, Anne Carson, and Anne Carson’s translations of Sappho all demonstrate switching.  I show how each author actively employs switching gendered bodies, gendered identities and/or sexual identities and sexual roles to such an elevated degree that stable notions of any of the above are continually, and very wonderfully, destabilized. Rather than this destabilization creating chaos, what opens up is a space of inquiry and discovery: curiosity about constructions of the self and, our identities, roles, and desires.  In this space, unlimited and unrealized possibilities are made available.

This version is primarily concerned with switching that occurs at the level of language and practice.  However, the experiential is also deconstructed.  I also examine crossovers of the personal and memoir with the performativity of the authorial voice and illustrate how occupying a gendered body, versus not occupying a gendered body, complicates notions of gender and identity. Through this active phenomenology, I unpack and connect a wide range of gender and sexually variant switches and switch moments so that the much needed continuums of identity, play, and practice can enter and galvanize the study and reading of Literature and literary theory, as well as Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies in visible, accessible, and meaningful ways.

In my “for the people’s” version of The Switch: Freedoms in Sexuality, Desire, Gender, and Identity many of the same intersections are explored, however they are discussed in an accessible (less theoretical/academic) way so that a wider range of people can engage in the conversation and possibilities of switching and switch moments as seen in culture, their lives, those of their family, friends, and/or colleagues.  This version contains conversations that are easily read, a chapter of interviews, and sex and gender practices and experiences as they occur in people’s lives, the media, subcultures and pop culture.

My work addresses how we can, as intelligent, complex human beings, come to a progressive understanding that gender, sex, sexuality, and identity can be constructs to be played with, (re)invented, lived, celebrated, chosen, and/or discarded.  No matter where or how one chooses to locate oneself, and no matter what one’s experience is, we can all be open to creating and allowing space for difference, and that includes moving from fear (of what is different) into acceptance, celebration, freedom, and infinite possibility.

non andEXCERPT from Chapter 1


What is Switching…

To switch, and the process of engaging in the action of switching, can most broadly be described as dwelling in, and having the intention of, honouring, exploring, and sharing different, switchable aspects of a person: multiple or varied states of being, ideas or concepts, desires, roles, wants etc.. These different aspects could, and very often are, seen or constructed as opposites or incongruous, so by its very nature, the switch is riddled with complexities and uncertainties that can be very individualistic and hence not easily classifiable or conducive to generalization. Experiencing and witnessing each of the different aspects and ways of being as equally authentic and valuable is, at heart, one of the most necessary outcomes of my book and work.

More specifically, a switch is someone who shifts between roles, desires, identities or ways of being in the realms of gender and/or sexuality. Switching has almost exclusively been referred to in a BDSM context (bondage, dominance, sadism, and masochism): within the loci of sexual roles and play.  My theory proposes a new definition wherein switching reaches well beyond BDSM and the sexual: it is an identity, which may or may not be a pleasure-centered action that moves into the broadness of a destabilized identity. A switch incorporates and moves between gender and sexual identities; I assert that switching gendered bodies and sexual identities and roles is a profound route by which to re-examine the notion of stable and/or destabilized identities.

Gender Switching…

In the area of gender, switching can be located in shifts of experimenting and playing with gender preference and identity, feminine and masculine clothing, appearance, presentation, naming and/or playing with the performative aspects of expected versus unexpected gender expression(s). Physical features, such as switching between masculine, feminine, and/or androgynous, non-binary features, traits, and/or body parts, and gender-bending to and from differing, queered gender locations are all gender-switching moments. Any gender along the vast continuum of male to female, including genderqueer, two-spirited, non-binary, or trans can switch and move betwixt and between the varied ranges of chosen gendered facets, roles, and/or identities.

Sexual Switching…

In the area of sexuality, switch moments are marked by shifts in the language of sex and orgasm—profanity and language occurring as a key turn to switch—in moving between gentle or loving sex and rough sex, when moving between vulnerability and strength, when adhering to acceptable social conventions versus overturning them, in the locations of sexual taboos, sexual games, pleasure making and giving, pleasing and being pleased, and, of course, in switching between roles: between top and bottom, receiver and giver, dominant and submissive, within an erotic context or in BDSM play. As with gender switching, there are no constraints to sexual switching: one’s sexual preference is irrelevant.


For a short excerpt from My Introduction, on understanding and defining gender and sexual variancy, please go here.

For an excerpt from Chapter 1, on the hidden spaces of BDSM in Gertrude Stein’s erotic writing, please go here.

For an excerpt from Chapter 2, on Jeanette Winterson’s trafficking and switching in the language of love and non-normative identities and desires, please go here.