Books and Writing
Gender and Sexual Fluidity in 20th Century Women Writers: Switching Desire and Identity, Routledge 2020
This book analyses and deconstructs 20th Century writers who traffic in queer, non-normative, and/or fluid gender and sexual identities and subversive practices. I reveal how gender and sexually variant women create, revise, redefine, and play with language, desires, roles, the body, and identity.
Through the model of the “switch” — someone who shifts between roles, desires, or ways of being in the realms of gender or sexual identity — I examine the intersecting locations of gender and sexual identity switching of six prolific, experimental authors: Gertrude Stein, Jeanette Winterson, Kathy Acker, Eileen Myles, Anne Carson, and Anne Carson’s translations of Sappho. I show how each author actively employs switching and destabilizing gendered bodies, gendered identities and/or sexual identities and sexual roles. The identities deconstructed and revealed create new openings, possibilities, and freedom for gender and sexually variant switches and switch moments. Exciting continuums of identity, play, and practice — as well as prompts for inclusion, expansion, and future directions — are offered to galvanize the reader and classroom as well as the studies of Literature, Women, Gender, LGBTQ+, and intersectional / interdisciplinary humanities.
“This is a provocative and innovative intervention in gender and sexuality in modern literature and gives us a new vocabulary and conversation by which to expand Gender Studies, LGBTQ and Sexuality Studies, Identity Studies, Literature, Feminist Theory, and Queer Theory.”
“Gender and Sexual Fluidity in 20th C Women Writers offers fresh new readings and expands and reshapes the discourse on gender and sexuality. Graydon’s book flies in the face of stasis and rehearsed responses, even progressive ones, as it unapologetically, but with clarity and perception, explores ways to destabilize identity. It’s timely and urgent. This book is a unique example of literary scholarship and/as activism.”
“Graydon’s voice is lively and engaging … she has taken up a challenge in disrupting gender binary systems. The selection of texts for consideration is one I applaud as many have not received their due in literary and queer studies.”
“I welcome this book’s celebration of 20th and 21st century writing by women who challenge the norms of sexuality and gender … to celebrate the ways that these authors have used writing to open up different ways of inhabiting the often restrictive norms of gender and sex. A fascinating and important look at these authors; an excellent, close reading of Stein’s Pink Melon Joy. Graydon is a strong reader of details something many critics shy away from.”
“An excellent celebration of its chosen authors and of non-normative sexual practices and identities. The loving attention to Stein’s writing and the enthusiasm with which the author embraces the queer and queering possibilities of Stein’s work should be commended.”
“Gender and Sexual Fluidity in 20th C Women Writers expands upon urgent discourses and makes a significant contribution to the scholarship and research in the areas of gender and sexuality studies. The author pointing to the larger implications of her theory of “switch,” and variant theory, upon other fields of studies, such as race and ethnicity studies, is strong.”
“This book on women, gender, and sexual identity may be understood as part of a contemporary cohort of feminist and queer studies scholars take a turn holding the floor.”
My subsequent book, The Freedom to Switch: Switching Desires, Roles, Gender, and Identity (forthcoming 2023), looks at switching practices as they occur in people’s lives, subcultures and pop culture. In addition to a more broad-based and accessible discussion on switching, this book also contains insightful interviews and exercises to facilitate the reader’s own discovery. I address how we can, as intelligent, complex human beings, come to a progressive understanding and acceptance that gender, sex, sexuality, identity, desires, and roles can be constructs to be played with, (re)invented, chosen, and/or celebrated.
The Freedom to Switch aims to immediately impact and powerfully validate 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. No matter where or how one chooses to locate oneself or what one’s experience is, this book invites the reader to move from fear into acceptance and to be open and curious with both ourselves and others. The reader is brought into a space of inquiry and discovery of the self and our identities, roles, and desires. The Freedom to Switch: Switching Desires, Roles, Gender, and Identity ushers in a new acceptance, celebration, freedom, and possibility to all realms of identity fluidity.
EXCERPT from Chapter 1 of Gender and Sexual Fluidity in 20th Century Women Writers
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.
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.
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.