In this essay I argue that Luce Irigaray's description of sexual difference as “difference itself” is based on a pervasive cissexism that necessitates critical attention. I begin by outlining how placing sexual difference in the temporality of the future anterior saves Irigaray from the charges of essentialism and heterosexism. Next, I examine the moments in her texts that scholars claim provide resources for an Irigarayan discussion of the experiences of transgender, intersex, and gender-nonconforming people. I integrate these moments with the temporality of the future anterior to outline a plausible Irigarayan defense against the charge of cissexism. Finally, I argue that this defense cannot be reconciled with her claim that ontology is sexed. The only thing making Irigaray's notion of sexual difference coherent or giving it substance is the impassable limit she places between the sexes. I argue that this is a form of violence akin to the disavowal of the maternal feminine that inaugurates phallocentrism.
Research Article|October 01 2015
Tim R. Johnston; Questioning the Threshold of Sexual Difference: Irigarayan Ontology and Transgender, Intersex, and Gender-Nonconforming Being. GLQ 1 October 2015; 21 (4): 617–633. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10642684-3123713
Download citation file: