Saturday, November 23, 2013

What is Mormon Studies? II

Some topics in Mormon Studies might raise an eyebrow. This is sometimes done by perverting standard phrases used in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:
"I Am a Daughter of My Heavenly Father": Transsexual Mormons and Performed Gender Essentialism
The typical reader probably wonders what in the world "performed gender essentialism" might be. (The computer's spell checker does not even recognize essentialism as an English word.) To figure this out we look at the published abstract:
Using monologues featured in the Mormon Vagina Monologues (MVM) and scripted by male-to-female transsexual Latter-day Saints, this paper offers a case study of sexual identity construction within a rigid religious system. To be Mormon and transgendered is to occupy a particularly precarious position—socially, culturally, and soteriologically. Located within conversations around Mormon studies, Judith Butler’s “gender performativity,” performance studies’ concept of the “utopian performative,” and the MVM, this paper investigates the impact that patriarchal theology has on Mormon transsexual agency: instead of rejecting the patriarchal Church that has excommunicated them, the monologists retain the Mormon’s Father God and emphasis on strict gender essentialism. In transitioning, Mormon transsexuals disobey the Church but obey God, thereby becoming “who the Lord Jesus wants me to be.” As this paper shows, the MVM’s transsexual contributors reclaim sexual subjectivity by performing testimonies—not of the Church’s truthfulness, but of gender identity and theological commitment.
This is the work of Jill Peterfeso, now a Visiting Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Guilford College, and was presented in the Religion and Sexuality Consultation at the 2011 annual meetings of the American Academy of Religion. It is about as standard a paper on Mormon Studies as there is.