Judith Butler: The radical theorist who spawned a gender-queer nation — and became a pop celebrity in the process

Molly Fischer in New York Magazine:

ScreenHunter_2069 Jun. 30 21.00What sage could have predicted that heteronormativity would eventually make its way into the vocabulary of teen magazines and shareable web content? Only, perhaps, the queer theorist Judith Butler.

Butler laughs when I tell her about the Teen Vogueverdict on Jaden Smith. “I think there aren’t very many of us who could have foreseen it,” Butler says, considering the blossoming mainstream interest in gender issues. We are speaking shortly after President Obama publicly voiced his support for transgender rights in the fight against North Carolina’s bathroom law, and gender — as something in need of definition, as something potentially ambiguous or complex — is at the center of national debate. “Such an utterance coming out of a U.S. president would be impossible in the 1990s,” Butler says.

Gender Trouble, published in 1990, made Butler a star: It introduced “performativity,” the idea that gender isn’t something we are but something we continually do, opening the door for “cultural configurations of sex and gender [to] proliferate,” as she put it in the book’s conclusion, “confounding the very binarism of sex, and exposing its fundamental unnaturalness.” If not for Butler’s work, “you wouldn’t have the version of genderqueer-ness that we now have,” says Jack Halberstam, a gender-studies professor at Columbia.

More here.