Butler refers to J. L. Austin’s use of the term ‘performative’ for a speech act which enacts that which it articulates, such as a legal sentence or a baptism. The performative can be seen as a way of asserting authority, and by extension, of insisting on cultural norms. Butler draws upon Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s theories of queer performativity, and focuses particularly on the performative of the marriage ceremony. The ‘I pronounce you …’ carries with it assumptions of the heterosexual norm, and is contrasted with the performative ‘queer’, which, used as an insult, keeps the ‘guilty’ party outside hegemonic discourse. Butler’s argument is that though our gender is assigned, we never fit the role perfectly, and are therefore always performing the gender we wish to be associated with. Gender, therefore, can only be cited or impersonated; it can never be an essential core of one’s makeup. As one example of performativity, drag possesses the potential to question heterosexual hegemony. Queer activism has utilised theatricality as a political act.
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