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Call me by my (other) name

Our new permanent columnist, philosopher and curator Paul B. Preciado, describes the political and social construction of gender identity and the right to define who you are.


It still happens, albeit less often than before, that I meet someone who sticks to me by a woman's name or refuses to call me by first name – that is by the other name that is now mine. I can rhetorically refuse the person's request, and I can obtain institutional evidence and show my new identity card – just as the Jew who went to Christianity did in the 1400 century – when the convert presented his bloodless certificate. I can also turn up my masculine behavior, stop shaving for a couple of days, wear stronger boots, wider pants and leave the handbag at home. I can even spit on the street as I walk, or not smile (masculine behavior sometimes requires a silly choreography). However, neither of these practices is sufficient to prove a sexual truth for the good reason that the sex truth (like the spotless blood in the 1400 century) does not exist outside a collection of social and interpersonal conventions. A gender character does not constitute a mental or physical peculiarity of a subject, nor is it a natural identity. It is a power relationship that relies on a constant, common mastery process, where connection, control, subjectivation and submission take place simultaneously.

Social connections

During the first two to three years of a sexual transition, the masculinity of the transmitter hangs in a thin thread. And it's a hand-to-hand thread that anyone can hold or tear over. Thus, any person and institution can strengthen or cut the thread at any time: by a handshake, a glance, a name or pronoun, a document, a signature, approval of the creation of a bank account, the change of the driving license, a confession, a shrug, a question being asked, the way a cigarette or a drink is offered, the braid is braided and becomes stronger or it breaks. It takes less than a second. It is the social connection that governs us and which constitutes us or sets us apart as political subjects.

The characteristic of our ontology consists in a radical principle of indeterminacy.

Although the decision to initiate a process of rewriting gender is individual and seemingly voluntary, the transition process is completely collective and open to constant approvals or censorship. The intensity of the pain that one feels when faced with a person who has decided to use the second pronoun or who refuses to call one by the one name that is now mine is directly proportional to the force whereby such a small gesture precisely repeats a historical chain of acts of violence and exclusion. Such an insignificant statement will restore a normative hierarchy between those entitled to a pronoun, a place-word, and the others. The person who believes in being able to know one's gender better than we do, and therefore refusing to call us by the new name or inserting the proper pronoun that concerns us, in male or female, is not opposed the biological and social, as it is sometimes claimed, since the person doing such a thing generally does not know anything about our anatomy. That person grants a preferential right to a normative social fiction that faces a social fiction that is gaining an institutional voice. To say that with anthropologist Philippe Descola, there is no struggle between nature and culture in the process of recognizing gender and gender signs; on the other hand, there is a struggle between two (or more) cultural records of the gender difference: one is normative and the other is dissident.

Political construction

At each transition process, a rewriting of the social pact takes place, whereby the political existence of a body can be confirmed or rejected. For a migrant or for a trans, the success of the journey depends on the generosity with which the others receive and support us without constantly thinking "here is a stranger" or "I know you are in fact a woman" but see our singularity as a vulnerable body searching for another place where life might turn roots. And in passing by doing it together discover the new space of social reality that opens up to our existence. And just like the migrant, the person in a gender transition gradually prepares a cartography for survival that distinguishes between habitable and inaccessible areas, between the places one can exist and the places where our existence is constantly denied until it succeeds (but it does happen). not always) to build a network of dependencies that allow us to give material existence to the political fiction about our gender.

A gender character does not constitute a mental or physical peculiarity of a subject.

Every day as I move through this crazy network of crazy threads, I say to myself that such a gender transition may be the most beautiful political endeavor a person can experience in the early third millennium. But it is also one of the most at-risk, which I therefore compare to migration, with a "return to society" after a long stay in prison, or a resumption of work after being diagnosed with AIDS or cancer, being a mother, father, daughter or son in an adoption relationship, becoming a gym teacher after being a porn star, having been diagnosed with schizophrenia or borderline, and then trying to establish what some call a "normal life" without knowing what they are talking about.


During his last seminar La Bête et le Sovereign (The Beast and the Sovereign), Jacques Derrida made the hypothesis that among human primates no natural sovereignty is granted. What the transition process (migration, return to society and so on) can teach us is that the sovereignty of a political subject (whether trans or cis, migrant or not, white or non-white) is not given on advance, but that it is constantly formed and dissolved through a comprehensive apparatus of institutional upkeep: If someone deprives us of our identity papers, our passports, our right to fetch children after school, the opportunity to seek medical attention or go to a swimming pool if the others keep calling one by a name or by a pronoun that does not match one, if some stop greeting one, show friendship or give hugs, then our social, sexual and political existence is eroded, and perhaps it becomes completely broken. There would then be little left of the existence that one imagines as one's authentic self.

The characteristic of our ontology consists in a radical principle of indeterminacy: the need to enter into a constant process of societal construction and deconstruction. Our sovereignty is not given to us by birth (it is not an identity), it consists in a fictional scaffold – a kind of societal exoskeleton that keeps us alive: There is no "real" in a name, or in an adjective , a document about an identity called German or French, Spanish or Syrian. "The name is only smoke," Goethe wrote, but nonetheless we breathe thanks to the smoke we attend. And therefore: Please call me by my (other) name.

Translated from French
by Carsten Juhl.


Paul B. Preciado (born in Spain in 1970) is a writer, philosopher, feminist and curator, focusing on identity, gender, pornography, architecture and sexuality.
He studied and completed his master's degree in philosophy at The New School in New York, with mentors such as Jaques Derrida and Agnes Heller.
In 2010, he completed his doctorate in philosophy and theoretical architecture at Princeton University.
He was a lesbian woman until he announced in 2014 that he was undergoing "transformation" into physically becoming a man. In January 2015 he took the name Paul.
In 2008 he published the book Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era (Spain), where he investigates the politicization of the body and uses the term "pharmacopornograpich capitalism". The book has been translated into French and English.
He has been curator of a number of art institutions, such as the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia (Madrid) and the Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona, ​​as well as the documentary 14 in Kassel and Athens.
Preciado is a regular writer for the French newspaper Liberation.
Living in France.
Precadio is an author, philosopher, curator focusing on identity, gender, pornography, architecture and sexuality. Residing in Barcelona.

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