Robert S. Chang


Professor Chang provided a shorter version of this article as a talk at the First Annual LatCrit Conference sponsored by California Western School of Law and held in La Jolla, California from May 2-5, 1996. In this article Professor Chang addresses the subject of gender-bending - and for that matter, race bending – and how they may indeed "do" important political work, we must approach such performances with caution. They may represent instances of appropriation – as in misappropriation - just as easily as they may represent claims to solidarity and thus a basis for collective political action. Stated differently, moments of cross-dressing contain within them oppressive as well as emancipatory possibilities. The difficulty lies in telling these representations apart. If we recognize a person’s (formally male) claim to a subject position as "woman” and "lesbian" this allows for "agency" in a way that permits the construction of open political identities. Understood in this way, a transsexual female’s claim to be lesbian and a Caucasian claim to be Latina might be sensible as claims to political identifies, rather than to essential identities. They are disrupting the inertia of essentialist notions of identity and are laying the groundwork for developing a collective political identity.