top of page

Disengendering Gender


In SA#1, I examined how Oscar Wilde’s The Decay of Lying (1891) opposes normativity by propounding Aestheticism over Realism, which I contextualised within ecocide. Here, I switch narratives, from the natural to the cultural.


In Decay, Wilde uses semantics to self-entwine in duplicitous double-entendres. Susan Sontag’s Notes on Camp (1964) suggests this “duplicity” has “a witty meaning for cognoscenti and another, more impersonal, for outsiders.” Philosopher John L. Austin termed this ‘Performativity:’ utterances that aren’t necessarily rooted in truth; contra ‘constative’ language: assertions widely judged to be factual.


Thus, the ‘lying,’ whose decay we lament, is non-normativity succumbing to normative notions of truth. In Wilde’s social reality, his non-normative identity incriminated him, ultimately causing his death; the Performativity of Decay presaging Austin’s philosophy through necessity. 


Though neither Wilde nor Austin addressed gender, their philosophies do. Theorist Judith Butler argues this, suggesting gender to be a social construct reinforced by Performative behaviour and normative truth. This is entrenched in discourse, which is ultimately mutable. Butler suggests that behaviour engenders gender. Thus, by reassigning social notions, we can rejig gender’s agenda.


‘Decay’ is not just rot; but also structural deterioration. It’s thus poignant that 120 years after Wilde’s Decay, ‘decay’ encompasses the critical context of metabolising old notions into new. If normative truth is structural, then ‘lying’ can ‘decay’ it into new forms. Butler, by highlighting gender’s social construct, enables its decay.

In SA#1, I suggested Decay as a curative manifesto. To ‘cure’—from the Latin cura: ‘care’—means both to relieve a condition, and to preserve it. The two stand opposed, yet, by ‘decaying’ constative notions—i.e. gender—we can self-preserve by relieving ourselves of their structure. So let us metabolically manifest, and cure ourselves through decay.

bottom of page