This essay explores problems inherent to Butler’s concept of intelligibility as it is presented in her book Undoing Gender. By relegating gender minorities collectively to the unintelligible, Butler unintentionally diminishes the agency of gender minorities and their ability to produce themselves as subjects through oversights Butler makes with regard to the importance of embodiment. Accounts by transgender individuals and theorists, including objections to Butler’s work itself, emphasize different ways that trans individuals legitimate their own approach to norms of intelligibility. In order to salvage Butler’s notion of intelligibility, it is necessary to emphasize certain aspects and de-emphasize others. Through the work of various transgender thinkers, it is possible to emphasize the changing norms of intelligibility. Both discursively and through embodied experience, challenges are issued to the norm which undermine the terms of the norm itself. What results is recognition of how tenuous the norms of intelligibility are in and of themselves, and the necessity for a new ethic. This new ethic requires a position of deferral on the part of observers, which does not impose norms. Instead, each subject is allowed to determine through their discourse and the presentation of their embodiment how they will relate to the available norms.

Article download data priot to October 2023