Playing within the framework constructed last century by the post-structuralist philosophers such as Michel Foucault and Judith Butler, doctoral student Florentin Félix Morin challenged standard progressive theories of transgenderism to write a paper published this month justifying a person's decision to identify as a hippopotamus, which is how Morin identifies.
The paper, published in Angelaki, was mocked roundly on the internet. It is, of course, ridiculous. But it should not be ridiculous to the same people who embrace Foucault and Butler, as it embodies the logical extension of their work -- an argument made in effect by Morin's paper.
I'm excerpting the most bizarre quotes, but also the most important quotes below, because the paper is both hilarious and a strong example illustrating the logical conclusions of many of the theories contemporary progressive academics take very seriously.
"Could it be that the framework of transgender has accidentally, but perhaps productively, enabled other kinds of becomings to be thought, claimed, lived?" Morin asks at one point, later claiming transgender theory "enables" the hippopotamus identity. That's an argument many skeptics of progressive proponents of "gender identity" make in opposition.
Quotes number five and nine in particular, as listed below, are key to understanding how Morin used these theories to justify the conclusion reached in number ten, that the hippopotamus identity is a "fictional" and "political" act of resistance to the transgender "policing" of bodies.
The academic jargon seems absurd, but it is entirely standard in gender studies classrooms across the country.
Here are the ten best quotes from "Ego Hippo."
1. "When someone who knows about my being trans calls me a ‘goofy guy' (with the best intentions) and I correct them by saying 'you mean a goofy hippopotamus,' I am attempting to intervene in their representations of myself and of what they imagine to be my ‘gender.'"
2. "...if ‘transgender' is, to many of us, more of a ‘system of obligations' than it is an emancipatory term, can its grip be loosened by the producing of other, maybe less realistic truths?"
3. "Who gets to decide which 'identities' or which ‘identifications' can enter the realm of the 'real,' and which are confined to the realm of the imaginary?"
4. "Can the bringing together of a male identity and a hippo identity, of transgender and transpecies, tell us something about the distinction between what is real and what is imaginary? Isn't ‘identity' always constituted within representation? Isn't ‘identification' precarious, unstable, appearing and disappearing?"
5. "My hippo ego was, in fact, given to me by a friend. As we were laughing on the carpet of their room, holding our stomachs and rolling back and forth, this friend saw me as a hippo. It quickly became my nickname, my name, the meaning that somehow helped to reconcile my body with the streets of Paris. Today, in some of my most precious relationships, I exist as a hippopotamus. My becoming hippo comes from transgender in two ways: it is a rebellion against 'transgender' as a normative account of gender non-conformity, but it has also been enabled by 'transgender' as a paradigm or a toolbox for recharting the body and its meaning."
6. "My becoming a hippo is as real as a metaphor can be real: it is an image that I hold in my mind and project onto the boundary between myself and the (sometimes inhospitable) world I inhabit. It is my patronus."
7. "Could it be that the framework of transgender has accidentally, but perhaps productively, enabled other kinds of becomings to be thought, claimed, lived?"
8. "...as much as I love to psychically explore the cosmos and think of myself as a baby hippopotamus, I share the concern that those multiplying, non-material identities are actually damaging (trans)feminist politics by displaying a new essentialism and positing analogies that do not make any sense from a materialist perspective..."
9. "'Hippopotamus,' to me, is a metaphor, but I want to suggest that there is, perhaps, some kind of materiality to this hippo-metaphor, not in the sense that I materially become a hippopotamus but in the sense that my flesh perhaps does not remain unchanged by this metaphor. If, through my self-image as a hippopotamus, I walk more freely, more casually, how can my transpecies identification be considered to be fully non-material, or non-somatic? If my becoming a hippopotamus does impact my flesh, it is perhaps because 'through metaphor and metonym flesh and signifier are joined'..."
10. "My being neither a boy nor a girl but rather a hippopotamus is neither a fully performative act of self-constitution nor a socially insignificant, negligible attempt to claim abjection, but a fictional, therefore political, form of resistance to the (trans)gender policing of my body. It is an embodied metaphor, a patronus, a daemon, a childish dream, and the most precious gift that was ever given."
Emily Jashinsky is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.