NOTE:  This is the final chapter of a book by John Sloop to be published in April 2004 by Temple University Press entitled Disciplining Gender:  Rhetorics of Sex Identity in Contemporary U.S. Culture

Chapter 5

In Death, a Secret Finally and Fully Exposed”:

Barry Winchell, Calpernia Addams, and the Crystallization of Gender and Desire


If people insist on appropriating this corpse by locating it definitively within any particular identity category, they must explain away multiple inconsistencies, ambiguities, and ambivalences in self-identification, self-explanation, behavior and presentation by using concepts of denial, repression, fear, and internalized prejudice and shame that all tend to dismiss the agency of the subject once animated in that dead flesh (Hale 317).


            The July 5, 1999 murder of Pvt. Barry Winchell at Fort Campbell, near Clarksville, TN., had all the elements to provide the narrative with the popular familiarity that emerged around the Brandon Teena story, as least as retold in Boys Don’t Cry, that same year. Indeed, given that somewhat lengthy “true” accounts were presented in Rolling Stone, Time, The Advocate, the New York Times Magazine, in local newspapers, and on a wide variety of television programs, and given that film projects were initiated by Turner Network Television, Showtime (A Soldier’s Story), and a number of independent film production companies,[1] it is clear that the “gender trouble” of this case, much like that of the Brandon Teena case, piqued the interest of a wide variety of people, raising multiple questions concerning gender and sexuality. That it was indeed rehearsed through a number of different narrative frames, with a number of sometimes contradictory positions emerging concerning numerous elements of the case, especially the “meaning” of the two main characters—Barry Winchell and Calpernia Addams—makes this story one ripe for critical analysis. Again, given the obviously gender troubling elements of the case, its wide coverage, and its partial location within the hypermasculine context of the U.S. Army, it is clearly a site for critical intervention, for rethinking, and for re-troubling normalizing reiterations of gender and sexuality.

            To tell the story in abbreviated form as I read it in mass mediated representations:[2]  Not long after Private Barry Winchell was beaten to death at Fort Campbell by fellow soldier Calvin Glover (who was encouraged by another soldier, Justin Fisher, who was also Winchell’s roommate), Army officials were slowly forced to acknowledge that Winchell had been the victim of a hate crime, murdered because of Glover and Fisher’s belief that Winchell was gay. Winchell, reports noted, had been dating a “female impersonator” who performed at a Nashville club frequented by gays. The impersonator, whom Winchell had been introduced to by Fisher, was named Cal “Calpernia” Addams,[3] and he was a former Navy medic who had served in Operation Desert Storm. Given that Addams described herself as a “preoperative” male-to-female transsexual, newspaper reporters, editors, parents of the victim and gender and sexuality activists were drawn into public arguments and public self-reflection concerning Addams’ gender, and both Addams’ and Winchell’s sexuality. Was Addams a man or a woman?  As a couple, were Addams and Winchell gay or heterosexual?  Moreover, after Glover had been sentenced to life imprisonment and Fisher sentenced to 12 years, another battle emerged when a New York Times Magazine reporter charged the Servicemember’s Legal Defense Network (SLDN) with having encouraged Addams to refer to herself as a gay man in order to simplify public perception of this as a hate crime.   

            In working my way through the multiple documents that told the story of this case, I could not help but hear the calls of critics like Leslie Feinberg (x-xi), Sandy Stone (254), and Kate Bornstein (59) who have noted the necessity of transgendered people telling their own stories in order to work against the caricatures that ultimately emerge in mass mediated reports. Simultaneously, however, as a rhetorical and cultural critic interested in the disciplinary limits of popular culture, I was well aware of the difficulty of those “real” stories “making sense” when articulated through mass mediated outlets. Not only do the characters of mass mediated narratives have to fit within the paradigms and narrative frames that make up the loosely structured “common sense” of mass culture (and hence always get “clawed back” into common sense ideological understandings),[4] but there are a variety of people and institutions with overt or assumed interests in maintaining the categories that make up their reality. We all act as ideological agents, then, simply by means of making interpretations through frames and interests that have necessarily been developed within the context of existing cultural “ideologies.”  Given those assumptions, the best one can hope for perhaps is an image and representation that allows for at least a troubling of gender and sexual norms. Given that, perhaps our job as critics is to enhance and highlight that “trouble.”

In the epigram to this chapter—a quotation I drew upon earlier in this book--C. Jacob Hale observes some of the ways the corpse of Brandon Teena, and the gender/sexuality of that corpse, were frozen into categories by a variety of groups with competing interests and purposes. As Hale notes, whenever a particular category (e.g., “lesbian,” “man”) was taken up as “the one” in which Brandon fit, those making such a decision, regardless of the perspective from which they argued, had to ignore or explain away a multiplicity of ambivalences and ambiguities concerning Brandon’s life, gender and sexuality. Moreover, Hale notes, in putting Brandon within a given category, those who had relationships with Brandon also had to be understood or read in particular compatible ways (e.g., as “deceived” heterosexuals, as lesbians). Hence, arguments over the meaning of Brandon’s corpse were simultaneously arguments over the meanings of gender, sexuality, and behavior of all those involved as well, through underlying assumptions, about all of us. What is true of the mediated and remembered corpse, then, is true of the historic public memory of that cultural context; it reflects and partially reifies norms and ideologies.

Turning to the death of Barry Winchell, we find a very similar set of problematics, albeit ones that are highlighted due to the military context. For example, while Calpernia Addams herself seems to be willing to leave Winchell’s sexuality as in-process,[5] mediated representations as a whole take a stance on Winchell’s sexuality (either homosexual or heterosexual or in teleological progress toward one of those categories); moreover, arguments over the meaning of Winchell’s corpse and Addams’ body, because they are read through a bigendered matrix, reflect back onto the other body (i.e., assumptions about Winchell’s sexuality determine, or are determined by, whether we read Addams as a man who appears to be a woman, or as a woman whose body has the appearance of a man). Moreover, in line with Hale’s observations, the positions taken about Addams and Winchell by different individuals are maintained despite the ways in which Addams’ comments about herself, or memories of Winchell’s self-reflection, contradict the opinion held by those individuals. Indeed, rather than taking Addams at her own word about her identity, both she and Winchell are often seen as victims of false consciousness, unable to publicly acknowledge what they “really are.”   

            Working through a rather comprehensive set of print mediated accounts of the case,[6] I will outline the signifiers that make up the gender-sexuality matrix through which Winchell is read as heterosexual or homosexual and through which Addams’ body and/or mind signify “maleness” or “femaleness.”  Both gender and sexuality are implicated together in this representation. Concerning one of the main cultural puzzles that drove her work, Eve Sedgwick observes the “rather amazing fact that, of the very many dimensions along which the genital activity of one person can be differentiated from that of another . . . precisely one, the gender of object choice . . . has remained as the dimension denoted by the now ubiquitous category of sexual orientation” (8). In one sense, the paper which follows is a case study of the public reiteration and reification of that dimension, the forces that encourage its reiteration and the implications of its reiteration, and the consistent reification of gender and sexuality as both are articulated around unambiguous genitalia.  

Before going further, I should be clear that this is a critique of the struggles over meaning (and constraints on meaning) that take place in mass culture and is not a critique of individual speakers. That is, while I of course assume that individuals do hold the positions I will describe below, I am not attempting to explain their thoughts or motives (indeed, that is not important to my argument).[7]  Nonetheless, it is important to note that in this case, as in all human activities, a variety of forces, all emerging from our cultural heteronormative matrix, encourage different people and institutional representatives to read Addams and Winchell in different ways. While Judith Butler wrote Gender Trouble, in part, “to think through the possibility of subverting and displacing those naturalized and reified notions of gender that support masculine hegemony and heterosexist power, to make gender trouble . . . through the mobilization, subversive confusion, and proliferation of precisely those constitutive categories that seek to keep gender in its place” (33-34), this case represents the ways those categories, once naturalized, become entrenched in law, personal investment, regulations, and vernacular vocabulary to such a degree that everyone who encounters the (potentially destabilizing) story has a variety of pressures that encourage them to interpret the actors in the case in very particular and stabilizing ways. Hence, for example, the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and the military’s legal obligations as a result of that policy, both emerge from preexisting cultural meanings and ultimately encourage the reification of those meanings.[8]  Winchell’s friends and family, attempting to re-member him after death, have personal motives (themselves shaped by mass culture and individual experience) to read him in particular ways. Some postoperative transgendered people have had personal experiences (encouraged by medical culture) that encourage them to read Addams as a “woman,” while some gays and lesbians have had experiences that encourage them to read Addams as “really” a man. Regardless of their readings, however, the bigendered matrix itself (and the performative stereotypes that accompany it), as well as its resulting sexuality “choices,” remain intact.

            In the following sections, I will work through the assumptions that undergird the different discursive frames through which the case is understood. First, then, I will discuss the matrix under which Winchell is understood as a gay man, a reading that of course encourages (or is encouraged by) the representation of Addams as a gay man. I will argue that this representation is held together through the articulation of “maleness” with particular motives, names, and occupations attached to both Winchell and Addams. Secondly, I will turn to the narrative under which Winchell is represented as a heterosexual male, a narrative that works either by focusing on the proper heteronormative performance of “man” and “woman” by Winchell and Addams (regardless of what Addams “is”) or by positing Addams as a woman. In either case, the bigender norms and the performative acts required by those norms are reiterated by such framings.  Ultimately, I will suggest that this case, a case that, like others investigated in this book, could lead to a blurring of public understandings of gender and sexuality, takes the corpse of Barry Winchell, and the living body of Calpernia Addams, and, through ignoring multiple ambiguities, reinforces gender binaries and gender performances regardless of the meanings given those bodies.


Barry Winchell “Fully Exposed”

            In an early essay on this case in the Washington Post, reporter Sue Anne Pressley observes that Winchell “had a secret that was becoming known among the other soldiers in his unit: He way gay” (A1). Further on, Pressley observes that in death, Winchell’s secret was “finally and fully exposed” when, at a memorial service, four people held aloft an American flag while four others “held the rainbow banner, a symbol of the gay rights movement” (A1). The wording here is significant both in that Winchell is figured in this discourse as gay, rather than as queer or as having an “unclear” sexual identity, and that his secret was “fully exposed,” as if to indicate that when others announce that Winchell is “gay,” we simultaneously have full exposure of his identity. There is no room here for his relationship with Addams (who identifies as a woman) to be that of either a heterosexual relationship based on identity or of something much more complicated, a relationship that was based on styles, perhaps, as Kate Bornstein would have it, rather than on genitalia alone. In short, not only does such a description pose sexuality as clearly based on a gender binary and on genitalia with no room for contingency, but it also understands the object of genital desire (again, rather than frequency, activity, etc.) as “full exposure” as if the multiplicity of other aspects of sexual desire and practice are irrelevant to, or completely subsumed by, the category of homosexuality.

            Moreover, this configuration of Winchell’s identity as homosexual ultimately makes his sexual identity stable not only in the present, but also, retroactively, in the past (despite his past sexual experiences with women). That is, the narrative of Winchell’s life and identity has to be retold in this configuration to work teleologically toward a gay identity. For example, in several instances, reporters dismiss his past romantic activities by beginning in the following manner: “Although he [Winchell] had dated women exclusively in the past,” . . . (Pressley  A1; see also Branson 11; “Military Whitewash” 12; A. Stone 16A), he was ultimately gay because of his final relationship, the one with Calpernia. Further, by pointing out that Winchell had a history of questioning his sexuality “and had been curious about gay life,” the gay telos is read as inevitable (Pressley A1, Branson 11). Indeed, I want to be clear that, despite the attempts to trouble public understanding of Winchell’s sexuality or identity, the “gay” signifier as assumption continues in the present. For example, in 2002, when former Ft. Campbell Commander Maj. Gen. Robert T. Clark was being considered for a promotion to 3-Star General, newspapers such as the San Antonio Express-News and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution recount the Addams-Winchell story and refer to Winchell as “a gay solider” (Christenson 6B; Martz 3A).

In Sexing the Body, Anne Fausto-Sterling comments on the ways such storytelling works to negate entire transitory portions of one’s life. After recounting her own history as a child who at 11 liked to be around bugs more than boys (but also had a painful crush on a male counselor), who at 22, married a man “for love and lust” (233), only years later entering into a lesbian relationship, she observes that our culture has become so “genocentric,” so dedicated to the notion of understanding gender and sexuality as stable, that men and women who enter into gay relationships in their fifties often ignore or discount the remainder of the history of their lives by indicating that they had “been gay all along” but never realized it (233-35). In these cases, such story telling, regardless of the motives of those involved, indicates an unchanging and noncontingent sexuality that one “essentially was” from birth to the present. More, it indicates an essential basis to sexuality that is separate from experience and culture. There is, in other words, an overall cultural impulse to name and identify sexuality in a stable fashion that works to reaffirm existing gender categories as the sole basis for sexuality and desire (i.e., to be hetero- or homosexual implies a same and an “opposite” gender).   Hence, when it is indicated that while Winchell “had dated women” in the past, but is “fully gay,” we discount large portions of his history; indeed, given that Winchell had reportedly long “questioned his sexuality” and was, according to Addams,[9] still attracted to women, labeling him as gay, rather than queer, or as attracted to men rather than, for example, as attracted to a “femme” style, places him into a single stable category.

            The discourse that situates Winchell as gay must also, by semantic and cultural logic, work with the underlying assumption that Addams is a man, basing that assumption on a logic in which genitalia equates to gender. While David France claims that Winchell held a complex position in which he considered Addams a woman but considered himself gay for sleeping with her, the possibility of such a conflicted and queered position (or any other conflicted position) is negated within most accounts of the case. Moreover, as I will illustrate below, it is significant that this equation emerges both from those who assume that Addams sees herself as a man, as well as from those who assume that she understands herself as a woman. In other words, regardless of how Addams is assumed to identify herself, those who utilize the “gay narrative” logic understand Addams as a man based on genitalia alone, regardless of how she thinks of herself.

One of the primary ways Addams is situated as a man is found in the wording describing her occupation as either “a female impersonator” or a drag performer. Given some of the libratory and optimistic readings that others made of Judith Butler’s comments on drag as potentially gender subversive (Gender 136-139),[10] it is somewhat ironic that in this case Addams’ occupation as a drag performer works instead only to indicate the marginality of her behavior as a gay man. As Peggy Phelan notes, the passing of the drag performance does seem to suggest a potential space in which bigender boundaries might be broken down. However, she notes, “fundamental to passing is the binary of the seen and the unseen, the visible and the invisible. This binary functions like the binary of sexual difference” (Unmarked 97). Here, if Winchell is a gay man, Calpernia’s body and ontology are marked, made visible, as male. Echoing Marjorie Garber’s observation that contemporary cultural politics makes it difficult to imagine a transvestite who is not gay (130), we find that the discussion of Addams’ occupation works to erase transgenderism and replace the transgendered Calpernia Addams with the gay male “Cal” Addams (130). Much as references to Brandon Teena’s having “deceived” people into believing that “she” was a “he” are based on the premise of “deception” or a masking of genitalia, discussions of Addams as an “impersonator” assume that she is a man impersonating a woman. In this way, the possibility of understanding gender at the level of identity (or of understanding gender as potentially unstable at the level of performativity) is partially undermined. For example, early reports note that the murder case became far more interesting once “a female impersonator . . . came forward to say he was dating the victim and suspects the killing was an anti-gay hate crime” (“Soldiers” 1). Similarly, Sue Anne Pressley of the Washington Post notes that Addams appeared at the trial “dressed as a woman” (A1).[11]  Similarly, Francis Clines notes in the New York Times that Winchell was labeled homosexual by fellow soldiers because he had been dating a “female impersonator at the club” (“Killer’s” A18; see also Clines, “For” 33), and Time magazine observes that while Winchell went into the Army with a girlfriend, “he began spending time with a man who performed as a woman at a Nashville, Tenn. Nightclub” (Thompson 56). Furthermore, Winchell is said elsewhere to have been ridiculed for falling in love “with a man . . . who worked in a nightclub as a drag queen” (Hackett 5), with Addams referred to as a “man” who “dresses as a woman,” appearing voluptuous with heavy makeup (Sanchez, “Parents” A32). While Addams herself admits that she considers herself a woman but attempts to make the issue of gender complicated in conversations with the press, this “complication” rarely comes across save when Addams or an author are self-reflective (e.g., see Friess, France) about that complication.[12]  Again, the persistent discursive spectre of Addams as “man dressed as a woman” testifies to the difficulty faced by those desiring to tell their own stories, as their subjectivity is largely appropriated by the lenses and categories most commonly available in popular culture.

            Another way in which Addams is configured as male is through editorial decisions regarding pronouns. Judith Halberstam has argued that many narratives of the lives of transgendered people “rationalize them out of existence . . . through misgendered pronouns” (293), a practice that, coupled with a re-naming of Addams, works in this case to situate Addams as male rather than transgendered. The employment of the “he” pronoun emerges both because some witnesses and reporters themselves assume that Addams is a man based on the genitalia-equals-gender equation or because the editorial process of newspapers and magazines demands that the pronouns employed be both consistent and, in a sense, invisible to readers. For example, journalist Monica Whitaker of the Tennessean observed that although she wrote articles using “she” as a pronoun to refer to Addams, her editors forced her to go back and use “he” in rewriting the essay for the sake of clarity (quoted in Friess 22).

In addition to “misgendered pronouns,” Addams-as-woman or Addams-as-transgendered are also “rationalized out of existence” through the configuration of her name and nickname in news articles.[13]  Given that “Calpernia” is Addams’ legal first name, one would usually read the configuration of “real name to nickname” as Calpernia “Cal” Addams (as friends do refer to her as “Cal”) rather than Cal “Calpernia” Addams. It is the second configuration, however, that appears most widely as Addams is referred to as “female impersonator “Cal Addams” (Clines, “Killers” A18) or as performer “Cal ‘Calpernia’ Addams” (Pressley A1; see also Clines, “Killer’s” A18). In such a transition, of course, Addams is transformed from a woman with a nickname derived by shortening her full name into a male who transforms his real name into something more feminine when he performs in drag.

            Further, Addams’ former occupation as a soldier is also invoked in representations of her as a man (indeed, the soldier narrative emerges with regularity when Addams is represented as a gay man/female impersonator and less often in discussions of her as transgendered or as a woman). As with the signifiers above, the citation of her past as a soldier works to undermine gender trouble, placing her more in line with common cultural iterations or citations of maleness. Hence, Addams is referred to as a “former Navy medic who served in the Persian Gulf War” (Pressley A1), “Cal Addams, a former Navy medic” (Clines, “Killer’s” A18; see also Thompson 56), “A former Navy medic” who was “ a veteran of a gay’s travails in the service” (Clines, “For” 31),[14] “a Navy veteran” (Clines, “Mother” A13), “former Navy medic” working “as a lipsynching entertainer at a gay club” (Friess 22). Finally, in Rolling Stone, drawing together many of the themes above, we learn that Winchell “had fallen in love with a man---and not just any man, but a veteran of the Gulf War who worked in a nightclub as a drag queen” (Hackett 5).

            Finally, discussing recent attempts to find the “truth” of gender in the brain and in chromosomes rather than simply on the body through genitalia, Marjorie Garber observes that “Essentialism is alive and well; it has just moved inside the body” (108). Here, while the body itself (i.e., the existence of a penis) remains a physical sign of the essentialism of gender, arguments also imply that if Addams could move through the haze of false consciousness in which she identifies as female, she would come to understand herself as truly male. The insistence on seeing the penis as establishing Addams as male occurs most overtly in two different on-line debates (both at least partially sponsored by mass media outlets), both of which indicate that Addams is a man regardless of her own thoughts on the subject.[15]  In the first instance, Jim Fouratt widely distributed a criticism (which drew numerous responses) of David France’s New York Times Magazine representation of Addams as transgendered (Morgan).[16]  In his note, Fouratt notes that transgender theory is simply a move to encourage “gay men and lesbians” to go straight by having them “endure painful physical body manipulation and dangerous hormonal injections to take on the topography” of heterosexual men and women. Regardless of how Addams sees himself, Fouratt indicates, Addams is a “professional gender illusionist” and a gay man.[17]  Similar types of arguments are posed by those responding to Norah Vincent’s Advocate essay (“Cunning Linguists”) in which she also suggests that gender crossing surgery works to mutilate the bodies of gays and lesbians in order to make them straight. In a series of dozens of on-line responses to the essay, one person writes that Addams was indeed a gay male because his body was a man’s body (“Letters”).[18]  More, she suggests that had the writer herself lived in Nebraska as a youth rather than in New York, she would have made the same “false consciousness” mistake made by Brandon Teena, thinking herself to be a male rather than understanding that her body and her desires made her a lesbian. Hence, turning back to Calpernia Addams, the writer sees Addams as a man who has fooled himself into thinking of himself as a woman in order to constitute himself as heterosexual, even when having sexual relations with other men (“Letters”). Of such logic, again, Eve Sedgwick argues that “To alienate conclusively, definitionally, from anyone on any theoretical ground the authority to describe and name their own sexual desire is a terribly consequential seizure” (26).    Here, playing with Sedgwick’s terms, we might see a consequential seizure occurring in a logic that utilizes the penis as the point of articulation under which Addams is definitionally refused the authority to describe and name her own gender and desires.

            In sum, when drawing Winchell up as gay man, as he apparently was by the two men prosecuted for his murder, mass mediated assumptions often do so by hanging together a number of signifiers that work to articulate Addams as a “man.”  I want to be clear here that, regardless of the motives of particular groups (e.g., David France’s critique of SLDN’s motives), this articulation of Addams as a man only works because it is grounded deep in the ideological assumptions of popular culture and of the institutions that help reiterate and re-cite those assumptions. As we see, the notions of impersonation, occupation, and naming, as well as the (sometimes unspoken) existence of the penis all work to reify an assumption of maleness.   


The Heterosexual Matrix

            In opposition to the representation of Winchell and Addams as gay men is a logic which situates Winchell alone, or both Winchell and Addams, as a heterosexual couple (or as a couple which accurately reflects the roles encouraged by current articulations of  heterosexuality). While the discourses I draw out below are not uniformly consistent in their positions, each one, along with the discourses of homosexuality, works to reify the stability of bigenderism, and, at times, the stability of the “proper” iteration of gender. Below, then, I will provide readings, first, of discourses that read Winchell as heterosexual regardless of the status of Addams; second, those that reaffirm and reiterate heterosexual performative norms; and finally, those that stabilize the signifiers of gender performance even while equating gender with identity rather than with genitalia.[19]

A Passing Phase

            In a variety of interviews and citations, Barry Winchell’s parents (mother and stepfather) suggest that Winchell was likely heterosexual because they had a difficult time finding evidence that he was gay.[20]  For example, Winchell’s mother, Patricia Kutteles, notes in the New York Times that she knew her son as a confident young man “who told her about several girlfriends” and gave her the impression that his relationship with Addams was simply part of discovering who he was (Clines, “Mother” A13).[21]  Enhancing a theme under which the lack of knowledge of their son’s homosexuality may instead indicate his heterosexuality, Wally Kutteles, Winchell’s stepfather, notes that Winchell had a girlfriend for years (until a break up just before the murders) and that he (Wally) and Winchell’s mother had searched the letters written from this girlfriend to Barry. Of these letters, Wally Kutteles observes: “There are no indications that he was gay. They were love letters, just love letters” (Sanchez, “Parents” A32). The significance of the letters being “just love letters” is seemingly based on a dichotomy between “just love letters” and “gay love letters.”  Finally, in the Advocate, Patricia Kutteles is reported to be “reluctant to concede that Winchell was gay” (Bull 26, emphasis mine).  Kutteles notes that because she was openly sympathetic to gays, she would be surprised to discover that Winchell didn’t out himself to her: “I’m not saying that Barry wasn’t gay, only that I didn’t know him to be gay. He never told me he was gay” (Bull 26). Once again, the search for evidence—in letters, in Barry Winchell’s own words—comes up empty. The lack of evidence here equals silence, and silence, despite the evidence of the relationship with Addams, equals heterosexuality.

            Finally, in the most interesting phrasing concerning the Kutteles’ belief that Winchell would have felt comfortable to discuss homosexuality in their liberal household had he indeed thought himself to be homosexual, Patricia Kutteles observes that Winchell’s silence perhaps “indicates he was simply in a passing phase”  (France 29). While one could read the term “passing phase” to indicate a phase of passing as heterosexual just before the moment of outing oneself, or, more radically, perhaps, as a phase of passing through a number of different identities with no assumed telos, here Winchell’s silence, like the silence of the love letters, indicates a temporal phase that was coming to an end, an end which would evidently reestablish Winchell’s heterosexuality.

Heterosexual Performativity

            Regardless of Winchell or Addams’ self-identity, a number of essays posit Winchell and Addams as a heterosexual couple based on the firm fit they maintained with heteronormative performance. That is, while not necessarily concerned with Addams’ ontological status, several descriptions of Winchell and Addams, some using Addams’ words as derived from news reports, accept them as a male-female couple precisely because they re-mark traditional heterosexuality in clear terms. In accepting the “common sense” performances of male and female, such descriptions by necessity reinforce the acceptable contours of such a performance. Moreover, regardless of how one might theoretically or practically discuss any form of homosexual coupling as not being a “replica” or “copy” of “traditional heterosexual exchange,”[22] the dominant cultural discourse surrounding such coupling—at least in this case—certainly reads that coupling as a replica or copy of heterosexuality.

            Hence, for example, an Advocate story begins by commenting on the stereotypicality of the Winchell-Addams relationship: “It was, in almost every way, your typical boy-meets-girl story . . . He timidly admired her auburn hair, her green eyes, her figure. She in turn was attracted to his buzz cut and his quiet and calm demeanor” (Friess 22).[23]    After focusing primarily on Addams’ appearance and Winchell’s demeanor, the author reinforces another set of norms: “The Nashville preacher’s daughter wasn’t crazy about how much Bud Light he drank, but his full acceptance of her, as she was, helped overshadow that concern. ‘He made me feel like a woman,’ she says in a voice kissed with a Tennessee twang. . . ‘It’s what I look for in life’” (Friess 22).[24]  In such a description, both the behaviors and the aspirations of each replicate heteronormativity in a way that many couples do not; indeed, the descriptions of Winchell and Addams as typical (heterosexual) boy and girl here clearly represent the ideological work that provides a goal toward which self-identified “typical” boys and girls strive.

            Similarly, Rolling Stone’s Thomas Hackett, while understanding the relationship as a gay one, simultaneously configures the gay relationship as replicating heterosexual norms. Like the Advocate, Hackett opens with an acknowledgment of the stereotypicality of the story he is about to tell: “Winchell and Addams had found a bond surprisingly old-fashioned: a man in uniform and a country girl” (5). After observing Addams’ desire to “be a housewife in a suburban home, married to a 1950’s version of the American man”[25] and Winchell’s comfort and ability to fit that role, Hackett explores the way in which the two fit those roles (5). In outlining their behavior, and quoting Addams on the relationship, Hackett in effect reiterates the expectations of bigender heteronormativity: Winchell treated Addams “like a lady, bringing me jewelry and things;” Winchell “was the type of man who could undo the jelly jar if it was stuck;” the two, like other couples, would “go to the movies, holding hands;” and finally, in a retro signifier of maleness, Winchell is said to have “his own car. It had leather seats, and it rode real smooth” (5).

In such statements, we find brief moments of performative acts that signify male and female: on the one hand, opening a jelly jar, the cool demeanor, mass consumption of beer, a car with leather seats; on the other, her slender etherealness, her womanly comportment, her eyes, her figure. When welded together in public on apparent male and female bodies, these markings allow the space for “holding hands” or going to the movies, “just like a normal couple.”  Again, my point is not that such signifiers were not part of the “real” performances and lives of Winchell and Addams; instead, I simply want to bring to the foreground the fact that of all the multiple signifiers and actions that make up human performance, these are the ones listed and cited, reviewed and reiterated, in order to illustrate how Winchell and Addams could fit the heteronormative mold. In the rehearsal of that mold in national publications, individual readers are given the opportunity to test themselves, to think about how well they fit the mold of the normal boy and girl, the normal couple. While Monique Wittig rightly argues theoretically that lesbians are not “women,” in the story told here through mass media outlets, transgendered women are women, acting performatively within the heteronormative context and vocabulary.[26]

Heterosexual in the Soul; Body as Birth Defect

            Finally, the online debates over Jim Fouratt’s editorial and Norah Vincent’s Advocate column provide one other route toward which the heterosexual norm is defended. Reflecting earlier arguments by Janice Raymond, both Fouratt and Vincent argue that transgenderism (especially when going the route of surgery) is a condition that occurs only when gays and lesbians are unable to admit their sexual desires and instead deceive themselves into believing that they are “in the wrong body.”  The responses worked through here, unlike those mentioned earlier, posit an essential male or female identity--a gender of the soul for themselves and for Calpernia Addams.[27]  I rehearse these arguments not to question or critique intentions or motives but to highlight a dominant articulation of transgenderism and the implications of this articulation. Moreover, I look at these discourses because the cases of Calpernia Addams and Brandon Teena are often invoked as support for the positions held by the authors.

            In these responses, there is an articulation of gender identity being based in the soul/brain and of the preoperative body as a birth defect. For example, Kim Cooper notes that when the body has one gender and the soul has another, the body should change: “Why would the body take precedence over the brain/soul?” (“Letters”). Moreover, Calpernia Addams is quoted as claiming that, after the first time she performed in drag, she knew she would “have to either choose to live through the constricted filter of a man’s body, or else to try to change that body as much as I could to reflect what I wanted to be, and what I feel like I am” (France 28). In terms of the notion of a “wrong body,” Melissa argues that “TS people are not different than those born with a birth defect” while Jessica Kelly argues that “We transsexuals are only trying to fix a ‘cruel hoax’ played on us by mother nature” (“Letters”). In each instance, there is an overall argument that the move to transition to the “other” gender was made because the person is already essentially the other—only a “defect” keeps them from their “natural body.”  Hence, while such a reading may indeed trouble the idea of equating gender with genitalia, it also works to reaffirm the bigender system. Again, as Garber notes, essentialism has not disappeared in such an equation, it has moved deeper and, as such, is more difficult to dislodge.



            In June 2001, it was reported that the number of discharges at Fort Campbell under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy had jumped from 17 in 1999 to 161 in 2000, the year after Winchell’s death, with all 161 discharges resulting from cases of individual soldiers acknowledging their homosexuality (“Military Still” 16A; see also Suro A20). In 2002, the Plain Dealer observed that the number of voluntary discharges of gay and lesbian soldiers had hit a 14-year high mostly because of the still increasing number of gay and lesbian soldiers who asked to be discharged from Ft. Campbell, “where soldiers beat Pfc. Barry Winchell to death in 1999” (Koff A2). An editorial in The Tennessean argued that if you connected the dots, “the assumption is that many of those soldiers were simply afraid for their lives if such an anti-gay atmosphere were allowed on the base” (“Military Still” 16A). Clearly, the murder itself, and the atmosphere allowed on the base, are cause for concern and change. In my mind, what this analysis has illustrated is that the problems which encourage the activities at Fort Campbell are deep seated cultural ones, with the actions at Fort Campbell being a particular manifestation. Hence, I would like to take each conclusion as one that should be used to reflect not only on the problematics of military culture, but on the ways in which those problematics emerge and are encouraged by widespread understandings of gender and sexuality.

            First, then, the case illustrates the ways in which a famous corpse—yet another corpse tied to violence concerning gender trouble—functions as a nodal point around which a variety of people articulate their own meanings for the world, their own understandings of gender and sexuality. And, again, just as Hale notes of the body of Brandon Teena, the body of Barry Winchell cannot speak on its own. Instead, a variety of people, with a variety of interests, take that body and the history around that body, in order to present their own stories, while ignoring contradictions from Winchell’s history as the self-delusion, internalized prejudice, and fear felt by Winchell when he was alive. As people pick over Winchell’s history (and body) in letters, in conversations (e.g., he had a history of relations with women, he had a history of thinking about the “gay lifestyle”), they construct Winchell’s motives and identity as evidence of the groundedness of their own paradigms. Hence, once again, a case that would seemingly be ripe for the problematizing of gender and sexuality becomes a focal point around which varieties of people reinscribe their views on gender and sexuality.

            Second, while a number of different perspectives on Winchell and Addams are taken up in terms of Addams’ gender and Winchell’s sexuality, in one way or another—gay or straight, a woman or a female imposter—the norms of gendered performativity are resincribed, heteronormative behavior marked as most acceptable. Hence, the descriptions of Winchell’s masculinity (articulated to his maleness) and of Addam’s femininity (as either performance or essence) reaffirm and reiterate the norms already preestabished culturally for each gender. In such a way, Addams’ looks, composure, and style indicate her successful behavior as a woman, while Winchell’s demeanor and behaviors reflect and reiterate traditional aspects of maleness, of masculinity. Moreover, even when understood as a gay couple, Winchell’s successful iteration of femininity makes their relationship a reflection and imitation of heterosexuality rather than a relationship understood on terms located outside of heterornormativity, as Judith Butler would have it. That is, because the relationship is constantly referred to as a “traditional boy meets girl story,” some elements of its potential queerness are reinscribed and realigned within the heterosexual matrix.

            Third, I want to reemphasize that the pressures that exert themselves on the maintenance of dominant articulations of gender and sexuality emerge from a variety of institutions and arrangements, all ultimately leading themselves back to the underlying language of culture. Hence, representatives of the U.S. military, whether resistant to, or supportive of, the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, all come to understand (and describe) Winchell and Addams through a heteronormative paradigm. The soldiers on base in general, as well as the murderers, due both to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and, more deeply, to the overall culture of the base, reflect a heternormative ideology. Winchell’s parents, perhaps reflecting their disappointment that Winchell had not “outed” himself to them, rearticulate him as potentially heterosexual. Some gays and lesbians, potentially due in part to the surety they required in order to identify as homosexual within a heteronormative culture that disciplines them for that identification, insist on Addams’ identification as a gay man. Some transgendered people, perhaps because of experiences of personal and public anguish that emerged in the aftermath of making their own decisions within that same heteronormative culture in which genitalia has been equated to gender, emphasize the essential qualities of Addams’ “femaleness.”  While many of these factions and positions diverge on a number of levels, for the most part, they rearticulate the notion of an essential (physical or mental) bigendered identity. Hence, this element of our culture’s gender/sexual politics works, emerging from the bricks and mortar of common understandings, as do all cultural politics and disciplinary mechanisms, through multiple locations and cites, through a wide variety of agents. Hence, we are once again reminded that political change can only take place slowly and through long term commitments to changes in meanings.

            Finally, my discussion of the slow pace of change is not meant to imply that change is not possible, nor, of course, that change is not taking place. Indeed, in my mind, this analysis reveals so many institutional and personal ways in which change is resisted precisely because meanings are so unstable, so open to destabilization and change. The point here, as it has been in each chapter of this book, is not to illustrate that change is an impossibility but to highlight the mechanisms by which cases of gender trouble, once publicly articulated, become marginalized and normalized by all of us, because, as humans, we have to rely on our preexisting meanings and the power of the institutions we have put into place, in order to create our own understandings of the present. Nonetheless, the very visibility of this case, as with the others in this work, illustrates that change is ongoing. Once marked, a case like this is constantly being re-marked. That is, that so many people do indeed accept Addams on her word as a woman rather than a “marginal freak” illustrates an ongoing cultural shift regardless of the relative stability of the performative characteristics of the signifier “woman.”  What I hope this chapter has illustrated is that while it is not the critic’s job to attempt to unearth the multiple motivations that act upon individuals, encouraging them to understand Winchell and Addams in particular ways, it is important for us as critics to remember that such meanings, and the cultural enforcement of them, are deep-seated ones.  As such, we are reminded of the deep alignment between institutions, legal structures, personal motivations, and the politics of meaning in mass culture. Hence, such an analysis serves to help us, as critics, understand what we are working with and against as we attempt to motivate changes in culture, changes in the vocabularies and categories of everyday life. While we can never unhinge meanings, making them completely unstable, we can work to fight against the politics of stability, to take public cases of gender trouble as ways to further that trouble, as ways to work toward an understanding of signifiers as unstable, so that all of us—however we identify ourselves—might be able to follow our own destabilizing urges and desires, finding our movement in life more comfortable, and that of others more acceptable.




[1] My understanding of these productions comes from a variety of sources, including Sanchez (“Officials” B3) and discussions with Calpernia Addams. It is my current understanding that the Showtime project is the only one to complete production. That project, A Soldier’s Story, was screened at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival.

[2] I stress that I am retelling the story in the terms in which I generally read it, not in the terms I would use were I telling the story. While my analysis concerns every public document on the case I could find, if one simply wants a relatively “full” telling of the narrative, one should see Thompson; Hackett; Bull; France.

[3] The ordering and relationship of name to nickname that I reference here, and will discuss later in the chapter, is significantly different than the order/relationship employed by Calpernia Addams. The same is true, of course, with regard to the pronouns used in this retelling of the “mass mediated” story and the way I would use pronouns in my own telling.

[4] I am referencing again John Fiske and John Hartley’s discussion of ideological clawback in Reading Television. While this point has been made by a variety of critics and theorists in a variety of ways, their discussion remains for me one of the most satisfying metaphorically.

[5]I will discuss Addams’ perspective later in the essay.

[6] I used Lexis-Nexis, Proquest Direct, a variety of Web searches, and conversations with Addams in drawing forth the documents with which I built my argument. Conversations with Addams were used to clarify particular points that she had made in print about her life and understandings of “self.”  I do not employ them as equivalent to the “mass cultural” discourse that I critique in the essay, nor do I claim them as evidence of the “real” thoughts of Calpernia Addams.

[7] As should be clear, this is a “discourse” analysis in which I am looking at overall cultural knowledge and understandings rather than those of individuals. Even when I quote individuals who are cited in news reports, I am treating their words as examples of particular ways of configuring cultural knowledge. Again, while I will sometimes employ conversations I had with Addams to clarify her understandings of her own gender/sexuality, for the most part, my quotations of her refer to the way she was quoted by others, and hence, how those quotations as well reflect cultural assumptions.

[8] For an insightful example of the constitutive and reifying effects of law, see Vicki Schutz’ now classic “Women ‘Before’ the Law.” 

[9] Addams indicated this in print, and, more recently, in a conversation with me. While labeling Winchell “bisexual” continues to maintain the gender binary system, it is a recognition that there was something more going on than “full gayness.”

[10] I want to emphasize that I do not mean to attribute a “libratory” position to Butler but instead, as she notes in the preface to Bodies that Matter, to observe that others took her discussion of the performativity of gender to imply that gender was easily taken off and put on and that drag was clearly a subversive deconstruction of the citationality of gender. Instead, Butler was discussing the potential subversiveness of certain campy styles of drag, fully realizing that drag could also play into hegemonic structures of meaning.

[11] I’m assuming the point is clear here. “We” would not observe that a woman was “dressed as a woman.”  Such an observation would only be made if the person was assumed to not be a woman.

[12] In conversation, Addams noted that while she has a “preference” to behave like a “traditional” woman and to date a “traditional” man, she realizes the multiple complications involving identity and gender.

[13] This certainly harkens to the arguments over “Brandon Teena” and “Teena Brandon” in the popular press, amongst Brandon’s friends and family, and amongst transgender activists. See Hale 312-315.

[14] In conversation, Addams indicated that she was not a gay male while in the Navy, at least in terms of practice.

[15] Addams is referred to as “biologically male” in an Advocate essay (Friess 22) and in David France’s critique of the SLDN, where France indicates that the SLDN thought that the penis made Addams a gay man (26). My argument here is not only that one could argue that the hormone treatments had already given Addams a “biologically female body” if we take the focus off of the penis as the sole signifier but also that the body is used here as signifier par excellence, more important than identity.

[16] I have cited the Morgan web document because it is a location where one can find the original text of the Fouratt email note as well as editorial commentary critical of it. For information of Jim Fouratt and his historical importance in the gay rights movement, see Duberman.

[17] Fouratt also refers to Brandon Teena as a “baby butch lesbian.”

[18] Because they received so many responses to Vincent’s essay, The Advocate claims to have published every response (and a reprinting of Vincent’s essay) at their website. However, the letters are published unedited and in no particular order. Hence, the notes sometimes have author’s names attached to them and sometimes do not. I have cited each as carefully as possible.

[19] I should note that some of the references in this section are drawn from some of the same essays cited in the first section. This does not illustrate contradictions within individual articles; it illustrates instead that people representing different discursive assumptions about gender and sexuality are cited within those articles.

[20] Again, I am claiming no knowledge of what the Kutteles “really” thought about Barry Winchell’s sexuality nor am I making claims about what they currently believe. Rather, I am more simply commenting on the way their observations were reported in the popular press.

[21] The tone here, as I read it, is that Winchell is assumed to have been shifting back to heterosexualism after this “discovery” process.

[22] I am of course referring to Butler’s celebrated discussion in Gender Trouble (156-158). Let me be clear that I agree with Butler’s position and simply once again am reiterating the notion that cultural constrains continue to reify an understanding of all relationships as mirrors of the heterosexual model.

[23] Similarly, elsewhere, we read that Addams had “a woman’s hands, a woman’s comportment, a woman’s slender etherealness” (France 26) and that Addams “has a certain Gypsy Rose Lee quality of vulnerability” (France 27). In addition, I want to be clear that I am not discounting that such a description was supposed to be read as “camp,” although I do not think so given the context. In addition, it is interesting that the wording of this essay is so close to that of the Rolling Stone essay discussed below in the chapter.

[24] Elsewhere, we see that Winchell “treated me just like a normal girl, and that was the most wonderful feeling, to have an attractive, masculine, nice man treat me like a woman, like I wanted to be treated” (France 26).

[25] In reading this line, one cannot help but recall a similar statement by Venus Xtravaganza in Paris is Burning. The fact that both Addams and Extravaganza were affected by murders that occurred in some relation to transgenderism should certainly provide impetus for cultural reflection.

[26] Wittig of course meant by this that lesbians are not women if by women we are using “woman” as having meaning only in heterosexual systems of thought and heterosexual economic systems. The way Addams is described as a “typical girl” clearly places her within those heterosexual systems of thought and economic systems.

 [27] While I am not here discussing the “cause” of this articulation of transgenderism as “living in the wrong body,” I do want to recall Sandy Stone’s (288) reminder that this articulation comes in part because transgendered individuals in the United States understood that they must make this argument, to put themselves in line with Harry Benjamin’s transgender diagnosis, if they were going to get approval for gender surgery. Here again, we see the ways in which cultural understandings of gender work both in common sense understandings and through institutional powers. See also Shapiro 254.