“I was the Woman, he was the Man”: dementia, recognition, recognisability and gendered subjectivity

Date added: April 28, 2021
Areas of interest: ,
Authors: Linn Sandberg

Subjectivity is a widely explored topic in dementia studies, in both the humanities and the social sciences. Persistent discourses of “a loss of self” in dementia have been challenged by scholars, who argue for the need for continued recognition of the person with dementia and that subjectivity in dementia may be sustained. So far, however, there is a lack of discussion about the significance of gender, and how being recognised as a subject overall is closely intertwined with being recognised as a gendered subject. This article explores how gender matters to the recognition of subjectivity in dementia. But it also explores how dementia as a position of cognitive otherness may impact upon and disrupt gender performativity. The discussion builds on narratives from an interview study on intimacy and sexual relationships among heterosexual couples living with Alzheimer’s disease, as well as the narrative of the Swedish autobiographical novel Minns du? [Do you remember?] (Beckman, 2019), in which the nonbinary transgender narrator Alice seeks to recollect the memories of their partner AnnaBelle, who is living with a memory-related illness. The article shows how reiterations of gender could be significant in sustaining subjectivity for a person with dementia. But it also shows how cultural tropes of persons with dementia as strange(rs), children or animals position them as unintelligible and thus as unrecognisable gendered subjects. The novel, in contrast, provides an alternative form of worldmaking in which intersubjective recognition is not dependent on either cognitive function or binary gender within a heterosexual matrix.

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