Butler understands gender not as a stable identity but rather as an identity tenuously constituted trough a stylized repetition of acts. These acts can be bodily gestures, movements and enactments of various kinds that constitute the illusion of an abiding gendered self. Consequently identitiy is some kind of concept being constituted through performative accomplishments which only functions when the social audience, including the actors themselves, come to believe in it. If the ground of gender identity is the stylized repetition of acts, then the possibilities of gender transformation are to be found in the breaking or in the subversive repetition of that style. She shows ways in which naturalized conceptions of gender might be understood as constituted and, hence, capable of being constituted differently!
Butler further examines in which ways gender is constituted through specific acts and its possibilities of undergoing a cultural transformation of gender through those acts. In the course of making her argument, she draws mainly from phenomenology to show that what is called gender identity is a performative accomplishment compelled by social sanction and taboo. „Woman“ is a historical idea and not a natural fact. By doing this she clearly underscores the distinction between sex as biological facticity („to be female“), and gender as the cultural interpretation or signification of that facticity („to be a woman“).
The description of the body as a mode of dramatizing or enacting possibilities is helpful, if you want to understand how a cultural convention is embodied and enacted. Butler employs the example of theater, play and masquerade (if we can add this term), which all stand in opposition to the reality of gender. While in theatre one can deconstruct the act as it is only „played“, the problem with ‘reality’ of gender is that the performed act is being seen as reality itself. As a result, there is no possibility of deconstruction or recourse to an original state.
As a solution Butler proposes to observe the performance of transvestites, who (in her opinion), by dressing up as the respective other by active and pointed performance, not only express the explicit differences between sex and gender but rather question the differentiation between appearance and reality. This again lets Butler suggest that truth or falsity of gender is only socially compelled and in no sense ontologically necessitated. By doing so she points out the presence of these (power) structures.