A future without gender

Gender-neutralTransgenderism or gender equity may soon be passé. So too may be Emma Watson’s #HeforShe initiative or lamenting the grave injustice of the wage gap. For certain gender activists the ultimate goal is the abolition of gender all together.

Postgenderism, often associated with transhumanism – the movement to transform humanity with science and technology – is not just a rejection of the gender binary of “male” and “female,” but the rejection of the trendy idea of a gender spectrum between male and female as well. George Gillett makes the case in the New Statesman why we should fight to abolish gender rather than establish gender equality: “belief in a gendered spectrum still upholds the idea of one-dimensional variation between two extremes of maximal ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’,” and “most perversely, creating an array of gender identities to pick from doesn’t eliminate the apparent need for society to establish pre-determined moulds for people to draw their identity from.”

In a white paper titled, “Postgenderism: Beyond the Gender Binary,” George Dvorsky, Canadian futurist and chairman of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET), and James Hughes, director of Institutional Research and Planning at Trinity College in Connecticut and executive director of the IEET state, “Postgenderism is an extrapolation of ways that technology is eroding the biological, psychological and social role of gender, and an argument for why the erosion of binary gender will be liberatory.” They go on to say that “postgenderists argue that gender is an arbitrary and unnecessary limitation on human potential.”

Gillett begins his article by saying, “Gender is flawed – no set of social scripts will ever represent the wonderful diversity and intricacy of human behaviour.” Calling the belief in gender “archaic” and its existence “inherently oppressive,” Gillett adds that it “undermines ideals of personal freedom and liberation.” The end stage of such a transition away from gender would be when, according to Wikipedia, “an individual in society is not reduced to a gender role but is simply an agent of humanity who is to be defined (if at all) by one’s actions.” There would be no men or women. We would all go by the singular pronoun “they” or some made-up pronoun like “ze” or “ve,” rather than “he” or “she.”

Postgenderism was born out of the current pervasive liberal gender ideology. Dvorsky and Hughes write that “postgenderism is a radical interpretation of the feminist critique of patriarchy and gender, and the genderqueer critique of the way that binary gender constrains individual potential and our capacity to communicate with and understand other people.” With issues like transgenderism and gender fluidity arise questions like “What is gender?” and “Why do you identify with your particular gender?” The common answer nowadays, at least among progressives, is that gender has nothing to do with biological sex, but rather is, as the World Health Organization describes, “the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.”

However one describes “men” though – strong, assertive, competitive – inevitably leads to the implication that “women” are not that. After all, definitions are intended to distinguish something from something else, to identify it. Feminists would thus cry, “Are women also not strong, assertive, and competitive? Can women not be everything men can be? And what about men who are not strong, assertive, and competitive?” The same would happen if an attempt was made to describe “women.” Gillett sums it up by saying, “The aspects of a gendered identity which one person deems to be positive will equally act to oppress another member of the same sex, who would be unrepresented by such a definition.” Furthermore, “the noxious idea that we can associate a positive set of behavioural characteristics with a physical sex is intrinsically flawed.”

Dvorsky and Hughes write, “the first wave of male-to-female and female-to-male pioneers were far from postgenderist. In fact, they often adopted extreme versions of gender stereotypes in order to legitimate their transition, much to the annoyance of feminists and sex radicals.” Even if transgender people are not so hyper-masculine or hyper-feminine today, the very fact that they insist on transitioning suggests that they cannot achieve something as a member of their “assigned” gender – that this gender is inflexible. In this way, transgenderism actually may just reinforce the gender binary and stereotypes of men and women, which enlightened gender reformers loathe.

Rebecca Reilly-Cooper in Sex and Gender: A Beginner’s Guide says that once biological sex and social roles are eliminated, “the only answer to the question ‘what is a woman?’ becomes ‘a person who feels like a woman.’ But this is an entirely circular definition that tells us nothing about what a woman is,” and so the solution to this paradox, this knot that gender reformers have got themselves into, some believe, is to just get rid of gender completely. Reilly-Cooper, describing gender as “a system that ties biology to personality and behaviour, and puts people into pink and blue boxes according to the set of genitals they possess” puts it this way: “The solution to that is not to create ever more boxes, nor to allow that some special non-binary individuals get to be gender revolutionaries who are able to move between the boxes at will, while the rest of us must stay put, and are told that we like it that way. The solution is to get rid of the boxes – to abolish gender altogether.”

Postgenderism is often, though not necessarily, associated with the belief that the very concept of biological sex is made up, or at least, it is far more complicated and less of a binary than we believe it to be. A magazine from 1999 titled Abolish Gender Abolish Patriarchy Abolish War stated that, “the gender binary is not biological,” pointing to the potential for individuals to have chromosomal combinations beyond XX and XY – like XXY or XYY.

This theory is becoming more and more commonplace and is manifesting in various ways. In a widely viewed TV panel with University of Toronto professor and free speech advocate Jordan Peterson University of Toronto, transgender studies lecturer Nicholas Matte declared that “Basically, it’s not correct that there is such a thing as biological sex.” Planned Parenthood Ottawa shared a post on the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia during Senate hearings on Bill C-16 declaring, “Anatomy isn’t male or female. It just is.”

Others, including Reilly-Cooper, acknowledge the existence of sex, but wish to transcend the perceived limitations of what Gillett calls, “genetic determinism.” As far back as 1970, radical feminist Shulamith Firestone wrote in The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution, “The end goal of feminist revolution must be, unlike that of the first feminist movement, not just the elimination of male privilege but of the sex distinction itself: genital differences between human beings would no longer matter culturally.”

In a postgendered world, everyone who is sexually attracted to others (that is, not asexual) would, in theory, be pansexual or omnisexual – attracted to people of all genders – except, of course, there would be no genders. No one would be heterosexual because there would exist no “opposite” sex and trying to insist upon being heterosexual – trying to make distinctions where none supposedly exist or should exist – would seem nonsensical and bigoted.

Abortion and contraception, by leaving women at least temporarily childless, are presently allowing women to “live as men.” In the future, the creation of artificial wombs and cloning technologies can render gender even more irrelevant. Dvorsky and Hughes write, “Assisted reproduction will make it possible for individuals of any sex to reproduce in any combinations they choose, with or without ‘mothers’ and ‘fathers’.”

With sexuality divorced from reproduction, there would also no longer be a basis for monogamy, and thus, we could easily see a surge in polyamory. Dvorsky and Hughes predict, “Eventually co-housing and co-parenting ‘civil union’ contracts should replace civil marriage. Those contracts would recognize the bonds between small groups of people who have made commitments of some duration.”

Without “men” or “women” the very concept of normative combinations of sexual features (breasts, uterus, and a vagina, for instance) will be undermined. Not only might one see new incongruent combinations (breasts, uterus, and a penis, for instance), but the very appearance and structure of genitalia could change with the rise of what Dvorsky and Hughes term “designer genitals.”  They predict, “Future options for reconstruction of the body and genitals will only be limited by the imagination.”

There are ways in which we are already going down the path of postgenderism. This sort of body modification is already occurring, though rarely.

An increasing number of people are identifying as non-binary (not completely male or female) too. Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)’s Accelerating Acceptance 2017 survey revealed that Millennials are much more likely to identify as “agender.” The 2016 Canadian census only had “male” and “female” as options, but University of Calgary non-binary sociology student Quinn Nelson estimates that one percent of the population is non-binary, though that may be an overestimate. A Technical Note published by the United Kingdom’s Equality and Human Rights Commission found that in 2012 0.4 per cent of 10,000 participants identified “in another way” than male or female.

It is important to note though that not all non-binary or agender people are subscribers to postgenderism. One Tumblr user, @Nonbinarystats, said that, “gender abolition is a common radical feminist goal, and it is often used by trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs) to deny trans and nonbinary people their gender identities and pronouns.” Meanwhile, Reilly-Cooper alleges that non-binary people “create a false binary between those who conform to the gender norms associated with their sex, and those who do not” as “in reality, everybody is non-binary.” She says that a woman calling herself “agender” or “non-binary” is akin to trying in vain “to slip through the bars of the cage while leaving the rest of the cage intact, and the rest of womankind trapped within it.”

The adoption of genders like “frostgender” and “lunagender” increase the number of possible genders only by conflating gender with personality. Postgenderists, instead, are trying to eliminate gender and leave personality. Nonetheless, given that on Nonbinary.org your gender can be (Name)gender like johngender or janegender, gender may be rendered so meaningless that it eventually disappears.

There has also been a push toward androgyny in dress and general appearance à la Prince, David Bowie, and Ruby Rose. Again, androgyny is not by any means necessitated by postgenderism; a pink tutu and sparkly Hello Kitty shirt might be perfectly acceptable attire, it would just ideally not be viewed as female or male. Nor does androgyny necessarily mean a rejection of biological sex or even the gender binary. However, it still contributes to a dulling of the separation between men and women. Gender neutral pronouns also accomplish this, as does spending time in online universes that allow users to play as characters of any gender or no gender.

In Ontario, a driver’s license now has an ‘X’ option in addition to ‘M’ and ‘F’, but LGBTQ activists are lobbying for the total removal of gender from public documents, as was done on Ontario health cards.

Still, despite the fact that we might be moving toward a world where gender seemingly matters less or is more flexible, we are a long way off from living in an amorphous society blind to the natural differences between individuals. Generally speaking, excepting transgender individuals, males and females are still divided in washrooms, change rooms, camps, prisons, and sports competitions. A postgendered society would be quite a radical change as gendered differences are foundational across the world, for as Tumblr user and “professional trans activist” Toni D’orsay says, “If family is the building block of a society, then gender is the building block of family.”