Published on Theory of Yesterday Link
Once the trans liberation movement really began gaining traction in the late 2000’s, I’ve felt a growing politization over my gender identity, and an increased pressure to define the mapping of my characteristics and traits as in somehow connected to gender. With a lack of role models, research, and academia on agender and non-binary identities, it’s a very much unchartered territory. I have noticed an increasing number of individuals coming to terms with the possibility to completely abstain from these type of identity politics: so when given options (such as) Male, Female or Other, it’s possible to reject all options, including Other, in an understanding that the entire gender paradigm is false.
In my own journey, nihilism and a desire to remove components and power structures in life that unnecessarily complicate situations has propelled me to this way of thinking. In the essay Gender Nihilism by Alyson Escalante, Escalante ends up at a place of having to reason as to why they reject gender, largely based on the frustration over the division caused by “the real trend within LGBT and queer discourse in which there is a tendency towards endlessly developing taxonomies to map out difference.” Coinciding with the maxim “there are as many genders in the world as there are people”. These notions beg the question as to why we bother with gender as a grouping concept, if everyone is essentially different and resisting a shared concept in some way, particularly once gender is compared across time periods and cultures. One of Escalante’s main criticisms, and for any gender abolishment theory, is it’s too ideological; and ignores important intersectional differences, as it neither celebrates difference, or allows an awareness of the individual plight that some might be put through; for example it is important to be aware that trans people of colour are more likely to be victims of violence. If gender is abolished it effectively erases the recognition of these individual narratives which are entirely routed in gender with very real consequences, so in this sense a gender framework very much exists whether we like it or not.
With this in mind, we need to consider gender in two ways:
1 Our personal relationship to gender, or lack of gender, and what it means to us; this can be inclusive of trans, third gender and fluid individuals.
2 Gender as a power structure in society, which we cannot escape from because society has largely accepted the gender framework, and our actions are always to be judged as reflective as that.
For example, I am androgynous and non-binary, but I will still receive some privileges from those that perceive me as male, while also being disadvantaged due to my perceived transness and the unfortunate prejudices that surround transgression. It does not matter how I inwardly and outwardly identify and project, because strangers will still make assumptions based on their personal idea of gender and I will still benefit or suffer from that.
How do we navigate that?
Gender Nihillism is a tool for non-gendered individuals, who can further deconstruct the principles surrounding gender, and ultimately conclude that conversations about the spectrum are largely meaningless in their own lives. In this sense I deviate from current writings on gender nihilism. It is not a concept for me to apply universally, and it also makes a distinction between trans people and fluid people who relate to the binary, and some non binary and agender people who reject the spectrum. Gender nihilism can be used as a tool to assassinate the idea that agender people are still bound to the gender spectrum in some way; and concludes that we are either before or outside it. In a way it is form of ego death. There is something quite amiss when a non-binary individual is identified and defined as a transgression on the binary. The names alone such as “genderqueer” “agender” “gender neutral” or “non-binary” relies on the prerequisite idea of the of gender binary as some kind of barometer to which the individual is measured against. These names all include the word “gender” or refer to the gender binary in some way. For someone without a gender, it is bizarre to define someone as not what they are, but by what they are not. As an agender individual there is no fixed feeling within me, I’m not confused or trying to ascertain or uncover my gender, and I’m ultimately apathetic to the spectrum. I’m also uncomfortable with the notion of being defined as transgressing gender, these words indicate a rebellion or deviation from a correct way of being. But who is dictating this correct way of being, and why am I being compared to it?
In accepting gender nihilism, we are lead to the idea that one can exist as either before or alongside the gender spectrum. This is not a transgression of gender, but a refusal to accept other peoples preconceptions on my appearance and behaviour, gender is essentially a power structure of society proliferated by religion, politics and the media. It is wicked for society to continue to compare every individual to a framework that the individual has refused to accept. Furthermore this activity is also a meaningless for society, when it compares an individual without a gender to the normative behaviour of someone with a gender. Since the individual outside the spectrum is by definition a non conformist in this sense, so any assumptions which precursor their conformity are likely to be incorrect. Imagine a foreign government forcing you to be their citizen, and when you refuse, not only do they not accept that, but they continue to judge and compare you according to their customs and values; when they see you have not accepted those terms, you are seen as “rebelling”. The individual is seen as deviating and at fault, when really it was the foreign government forcing itself onto the individual, and causing this trouble. Worst still, is the individual’s identity is forever cast as “government neutral” or “non-government”, and is now always associated negatively with the foreign government and society. I want to return to the state of identity I had before the government came along, which is my pure identity. In this sense there is an urgency to align myself as Pre-Government, or Pre-Gender if the analogy fits. Gender itself is a false question; they ask if you are male, female, or other, my answer is none of them, the whole paradigm is false as I do not have a gender identity; and it is wrong for society to ask us in the first place. It’s important to have these conversations so people realise agender people exist; and hopefully provide the language, narratives and knowledge for younger people to associate with. I wish I had the newly developed vocabulary we have now to help me understand my identity when I was a teenager. The feelings were there but the framework and role models to understand it were not.
Today there is so much pressure on youth to navigate gender, and though we can be grateful for the infinite amount of possible genders to identify with now, the choice can be overwhelming. Fortunately the rise in non-binary, agender, genderqueer and gender-neutral markers have identified the desire to not wish to make a decision and reject absolutes. Gender nihilism goes one step further to declare ones identity as completely off the spectrum, and the acceptance that it’s ok to not possess a gender identity at all. Furthermore it goes on to posit that the agender individual is not at fault: society is wrong for imposing the gender framework on this individual in the first place; that the individuals identity is not based on the negation of having a gender, and the refusal to be part of that system is only an act of rebellion for those where gender matters.