A Transhumanist View of Non-Binary
I'm not the world's biggest fan of VICE news. Watching them succumb to Trump Derangement Syndrome and torpedo their own credibility with hysteria just seems like par for the course at this point and I won't lament the downing of another member of the corrupt corporate media-political complex.
However, there remains a glimmer of hope for them yet.
Recently, I've been enjoying their mashup series of political debates wherein they take a sample of liberals and conservatives and sit them down in a focus group to ask questions and engage in cross-aisle discussion for an hour. What makes it so interesting, though, is that each session controls for identity, such that you'll get a panel of black liberals debating black conservatives on black issues; or feminist women debating anti-feminist women on women's issues; or liberal LGBTQ+ folks debating conservative ones on queer issues, etc.
Even the hosts are reflective of the group's identity.
More conversations like this are desperately needed and it brings a smile to my face knowing there are others out there working to #HealTheDivide. I imagine that, if this trend continues, VICE will probably do an all-Jewish one or an all-Muslim one as well, or even an all-immigrant one, which will be interesting.
At the time of my writing this, I just finished watching their Latino debate. One thing that struck me in particular was when a progressive man started going full intersectional postmodernism and suggested - nay, asserted, as though it were self-evident - that there is no such thing as biological essentialism when it comes to things like race and gender.
Depicted: My reaction.
It should alarm you that this person is a teacher, by the way. As an individualist, I can appreciate their argument that we shouldn't be judging people based on their genitals or upon their phenotypes; and while I appreciate their commitment to nuance, nevertheless, I feel like this person is out of touch with basic reality. It's the same way I felt during the talk about non-binary and gender-nonconformity during the LGBT debate. In that panel, Blair White correctly pointed out that such has no basis in science or medicine, which is one of the few domains where it is acceptable to judge based on chromosomes and phenotypes, and where things like race and gender realism have a firm footing, since there are actual physiological consequences to incorrect classification.
At a legal, social, and interpersonal level, we should treat everyone with respect, and let people be free to be as weird or as wrong as they wanna be. Live and let live. But when it comes to science and medicine, race and gender aren't merely a cultural construct or opinion. Moreover, when that bleeds over into politics and your life starts impacting mine - such as forcing me to pay your medical bills or jailing people for misgendering you - that's when we have a problem and I start pushing back.
I know you don't like hearing that, but I didn't make the rules. Life is inherently cruel and Mother Nature is a rather sadistic tyrant at times. She does what she does and her rules don't care about your feelings or even our own understanding of them. I recommend you take it up with her.
Maybe she's just paying forward her own labor pains.
Anyways, as I write this, it's International Non-Binary Day. As though we needed more "official" holidays to make people feel special, further diluting their power in a scheme that seems crafted by Syndrome from The Incredibles.
I'm reminded of George Carlin's take on euphemistic language and the idea that making everyone special is the same as making no one special. Also, who decided all this stuff? I'd think if you were happy and accepting of who you are, and who other people are, that'd be an everywhere, 365-day thing.
But what do I know, right?
A lot of attention these days seems to be focused on this whole issue of extra genders. More-so than I frankly think is warranted, but you're here anyway, so let's talk about it for a sec.
Just a quick run-down of the terms I'm referring to:
Sex - The state of being male or female regarding to physical traits.
Gender - The state of being male or female regarding social constructs.
Cisgender - Someone who identifies with the gender assigned at birth.
Transgender - Someone who does not identify with the gender assigned at birth.
Non-Binary - Someone who does not identify exclusively as male or female.
Gender Fluid - Someone whose gender identity changes over time from one end of the spectrum to the other.
Genderqueer - Someone whose gender identity falls on the spectrum between male and female.
For the purposes of simplicity - both in terms of writing and your understanding - I'm just gonna use the term "non-binary" to refer to these various types in this article (excluding cis and trans).
Most people use the terms "sex" and "gender" synonymously. Based on the definitions outlined above, you can argue that that's technically imprecise, but from an evolutionary biology and evolutionary psychology perspective, the so-called gender roles that have come to be seen as cultural norms are largely derived from the qualities of one's biological sex. This is true universally, as you will find a core role divided neatly across all cultures. Things like childcare and the division of labor have been the cornerstone of this relationship for the majority of human history, arguably up to the point where we had the technology to finally start changing it.
Until only the last century or so (and even today in some regressive parts of the world), one of women's biggest health risks was dying due to complications in childbirth. Something men never could experience, even if they wanted to, and that seems like an important distinction. We now also have the technology to regulate women's menstrual cycles, men and women's fertility, artificial insemination, womb transplants, artificial sperm, sex-reassignment surgery (aka transition), and even the beginning stages of lab-grown embryos, designer babies, and human cloning.
So one might rightly claim that, until very recently, the gender roles and the entire concept of binary gender was a fixed and essential structure for the survival of the species. If you couldn't have kids, your lineage likely died off over the millenia until some random mutation afflicted another poor unfortunate soul with physical traits not conducive to reproduction.
Even if you were gay or lesbian and adopted someone else's kids, you still couldn't have your own; and so either you conformed to the gender norms or your genetic lineage died off.
Those who couldn't pass on their genes often struggled to pass down the customs and concepts that went along with non-conformist identities since everyone else was too busy securing the system which so clearly was working to keep the human race alive.
Thus, in contrast to the queer postmodernist teacher's claims, gender identity and gender roles are very much dependent on biological essentialism. Gender expression - that is, how you appear to others - not so much. That part is certainly more fluid, though dressing as the opposite gender, whether once in a while or all the time, doesn't magically make you as such. Tribal shamanism of that kind is largely superstition. A drag queen might be a non-conformist, but they aren't some independent gender. They aren't necessarily trans either unless they also have gender dysphoria. Being a tom boy doesn't make you non-binary, genderqueer, or gender fluid, it just means you have different taste in clothes. Wearing a dress or skirt when you're a guy doesn't make you gay, it just makes you weird to people who don't.
If it did, that would make Japan the gayest place on earth, right after Scotland.
Though I'm sure George Takei would approve all the same.
Being a transhumanist means believing in the power and potential of technology to overcome the limitations of our unchosen and otherwise unchangeable nature; but in order to do that effectively, we first have to understand and accept it for what it presently is. You can think of yourself as whatever you want, that doesn't make it so. No matter how much I might think I'm a dog, for instance, I'm still a human being. Likewise, no matter how much I might think I'm some other gender, or that I fall in between the two poles of gender, my identity and sense of self has little bearing on the actual objective reality of my biological condition.
Roles might change, expressions might change, but the underlying human physiology doesn't, nor do the essential gender roles that stem from them; and so, while you might not necessarily like who you are, or how society views you, it makes little sense for one's identity and sense of self to deviate from what you actually are.
Maybe in a hundred years, we'll have the tech to enable such sweeping changes in transgenderism and transpeciesism, but right now, we don't; and entertaining such notions is uncanny at best, harmful at worst, especially given that a lot of the changes people do attempt are presently irreversible. It doesn't help people function in society and, in many cases, it doesn't make them happy either, because we're a social species and we're hardwired to feel comfortable around the familiar.
Often, it's the case that societies can become too rigidly conformist, and so a dose of the weird is needed if only to shake things up a bit and make them interesting, but too much and you risk the whole system collapsing, including those parts that were working just fine. I always advise caution anytime people try to tamper with the root code of what makes us human, particularly if it starts to fuck with our ability to procreate, since once we're gone, that's it. Game over.
Without humans, there's no debate to be had on this or any other issue.
If it wasn't clear by this point from my tone, I maintain there are only two genders: male and female. No more, no less. Postmodernists love to try and argue otherwise; and admittedly, it's a lot harder to prove than you might think. We might say, well, you either have a penis or a vagina, but then what about castrated men? Are they still men? Yes, obviously. Ok, so that's not the clear dividing line. How about whether or not you can give birth via your own womb? But then infertile women and sterile women are still clearly women. What about the presence or lack-thereof of Y-chromosomes? The postmodernists will try to claim that genetics is more complicated than that and sex isn't determined by just a single gene the way we previously thought.
For the moment at least, I think that's a dubious and politically-driven claim, but I'm not a scientist.
Ok, let's try this the other way. Can you name a third gender? Sure, here's a whole list of hundreds of them, people are quick to tell me. Except, most of these aren't actually genders, just synonyms for other things on the list or made-up words that describe medical conditions or emotional states.
I can't tell if these are meant to be genders or Pokemon.
Asexual? Not a gender. If anything, it's a preference - or, more precisely, a lack thereof. The atheism of hetero- and homosexuality. Same with bisexual: not a gender, but a preference. Trans is not a separate third gender, but the transitioning from one to the other. Trans people generally aren't looking to be a mystical third form, just to have a normal life as the one they currently aren't; and if the technology were perfected such that everyone could have passing privilege, no one would be the wiser.
Fine. What about intersex?
Also not a gender, but a medical condition. Science currently understands it to be a birth defect - an abnormality - much like gender dysphoria is a hormonal defect that creates a differential between the body's physiology and the brains chemistry. Already, I can hear people screeching about stigma as if refusing to call things by their proper name somehow makes them go away. I'm a firm believer in the untapped power of placebos, but that's closer to magical thinking and delusion than futurism.
It's living in denial.
Likewise, just in response to the chosen topic, and even though I addressed it earlier, I can hear people howling that sex isn't the same as gender and neither of those are a binary but a dipolar spectrum!!
Ok, look, here's how I view the whole situation. We aren't Homestuck trolls with pansexual quadrants and we aren't fungi with 20,000 genders. We're human beings. Mother Nature designed us to be a sexually dimorphic species. By whatever process it takes to get there, and whatever you choose to call it, she has dictated that, in order to procreate and perpetuate our species, it's necessary that two people come together, with one contributing sperm and the other contributing an egg. The former we call male, the latter we call female. That is the minimum necessary requirement to begin the process of ensuring we're all still here to talk about this issue.
Can we all agree on that?
Now, setting aside things like in vitro fertilization or artificial insemination for a moment, Mother Nature has bequeathed us humans with certain fundamental equipment to enable that reproductive process to occur. Sometimes the tools work, sometimes they don't. Sometimes they come broken or with parts missing or with extra parts or we break them or modify them along the way; but in terms of her actual intended design (in-so-far as an abstraction can have intent) and without regard to our own judgments or cultural precepts, one kit has been given to the sperm donor, and another different kit has been given to the egg donor, with each kit more or less augmenting the assigned role. We typically call these the male and female sex organs, respectively; and that includes all the genes, body structure, and so forth, however you wanna categorize them.
Still with me so far? I haven't lost anyone along the way?
Much like a computer can have a custom casing, or unique software, so too do people have a variety of gender expressions to make them unique. But unlike the plurality of choices in OS, Mother Nature's only given us the option of - or rather, randomly assigned us - one of two roles with their corresponding kits. Maybe we can't fulfill the role, or resent our role and wish to be the other, or don't wanna play the reproductive game at all, or wish there was some third role, whatever. None of that changes the reality of there only being two roles in the game.
Which pail with you fill when the tyrannical empress sends her brooding drones?
Maybe we eventually develop the technology to change that, and create new genders or transition between them to be as good as nature-made; but for now, we aren't there yet and it's pointless trying to argue otherwise.
So the way I differentiate between the two genders - to take into account all the myriad postmodern nuances - is as follows: assuming normal healthy function of the systems and equipment given to us by Mother Nature, as intended for the purposes of reproduction, male is the one with the sperm-donor kit and female is the one with the egg-donor kit. In other words:
Male is one Nature intends to be a sperm donor, and female is one Nature intends to be an egg donor.
The use of words like "intends" and "assuming normal, healthy function" take into account those people who either can't or won't fulfill the role but are nevertheless given equipment that - if it was working - would fulfill that function. So a sterile or otherwise castrated man is still a man, but a sterile or castrated man can't be a woman cuz even if he wasn't disabled, his equipment is not designed to perform the other role. It never can and never will, short of technology.
Trans people are sort of the bridge between that and I'll talk about that another time in more detail. For now, suffice to say, it's a failure of technology and I look more to the intention of the person. If you've taken steps towards transition, I'm fine calling you the opposite gender in my personal interactions with you; just recognize maybe your doctor or your track coach will still have issues as the process isn't yet perfected to account for all those physiological consequences I spoke of before.
Sucks being trapped in a grey zone, I know, and I have tremendous sympathy for those people. But yeah, so hopefully this should clarify that there are currently only two genders.
What about the so-called non-binary people? Didn't Mother Nature "intend" for them to be defunct?
Arguably no, since if she intended for that process to work out, we'd be more like the trolls and the fungi who have a more complicated reproductive system than simple sexual dimorphism. Again, to a large extent, I think this idea of non-binary gender identity stems from a desire to be non-conformist but let's address the actual medical outliers like intersex or hermaphrodites for a moment. Here again, I think this is just another failure of technology that, with better research, we as a society would probably just form-fit to be a binary due to all the social and reproductive consequences that result.
It'd likely be tackled in the womb and no one would even know what was lost.
One metaphor I often use is the Snap Test to help tease out people's true motives. Basically, if you could Thanos-snap yourself to being either male or female instead of having one of these genetic disorders, would you? Most people with diabetes would probably snap their pancreas into producing a healthy amount of insulin rather than have to be hooked up to a pump and face all the physical hurdles and social humiliation that causes. In the case of trans people, I think most would snap their mind and body into alignment, or their parents would while still in utero. If the process were as smooth, as harmless, and as reversible as changing clothes, kids could change genders as they liked without issue, even before puberty. For so-called non-binary people with genetic disorders that do funky things to their genitals - of which about 1-in-4500, or 0.02%, are affected - I think the parents would make the same decision before it even becomes a problem if they could. My guess is, given all the social and biological implications of gender, most non-binary people might find it easier to snap themselves into conforming to either one or the other. At present, at least, that's the way it's medically handled, we just lack the ability to perfect it and have it be as good as nature-made.
I'm sure someone out there reading this is probably thinking right now, "Well why not just Thanos-snap people to not being assholes and instead be more tolerant and open-minded and inclusive of individual differences?"
Sure, if you literally had the power of the cosmos at your fingertips, you could do that, or any manner of things; but keep in mind, I'm just using that as a heuristic. A stand-in for some as-of-yet undeveloped medical technology. It's to help you imagine a world in which you have that solution as a viable option, using language and metaphors people can understand, not meant literally.
By all means, again, legally, socially, don't be an asshole to anyone. Treat people with respect and dignity, be open-minded and compassionate; but there's a difference between that and outright denying reality or enabling delusional thinking to protect people's feelings or identities. And all the consequences that come with it. Denying this helps no one.
I might write fantasy novels for a living, but even I know that you still have to come to terms with reality.
There may be some of you reading this who think my wording is particularly harsh. That I'm reinforcing stigmas simply by referring to it as an illness or disorder. Personally, I've always taken the position that I would rather do good at the cost of appearing bad than doing bad while appearing good. It's well and good to protect what a good person you are, and to craft days and emojis that make disabled people feel special and loved. To make them feel like part of the group, that they're just normal and the same as everyone else; but I think most would prefer if we just developed better tech and outright fixed their problems and cured their ailments to enable them to live a normal life and actually be equal.
Call me crazy, but that seems more compassionate.
Again, political correctness might make you feel better but it doesn't change what you are. It isn't hard science. It's one thing to be accommodating of people with special needs, but what's truly insane and unreasonable is the expectation - or even the demand - that we upend all of society to cater to the needs of a small handful of people. That is selfish and tone-deaf and lacking in compassion towards a much larger group of people, in as much as it would be to complain about the fact that most of society is built around the normality of human beings having five fingers on each hand.
Sure, every once in a while, someone is born without fingers or even hands, or you get someone who's born with six fingers. But that isn't the norm. It's an aberration. The overwhelming majority of people are born with and retain five fingers on each hand throughout their whole lives. That's what "normal" means: it's what most commonly occurs; and so all our clothes, our tools, our processes, etc. are based around that design.
"Six-fingered man? I'll have you know, I prefer the term hexadigital demisexual."
I've known people with stubs for arms who could perform incredibly dextrous feats. They aren't helpless. And maybe a six-fingered person is really great at the piano, and you're envious of them for it; but does it sound reasonable for them to throw a tantrum when they walk into a Macy's and find that all the gloves have five fingers on each hand? Does that seem realistic or practical to you? Of course not.
Even if they spend time, energy, labor, and resources making six-fingered gloves, what are the odds anyone would actually walk into a given store to buy them? Less than a tenth of one-percent? Less than the odds of the building burning down? And what would be the payout? The good feeling of helping maybe one or two people? Does that seem like a reasonable basis to build a business, let alone a society, rather than focusing on attending to the needs of the 99.99% of people?
Nowadays, with the internet, you could probably have a single online specialty store that caters to all the six-fingered people and get enough business to make it worth the effort; but it's probably be a niche outlet.
Much like the six-fingered man, we know it's a huge ask; yet that's how the non-binary community by and large acts, or at least is perceived to act, based on the political pressure applied by a very loud vocal minority.
We all understand this implicitly, that it makes no sense to reorder society to such an extent to cater to the needs of so few. Minority rights should be protected, for they're the same rights as all other humans; but minority interests ought to be dealt with in their proper proportion.
Sorry, not sorry.
Again, I'll just restate that there's a difference between sex and gender, but the psychology and social roles of gender are predicated upon biological drivers crafted not by patriarchal culture but by the tyranny of Mother Nature. That things like gender expression and gender identity might be malleable, but gender itself is not. It isn't a spectrum, but a hardwired binary. Dressing in non-conformist ways doesn't make you queer except in the sense that people might find you odd and out of place. That all this is not the same as being trans. That things like trans and bisexuality reaffirm the binary since people aren't looking to be with or become mystical third genders, just the one they themselves are not.
Part of human nature is our openness and curiosity. Our desire to explore and create. To transcend our physical and physiological limitations. We might dream of there being more to life than what is, but in order to achieve it, we must remain grounded in reality if, for no other reason, than to know where we are and where we're going.
Non-binary is not a thing ... at least not yet, though whatever we identify as, just be excellent to each other to the best we're able.
If you find reality boring and would like to dabble into something strange, I've written a fantasy novel that you should totally check out. If you like my work, please consider supporting me by buying a copy or donating to my Patreon. It doesn't just help me financially, but incentivizing me mentally to continue doing what I do, knowing that other people appreciate it.