Demi-boys and the new enslavement to gender
It is increasingly common for young people to identify with ‘non-binary’ genders: to locate themselves on a ‘gender spectrum’, or align with one of the dozens of new gender categories. Here are some observations about this phenomenon:
1. For non-binary teens, the search for the self is taking the form of a search for a gender category.
That is, the question of discovering themselves as a person – and leaving behind the world of childhood, parents and family – becomes a question of finding a new gender label.
‘I’m gender queer, and I’m starting to explore the possibility of identifying as trans.’
‘I’m not exactly sure what (I am) yet, somewhere between agender and androgine.’
They chart their biographies and life experience as movement through gender categories:
‘I came out as a tomboy at 4. Bisexual at 17. Lesbian at 18. Queer around 22. Genderqueer/non-binary at 24-ish.’
2. People who are ‘gender questioning’ are much more defined by gender, than those who are not.
Non-binary people put a lot more store by their gender than others; the gender category is the thing that ‘supports’ their identity, and makes them feel ‘secure’. Non-binary twitter profiles tend to mention gender identities before any other interests:
• he/they • nonbinary/transmasculine • aro/ace (aromantic/asexual) • Disney obsessed • booklion • usually over-caffeinated •
By contrast, those who are an ordinary man or woman need not think very much about their genders. The gender binary is now something that can be worn lightly, without implications for the lives we will have or the people we will become.
3. New gender categories are still based on the idea of a naturalised ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’.
This is most obvious when somebody describes their identity as a particular point on the gender spectrum, and therefore as a sort of chemical formula, an admixture of the masculine and feminine:
‘I am 2/3 boy and 1/3 girl‘
‘You could fall anywhere along this (gender) line, for example, you could be 78.25 male‘
This is also the meaning of many of the new gender categories. For example, a demi-boy is someone who is mainly male, and a bit female.
Bi-gender is someone who feels male and female (either both at the same time, or one after another).
Therefore, in effect, the traditional elements of masculinity and femininity have been preserved, only these have become like free-floating gender substances, which can be mixed together in various combinations.
4. Even very fluid gender categories have a naturalised, pseudo-physical basis.
It is no coincidence that gender categories are often described as one might a physical waveform, or a mutating substance.
Crystagender: gender randomly changes, often feels broken or fractured between mulitple genders
Antegender: A protean gender which has the potential to be anything, but is formless and motionless, and, therefore, does not manifest as any particular gender
If gender is unknown, or confused, this takes on the significance of some unknown (perhaps as yet undescribed) gender substance. For example, the category elissogender has been represented as a waveform:
Elissogender – a term used to describe a gender which vaguely moves around with no direction.
(Pink is femininity, blue is masculinity, black is agender, grey is the confusion or grey area amongst genders, yellow is unknown).
5. Non-binary individuals are very hostile to the idea that they might be defined in any way by other people.
There is a hostility to social ascription, to the idea that they would be put in a category by society or other people.
‘The very first thing doctors tell parents is if their baby is a boy or a girl.’
‘Being a man was the norm that was placed on me, but I don’t identify with that.’
Their objection is not so much to any particular arduous consequences of being a man or a woman, but to the very social act of naming, or making a distinction. The new gender categories are therefore anti-social on principle.
6. Freedom from the traditional gender binary does not mean freedom to be your own person.
Being non-binary does not mean that a person is free to develop their vocation, character, self-expression in a way that is personal or undetermined by notions of gender.
Instead, to be non-binary is to enter into a private marriage with the gender category of your choice. The freedom of our age is to not be genuinely self-determined, but to choose one’s determination from a menu of options.
7. The reason for this is that we are free of the sexual division of labour, but we are not yet free.
We have seen the breakdown of the sexual division of labour, under which men and women were assigned opposing roles, destinies, and characters. People are free of social domination: their gender will no longer determine their profession, their legal rights, their dress, or the ways in which they talk or move.
Yet people do not yet feel themselves to be completely free to determine themselves according to their personal capacities and inclinations.
Therefore, the qualities previously tied to the sexual division of labour – the substances of masculine and feminine – become free floating, mixing in various combinations to form the new series of gender categories.
The naturalised elements of masculinity and femininity are not overcome, but translated into the terms of consumer choice.