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SciFly NYC // 102 // Speculating a Post-Gender Future (Double Feature Issue!)

Double Feature! Events from 11/11 - 11/24

Panteha Abareshi, Future Gal, Featured in “LIFEFORCE” Exhibit, Untitled Space Gallery, New York

Hey SciFly Readers!

This week I'm sending out a special Double Feature!

That's because next week I'll be in New Orleans presenting a workshop on "Design for a Post-Gender Future" at the Teach For America Brave Education Summit in New Orleans. :D

Sometimes I don't mind doing my SciFly post from another city, but in this case, my wonderful partner will be joining me on Sunday for what is probably our only vacation together for awhile, so want to make sure I'm free from distractions and can just chill and be... 

On the topic of my workshop, this week I wanted to share a couple of great things I've learned and articles/media I've encountered while doing research.

The idea is to look at how the conversation around gender is changing today and what it might look if it continues into the future. Given the rapidly accelerating pace of technological and social change, gender norms, language, and conceptions are continually being re-considered and re-written (though not without friction) in the minds and hearts of all people - especially young people. Given these shifts, it is imperative that we examine the pervasive role of gender in design, technology, and culture, asking ourselves, how might the world look if it just wasn't a thing.

My goal is to explore the growing movement towards a post-gender society, defining what that might mean, and talking about some of the history/theory that led us where we are today. Using this framework, I'll explore how gendered design influences physical spaces, digital platforms, marketing, and emerging technologies, to look at some of the problems it causes (e.g. the feminization of AI assistants, default of machine translators towards 'he' and 'him). I'll also introduce some brands, products, and designers who are moving beyond these design stereotypes and re-conceiving things like fashion, make-up, architecture, and more for non-binary and genderqueer individuals. Finally, I'll bring it back down to earth with some practical ways of moving forward by building off of existing research that seeks to leverage the basic principles and tenets of Universal Design for a broader conception of accessibility in digital/physical spaces for LGBTQ individuals to ask how this might be a starting place for post-gender interventions. And... because I am me, I will most likely end it with a heart-felt call-out to how important queer and genderqueer conceptions of the future are in speculative fiction, design, and art, borrowing some ideas from a great panel I heard Lonny Avi Brooks recently give on his work with United Queerdoms as a way to use play to explore different queer/gender-queer future states.

Woot! Now I have an outline. Thanks readers. :D
J/k. But it always does help to describe what exactly you will be doing in a presentation using words first. Then comes the slide preparation part...

Anyway, as I was researching all of the topics above, I found some really great resources that have expanded my thinking on 'postgenderism', the unique struggles of nonbinary and genderqueer individuals within the existing heteronormative framework, but also within queer communities, and media/videos/artwork that explore these issues in all sorts of different ways.

What is Post Genderism?
As always, found a great synopsis on Wikipedia (and then 10 sites who copied it verbatim. :P)

"Postgenderism is a social, political and cultural movement which arose from the eroding of the cultural, biological, psychological, and social role of gender, and an argument for why the erosion of binary gender will be liberatory." (Wikipedia)

Basically, the thought is that gender is an arbitrary/unnecessary limitation on human's potential and that the presence of gender roles, social stratification, and cognitive/physical disparities and differences are generally to the detriment of society.

Postgenderists believe that involuntary psychological and even physical gendering will be eliminated through social and cultural evolution, and through the application of emerging technologies: neurotech, biotech, assistive reproduction tech.

They especially believe that given the radical potential for advanced assistive reproductive options: sex for reproductive purposes will either become obsolete, or that post-gendered humans will have the ability, if they so choose, to both carry a pregnancy to term and 'father' a child, which would have the effect of eliminating the need for definite genders in society (cue Kim Stanley Robinson's 2312, and Ian Banks Culture novels!)

Technology actually plays quite a large role here (as discussed in a little bit re: transhumanism). The article talks about how technologies from human cloning, parthenogenesis, artificial wombs could expand options for human reproduction, that the future may be more digital/virtual than real and that individuals may consist of uploaded minds living as data patterns in completely immersive VR. These types of existences wouldn't need to be gender-specific, thus individuals could morph their virtual appearance/sexuality at will.

I actually found a great little video that probably describes some of the ideas way better than I can, and is set to retro video game music and graphics!!! (We queers love our games!)

The History
Postgenderism has it s roots in feminism, masculism, and LGBTQ movements, but it is felt that only through the application of transhumanist philosophy that it has conceived of the potential for actual morphological changes to the members of the human species and how future humans in a postgender society will reproduce.

No surprise that the two people I found most mentioned concerning the topic were Judith Butler and Donna Haraway, although I also found a wonderful quote from Shulamith Firestone's "The Dialetics of Sex" (now on my reading list).

"[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. (A reversion to an unobstructed pansexuality Freud's 'polymorphous perversity'—would probably supersede hetero/homo/bi-sexuality.) The reproduction of the species by one sex for the benefit of both would be replaced by (at least the option of) artificial reproduction: children would born to both sexes equally, or independently of. either, however one chooses to look at it; the dependence of the child on the mother (and vice versa) would give way to a greatly shortened dependence on a small group of others in general, and any remaining inferiority to adults in physical strength would be compensated for culturally." - Shulamith Firestone, The Dialetics of Sex

Haraway's Cyborg Manifesto was also referenced as it argues that women could only be freed from biological constraints when they didn't have the obligation/responsibility to reproduce. Some took this to mean that women could only become liberated when they become post-biological or post-gendered, although apparently Haraway said that their use of the word has been grossly misinterpreted.

Postgenderism Today - Exploring Non Binary, Gender Queer, Gender Nonconforming, Trans Identities
Interestingly, a Harris survey conducted for GLAAD found that 12% of Millennials identify as transgender or gender-non conforming. However, it is very hard to really know how many individuals already define themselves as non-binary today, problems with terminology (several closely related terms like gender nonconforming, non-binary, gender-queer, pangender, demiboy, demigirl etc.) make it hard to count, and that many nonbinary people also identify as trans. Most surveys also exclude those under 18, and there is evidence that nonbinary identities are more taking off with young people.

Many clinicians who work with young people believe that non-binary gender identities are growing exponentially thanks to the proliferation of media about fluidity, and the surge of nonbinary information concerning nuances in gender expression that the internet provides.

Linda Hawkins, co-director of the Gender and Sexuality Development Clinic at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia said that "Looking back, there was always nonbinary kids, but it's only in the last few years that there has been the language -- language to not feel alone, to have a flag."

I can totally relate to this idea. For the longest time I thought that all of the labels were silly, or illusionary, especially after learning about Foucault and Butler in college. However, there was never a word or language to come around. When non-binary and queer started coming into the common verbiage, as well as they/them pronouns, it felt like the world was finally catching up with what I knew all along.

Cool Non-Binary, Gender-Neutral & Post-Gender Products, Projects, People
  • The Phluid Project - NYC gender-neutral store that owner Rob Smith says Gen-Z totally gets because they don't want to be constrained by sections for men and women.
  • Jecca Cosmetics - Unisex cosmetic line with tag-line, "Makeup has no gender". Launched by LGBTQ beauty advocate Jessica Blackler, started by offering makeovers to transgender women i nWales and helping them conceal 'beard shadow'. Now they are working with L'Oreal's Open Innovation program.
  • Mr Smith - Australian unisex haircare collection that doesn't distinguish between men's/women's hair
  • Official Rebrand - revives discarded clothing, breathing new life into what was once considered waste. Through painting, drawing and other alterations, non-binary artist MI Leggett's “rebranding” process proposes a sustainable alternative to the competitive consumption encouraged by social and industrial norms. OR?!’s transformative process also celebrates the fluidity of identity, dissociating garments from gendered categories and reintroducing them without arbitrary social constraints.
  • One DNa -  Independently owned emerging designer label. The designers break down the boundary between womenswear and menswear without sacrificing style. 
  • South Korea's Blindness Collection - Mixed clothing may express an individual and power or the change of  power and contradiction at the same time. This FW19 season collection sought to express to has been inspired by ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, a dystopian novel written by Margaret Atwood, which portrays a society that controls and classifies characters through clothing.

I won't to go into all of the UD framework research here, because it will take forever, but I'll list all of the resources I'm looking at, and sourced to write the brief explanation of what I'm learning about above for you to peruse at your leisure.

My Resources

I especially recommend a WONDERFUL feature by the New York Times, "The Struggles of Rejecting the Gender Binary" which has me both crying and exclaiming, "Omg. I never knew anyone else was thinking that!" re: seeing technology in sci/fantasy when a kid and thinking maybe it could also 'fix one's gender' miraculously. Finally, I found a wonderful art exhibition here in NYC from a couple years ago that I TOTALLY missed. :( I hope you enjoyed my quick review of what I'm learning as I get my presentation together for next weekend!

Please please if you have any ideas, resources, critiques, or comments, shoot me an email and let me know!

Keep reading for this week's (and next week's!) great speculative events! See you when I'm back from New Orleans!!!

"The future is here, now let's distribute it." 

Doc Martens

SciFly is a design studio dedicated to leveraging speculative design and science fiction to imagine and prototype alternative futures enabled by today's emerging technology.


Monday | 11/11

Tuesday | 11/12

Wednesday | 11/13

Thursday | 11/14

Friday | 11/15

Saturday | 11/16

Sunday | 11/17

Monday | 11/18

Tuesday | 11/19

Wednesday | 11/20

Thursday | 11/21

Friday | 11/22

Saturday | 11/23

Sunday | 11/24

OnGoing [classes, exhibits, shows etc.]


What I'm Reading

Here is a quick snapshot of my favorite books, podcasts, and articles this week.

The Struggles of Rejecting the Gender Binary
by Daniel Bergner

Why Designing Our Own Biology Will Be the Next Big Thing in Medicine
By Jason Dorrier

Ambrosia is Back to Selling Transfusions of Young People's Blood
by Dan Robitzski

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