Notes Towards a Femontology, from a Woman with a Penis.


What’s Wrong with Gender Expression?

I want to preface this by saying that, in the real world, I use the terms “gender identity” and “gender expression” freely and take them quite seriously. That is my personal, practical relationship with my gender, and one can use whatever language one feels compelled to describe that miraculous encounter. What I am about to discuss exists in the purely theoretical realm.

And it is in this realm that I say: there is no gender identity, and there is no gender expression. No one has “a” gender. Gender cannot be caught. Gender can not be nailed down, or held in your hand. It is certainly not biological. (Remember the trans triplets.) Neither can it be said to be entirely socially imposed, for similar experiences of non-biological gender exist across the landscape of cultures throughout all history. Clearly, in some way, gender persists.

Here is where I explicitly reject the transmedicalist position, which seeks to find some biological or genetic explanation for divergent gender identities. The problem with this quest, noble as it may seem, is that no matter what “trans gene” they find, there will immediately be people who are excluded by that “fact.” Gender is not the realm of facts, and it never can be. Strict definitions must be avoided at all costs, lest new exclusions arise. The point is not to dissect and label gender, but to cherish the brief flashes we get of its unknowable depths.

No human being will ever stand face to face with Pure Gender. That is simply not the nature of the thing. We can only encounter it in the performative sense, in which the object is never reached, but only encircled. It is, as I have written about before, an encounter in which the encountered is in the encountering. The gender impressions – our own, personal, contingent, historical impressions of Pure Gender – are the reality of gender. By which I mean, in a positive sense, they are the only way gender exists in the practical realm. Pure Gender can be reasoned about, but it cannot be described. Only the gender impressions can be described. That is what I mean when I say the gender impressions are the reality of gender.

And it is the gender impressions, the only empirical experience of Pure Gender, that most people are referring to when they describe their “gender identity” or “gender expression.” Again, both phrases are permissible in the practical realm, but in the theoretical realm they are entirely inaccurate.

First: Identity. Have enough thinkers before me not proven the non viability of this concept? There is no substance to gender, so how can a person be said to have a concrete gender identity? Gender is not having, it is performing. The rabbit is not under the hat, the rabbit is the hat. Gender is never identical with itself in the same way a river is never identical with itself.

And what about “gender expression”? The problem is this implies a straightforward relationship between an underlying, fixed expressed and an external expression that expresses that expressed. But gender is not so, for there is no fixed expressed, but one that is always changing with time. Our impressions of it cannot count for truth, in the same way that the statement “The time is now 9:30” is no longer truth at 9:31. 

The gender impressions are nothing more than personal, historical marks of an encounter with Pure Gender. They do not reflect truth, but tear at the point of its absence. They do not express a fixed expressed, but are themselves impressed upon. In this way, gender is neither identifiable, nor is it capable of being expressed. Pure Gender resists all efforts to nail it down, all futile attempts to identify it with a bone or a strand of DNA. Anyone who follows this path too far will find themselves no closer to identifying or expressing Pure Gender, and will undoubtedly have built up walls of exclusion along their way.

That is, ultimately, the reason why I harp on this point so much. If the trans movement is going to succeed, it can only do so by avoiding exclusionary ideologies. We cannot form a politics around identity or individualism, but instead must embrace universalism. We are all united in the encounter with Pure Gender, and the biological impossibility that induces this encounter. If our gender impressions take on myriad forms, that is in their nature, and that should be celebrated. But we should not forget that at the base of them is a great, unknowable, negational thing. This impossible point of possibility, this truth that loses nothing by being written down, this purely unconditioned point of Pure Gender, this is what we share, what brings us together. And coming together is how we win. 

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