Gender and Transhumanism

Janet Mock recently made a few appearances on television, and the surrounding conversations got me thinking about what a truly post-human future would imply for gender identity. We already have people identifying with a gender that has nothing to do with the sexual organs they were born with. We also have the biotechnology to let people alter much of their physical appearance to be in line with their gender identities. Complicating matters even further, we have people who are gender fluid (or gender neutral) who change their identities day to day. If gender selection is a spectrum rather than binary, imagine what might happen when we can completely change or eliminate our sexual organs at will.

 Ardhanarishvara: Shiva and Parvati in one form, half-man, half-woman, cast in bronze

Ardhanarishvara: Shiva and Parvati in one form, half-man, half-woman, cast in bronze

The latest understanding and nomenclature for these topics is that your sex is determined by biological and physiological characteristics. Your gender, however, has more to do with how you behave and how you fit with the social definitions of male and female. Let’s consider this in the context of the feminist movement: what does this say about women who want the life that men have traditionally had and vice versa? Is everyone who’s fighting for equal rights in some way transgender? Or perhaps gender fluid: sometimes wanting to behave in a “feminine” fashion, and other times in a “masculine.” Are these terms even meaningful anymore?

Transhumanism is the idea that humanity in the future will be a mix of today’s basic biology with biotechnology that we can only imagine. Most people focus on Kurzweil’s idea of a technological singularity - the fusion of a human body with electronics. A less explored aspect is that of self-modification, even in the biological realm. With that ability, the sex you were born with would be as irrelevant as your assigned gender at birth today. Imagine waking up one day, as a male, and deciding that you really want to have a baby. A few days of bio-modification later, you are a female, fully capable of growing a human baby and giving birth. Alternatively, imagine that you’re tired of being sexual and turn yourself completely androgynous.

The post-human future could be a good thing in light of creating equality of the sexes. Gender conventions are a primary cause of discrimination against women today. If society can eliminate those conventions, or at least subvert them to the point of obsolescence, men and women might finally be on equal ground. If, over and above that, women could turn into men and vice versa at multiple points in their lifetime, even sexism might become an idea of the past.

Joss Whedon made the case back in November, 2013, that we ought to move past the word feminist because everyone should want equality of the sexes. His proposed alternative was to label people “genderist” if they were acting against equal rights. In light of current gender issues and a possibly genderless future, this may not be the best choice. A better course would be to neutralize our verbiage, divorcing it from sexual or gender based identity. A biased or bigoted person is just that, no matter what human attribute is the object of their hatred. Some day, even the word sexist may lose its meaning entirely...or so I can hope.