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This website was archived on July 20, 2019. It is frozen in time on that date.
Exolymph creator Sonya Mann's active website is Sonya, Supposedly.

Taking Charge, Corporeally

A friend mentioned today that transgender people who take hormones or seek surgery are the vanguard of transhumanism. (She also noted that she didn’t originate the phrasing. It may be an extrapolation from a Zinnia Jones interview? I’m not sure.)

I think this is true, not in the sense that trans people “go beyond being human” or whatever, but that they dictate terms to their bodies rather than the other way around. Someone else said — I can’t remember the quote exactly enough to dig it up via Google — that transitioning is a radical act of prioritizing personal happiness. Your body doesn’t satisfy you, or it actively causes pain, so you change it. (Harder in practice than it is to sum up in a sentence.)

Sometimes I ponder the semantic boundaries of what counts as transhumanism. Cosmetic plastic surgery? Prosthetics? Tattoos? Wristwatches? How physically integrated does a given technology — or the change rendered by it — have to be?

The answer is probably mundane: if it hasn’t shown up in a sci-fi movie, it won’t be regarded as transhumanism. Even in the case of a Hollywood-sanctioned device or technique, the novelty will wear off. Of course, the number of people who know the word “transhumanism” and think about the phenomenon in the first place is pretty small.

We haven’t yet reacted to an astounding extension of our capabilities by proclaiming, “Homo sapiens is free from the limitations of flesh!” So I don’t expect that attitude to swarm the zeitgeist anytime soon. I mean, consider pacemakers. No one gets excited about pacemakers, regardless of it being amazing that a tiny implanted device can help control an essential organ.

Expansive Transhumanism, Already in Practice

As his $10 Patreon reward, Jeremy Southard asked me to write about transhumanism. So that’s been in the back of my mind for a few days. The trendy H+ story this week is DuoSkin, hyped by MIT Media Lab:

“DuoSkin draws from the aesthetics found in metallic jewelry-like temporary tattoos to create on-skin devices which resemble jewelry. DuoSkin devices enable users to control their mobile devices, display information, and store information on their skin while serving as a statement of personal style.”

DuoSkin is pretty and I would love a pink version, but I can’t get excited about the technology. I’m sure there are useful applications — a clandestine version could add to the espionage toolkit — but this cosmetic rendition seems a little gimmicky.

If you look at past Exolymph dispatches on transhumanism, you’ll notice that I’m more drawn to examinations of ways that we already augment our bodies than to speculative developments. Here’s why: I have zero interest in gadgets — what fascinates me is the sociology, the power relationships, the humanness of how we react to new tools. (This is not to say that there’s anything wrong with liking tech for its own sake.)

The most important transhumanist technology to emerge in the past fifty years is the internet, or more specifically networked computers. It’s a bit boring, since we’re all so used to living with it now, but the ability to store and access information at this scale is unprecedented.

I guess people don’t think of the internet as transhumanist because it’s not physically integrated, but to me that just seems like an implementation detail. For example, I store 90% of what I read online so I can reference it later. Effortlessly. My archive is quite literally a personal memory backup that I can keyword-search.

But I’m a power user. You can argue that instead of localized, individual-specific augmentations (whether targeting the body or the mind), the future is about massive crowdsourced extensions. Think Wikipedia.

Pokémon Go also loosely fits into this category — is your fitness assistant an app personalized for you, or a clever game featuring beloved childhood characters that your whole social circle uses? Which sounds more 2016?

Actually, I’m calling it now — augmented reality and transhumanism will merge beyond sensical separation within fifty years. Or maybe I just have a particularly expansive notion of what counts as transhumanism?

But consider this: Pokémon Go, widely lauded as the first consumer-focused augmented-reality success, would not be possible if most people didn’t already have smartphones in their pockets. Now imagine the mini computer is embedded in your hand, or your retina, or what-have-you. In what meaningful way would augmented reality be separate from transhumanism?

It may seem like pure semantics, but language reflects and shaped how we think about things. Our bodies are already less discrete than we think they are.

The Girl with the Augmented Body and a DIY Manufacturing Habit

Reddit user SexyCyborg is a web developer who lives and works in Shenzhen, China. She is also a 3D printing enthusiast whose projects include a wrist mount for her tiny drones and a hot-pink replica of her own body. As her username implies, SexyCyborg has body modifications, the most prominent being her breasts. She explains in her Pastebin FAQ:

“I could not get longer legs (height is most important in China) so I decided a big chest was the next best thing for looking better (or at least more interesting). I am a transhumanist with an interest in any kind of human augmentation. Any robot parts I can get I would — that’s why ‘Cyborg’.”

She tends to dress in very short crop-tops, tight denim skirts, and stripper heels. Because she combines technical prowess and unusual aesthetics, SexyCyborg has gotten copious attention — some of it admiration, but most of it slut-shaming. (Just look at the comments she’s responded to on Reddit.) She maintains that the norms are different in Shenzhen, and the puritanical reactions come from Westerners.

Again from the FAQ:

“I live in a city of 12 million and not a single other person has my style [of] clothing or my body mods. I don’t know a person in my profession who looks like me. As a creative person that is a source of pride, as person living in a society [where] we are taught from an early age to value conformity above all else it is also very challenging.”

Given all of this context, I reached out to SexyCyborg for an interview. We messaged back on forth on Reddit. As usual, the following exchange is lightly edited for readability.

SexyCyborg in Huaqiangbei, the Shenzhen Electronics District.

SexyCyborg in Huaqiangbei, the Shenzhen Electronics District.

Exolymph: How did you get into 3D printing?

SexyCyborg: In June 2015 we had our yearly Maker Faire here in Shenzhen. I decided to make some LED clothing for the closing night party — LED clothing is a tradition at Maker Faire parties. I didn’t really know what I was doing, just plugging some off-the-shelf stuff together.

I had a LiPo battery that I planned to just stick in my pocket, but some of my friends told me that was not safe. I’d used TinkerCAD a little bit, so I watched some more YouTube videos and made a little box for the battery. Actually took a lot of tries to figure out how to get the screws to work. It was a good learning experience. I borrowed a little Up! 3D printer that had been unused, sitting in a box at a friend’s place, and got to work.

The end result got a lot of attention, or I did, or some combination of the two. I’m not an engineer or anything, and seeing your picture online in other countries is pretty cool for a regular girl who’s never traveled further than SE Asia.

After that, well, if all you have is a hammer then everything looks like a nail. So I got into the habit of making little things for around the house or little toys for the neighbors’ kids. 3D-printed things are still a big novelty for most people, so you get a lot of face giving them as gifts and being able to use a 3D printer.

I try to make a point of focusing on functional prints. Too many people just download and print endless Yoda heads and other “standard” designs, which defeats the purpose of having a printer. It’s like being one of those guys who owns a fancy expensive DSLR camera and talks all about bodies and lenses but never really takes good pictures for people to enjoy.

Exolymph: Do you see parallels between software or web development and the process of designing and making physical objects?

SexyCyborg: I’m sure there are but all my code is for work and all my hardware stuff is for fun. The code stuff is just basic contract work — code monkey stuff. So I don’t get to be very creative. The hardware is where I get to do what I like. Using OpenSCAD is kind of fun though (in moderation) since it’s pretty much coding a physical object.

Exolymph: Have you ever thought about making objects for sale or anything like that?

SexyCyborg: Could happen. Our firewall issues here in China are making writing decent code pretty tough these days. It’s hard to stay up-to-date and hard to have any sort of a workflow when VPNs are so flaky right now. Even the best coders use Google — a lot. Mostly I prefer to open-source all my designs as a sort of statement to other Chinese about giving back to the online communities that have given us so much. If I could do that and still earn a living it would be great.

Exolymph: Do you resent the amount of curious attention that your body mods get? Some of it is pretty abusive, from what I’ve read in various Reddit threads, and then there’s a lot of ambiguous attention that could be interpreted positively or negatively. For example, I probably wouldn’t know about you if it weren’t for your body and style of dress, and I’m sure there are a bunch of other 3D printing hobbyists who I theoretically could be interviewing, but they don’t intrigue me like you do because the way you present yourself is perceived as provocative by Americans. You’ve said that you like attention and that you like being aesthetically unique, but I wonder if it ever feels like a burden, or just plain gets annoying.

SexyCyborg: Well, resent like, “My eyes are up here!”? No, of course not, that would be ridiculous. But as with tattoos, piercings, scarification, etc, there’s a line between, “Huh, not really my thing, but okay,” or even, “OMG you look so freaky!” and forming a circle around someone and screaming abuse.

If someone says, “Sooo, you know in the West we associate this style with sex workers, right?” I know they are not deliberately trying to get a rise out of me or be hurtful. If it’s more like, “Fuck you, whore, you should be ashamed of yourself,” as is very common, there’s no real discussion or curiosity. It’s about, “What can I say to hurt this person?”

Lots of comment threads for my projects or pictures start to look like what hackers call fuzzing, almost random combinations of epithets, references to sex work, to promiscuity, to rape, to my parents, to my culture — to see when something or some combination of things has an effect. I have a better firewall than most people, though. None of it is in my mother tongue, so it does not really run on bare metal, as it were.

I still feel I need to respond because if I don’t their narrative of “oh she dresses this way and then complains about attention” gets repeated elsewhere as if it were truth. So it’s more a question of using up bandwidth that could better be devoted to talking about the project, having a laugh about the silliness of it all, or working on more interesting things.

So yeah, it’s annoying, but what you guys consider “the internet” is just “the English internet” to me. The Chinese one is almost as large and they like me just fine. If a bunch of people in, say… Japan hated you, after a certain point it’s pretty easy to just not visit Japanese websites.

So when the “oh that’s fun” to “die in a fire, whore” ratio gets too unfavorable, I just stop posting. That’s what I did last year and I’m sure I’ll do the same again at some point. That’s just me, though. Obviously online harassment is a really complicated discussion in the West and not one that I can really comment on.

Exolymph: Do you have any new body mods planned? In a theoretical world where any tech was possible, what would you change / augment?

SexyCyborg: Cosmetically I’d love a butt, of course, but the implants look terrible to me and I don’t have anywhere near enough body fat to graft, which is how the best butt jobs are normally done. Injectable fillers are generally unsafe or at least poorly tested. I’d love longer legs but again — poor track record for safety and not looking to spend a year in recovery. So no cosmetic plans for a while.

As far as functional, I know someone with an NFC implant. It’s fun, but it seems pretty silly to poke holes in myself for under 1kb when I have 1600cc of empty space just sitting there. Enough for 1000 terabytes or so, assuming 128gb micro SD density. Maybe if they increase the NFC implant memory size a bit, or deal with the battery and charging problems of powered implants. Maybe something for audio in the mastoid bone with an SDR? Seems pretty far off.

Good magnetic implants would be awesome for fashion and wearables. Safe coated magnets should be a done deal by now. I have no idea why we have not solved this or what the hold-up is. I could keep thigh-high socks in place without clips or needing to pull them up; pubic and tailbone magnets would mean stringless bikini designs. Maybe something near the collar bone for a top or magnetic pasties. Polymagnets would deal with a lot of the issues around power. Rotate to release or hold at a fixed distance without compressing the skin. But we can’t get any of that without safe, well-tested, and durable coatings for the magnets.

Exolymph: Have you always been interested in technology and transhumanism?

SexyCyborg: Not really. Like most Chinese, I led a pretty sheltered life until I was eighteen or so. Fortunately my English is okay and I had access to VPNs, so I was able to learn more about the world than most, although I have never been to the West so I’m certainly not worldly or anything. But coming from both a very homogenous culture and a very high-tech region, the desire to be different from the ten million people around me and to use science to achieve some of that difference both had a big appeal as I matured.

Exolymph: What do you think of the breathless coverage of Shenzhen as a tech manufacturing mecca in American media? Does that reflect the reality of living there at all?

SexyCyborg: It’s nice if not entirely accurate. The whole “Maker City” thing is odd since we don’t have any. Wikipedia says, “Maker culture emphasizes informal, networked, peer-led, and shared learning motivated by fun and self-fulfillment.” In Shenzhen, making is either product development if you are an adult, or a structured curriculum if you are a child. There are almost no Chinese makers in Shenzhen doing it purely as a hobby. I’m pretty active in the community and I have not met them.

Our makerspaces — the few real ones we have — are primarily for educational purposes. We have a couple of places with laser cutters or a small 3D printer for the kids to learn on, but there’s no place you can go swipe a card and use real machine tools in the middle of the night like lots of other major cities have.

Because of this, Chinese spend rather a lot of time online speculating on how I am monetizing my adventures and what company is “actually” behind me. Even a year later, when it’s pretty clear that I would be the worst stealth marketing campaign ever, it still drives them nuts trying to figure out my “angle”.

As far as most Chinese people’s thinking, hobbies are for old people. If you have seen newspaper articles about actual Chinese makers — who have made homemade robots, dialysis machines, submarines, prosthetic arms — they are nearly all older or retirees. Young people in China just don’t have the time or freedom usually.

When you are young there is a huge amount of pressure from your parents to have children, which means getting married, which means buying a house, which in Shenzhen means making a lot of money. So most Chinese feel they really don’t have time for the “play” which really is the essence of making.

On the other hand, if you are working on a hardware startup or just want to get stuff made, then sure, I think Shenzhen is pretty unbeatable.

It was a pleasure to read SexyCyborg’s expanded thoughts. Go upvote her on Reddit.

Archival links, since social media pages are prone to disappearing:

More Slim Jims; Less Soylent

Noir cyberpunk artwork: The Fat Man by Samuel Capper

The artwork above is Samuel Capper’s The Fat Man. Note the figure’s left arm, the one pointing at the screen. I love the unabashed grotesquerie of this image — so often cyborg bodies conform to the ideals of celebrity magazines and mainstream porn.

I’m not saying that fatness is inherently grotesque, but that within the context of modern beauty norms, obesity is viewed with contempt. It is radical to combine the triple chin and robot arm in one character — this implies a future in which sophisticated body mods are available, but the pressure to be thin and “fit” is either gone or disregarded.

I also love the allusion to The Maltese Falcon, both in the portrait’s title and its style. (Sydney Greenstreet’s character is dubbed the Fat Man.) Cyberpunk is often cited as a genre with noir roots, but aside from Blade Runner the visuals have often tended more toward space-age sleekness than old-school back-alley grime.

Give me more nastiness, more cigarettes, more computers held together with duct tape. More Slim Jims and less Soylent. And more body diversity — but I want that from all media.

It’s Warm, Like Flesh

The following article was written by Mike Dank (Famicoman).

As technology evolves, the line between science and science fiction starts to blur. At one point, the thought of space travel or even micro-computing was only a dream of the future, yet it became a reality within or before our lifetimes. More and more, we find ourselves questioning if something is real or only exists in thought — a pie-in-the-sky dream of hopefuls or holdouts. We are starting to find that the future is now, whether we are ready for it or not.

A video about a modular life-form grown from human cells made its rounds on the Internet only a few weeks ago. In the video, you are first presented with a couple of slabs of meat on a stainless steel counter. Cut to a scientist who introduces you to “OSCAR”, a modular human-like organism. We see Oscar get assembled: a brain module (literally a black box of electronic components) is plugged into a heart module is plugged into a lung module is plugged into a kidney module. With each insertion, we see the creature twitch, pulsate, or squirm. Then limb modules are added and Oscar awkwardly crawls around in search of warmth.

This Cronenberg-esque video was both terrifying and fascinating. With imagery straight out of eXistenZ (1999) or Naked Lunch (1991), we watch this organic creature struggle and writhe as it gains access to new organs; this is body horror from our fever dreams and darkest nightmares. It seems real, real enough, and a large number of people believed that the video was legitimate. After making the rounds on Facebook, it was eventually discovered to be content from a science fiction web series — not a promotional video from a medical lab deep in the bowels of some no-name organization.

What does this say about the state of our society? Is it not too far-fetched to believe that someone can grow living organs, link them together, and have the resulting life-form instinctively move around the room? For years we have been influenced by news on advancements in scientific fields such as biomedical and biomolecular engineering. From the infamous WWII Soviet propaganda film Experiments in the Revival of Organisms (1940), where a dog’s head was kept alive independent of a body, all the way up to the famed 1997 Vacanti mouse, with what looks like a human ear on its back, we have been shocked and mystified by the promises of science, especially its perversions. Even today we see cables from the relatively new field of tissue engineering with scientists poring over lab-grown meat cultures to be used as food or refining bioartificial liver devices constructed from animal cells.

Are we going to see this type of work packaged and sold to the consumer in a glossy box anytime soon? I don’t think so. I will admit, it would be incredibly interesting if I could head down to my local Best Buy and pick up Samsung’s new bio-hacking kit so I could grow my own cells and build a life-form as casually as I would order Sea-Monkeys from the back of a comic book. Imagine an organic branch of littleBits, selling you packs of organ and tissue for $99.95. What about a biopunk hacker who wants to grow himself a new eyeball with better night vision? This opens things up to more political and philosophical controversy.

While the video wasn’t real, we may not be lagging too far behind the concept of a modular body, speaking technologically. As the line between fact and fiction flickers and fades, we see the potential for groundbreaking scientific advancements for the human race, and unhinged scientific experiments stemming from the simple question, “What if?”

Our world may not be ready for Oscar.

Not yet.

Now go read everything else Mike Dank has written.

The Inconvenience of Being Anything Other Than Human

The following post was contributed by John Ohno. You may know know him as @enkiv2 from the Cyberpunk Futurism chat group or the #botALLY chat group. This dispatch serves as somewhat of a correction to my previous mentions of Second Life — here and here — for which I am grateful.

John provides more hands-on details about the logistics of virtual self-representation. He did want to add this caveat: “I haven’t even been on Second Life since, like, 2012 or 2013, so maybe things have changed. I haven’t been keeping up.” Regardless, his recollection of the process is interesting…

While it’s possible to get non-human avatars in Second Life, doing so is more technically difficult than getting human-shaped ones. Second Life ships with the ability to customize within the range of pretty human-shaped avatars, but all non-human ones are third-party extensions that frequently break when Linden Labs makes upgrades. Ultimately those extensions are fairly expensive and not very customizable, because of the cost to upload meshes.

At normal exchange rates, it costs about a dollar to upload a texture and a dollar to upload a mesh. An interesting avatar might require three or four new textures and a couple of meshes. Most people are unwilling to pay that and equally unwilling make the 3D-modeling effort in the first place. If somebody else does it for you then you end up with a mass-produced avatar that can’t be customized.

You see a similar pattern on the open grid, where there aren’t any actual monetary costs for uploads, so I think the barrier is just effort and lack of customization.

Linden Labs’ business model is designed around exchange with the in-game economy, and the primary method they have for forcing people to participate economically is to charge for uploads of certain types of content. There are a lot of things that you can do in-game without any money. But there are different domains.

Built-in avatar customizations are within the same domain that you’d get in The Sims. You can change your height, breast size, eye size, hair style, nose length, and stuff like that. You can make yourself muscular or skinny. You can change your skin color to any color in the palette. You can wear any built-in or free clothing, or compose your own out of built-in or free textures, of which there are plenty. I used to play as an eight-foot-tall muscular green-skinned guy with red eyes in a leather trench coat, none of which cost me anything.

However, if you want to diverge from the humanoid form, you’re replacing your avatar with an object that isn’t treated as an avatar. Objects can be created in-game for free, but there are resource limits based on the number of “prims” — primitive shapes. When you’re building with prims, you’re stuck with things like spheres and cubes and toruses and pyramids. You can theoretically make anything out of them, but it’s time-consuming and most “sims” (sixty-five square kilometers of land) have an upper limit of a couple hundred prims at a time. If you go over that, prims will disappear or be rejected. So you can’t build something really complex out of prims and wear it unless you expect to be literally the only person or object within sixty-five kilometers.

About ten years after Second Life launched, Linden Labs added a couple mechanisms for getting around prim limits. Both of them involve doing your 3D modeling in some outside program and uploading a file. One is “sculpties”, where you turn a height map into a texture and use it to warp a sphere. The other is “meshes”, where you export a 3D model and import it as a single object, counted separately from prims for resource-usage reasons.

Super-custom avatars are typically made by shrinking or vanishing your human avatar, and then wearing one or more meshes. I’ve seen some cool ones, like Futurama-style heads in jars that float. The head-in-a-jar thing can theoretically be a single mesh and doesn’t require special animations, so that’s fairly cheap — but you need to model somebody’s head. On the other hand, if you want to have a kitten avatar, you’re going to need separate meshes for the legs and tail and upload animations for the walk cycle if you want it to do anything other than glide.

Thank you, John! The takeaway is that supply chains still matter in the virtual world. You can’t design an MMORPG without constraints, and I have to wonder if we’d even enjoy exploring the resultant world if that weren’t true…

Post-Body Identities

Imagine that you can upload your mind into a tiny computer chip. (Or maybe “transport your mind” is a better phrase, since I don’t want to address the gnarliness of a single personality existing in multiple hosts.) Put aside whether this is technically possible — speculating on the topic is useful regardless.

So, your mind is housed in an itsy-bitsy sophisticated machine. That mind-chip can be implanted into anything, right? How about a giraffe’s body? How about a rock? Maybe you want to experience the stillness of a boulder in a mountain stream, like someone on a train whose face isn’t buried in their smartphone.

In this scenario, we have to change our fundamental assumptions about the environment we navigate daily. If every object can be sentient, you must step carefully. You must watch yourself constantly, because you might be watched by someone else. (This is already true to a certain extent, but for the most part other individuals aren’t paying attention to you, especially not without your knowledge.)

I suspect that most people will still want a body. Maybe a more perfect body, with flawless muscles and embedded martial arts knowledge. But they’ll want to represent themselves as humanoid. Look at Second Life — sure, you have furries and aliens and other unhuman creature creations, but they’re outnumbered by hyper-sexed Homo sapiens analogues. (Disclaimer: I’m basing my assumption on Flickr albums of screenshots.) I’ve described this dynamic before:

“What will our avatars look like in a hundred years? Post-gender and post-form, or exactly like the musclebound hunks and bit-titted blondes that titillate today’s Second Life denizens? We mustn’t forget the furries and weaboos, already a significant contingent of any visually oriented social network (which is all of them) (especially 4chan) (maybe they don’t haunt Instagram? idk).”

I still wonder about the world where I can inhabit any container. What will that do to gender? Many of us already acknowledge that a person’s genital configuration does not determine their gender. We have two common phenotypical maps, but people’s brains have claimed many identities beyond “male” and “female”. Bigender, nonbinary, agender, and various other labels. I suspect that most of you reading this accept gender diversity as normal and positive.

I’ve grappled with this personally — I identify very strongly as a woman, but I can’t figure out why. What draws me so strongly to femininity? It must be a tangle of biology, evo-psych, and socialization. In terms of how we treat people, the origin of nonbinary genders is irrelevant, but it’s still an interesting question. I suspect technological advances will help us whittle down the list of potential answers.

This idea was posed by my boyfriend and further inspired by some discussion in the chat group. Also, obligatory tip o’ the hat to Laboria Cuboniks., Speculative Comics, & Dentistry

Girly teenage robots? Photo by elkbuntu.

Girly teenage robots? Photo by elkbuntu.

There are three things I want to talk about today:

  1. Microsoft’s inadvertently racist Twitter bot, / @TayandYou.
  2. A comic that a-u-t-o-x is releasing soon.
  3. My visit to the dentist today (I swear I have a reason to bring it up).

Unless you’ve been off the internet for a few days, you ran into Tay, a Twitter bot that Microsoft released as PR (?!?!) for their in-house machine learning capabilities. This was an utterly predictable catastrophe. Tay processed the text people tweeted at her and mimicked it back. Trolls quickly figured out the mechanism and made her say a bunch of neo-Nazi nonsense.

“What Tay reminds us: AI may or may not be scary. Humans who train AI are terrifying. Or, humans in general are terrifying.” — Hugh McGuire

Usually I try to stay away from posting a bunch of links, but other people have already said all the smart things. These articles overview the facts:

Wisdom from people who have dealt with systems like this before:

And then Allison Parrish commented in the #botALLY Slack group:

“re: tay, yesterday before any of the really bad stuff went down, I quote-retweeted something that mentioned the account and then the account @-replied me… so I blocked it, thinking how annoying it was that this bot that has Twitter verified status isn’t complying with the letter or the spirit of the API ToS

like, many people must have been involved in decisions to get this bot live, on the part of the group at microsoft AND at twitter

and the fact that no one involved apparently thought of these obvious ways in which it would be a disruptive negative experience for people just… seems unfathomable

we have YEARS of precedents for applications of the Twitter API like this and even the greenest botmaker among us has a better grasp of the issues at stake than the people involved in this project”

So, that’s a whole big thing. In other news, a-u-t-o-x is releasing a comic, which will be available on his website. He told me: “it is titled WORLD L.S.D and ties in Cyberpunk aesthetics & Science Fiction themes. […] the story is simultaneously set in a futuristic city ‘Neo-F’ and outback Australia, as Neo-F is prone to jump through time sporadically.” Here is the title image:
And lastly, I went to the dentist today. (Shocker: I’m apparently brushing and flossing wrong! What a new thing to hear from a dental hygienist!) But seriously, it made me further contemplate what I said yesterday: “The future is beyond bodies. A few decades from now — and during some parts of the present — we will not be confined to flesh, nor even to brains.”

I was definitely exaggerating. It’s going to take a helluva lot longer than that. My gums are receding (see: brushing wrong, also possibly genetics) and that is a thing that I have to worry about. We live in an absurd world where the random flesh accident that you’re born into has a huge effect on your quality of life. I admit it, but I’m not pleased.

Gender =/= Genitalia

As was reported in The New York Times (as well as other media outlets) and decried on Twitter:

“North Carolina legislators, in a whirlwind special session on Wednesday, passed a wide-ranging bill barring transgender people from bathrooms and locker rooms that do not match the gender on their birth certificates. […] The bill also prohibits local governments from raising minimum wage levels above the state level — something a number of cities in other states have done.”

Perhaps you’ll be unsurprised to hear that this was a Republican initiative. It’s telling that the bill reinforces poverty in the same breath as criminalizing free gender expression. If you want an overview of why this law is not only bigoted but impracticable, I recommend Andi McClure’s tweets on the topics.

So how does transphobic legislation tie into cyberpunk? The genre is about straining against a technologically mediated dystopia. You can’t necessarily jam every type of oppression into that framework. But gender typifies how the analogue world has been bounded in a way that the digital world can’t be.

Our binary gender system is nominally based on reproductive phenotypes. It’s full of contradictions. If genitalia is what defines womanhood, then how does a cliterodectomy affect things? Or a hysterectomy? Is a post-op trans woman okay, even if her birth certificate lists her as male? What about intersex people, or those with three sex chromosomes? Why are we so beholden to this outdated set of assumptions? Why does it matter?

Mainstream opinion often conflates gender with reproductive capabilities, boiling identity down to our basic animal urges. I’m not anti-sex, but I do believe that we’re capable of acting on more than our primal mating impulse. The future is beyond bodies. A few decades from now — and during some parts of the present — we will not be confined to flesh, nor even to brains. It’s that old New Yorker joke: “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” On the Internet, speech is an act, and you can create yourself anew with words and pixels.

I wish meatspace operated by the same principles. If you find the situation in North Carolina as appalling as I do, please join me in donating to Lambda Legal.

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