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Tag: gender

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.

Pornbots Lacking Self & Gender

Warnings: 1) Could be NSFW if you work somewhere stodgy. 2) Discusses cissexism and sexual assault.

Image of a gynoid via Mona Eberhardt.

Image via Mona Eberhardt.

Wikipedia says of the gynoid, “A fembot is a humanoid robot that is gendered feminine. It is also known as a gynoid, though this term is more recent.” (Hold on, I’m going something with this.) The article elaborates:

“A gynoid is anything that resembles or pertains to the female human form. Though the term android refers to robotic humanoids regardless of apparent gender, the Greek prefix ‘andr-‘ refers to man in the masculine gendered sense. Because of this prefix, many read Android as referring to male-styled robots.” [Emphasis in original.]

I disagree with the Wikipedia editors’ conflation of “female” and “has tits and a vagina” but I must leave the depth of that argument for another day. Suffice it to say that a gynoid is an android — a robot designed to mimic Homo sapiens — that has tits and a vagina. Its overall appearance matches the shapes we code as “womanly” (or, disturbingly, “girlish”).

But a gynoid with no self-awareness, no sentience, cannot have a gender. Because gender is an inner experience than may be communicated to the world, not something that outside observers can impose on a body, however much they might try.

Screenshot of a gynoid by Sophrosyne Stenvaag.

Screenshot (?) by Sophrosyne Stenvaag.

Is it wrong to fetishize gynoids and treat them as fucktoys? If the gynoid has consciousness then yes, it’s just as immoral as any other sexual abuse. But if the robot is simply a well-engineered physical manifestation of porn? Can you rape a souped-up Fleshlight?

I think not. There’s no self in that container to traumatize. So it wouldn’t be wrong because of any harm done to the device — a gynoid with no mind or soul is a gadget like your phone or your Roomba — but could be wrong because of the effect on humans who also have bodies coded as feminine.

If someone gets into the habit of treating a gynoid as a sexual object, will they pattern-match and treat people they perceive as women with the same violence and disrespect? It is by no means conclusive that regular pornography has the common-sense effect of making viewers more sexually violent. There’s no consensus on whether video games encourage IRL aggression either.

I’m sure we’ll find out eventually. For better or for worse.

(I told my boyfriend that I was going to write a thinkpiece about gynoids instead of a political thinkpiece and he said, “The lady robots?!”)

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.

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.

Go Ahead & Change Bodies; Just Remember To Take Your Soma

The following story was written by Reddit user ehwut in /r/blastfromthefuture, and is being distributed here with permission. Lightly edited for this venue. You may notice that the style slips in and out of newsiness — I must chasten you to remember that the journalistic habits of 2064 will differ from our own.

Pamela Greensbury is a member of a human group once thought extinct: a stay-at-home mother. Whenever her friends brag about their accomplishments since the introduction of Kindercryo chambers, Pam feels horrified. “I keep thinking, what happened to a normal childhood? Watching cartoons, playing in the yard, going to school? Today, kids learn everything in their dreams. They miss out on so much.”

Pam’s objections echo the headlines we were accustomed to back when decades-old VR academy brands were first becoming household names. Her peer group regards her as the economic equivalent of lifelong lunar pioneers wobbling and fumbling under full Earth gravity. Pam told me, “No one remembers the work that a full-time live household requires. For choosing a traditional path, I was nearly isolated, and became a kind of quaint thing kept around for decorum.” She says that she has few friends.

Photo of Navajo children playing from the US National Archives.

Photo from the US National Archives.

We seldom hear their stories, but mothers who share Pam’s frustration with our twenty-four-hour work culture are more commonplace than we may think. Last year, the SomaCo plant strikes across New Jersey were mostly led by women who professed to be frustrated with being denied their natural range of emotion. In Beijing there are rumors of armed revolt by couples who demand a right to private intimacy as a matter of humanist faith. Have we tread down a path our species was never meant to go?

Doctor Rowan Johnson of the Center for Economic Culture may have the answer. “We tend to forget the struggles of the past once they’re over with. At one time, women couldn’t vote, men were expected to solely shoulder the bloody cost of war, and parents had to maintain nearly endless reserves of energy and discipline to raise their children in person. Kids played, yes, but they also got hurt. There were vaccination objectors, cultural battles between the genders, epidemics of abuse in various forms, and totally out-of-control rates of anxiety disorders.”

“Now, we are free to pursue our goals. We contribute to society every waking moment, our children are safe, and yet women object to the loss of their motherhood role. Men feel displaced in a culture that no longer provides them with any gender-specific role expectations. We may not always see the resentment there, bubbling beneath the surface of our collective social consciousness, but it is very real. National mood regulation has failed to correct this. We might as well face the truth — the alternative seems to be a return to the old days of social calamity.”

Perhaps no longer. Doctor Johnson has worked for thirteen years to perfect what his research team calls the ultimate solution for personal freedom. Through a combination of applications of nanomolecular manufacturing, gene therapy, and a minimal number of implant procedures, volunteer subjects have been gifted with the ability to take total moment-to-moment control of their physical identities. A simple interface allows users to change their gender, fine-tune their physical attributes, and even (despite much controversy) change their race.

“This is the true end of the gender divide.” Doctor Johnson beamed as he showed off a set, which the FDA is expected to rubber-stamp this December. “We can revert to the old way of doing things without disadvantage, due to attributes previously beyond our control. If our work reaches the mainstream, then matters of old contention such as equality and social injustice can be mitigated with the touch of an icon. Does somebody think they’ll be discriminated against for their gender? Then they can take on the appearance of the opposite gender for work and go back to their natural looks when they get home. Is there evidence of disproportionate law enforcement? Then adopt the characteristics of the privileged race while in public. Never before has the individual had such power to overcome social obstacles.”

Photo of a protest marcher from the US National Archives.

Photo from the US National Archives.

But not everyone is convinced. Pamela Greensbury seems like a natural fit to advocate for this solution, which might draw people back into the physical world, but her testimony before the Senate Human Augmentation and Enhancement Committee proves otherwise. “We cannot sacrifice our individuality and diversity to save ourselves from ourselves. We will only adopt new problems! What happens to private relationships when the people you meet in public aren’t who you think they are? What will the psychological effects be when people feel forced to hide their race or gender in order to succeed? We’ve gone too far down a dangerous road already by sacrificing our nature to eliminate problems. Hiding from those problems is no solution either.”

Doctor Johnson was reached briefly for comment. He sighed and said, “Take away the root of these problems, and somebody complains. Give people the tools to mitigate discrimination with the freedom to live however they want at home, and somebody complains. Let people figure it all out for themselves, and somebody complains. Solve problems through regulations, and somebody complains. Anybody who doesn’t like our work doesn’t have to use it.”

It’s too soon to guess whether we’ll see a new kind of diversity or just continue as usual. The market will be the ultimate test. In the meantime, we may be wise to question those who stand in the way of progress. On her way out of the Senate chambers, Pamela Greensbury was arrested for mood regulation noncompliance. A spittle test administered by security at the entrance to the building proved that not only has she not taken her soma in recent months, but she has never been treated. CPS is investigating allegations of neglect, but has not commented on whether her children’s mood regulation needs were being fulfilled.

Once again, I encourage you to join the subreddit and upvote ehwut’s story. Thanks to fellow Redditor and sub moderator mofosyne for directing me to this piece.

Biomorphic Extremism: Gynoids & Terminators

Male cyborgs are for warfare and female cyborgs are for sex. I’m not kidding — think about all the movies and books that feature human-seeming machines, especially commercial ones. What are they produced and used for? The male ones are fighters and the females are — I must use the uncouth term — fuckers. (There are exceptions, of course, like Gigolo Joe in AI and Ghost in the Shell‘s Motoko Kusanagi.) Female cyborgs often serve the manic-pixie-dream-girl role for a male protagonist, for example in Ex Machina and to a certain extent also Her.

Some of DeviantArt's "Popular All Time" search results for the term "cyborg".

Some of DeviantArt’s “Popular All Time” search results for the term “cyborg”.

I don’t think the gender binary is good or immutable. It’s interesting, and disappointing, to note how it plays out in future-oriented media. Our ideas about new bodies and new souls are strictly bounded by the currently acceptable kinds of identities. I wrote about this topic before back in early January:

“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).”

The response to that piece on Facebook was basically, “Nah, I’d look like myself but with more muscles.”

For contrast, a recent sci-fi story on Vice’s Motherboard is a strange and provocative exploration of alien bodies, described by the author as “vespo-sapphic pesticidepunk”. It’s an interactive game-like experience built with Twine, and well worth your time. I usually hate interactive features because they rarely add anything to the narrative, but this was beautiful and horrifying and oozy. Reading it made me feel like I was crazy.

All of this is on my mind because tonight I watched Natural City, an excellent Korean B-movie described thus in Wikipedia:

Two cops, R and Noma, hunt down renegade cyborgs. The cyborgs serve a number of duties, ranging from military commandos to “dolls”, engineered for companionship. [In this case, “companionship” is a euphemism for sex — amusingly, the wiki link led to the page for “sex worker”.] They have a limited 3-year lifespan, although black market technology has been developed to transfer a cyborg’s artificial intelligence into the brain of a human host.

This breakthrough compels R into finding Cyon, an orphaned prostitute, who may serve as the host for the mind of his doll Ria. He has fallen deeply in love with his doll and she has only a few days left to live.

Eventually, R must make a decision between leaving the colony with Ria to spend her last days with him on a paradise-like planet or save his friends when a renegade combat cyborg takes over the police headquarters.

Highly recommended.

The Bleeding Edge

This is the first missive. The first dispatch from my cold tile cave (okay, it’s just a gaming room). The cat scrambles past my feet — she is a wholly primal being, but I am halfway immersed in a networked future of distributed synapses, part of a large brain with many autonomous nodes. Yes, that’s a euphemism for Twitter.

Exolymph is an exploration of the dystopia we live in today and the one we’re building for next week. Consider it grimdark optimism.

“I have a strong personal faith in the promises of money and technology to improve my mortal existence as a meat-sack” — Nicole Cliffe endorsing Thinx period panties in The Toast

I feel it, Nicole. Meat-sack solidarity. Also, this comment by JoanLR from a thread on queer biohacking:

[…] many identities that people relate to being queer have to do with feeling out of place in your body, or with having unusual feelings about how your body interacts with other bodies.
At least in the frame of reference of trans folk, there’s also a lot of us who sort of start body-modification stemming from changing ourselves for gendered reasons? […] Additionally, there’s the whole angle of how biohacking — especially the grinder style of DIY unofficial biohacking — gives people physical diversity and changes what different individuals can do, which I feel heavily relates to the concepts of personal autonomy and the idea of being abnormal in a “fuck you” sort of way, which loops back to being queer.

New possibilities for self-definition, opened up with a scalpel. Consider the poem “Cosmopolite” by Georgia Douglas Johnson, via the Poem-a-Day newsletter:

Not wholly this or that,
But wrought
Of alien bloods am I,
A product of the interplay
Of traveled hearts.
Estranged, yet not estranged, I stand
All comprehending;
From my estate
I view earth’s frail dilemma;
Scion of fused strength am I,
All understanding,
Nor this nor that
Contains me.

I’ll be seeing you soon.