soon it will be possible to not just change genders but create your own unique form. Surgery is not the only way this will be done: we are just beginning to see the potential of CRISPR, which will allow us to alter our very genes.
by M. Christian
In our previous instalment, “La Petite Mort: The Death Of Sex,” we looked at how technology will eventually eliminate not just the reproductive aspects of makin’ whoopee but possibly also the whoopee part itself.
This time, though, we’re looking at the end of something just about as old as sex. But, as we’ll soon find out, what’s really going to die isn’t snips and snails, sugar and spice but how we look at world around us — particularly when it comes to gender.
Before we get to that, we first have to talk about pareidolia: the way the human mind sees structures — like faces in clouds — that aren’t really there.
Many researchers have hypothesized that pareidolia is actually a survival tactic: that the deepest structures in our minds evolved it to be able, as quickly as possible, to identify possible threats — or even to be able to “read” the emotions of those around us. Again, as a way to get the jump on what could be a dangerous situation.
The bottom line is that we, humans, really like patterns. We want to box and label everything around us. There’s even a scientific discipline dedicated to this very thing: Taxonomy, the science of (cribbing from Wikipedia here) “description, identification, nomenclature, and classification of organisms.”
Oh, sure, there are rules in taxonomy — what separates it just seeing bunnies in stratocumulus formations — but even in this field we’ve begun to realize that we need to change our perspective, not just see things that just aren’t there.
Hell, we can barely decide what life actually is — or can be — let alone trying to fit it into neat compartments.
Here’s where we get to gender. It would be easy to say that the idea of gender has changed, playing into the conservative hysteria that “boys can’t be boys, girls can’t be girls” anymore, but there are many societies — some far older than our embarrassing country — that has seen gender as much more fluid.
Just to pick one that’ll rub some salt in well-deserved wounds the real Americans, not just those filthy immigrants, had a much more expansive and inclusive concept of gender. The Dineh (incorrectly called Navajo) see not just men and women but four variations, depending on behavior as well as biology.
Similarly, there are the Hijra of India and Pakistan, who are considered to be neither male or female but a unique third gender.
In these modern times, there is the slowly growing acceptance of intersex individuals: those who (quoting from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights): “do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies.”
Thought LGBT activism and visibility, both in the United States and other countries, we have also similarly seen idea of gender being expanded: from transgender individuals but also from those who choose to embrace their own definitions and physical forms.
There is resistance, of course. Just like we see bunnies in clouds there is often a “discomfort” in not being able to structure the universe to our liking. We so want to point fingers and say “that is a boy” and “that is a girl” — and when someone corrects us, especially in ways that shake that simplified view of what is truly a actually a wildly complex world, humans get defensive. We start to blame others, claiming (again) that “they” are taking that simple world away from us–when it was never there to begin with.
I remain optimistic, though. We are already seeing progress and while there will be backward slides most of human society is already on the way to seeing gender as less than binary.
Part of this progress is social: the inexorable growth of acceptance towards those who don’t want to fit into neat little boxes–or at least boxes not created by someone else.
Another part, which is coming faster than you think, is coming through technological — and biological–change. Just consider MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) games, where players can become any gender they choose. In these places your avatar can be a form of who you are, an added dimension to your self: sometimes the same gender, sometimes the opposite, other times something new and totally unique. In this way users are experimenting with being more flexible, in seeing gender as more than an either/or state.
Then there’s biological change. A lot of happened since the earliest days of plastic surgery, as well as sex-reassignment procedures. As the technology gets better and better, soon it will be possible to not just change genders but create your own unique form. Surgery is not the only way this will be done: we are just beginning to see the potential of CRISPR, which will allow us to alter our very genes.
I also think that one of the biggest changes to how we perceive gender is going to come through Augmented Reality (AR). Wearing a set of AR glasses, you’ll be able to see–at a glance–all a person wishes to share about themselves: name, language, and even their chosen self-definition.
As for how this will change the gender landscape … think of it this way: we humans like to see shapes, apply labels — back to pareidolia again — but what happens when we don’t need to? We create order when we don’t know what we are looking at, but when we can see, and better yet comprehend, that gender is not binary then it will shift our realities.
There will be rough times, that is certain. But, again, I stay optimistic–not just that our concept of gender will expand but, more importantly, what will really kill gender: the respect of self-identification.
Technology, social media, surgical techniques, Augmented Reality … these will help but what will really be the death of gender is when we, as a society, take that even bigger step to support and respect people to define who they are–and not what we think they should be.