The Fallacy of the Myth of Gender

Christie Elan-Cane

USA and London
Gendys Conference, 2000

I have chosen to give this paper the title "The Fallacy of the Myth of Gender" because I want to expose the most fundamental belief that is the backbone of gendered society as an untruth and a deception: the belief that the human identity cannot exist unless the identity is gendered: the belief that gender is an essential component of the human identity that can be altered when the medical establishment accepts there is justification for an individual need to change gendered role, but a component that can never be erased from the societal perception of what constitutes a valid human identity. And I want to challenge the general common assumption that the socially accepted, bi-polarised gender system is an absolute from which no one can be allowed to deviate.

It is my belief that gender is a state of mind and the gender system is a social construct that has assumed the status of absolute and that absolute status is perpetuated by layer upon layer of social conditioning. As human beings, we possess a unique ability to express freedom of thought and yet that freedom has become diminished by the gender system where the identity of the individual person is propelled into a place of belonging within one of two sides of a bi-polarised divide, and depending upon the physicality of the individual that is the determining factor as to which side of the gender system the individual is placed. There is no acknowledgment accorded towards an existence outside the bi-polarised gender system although there are human identities that do not fall into either of the (male/female) gendered categories and I know through the benefit of personal experience that the human identity can be complete without gender although my non-gendered identity is not accorded social validity under and within the existing societal bi-polarised gender system.

There is no social system that has benefited more from such complete and ultimate indoctrination of the population than the dictate of gender. As the bi-polarised gender system has assumed the status of absolute, a gendered identity is a compulsory necessity for social survival and advancement within society, because the gender system has ensured the only valid human identities that are perceived as such by gendered society are the gendered identities of male and female. The indoctrination of the individual into the bi-polarised gender system begins at the moment of birth and the indoctrination perpetuates throughout the life of every human being and each indoctrinated human being continues the perpetuation by wilfully indoctrinating the next generation and the result is that gender, as a requisite state, has been accepted as a truism; whereas society could have evolved in an entirely different direction where the identity of the person is not segregated into one of two opposite factions depending on the physicality of the person and where the expression of the individual is not limited to what is regarded as appropriate or considered acceptable human expression under the terms of the current social constrictions that are placed upon conformity to the gendered roles.

As a social system, the gender system is divisive but, aside from the issues of inequality within the system, the issues of inequality that have evolved within the gender system from the formation of social hierarchies inherent within the nature of any divisive system, the bi-polarised gender system fails to acknowledge the existence of those who do not "belong" of either side within the system. What we have is a gendered social structure that illegitimises and excludes the non-gendered identity, to such extent that it is not possible for the non- gendered identity to function within society. There exists no framework for exercising fundamental human rights if the identity of the individual is perceived as being something outside the boundaries of actuality and therefore an identity that is not valid; while the medical establishment surgically and hormonally alters the bodies of intersex people so they can be so they can be assimilated and categorised into the bi-polarised system, and gendered society systematically denies an identity to those for whom the notion of gender is so anathema to the core personality that to place oneself into either gendered role is an impossibility. Whereas sections of gendered society engage in cross gendered role play and adopt mannerisms and forms of presentation attributed to the opposite gender on a temporary basis or undergo the uncompromising process of permanent reassignment to the opposite sex and gain social acceptance within the gendered role of preference, there is no acknowledgement accorded towards an identity that is devoid of the need for social representation through gender. The existence of the non-gendered identity is suppressed because gendered society has failed to provide a mechanism for that identity to co-exist. This failure has served to perpetuate the falsehood that gender is a requisite state for the individual and for society.

The bi-polarised gender system has historically been regarded as immutable because, until fairly recently, most people were not able to question their status within society while access to education was limited. But we live today in a society that purports to be a democracy and where the focus is self- determinism; it is therefore surely a matter for the individual to decide whether they wish to self-present as gendered or whether they do not identify as belonging of either gendered role. In other aspects of our lives we have an element of choice; e.g. we can choose how we dress, we can choose to some degree the image we want to convey to others, we can choose our partner or partners, our friends, our work and where we live (if we're lucky) but, being part of a gendered society means we cannot choose to opt out of the playing of a gendered role. This does not present a problem for the majority who have never sought to question their gendered status but the enforcement of gender and bureaucratic gender categorisation makes life very difficult for the invisible minority who do not belong of either gendered role and cannot compromise the non-gendered identity by misrepresenting the self and adopting a gendered role to present to the world or, in other words, living a lie. Accepting that gender is not a requisite factor of the human condition, it therefore follows that it should be a matter of personal choice for the individual to determine whether it is appropriate to self-present as gendered because, apart from social constraint within a gendered society, there is no reason to force a gendered role upon the individual.

To effect the social change that will be necessary in order to prepare the way for the mainstream acceptance of an unfamiliar identity that exists outside the bi-polarised gender system, one has first to consider the factual status of that system. The totality of social adherence to the bi-polarised gender system has granted to the gender system the status of absolute; whereas the reality is that the gender system, as a social construct, can be dismantled as it was created. This could become a possibility if the public and political will existed to effect this change. I would not be sorry to see the whole societal concept of gender abandoned completely, but I understand that to make such a suggestion would be futile in today's social climate which has yet to relinquish outdated notions of genderhood as a compulsory state. I possess a need and a genuine desire for change and I want to offer solutions that will be acceptable to the reasonable majority because I understand that there is no point in arguing for substantial social change when that change appears threatening towards gendered society. Gendered society, as the dominant force, will always resist such change.

Therefore I will suggest an alternative solution (a more palatable solution to the gendered majority who are indoctrinated into the system and could not countenance the concept of a genderless society). My solution is that the bi-polarised gender system should be broadened to create a legitimate space for the non-gendered identity.

The non-gendered identity will become a recognised social identity or category (although I dislike using the C word) alongside the existing gendered identities of male and female and the non-gendered person will gain access to all the social amenities that are presently being denied; including enabling the non-gendered person with the means to exercise per human rights when suffering victimisation and/or discrimination and giving to the non-gendered person the full protection of social equality legislation as taken for granted by the majority and actively sought by the most vocal of the established groups of minority interests.

The only logical reason for the continuance of the general perception of the gender system as absolute is the fact that the bi-polarised gender system has withstood the test of time, its absolute status unchallenged, through periods of time covering the greatest social upheavals of recorded history, thus conveying a false inviolability upon the gender system. Whereas, at the present, the rules governing gender conduct might have become more relaxed (e.g., Some sporadic concessions within the rules governing gendered dress code, women are now able to work and vote, men are sharing domestic responsibilities and it is, of course, now possible to change gendered role subject to the individual meeting the relevant criteria as laid down by the medical establishment), despite the facade of greater equality within the bi-polarised system, the notion of genderhood as a compulsory state of the human identity is more entrenched within the public psyche than ever, fuelled by a media that glamorises and fetishises the gendered roles.

The large corporations have good reason to want to retain a bi-polarised social system that provides a most effective marketing strategy, whereby they can systematically target the sale of their products towards gendered roles by applying the kind of packaging and hype that would have mass appeal to one side of the divide. No one can fail to have noticed the way that advertising is often streamlined so that a company may market one particular brand range at one gendered role, whilst they are simultaneously marketing another brand range at the other gendered role. Maybe the majority of those occupying the mainstream of gendered society do not regard their own gendered role playing within a commercial context but the absolute status of the bi-polarised gender system does appear to have made gender into a tool to be used within the consensual but unequal relationship between society and crass capitalism. Big business would lose out big time if society stopped buying into the gender system and all the corporations and organisations and those associated with decision making and power will not be supportive to the need for change within the fundamental social structure when, insofar as they are concerned, the present system is working for the benefit of the majority and should be left alone. It is easy for the majority to be dismissive when those belonging of the minority who are excluded by a societal dictate lack the right to occupy a legitimate social space and their existence is unacknowledged.

One can ask why there has been so little progress achieved to date by those who would seek to challenge the archaic system of compulsory social categorisation into bi-polarised gendered roles but the answer is that, like most societal dictates, the gender system is a vicious circle. If it had been possible for the non-gendered person to exist with social recognition of per identity status as a genderless human being, outside the bi-polarised system, would not gendered society have recognised the absolute status of the gender system to be a falsehood, thus creating the social conditions that would have permitted the broadening of the bi-polarised gender system and thus creating the space to incorporate the excluded non-gendered identity; changing the status of the non-gendered identity, removing the stigma of the non-gendered identity as the social outcast and transforming the non-gendered identity status to that of valid identity?

While the construct that is the bi-polarised gender system has withstood through centuries of social evolution, society has, throughout that duration, cast out many constructs and beliefs as undemocratic and/or undesirable and replaced them with new beliefs and new social models. Those who try to bring about change within society are those who are not represented by existing social systems. The bi-polarised gender system has wrongly assumed the status of absolute and there exists no social framework to enable the non-gendered individual to function in a participatory way outside the system and therefore the excluded identity has never held a position with the strength needed to be able to challenge the status of the all powerful, dominant bi- polarised majority. The perception is that "If the person or the identity of the person is unrepresented and there exists no mechanism to allow the person or the identity to function, it therefore follows that the person or identity cannot exist". If one considers the sentiment behind the message conveyed by this statement, it is immediately obvious that it is an unpalatable statement and that such sentiment is unacceptable to all people except those with a fascist mentality - and yet this sentiment is granted social legitimacy and acceptability when it is directed against the invisible minority whose identity is non-gendered; the socially excluded minority who are systematically denied an identity.

It is time to re-evaluate the absolute status of the bi-polarised gender system to allow for social representation and validity to the non-gendered identity and any other identity that is not part of the bi-polarised system.

The individual who is excluded from the totalitarian bi-polarised gender system falls through the net of social acceptance and becomes an outcast, a social outsider. The outsider has no role models, no right to self-determine and no social representation. Any kind of help that is presently available that would seek to integrate the outsider into society is of no value, as the aim of the medical establishment would be to allocate to the person a gendered role and all such agencies would only cater within the remit of the gender system. The outsider must define for the self an identity that feels appropriate within a bi-polarised sphere that regards the outsider as deviant, mad, not worthy of consideration. It is then surely not surprising that the outsider undergoes periods of self-doubt and confusion during the arduous process of self definition where the outsider must compromise the true identity on a daily basis in order to interact within gendered society and socially survive.

Over the past few years, I have had mutually enlightening discussions with others who do not see themselves as male or female. From this I've felt a general consensus that most people who are excluded from the bi-polarised system do, nonetheless, possess a desire to identify themselves as gendered, only their particular gender has yet to find a name and a place within society. I would like now to state my position on this matter and clarify my opinion as I believe greater clarification is needed to understand the various and sometimes conflicting viewpoints that have materialised from this debate. I believe that, by the undermining of the false societal perception of the gender system as an absolute that cannot be changed, there is a genuine and logical case to answer and one which can be used as a basis for any argument in favour of the broadening of the bi-polarised gender system and that social acceptance of an identity that is not categorised by gender could become a reality in the future. And if there is to be a presentation of this issue made to a wider public forum, it is important that there is clarity. I have thought carefully about my phraseology because I believe that most people who are excluded from the bi-polarised gender system and have taken an active stance against their exclusion are basically fighting for the same things; which includes the right to the social validity that is presently being denied, the right to determine our existence without having to hide or deny the true identity. But, as a fragmented minority, we use terminology that is different, and confusing to those who benefit through occupying a place within the gendered majority that cannot understand our needs. I want now to be very clear about how I see the way forward and I do not wish to be disrespectful to any person or group striving for social recognition or to, myself, apply towards other excluded persons or groups a similar level of denegation as has historically been applied by the gendered majority towards all minority identities.

I cannot agree with the argument that there are in existence a number of alternative unidentified genders, all just waiting in the wings to be discovered, because I do not accept that the identity has to be gendered, that is I do not accept that human beings have to be gendered as male, female or anything else in between or apart from. There are two accepted gendered roles which are appropriated according to the physicality and to state that one is neither male nor female but belonging of another gender (or more than one gender) is, I'm afraid, confusing the issue because the gendered status of the person is a socially accorded role and society has only appropriated validity to the gendered statuses of male and female. Therefore, to identify as belonging of neither the male gendered role nor the female gendered role (i.e. to identify as one who occupies a space that is not part of the bi-polarised gender system) does not constitute a gendered identity but does constitute a separate identity that is devoid of social categorisation within the bi-polarised system. I believe that the need of the outsider to find for perself a suitable gendered identity is tantamount to the level of social indoctrination into the gender system in that individuals who identify as neither male nor female still strive to find for themselves an identity that is somewhere in between the two socially accepted gendered roles because nothing else is conceivable. Having said that, I also understand the need of intersex people who wish to identify as intersex and it could be argued that (notwithstanding my personal preference to establish a social model where gendered roles play no part) there should be in place a definable gendered role that can reflect the status of intersex (but, the reality is that intersex people have been routinely denied an identity within Western society and there exists no accepted, identifiable gendered role for intersex). For myself, I would never be able to adopt a gendered identity within the bi-polarised system and I do not understand how any alternative identity could be described as gendered.

My life is viewed from a perspective that is outside the bi-polarised gender system and I cannot understand why society needs to impose the inappropriate restriction of gender categorisation upon me. With acknowledgment of the fact that the bi-polarised gender system is not an absolute and the gendered identity of the individual is a state of mind, I feel that I am the person most qualified to know how I self-identify. I know that the gendered roles of male and female form no part of my core identity although I may utilise elements from both.

I say again, it is time to re-evaluate the absolute status of the bi-polarised gender system. It is now time for the myth of the essentiality of gender to be consigned to the rubbish bin of past misjudgments. It is now time to expose as a fallacy a gender system that dictates the only viable human identities are those identities that are based upon stereotypical role-playing.

Copyright Christie Elan-Cane August 2000

Footnote: In this paper I have used 'per' and 'perself' as non- gender specific pronouns in replacement of inappropriate gendered pronouns he/she/him/her/himself/herself when referring to person of non-gendered identity.

Citation: Elan-Cane, C., (2000), The Fallacy of the Myth of Gender, GENDYS 2k, The Sixth International Gender Dysphoria Conference, Manchester, England.
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