Gender is over (if you want it)
In summer 2015 in Brooklyn, New York, the collective and campaign Gender is over (if you want it) was born, adapting the famous slogan by John Lennon and Yoko Ono War is over (if you want it). Basically the collective, formed by Marie McGwier and Nina Mashurova, two persons who identify as non-binary, promotes its message via t-shirts with the slogan and the occasional event. With the income they support trans* and queer collectives. Since the beginning, Gender is over has achieved quite a bit of visibility for trans* and non-binary identities.
Nevertheless, it is not so easy to finish with gender, as it is also not that easy to finish with war. Since the end of 1969, when John Lennon and Yoko Ono launched their campaign, the world has suffered I don’t know how many wars, and almost 50 years later the end of war seems further away than ever. Neither is gender disappearing yet, even though I would very much wish it would. Maybe at least some cracks are opening up in the gender system.
We too are agents in the construction of our gender
In feminist theory gender is understood as socially constructed, and different from sex, which is understand as something natural or biological. Nevertheless, both – gender and sex – are generally understood as binary, and a male baby will get assigned a masculine gender, while a female baby will get assigned a feminine gender (and until recently intersexual babies were violently forced to fit into one of these two categories).
Once the baby got assigned a gender, the social construction of this gender begins, with expectations of certain behaviours, with privileges (for boys), some very open and other more subtle messages. And in this social construction of gender disappears that gender is also part of our own agency – not only society does construct our gender, we are also participating and acting in the construction of our own gender. The slogan Gender is over – if you want it puts the focus on our own construction of our gender, which potentially opens perspectives for change. As Judith Butler wrote already in 1990 in Gender Trouble, gender is a performative act, and it is us who are acting. According to Butler, the constant repetition of performative acts consolidates what the heteronormative law constructs as gender. And at the same time, this performative character allows for its subversion, “the act opens the possibility of new significations”.
Gender identity: assigned and chosen
In Gender Trouble Judith Butler also questions that apparently natural relation which the heteronormative law has imposed between sex, gender, desire and practice. It cannot be taken for granted that a person that is born as a woman (or assigned the sex woman at birth) has to have a feminine gender, nor that this person has to desire men, has to have heterosexual sexual practices. There is nothing natural here. All of this is the result of social constructions and discursive processes – constructed both by society and by ourselves.
Nevertheless, it is not that easy to choose once own gender. How I feel and define myself is only one part. As I exist in a social world, my gender depends as much on myself as on what gender has been assigned to me, and what gender society “reads” me with. In addition, according to how society reads me, it assigns more or less privileges. We, trans* or queer people, non-binary people, do know this well. How often did people ignore my gender, how often have I been read as man (sometimes as woman), even though I identify as queer, as non-binary? Society is forcing me to fit into its binary system of sex/gender.
Gender is over (if you want it) as utopian vision
Gender is over (if you want it) also has another aspect: it points to a vision of a world without gender, or at least a world where gender no longer matters, where it doesn’t carry any social relevance.
What does a world without gender mean? From my perspective, if gender would no longer matter, this would I think allow for more diversity, without the need to adapt to norms (written or not). In a world without gender, a person could choose their profession, their way to dress (there would not be departments of clothes for men or women – only departments of clothes for everyone), and could behave freely. A person could express itself, feel, love and desire who they wanted and how they wanted. A person could, in consequence, freely choose all that that gender constructs and attributes.
And, most importantly, a world without gender would be a world that does not allow for masculine domination of the feminine. A world without gender would be a world without masculine privileges.
Interview with Marie and Nina: http://www.hopesandfears.com/hopes/city/fashion/214915-gender-is-over-interview
A critique of “gender is over”: Galen Mitchell: https://transsubstantiation.com/gender-is-over-if-you-want-it-or-maybe-not-4daee3e34f2 and https://transsubstantiation.com/go-ahead-make-my-gender-1649edfe403f
Maldita Radfem: Imaginando un mundo sin género (Imagining a world without gender), https://malditaradfem.wordpress.com/2017/03/24/3-imaginando-un-mundo-sin-genero/(Spanish)