Who can “I” or “we” be without Gender? An online ethnographic study to understand identity inside the alchemy of agender

University essay from Linköpings universitet/Institutionen för tema

Abstract: This research is a curiosity for the spaces outside the gender binary, the spaces where an “I” and a “we” could manifest unencumbered by this hierarchical binary[1]. The binary is often in gender research considered a system of understanding sexed peoples in this world based on their differential position in relation to one another. Gender as a “social category imposed on a sexed body”[2] arose in academic usage by feminists in the 1980s, it was introduced to dismantle the idea of separate spheres, and yet it “does not have the power to address existing historical paradigms”[3] and has therefore remained anchored in the idea of two, the male and female identity, and even whilst the idea of male and female social identities has been expanded to contain other sexed and gendered bodies, , the idea of an agendered subject is sparsely addressed. In essence this work seeks to address the binary of existence and non-existence in the bio-social-psychological world that is gender studies, to attempt to find the alchemical magic that creates a new cartography of gender, or at least a sliver of new territory.                Gender is currently one of the base categories of identification in a world built on: §  religious narratives in which “God/s” made only man and woman.  §  biological determination which posits a dependent binary relationship based on gametes.  §  and systemic thinking grounded in Patriarchal thinking.  Whilst the spaces outside the gender binary have become more thinkable in recent decades with the advent of Transgender studies[4] as an academic field, Irigaray[5] offers that the space outside the binary structure offers only “social and psychological damage”[6] to anyone seeking to inhabit it. This thesis thus explores a particular identity cartography which I here call the alchemy of agender, in reference to the potentially mythical, potentially magical space outside of the “norm”.    This research does not claim to cover all theories of power, subjectivity, sexual difference, or the growing body of knowledge within gender studies, pertinently transgender studies, queer studies, and intersectional studies. Conversely, I start from lived experience, both my own; in encountering questions and concerns from the students I teach; and the lived experience of others which manifests in a desire of a community to speak themselves into existence.                In my 8 years of teaching variations of gender studies I have observed that the language and space young people have for imagining and queering their gender has steadily increased. Yet, agender is still very unexplored as a concept, with a constant question of “why do we need gender?” accompanying my student’s reflections. Throughout human history we have examples of agender/non-binary/queer/non-conforming individuals, creating an “I” and a “we” that is outside, beyond or uninhibited by the gender binary, or at the very least the infamous, and equally at times unwelcome, “third wheel” to the binary.    With this research I would like to follow two intertwined threads; a short and questionable diachronic journey of agender; secondly to posit what an “I” and a “we” without and beyond gender might constitute, succinctly to explore how agender/ non-binary identities are formed. Our thought system allows for feminine males and masculine females, or a patchwork of gender traits blended in what is recognized as non-conforming or gender queer, yet I am curious if agendered experiences offer merely another blend or an entire alternative.   In my quest to draw a cartography of agender, I am motivated by the concept of eidetic reduction, this being the Husserlian approach that argues that we can determine the limitations of a phenomena through exploration of lived experiences of that phenomena. For this research, it means gathering experiences from self-identified agender individuals online to determine the essences of this experience. Namely eidetic reduction is when one moves from lived experience, to a more abstract essence, through to a kind of collective categorization of a concept. This is achieved through identifying experiences that are unique to the group in question. In this I am excited to see how exploring agendered experiences can create gender magic, and consequently a possibility to re-imagine who you or I might be.   Succinctly an online ethnographic study of agender discussions will be used to ascertain if there is something unique about the agender experience, how it might differentiate from a trans' experience or a gendered experience.  [1] Scott, J.W. (1986) Gender: A Useful category of Historical Analysis. The American Historical Review, Vol 91, No. 5, pp.[2] Scott, J.W. (1986) Gender: A Useful category of Historical Analysis. The American Historical Review, Vol 91, No. 5, pp.1056[3] Scott, J.W. (1986) Gender: A Useful category of Historical Analysis. The American Historical Review, Vol 91, No. 5, pp.1057[4] In the western world the advent of this field is associated with an article written by Sandy Stone published in 1987 entitled, “The Empire strikes back: A posttranssexual manifesto” (first presented at a UCSC conference entitled "Other Voices, Other Worlds: Questioning Gender and Ethnicity"). [5] Braidotti, R (2003) Becoming Woman: or sexual difference revisited. Theory, Culture and Society, Vol.20, Issue 3, pp. 43-64[6] Braidotti, R (2003) Becoming Woman: or sexual difference revisited. Theory, Culture and Society, Vol.20, Issue 3, pp. 43-64  

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