Last weekend I attended the wonderful Transcending Boundaries Conference in Springfield, Mass., with a sizable crowd of folks across the gender and sexuality spectrums, as well as many caring allies. There were classes, great people, thought-provoking discussions and more. During a chat I had with a genderfluid person, we touched upon the idea of a genderless society. Many people in the room had a favorable view of this premise, but to their surprise, I insisted that such a world would be more sinister and oppressive than liberating.
At first blush, this hypothetical can sound appealing to many of us (both trans and cis) who often feel disadvantaged or persecuted because of our sex/gender. If there's no more gender, women and trans people can't be marginalized! No more pay inequality! No more clothing restrictions! No more nightmares in bathrooms, Customs, the DMV, etc. You can imagine the possibilities.
What many of us gloss over in this daydream scenario is that we'd be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
There are restrictive things about gender roles we hate, but there many aspects of gender expression that we love dearly. Without our constructs of gender, your nail polish would no longer make you feel "pretty;" a suit and tie would bestow no swagger; pairing a dress with combat boots would no longer result in the oh-so-entertaining furrowed brows of onlookers.
Stripping away gendered meanings would certainly eliminate a tool of oppression, but it also would eliminate an essential part of identity. Part of the reason many people transition is that the gendered meanings assigned to our bodies militate against our very sense of self. Our identification with the opposite or nontraditional gendered meanings is so strong that we undergo surgeries, terrible pain, emotional turbulence, social stigma, alienation from family and friends... the list goes on. We do these things to be able to express the gender we wish. That's how much gender means to us - that's the empowering side. We're willing to fight to possess it.
The trick, and a particularly difficult one at that, is to banish the stigmas and disadvantages associated with certain gender expressions, while maintaining the associations that resonate within us as joyful, empowering, and meaningful. The dress can still be "pretty," but "pretty" should not be linked to subjugation or political and economic inequality. The suit and tie can give the wearer some added swagger, but it should not cross any lines into misogyny or patriarchal social dominance.
A genderless society is a fascist society. Your unique gender expression, and those of everyone else, would cease to exist, instead replaced with uniformity. To indiscriminately banish the meanings associated with gender expression is to annihilate an essential part of the self. I'll keep my gender, thanks. Despite all the struggles, I love it too much not to.
(Correct answer graphic via Bigstock)