Gender Revolution in Practice and Theory.

When she theorised about androgynous communities, Dworkin was pointing the way to dismantle patriarchy.  For her, the patriarchy is so tied up in creating and enforcing the differences between women and men so it can then privilege men over women, that the destruction of patriarchy is necessitated by the destruction of the polemic genders.

She offered support for the idea of humans as androgynous beings in our natural state, suggested that we once were androgynous in previous, more egalitarian cultures.  Somewhere along the way it became advantageous for men to draw distinctions between themselves and women, positioning themselves as a new, dominant class.  The creation and enforcement of a gender classification was for the purpose of domination.

The strict classification of gender ignored all of the variety found in the way different interplays of hormones affect people’s biology and behavior.  Instead of each person expressing their own unique hormonal balance, these variations were pathologized as imbalances and corrected with therapy and surgery, all for the purpose of maintaining the binary and thus male hegemony.  Intersex and transpeople had to be erased in order to maintain the illusion of distinct classes.  Goddesses and androgynous deities were demonized to make room for the One True Male God.

I accept her thesis as a viable and practical way forward.  Unfortunately the feminist practice around this theory is incredibly lacking.  The ways femininity as construct has been applied has lead to an entrenchment of transphobia and masculinity (also a construct) within feminist circles.  Feminist practice often resembles more of a reactionary defense of the cissupremacist status quo than a genuine determination to destroy the gender binary.  It manifests in a judgement of those who practice certain aspects of gender and sex rather than the underlying patriarchy behind the practices.

Queer theorists have been developing ways for us to move forward, and, as it is in its infancy, there are many limitations and wrong turns.  However, there is great value in what’s being developed in spite of its limitations.  I’d like to explore this and look at what’s valuable and what should be left behind or rejected.

Julia Serano has emerged as a controversial figure in this.  I’m not going to respond to the people who have been attempting to debunk her, those attempts so overtly belittle and misgender her that I have no desire to wade into those cesspools of transphobia.  No, I’d like to criticise where she’s lacking on established theory and highlight where she brings new, valuable insights into how we classify gender.

Serano’s take on femininity is one of the more controversial aspects, I think it’s also where she’s the most theoretically sloppy.  Her perspective seems more of a response to cissexist feminist practice without a full understanding of feminist theory.  In talking about femininity Serano often conflates it with women, for example, when she says that the rejection of femininity by feminists is misogynistic.  It may be poor practice, but it is not hostility to women.

Her take on feminism seems to lack an overall understanding of power dynamics and how it charges every relationship.  Her feminism is of the reactionary equalism variety, it’s not focused on ending the patriarchy but on viewing everyone as equal without considering the grip male domination has on all aspects of life.

While I reject Serano’s feminism, I find great value in her deconstruction of gender.  I still see limitations in the theory but I think it offers avenues to move forward.  The first notable aspect is her take on the essentialist vs. constructionist debate.  Serano explores the ways hormones affect behavior in a way that makes both camps nervous and she comes to the conclusion that neither is entirely correct.

She offers her experience with the way testosterone blockers dramatically change the way she experiences emotions and sexuality.  She describes the absence of testosterone as a fog lifting off of her emotions, allowing her to experience the full range of ups and downs.  I’ve heard transmen express that when they begin taking testosterone the opposite happens and they suddenly have to learn to manage their anger in new ways to avoid becoming monsters.

The gender essentialists would say this shows that men are naturally more aggressive and angry and that rape and abuse are natural expressions of maleness.  Social constructionists would disregard it as anecdotal and insist that male aggression is entirely socialised.  Serano recognises that testosterone makes it harder for people (regardless of gender) to process their emotions and that society warps that real effect into a essential maleness that both encourages men to be aggressive and gives them an easy excuse to not manage their anger while simultaneously punishing women for expressing their anger.  Her theory is that the different effects of hormones are used to justify the divisions between male and female.  I think it’s important to recognise this insight and realise that hormonal balances are unique to each individual, making the range of expression and biology just as unique.

I also find value in her model of gender and sexuality.  She breaks it down into three separate spectra.  The use of spectra is a limitation in seeing gender in post-patriarchy terms, but I think it is valuable to describe gender within the terms of the status quo.  The spectra are as follows:

Sexuality (attracted to)


Innate Gender (your identification)


Gender Expression


The limitations are apparent in the use of the binary to describe the spectra.  In a post-patriarchy world where the gender binary is gone, this model would make no sense.  The valuable part is that it allows each individual to plot their own unique positions on each aspect of their identity.  It disregards the connection between sexuality and gender that most people hold and frees one to the world of possible androgynous genders.


Stuck in the Binary

What is androgyny?  Dworkin said it’s a multiplicity of genders, where human interactions and expressions are not constrained by the polemic genders, or as queer theorists put it, the gender binary.  It’s a compelling theory, one that speaks to me and my personal struggle as a genderqueer person.

How do we practice androgyny?  Some of the more orthodox followers of Dworkin practice it by rejecting femininity, not just the aspects that are designed to enforce submission, but all of it.  They don’t have much practical rejection of masculinity, in most of these circles androgyny is imagined as women who are masculine.

In queer circles androgynous practice is a little more varied, there are soft butches, sissies, studs, queens.  The possibilities are much broader and the performance of femininity is incorporated as an aesthetic rather than subjugation, though it can be practised in ways that reinforce sexism.

In the mainstream imagination we have pictures of androgyny that include people like Ziggy Stardust, Ellen Degenerase, Boy George.

All of these models of androgyny have one thing in common, they incorporate some aspect(s) of the gender binary.  Is there any way to perform completely outside of the binary?  As long as it is in existence, it will inform our imagination of what androgyny can be.  The only way to destroy it is take all aspects of it and rearrange, bend, fuck and confuse it out of existence until what we wear and how we act is no longer considered masculine or feminine but just us.