Re: EXTRO-3: a former layabout from England writes
Thu, 14 Aug 1997 22:11:57 -0700 (PDT)

On Wed, 13 Aug 1997, Max More [chatting with Darren] wrote:

> >I fail to see that gender has any long-term future
> It certainly has a future as long-term as the introduction of
> nanotechnology, so I don't see why you would find it bizarre. The topic
> obviously interests many people and has much influence on our behavior and
> sense of self. Gender may change drastically over the coming centuries, but
> you need to provide an argument that it has no long-term future. You may be
> correct, but that's not obvious. For most of the next century at least, I
> see gender becoming increasingly individualized but not extinct.

I see what is attractive about suggesting that gender will become
increasingly individualized, but when I puzzle through just what that
might mean I find myself a bit befuddled... I mean, there's an important
sense in which gender is already an infinitely individualized phenomenon,
defined by unrepeatably quirky histories, and flavored by a heady froth of
kink. Sex, gender, and sexuality reverberate with one another in
complicated ways. The conventional conceptualization of their relation is
to think of sex as the biological substrate onto which gender as cultural
construct is uneasily grafted and which in turn gives rise to the
individual outpourings of sexuality, the expressions of individual sexual
psyches. This tabulation overlooks (among other things) the extent to
which the so-called foundational/biological sexual dimorphism may in fact
play to the interests of the so-called non-foundational/cultural gender in
the first place. Judith Butler likes to point out that when the doctor
says of a newborn, "It's a girl," she or he is not just identifying some
neutral physiological fact about the infant, but pronouncing the first
line of a script into which the child is immersed quite without a clue, a
script which is expected to contain lots of lines she didn't author (e.g.,
"I now pronounce you man and wife"), a script from which she undeniably
can *deviate* but no less undeniably not without important risks and
What we're really talking about here I guess are modes of
*identification*, and while it is delicious to contemplate the prospect of
identities that are smoothly engineered to our own specifications, I think
we would would find the reality of such identities less than perfectly
appealing. When Wilde quipped that "Only the shallow know themselves," he
was (as usual) deadly earnest. We are always importantly opaque to
ourselves, we are always surprising ourselves, exploring our
potentialities. I like the formulation (Arkuat's, I believe) that sex is
just some seriously high-bandwidth communication, but I worry that this
formulation may conjure a fantasy of an ideal sexual encounter as a kind
of unimpeded free-flow of info... Just as important surely to the sexual
expression of desire are the ways in which that expression is a
negotiation among and overcoming of expectations and social scripts and
relations of power, none of which are fully authored by us. Think of how
my maleness, my masculinity, my effeminacy, my queerness, my topness or
bottomness are all registered from moment to moment in the expression of
desire and sexual play. We cite and subvert the scripts, but we hardly
create the playing field ab initio. What could it mean to do so
intelligibly? Nanotechnology will no more junk gender than it will
language or the economy. Best, Dale

Dale Carrico |
University of California at Berkeley, Department of Rhetoric

Freud democratized genius by giving everyone
a creative unconscious. -- Philip Rieff
Everyone I know has a big "but--"! -- Pee Wee Herman