At class on Monday, we got started on our class-wide project, a difficult task to organize with close to 30 participants. One of the most helpful parts of the endeavor came when Sean volunteered to stand at the white board and write down topics that students would like to write about in our project. Sean did a good job hearing students out, teasing out the specifics of what we meant when we would offer broad categories, not least of all – me. Throughout the Lilith’s Brood Trilogy, the inspire paper, and my previous blog post, I had been thinking a lot about gender, so I offered the wide-ranging category of gender as something I’d like to write about, though I wasn’t initially prepared to unpack what exactly about it I’d like to write about. As other students offered their topics and categories, one of the most returned-to was Non-Consent. As Sean used the dry erase markers to draw arrows and connect the various topics on the board, I finally realized what was at the core of my misgivings about gender – the non-consent in it all!
I raised my hand and asked Sean to circle gender and non-consent, and draw an arrow between the two of them. None of us consented to the gender that was prescribed to us when we were born. Much like Gan and Qui in Bloodchild never consented to living in a preserve based on an agreement made by their ancestors, none of us consented to operating in a society that places so much weight on gender identity. From gender reveal-parties to the general boxing-in that occurs as male children are given GI joes while female children are given Barbies, our culture non-consensually prescribes gender so early that it’s impossible for us to resist.
In this light, I find it extremely empowering when trans individuals come-out, revealing the gender that they have chosen for themselves. Whether it correlates to their biological sex, or the roles that had been prescribed to them from birth, truly doesn’t matter. A trans person coming out as their own identity is the extremely difficult act of taking control of ones own self, to actually consent to the gender identity that best fits that individual.
In Butler’s fiction, this topic is less about identity, but more about biological sex, though I think that it goes a long way in addressing the same themes. Jodahs and Aaor didn’t consent to the gender that their family and friends, both human and Oankali, had prescribed to them throughout their entire childhood, and they face many of the same struggles as they come to terms with their true sexes. People in our class still seem to have trouble refraining from calling them “he” and “she”, even though it is made clear in Imago that they’re both to be referred to as “it”. In the same vein, Trans individuals do not consent to being called whatever pronouns had been, and often continue to be, wrongly prescribed to them, as hard as they try to make it clear what their preferred ones are. I would hope that sometime in my own lifetime, we can shift American culture towards one that establishes a more consensual form of gender identity.