In the first sentence of his "Postgenderism" article, George Dvorsky first claims to be "frustrated with modern feminism" and to desire a "sensible male approach to gender issues." Apart from wondering why a "post-genderist" would have truck with the very idea of a "male approach" to anything, let alone "gender issues" (shouldn't he be "post" both of these things, rather than glibly using them, after all?), the simple truth is I get nervous when a guy claims to be frustrated with "feminism" as if it were a single thing, then proposes to junk "it" and replace "it" with some newfangled internet manifesto and "movement" he invented consisting of a few ideas every one of which has already been under discussion by at least some feminists for years and years.
In several of his writings on this topic Dvorsky claims that Donna Haraway is another contributor to this "movement" he is talking about. Perhaps he would be interested in a few comments made by Haraway in 1999, published in the Donna Haraway Reader in 2004.
DH: I have no patience with the term "post-gender." I have never liked it.
Interviewer: But you used it in the manifesto…" [The interviewer refers to Haraway's "A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s," published fifteen years before the interview, and probably her most influential essay so far. --d]
DH: Yes, I did. But I had no idea that it would become this "ism"! [Laughter] You know, I have never used it since! Because post-gender ends up meaning a very strange array of things. Gender is a verb, not a noun. Gender is always about the production of subjects in relation to other subjects, and in relation to artifacts. Gender is about material-semiotic production of these assemblages, these human-artifact assemblages that are people. People are always already in assemblage with worlds. Humans are congeries of things that are not us. We are not self-identical. Gender is specifically a production of men and women. It is an obligatory distribution of subjects in unequal relationships, where some have property in others. Gender is a specific production of subjects in sexualized forms where some have rights in others to reproductivity, and sexuality, and other modes of being in the world. So, gender is specifically a system of that kind, but not continuous across history. Things need not be this way, and in this particular sense that puts focus on a critical relationship to gender along the lines of critical theory's "things need not be this way" -- in this sense of blasting gender I approve of the term "post-gender." But this is not "post-gender" in a utopian, beyond-masculine-and-feminine sense, which it is often taken to mean. It is the blasting of necessity, the non-necessity of this way of doing the world….
It has much to do with "post-gender" in the sense of blasting the scandal of gender and with a feminism that does not embrace Woman, but is for women. This kind of "post-gender" involves the powerful theories of intersection that came out of post-colonial theory, and women of color feminist theory, and that came overwhelmingly, though not only, from people who had been oppressed in colonial and racial ways. They insisted on a kind of relentless intersectionality, that refused any gender analysis standing on its own, and in this context, I find that the term "post-gender" makes sense. Here it can be understood as a kind of intensified critical understanding of these many threads of production of inequality.
Haraway doesn't reject the term completely, probably since she would be reluctant to throw out any tool that shows any promise at all of helping us tinker with the sex-gender system in ways that might help more actually existing people live more freely and more legibly within its shifting still too constricting terms. But I don't think Dvorsky -- and other so-called "technoprogressives" and "transhumanists" -- should take much comfort in Haraway's concession because I think his use of the term is too much the clumsy insensitive techno-utopian appropriation she is so skeptical of.
Historically, as medical techniques to help women more safely end and prevent unwanted pregnancies, or alternate reproductive technologies (ARTs) to facilitate wanted ones, or transsexual surgeries and therapies actually became available they were taken up opportunistically by creative people to practice their sexed, gendered, desiring lives in ways that accorded better with their sense of who they are and what they wanted, while at once these emerging techniques were understood in terms of prevailing norms and were used to police those terms in new ways. Technology isn't inherently emancipatory -- it isn't inherently anything -- it becomes emancipatory only when it is taken up by people organized to ensure emancipatory outcomes. The very same gender reassignment techniques that empower an informed and consenting transsexual person might be deployed to coerce an intersex child in ways that disempower them catastrophically. I worry that the technological determinism of Dvorsky's transhumanist handwaving about inherently emancipatory technologies, his airy dismissal of modern feminism, his glib acquiescence to a simplistic and sexist vision of genetic destiny (why treat the ways in which men and women presumably are different from one another as more salient than the ways in which men differ from one another and women differ from one another?) all point to an epic underestimation of the practical political work of anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-heterosexist discourse and practice and witness and play to democratize gender, peer-to-peer.
Part of what Haraway is getting at that seems a bit lost on the transhumanist "post-genderists" is her point that sex-gender is, in her words, "an obligatory distribution of subjects in unequal relationships." I mean, leave it to a straight white guy to actually imagine he has "accomplished" the incarnation of a post-gender subjecthood. It isn't enough to point to the evil of the violences and vulnerabilities of sexism and heteronormativity, the fact remains that sex-gender is not so much a disease as a language we all speak, a language we have to learn if we are to speak at all. People who recognize that language can be used to lie or confuse don't declare ourselves post-linguistic, but strive to remake language to tell more truth. We use it to testify to neglected experiences, we subject it to critical scrutiny, we use it to make poetry.
When we push against the customary demands and expectations of sex and gender to live our lives more as we see fit, we are subversively citing and reciting sexed and gendered terms in the world we are born into, we are not "post-gender" so much as we are striving to write new poetry with gender. But when we push against sex and gender in the real world we know that sex and gender push back, they exact costs on us, they impose risks on us, they take us by surprise in ways that can be dangerous and deranging. Deviance and defiance aren't happening on the Holodeck in an episode of Star Trek. Who needs to handwave about shiny immortal teledildonic robot bodies that may never arrive when people here and now are using language and bodylanguage and artifacts to play with sex-gender norms and make them sing a new tune, with real costs and real risks at stake? There is nothing "post-gender" about subversive but still citational queer practices (and I mean queer in the most capacious understanding of that term) of butch/femme, polyamorous, top/bottom, S/M, bisex/asex/intersex recodings of desire and pleasure and practice. This is about the real world politics of consensual lifeway multiculture, peer to peer. I think I'll stick with the feminists in the real world for now, thanks, and leave the transhumanist "post-genderists" in the science fiction aisle (after all, we might have a good mutually enriching conversation about Octavia Butler's novels there).