Gender & Technology

NMNTexpo 020bThese are texts I wrote for a project I made for a course called ‘New Media New Technology’. We had to create a media technology / creative science project for an Open Lab Expo that we were proud of and that was memorable. So quite an open assignment!

Using recent scientific research and historic ideas about gender, as well as the answers on a survey on gender and technology, I created video’s of people living in an imaginary future where technology makes it possible to change your sex at will. Some are positive about the technology, some are negative. Some remember when it was introduced, others live many years into the future and have become used to it. It starts with this poem and ends with some statistics of the survey.

Video’s were then projected on a mask hovering above a body with androgynous ‘cyborg’ elements. You can watch a video of the installation here:


Texts are based on the answers on the survey and heavily fictionalized, they do not necessarily reflect my personal opinion or the exact opinion of the participants:

“She is such an attention-whore. Changing every few months or so, declaring that she now, finally, found her true gender. Calling everyone to cry about how her life has been a lie up till now. Claiming it’s just as hard for her as for trans-gender people before the change was made easier. She has no idea.

I never really knew why I was attracted to women. Did I like the feminine personality traits or the physical appearance? I recently started dating a wonderful lady, I like her very much. I have no idea whether she was born female, and frankly I don’t really care. What does it matter when you like someone? She is a woman now, I am a man. I might not even ask her. On the other hand, it has become the kind of question people always ask eventually, like how many sexual partners you had in the past. It doesn’t really matter, but we still want to know.

Dating has an evolutionary goal, and so do male and female bodies. I know people can still reproduce after the change, but I still think we’re losing sight of what is really important. What if the human race dies out? People are so selfish.

Our son was born a girl, so we changed him as soon as it was allowed. It is just safer that way, and men still have more chances in life. A lot of people think it is wrong, that we’re enforcing gender discrimination, but every parent wants the best for their kids. That ‘s just how it is.


There is almost no sexual violence anymore. Lot less frustrated people around, I guess. It is great to walk on the streets at any time and feel relatively safe. A few years ago, I used to become a man if I had to travel to unsafe places for my work as a reporter. Now, I hardly bother anymore.


They say there used to be inequality between women and men, can you believe that? I can hardly believe it. It seems so strange to think that the piece between your legs mattered that much to people. Of course, in those days, they were the one or the other. Seems even weirder. How did they manage?


Procreation is most important. People seem to forget that sometimes. Everyone changing their sex around, forgetting why they’re here on earth… it can not be good


Gender inequality has become meaningless. Still, I am a bit ashamed by the role it plays in my own life. At first, I became female for a while to just experience it. Sexually, but also socially. But it has become a bit of an addiction. Is it strange to say I feel like I’m abusing the female body? I know it’s still my own body of course, and I can do with it what I like. But it doesn’t feel respectful all the same. I’ve always been told to be respectful to women, and now I’m using their body-type like a sex-toy.


Gender has gotten so extreme. What is the point of changing if the opposite is just the same? So most of the people who change play a part, they perform a caricature of their intended sex. The men are beer-drinking, vulgar alpha-males. The women are giggling sluts. With no taste in make-up, by the way. Pick a side, they say. And to show you have, you have to live the stereotype to the fullest.


The body is such an artificial construct now. It is like the plastic surgery dilemma but ten-thousandfold. We are living in a society where this kind of body alteration is the norm.


I have so much FUN every morning! It’s like dressing up, putting on clothes or make-up. The first time I tried it I was like: ‘What will the Christians say!’. Some people have such a terrible stick up their ass. Not literally, of course. But of course, it’s not ok to force people to try it. If they leave me be, I leave them be. I’m still so exited about it! I think everyone cool is now bisexual. It’s totally rad!


They used to have this thing called gender. It was related to the sex you were born with, in the days when that was still very hard to change. It was something of a social construct, very interesting. Can you believe people used to base almost their whole identities on something so trivial? It would be like building your identity around the length of your hair if scissors weren’t invented yet.


We need to construct laws, and fast. Things are changing rapidly. There have been lots of problems, violent reactions. Not only from the hate-groups, also from people who change themselves. Men have been sneaking into womens places, bathrooms, dressing rooms. It is almost impossible to find a criminal on the loose at the moment. People wanted by the law shouldn’t be allowed to change.


I don’t know where I belong anymore. It’s currently trendy to be ‘female’, so I stand out a lot when I go out. I estimate that 90% of the population is female now. It doesn’t mean anything anymore, it’s just a way to dress up. Some pop-star will soon come along and change it, just like that. Or the next ‘summer-look’ will be male again.


Everyone is trying to get me to change. It’s better in my line of work, I’ll be more respected, have better chances, they say. People even think I’m not dedicated enough for not making that choice, I know. But I just don’t want to.


I’ve made the decision. I’m going to change for the first time tomorrow. Purely for discovery. I want to find out what it is like as a female; find out if my preconceptions are correct or incorrect. Also, maybe I’ll find out that I’m more comfortable as a female. The possibility is there. I can’t pass up the opportunity.


Not much has changed for me, really. I tried out what it was like, the ‘other side’, as they say. Being female. It was interesting. I think dating has become more honest, it’s a lot more about the personalities now. Although I must admit I’m still heterosexual as always. My last relationship failed because she wanted to be a man a lot of the time, and she didn’t understand why I didn’t feel attracted to her when she was. There were other reasons as well, of course. I think we just were too different.


I carried our first baby, my partner will carry the second. I’ll change as well after conception to help with the breastfeeding if necessary. Our first shall be delighted with having two mommy’s again, I think.


It’s just not a good idea to let people change their gender that easily or often. I know the technology is useful for some, but there should be limits. What if people use it without thinking it through? It will only cause confusion with the people around them. It can even cause problems with their self-image. I think we should protect people against themselves.


We thought it would change everything. But now people just ask with what sex you where born, and base their opinions on that. I personally think it’s offensive, but most people say they’re just interested and that there is no harm in asking.


I never tried it. I am too scared that it will turn out to be irreversible. I know, I know, millions have tried it, no big deal. Some do it almost every week. But I just… can’t. Too afraid. I’m curious, but I’m too afraid.


I am very insecure about it. You can’t tell anyones gender anymore by just looking at them. It’s really confusing. Is that handsome guy someone I would want to date, or is he just some giggling, girly girl trying out a penis for a few days? I’ve gotten very unsociable, introverted. I prefer clear labels: boy or girl. I have enough of not knowing, of people changing all the time.


Our daughter really wants to try the change for the first time, but I think she’s a little bit too young still. The doctor says it’s save, I know. To be honest, I’m not really looking forward to seeing her as a boy. I know I’m old-fashioned, but I never felt the need to change myself.


They totally let go of the psychological research; people just change now, when they want to. I think it’s absurd. You still need psychological help if you’re not comfortable in your own body, if only to help you through the change. And what if you’re still depressed after? I know there are suicides because of that; people who thought they’d feel better, but didn’t, and concluded that there was no solution.


It certainly put an end to a lot of nature-nurture bickering. Some people say that is a good thing. It is almost impossible to find funding for it now, though, which is unfortunate if it’s your field of study. I try to get people to understand that it’s not all solved now, that there is still a lot to understand, like why people change and how often, and how they behave when they have. But there is not a lot of interest in the scientific approach of these things.


I know that it’s considered normal, but I just think it’s rude. You don’t show up on the second date with a completely different gender then you had on the first. That’s just confusing.I have to change again tomorrow for weightlifting, kick in some of those male hormones to get my strength to the right level. I just finished the female competitions, second place. Pretty good, but I think I’m better as a male. Still, it would be a shame to leave the female competitions. Why not do both? It won’t be for long, anyhow. They are making almost all sports gender-neutral. Which of course means that people will just choose the sex with the best body-type for each sport. So in practice, it will not be neutral at all. But who cares? People just want to win.


It was chaos at first, they say. Some really ugly things happened. Shootings, people died. There were lists available on the Internet, things that would reveal whether someone had a gender change. Most of them were bullshit, of course. But that didn’t stop the hate-crimes, or the discrimination. It’s almost impossible to understand now, so many people were resisting violently.


I am curious. I wonder how life is experienced differently from a woman’s point of view. But I need integrity in my life. What if my female counterpart would think differently? I can have no knowledge of that. What if as a woman, I would do things I now don’t like? What if I didn’t want to change back?


Life is easier as a man in a man’s world. That’s the simple truth of it. I would never have changed if it weren’t for my career. I like being a woman much better, but I’m ambitious. It’s the thing to do.


Some things are just better in one gender than the other. For example, most party’s I like to attend as a female, wearing a lovely dress and high heels. But even though I am sexually attracted to females, I don’t like to have sex with a female as a female, so I have sex as a male. This sometimes causes the need for some rapid changing after the party, of course. It’s a shitty process when you’re drunk. But it has helped me and my husband a lot with my gender-struggles.


I think nobody needed this. Now, everyone is using it.


I was born in the body of a boy, but it has been female now for – oh, so long. I hardly remember. But it was hard. It was before the change was made easy. All these people changing their sex today, as if it were clothes… they know nothing about hormones, surgery, the like. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. It is wonderful that people like me have a much easier solution now. It used to cause so much personal suffering.


I just wanted to try out another body. See how society would treat me. But now, even though I changed back, there are people who say I’m not ‘pure’ anymore. People who do not want to date me, people who do not even want to talk to me. Of course, I could pretend it never happened… but they are forever looking for signs. It’s like hunting for werewolves.


We had been really good friends for years. Best friends, really. But when she changed… it just was different. I felt really attracted to him. She looked awesome as a guy. And I trusted her, knew her so well. She basically turned in my idea of a perfect boyfriend. I fell madly in love. But of course, it was just an experiment. She didn’t feel the same about me, still fancied guys. And she changed back, cause she was really a girl in the end. And I don’t fancy girls either. After that, the friendship just deteriorated.


A lot of people have discovered that they’re actually more ‘in between’. When the change was difficult, people used clothes, behavior and other social signals sometimes, but it was not always accepted. Gender-non-conformity, it was called, associated with a host of problems, abuse, social exclusion. But these people turned out to be less rare then we thought. Now, they’re hardly abused anymore. If anything, you’re a bit suspect if you don’t change your sex now and then. Too binary. People don’t like that anymore.”

Statistics:

What does gender mean?
Social property or identity construct – 49%
A combination of a social and biological property – 30%
Only a biological property – 22%

How would you describe your own gender?
Female – 44%
Male – 41%
Gender-neutral – 8%
Female Transgender – 3%
Androgynous – 3%
Gender-fluid – 3%

What would need to change to make you feel different about your gender?
Sexual organs – 49%
Secondary sex characteristics – 49%
Way of thinking – 38%
Voice – 38%
Dress style – 38%
Social behavior – 33%
Emotional behavior – 23%
Gender or sex I feel attracted to – 8%
Goals in live – 5%
I don’t know – 3%
Impossible / No change would make a difference – 13%

How do you feel about people identifying as a gender that doesn’t match their assigned sex?
Positive / sympathetic – 58%
Neutral – 21%
Interested – 5%
Negative / confused – 3%
“Positive” but with reluctance – 13%

Given reasons for reluctance:
1. People shouldn’t change too often
2. Why not choose gender-neutral
3. As long as it’s not only for attention
4. It takes me a while to get used to
5. It still freaks me out

If technology would become available allowing you to change your gender easily and reversibly, would you ever use this technology?
Yes – 67%
No – 26%
Not sure / maybe – 8%

Would this technology be a good thing to have?
Yes – 66%
Divided – 16%
No – 11%
Neutral – 5%
I don’t know – 3%

Additional thoughts / Inspiration for this project:

What would be the meaning of gender in a world where technology gives you the option to change your sex at will? An utopia for anyone not adhering to the gender-binary? An end to sexism? Or a loss of character, a devaluation of gender to yet another fashion-influenced, superficial human quality?
Using the results of a survey on gender and technology, as well as important historical works and recent scientific research on the topic, ‘I Wish I Were a Woman’ explores the world of the gender-empowered cyborg.

I have always wondered what gender actually is and why it influences people’s expectations and identity so much. Identifying as gender-fluid myself, I always had the idea that my sex is only important for the people for whom it actually makes a difference. That would be potential sexual partners, but also for instance medical staff, as some medicines work differently in women than in men – and of course the body is built differently. Other than that, I see no particular reason for people to treat me a certain way based on my sex. Yet, this happens all the time – and research strongly suggests that it happens from birth (Seavey, C. A., Katz, P. A., & Zalk, S. R. (1975). Baby X. Sex Roles1(2), 103-109.). As someone who often not adheres to the binary gender-norm, this can be very frustrating already, so I can’t imagine what it would be like to be – for instance – transsexual. People who want to change their sex face a lot of discrimination, often resulting in violence. (Balzer, Carsten (2009). Every 3rd day the murder of a trans person is reported.)
So I was wondering what the effect would be of a (highly fictional) technology that’d allow us to change sex at will – easily and as often as we wanted. 

“As far as I’m concerned, being any gender is a drag.” ~ Patti Smith, Godmother of Punk, quoted in Levine, Martin P. (1998). Gay Macho, New York: New York University Press

“Cyborgs might consider more seriously the partial, fluid, sometimes aspect of sex and sexual embodiment. Gender might not be global identity after all, even if it has profound historical breadth and depth.” ~ Haraway, D. J. (1991). “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century”. Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature.

“Gender is such a familiar part of daily life that it usually takes a deliberate dis­ruption of our expectations of how women and men are supposed to act to pay at­tention to how it is produced. Gender signs and signals are so ubiquitous that we usually fail to note them-unless they are missing or ambiguous. Then we are un­comfortable until we have successfully placed the other person in a gender status; otherwise, we feel socially dislocated.” ~ Lorber, J. (1994). “‘Night to his Day’: The Social Construction of Gender”. Paradoxes of gender

“In middle childhood, sex differences are apparent in children’s clothing choice, activities, mannerisms, and interests. These sex differences together constitute gender expression, and children who do not conform to the expression typical of their biological sex are termed “gender nonconforming.” Childhood gender nonconformity has been associated with an array of childhood psychosocial stressors, including poorer relationships with parents, peer rejection, harassment, and physical and verbal victimization. We identify gender nonconformity as an important indicator of children at increased risk of sexual, physical, and psychological abuse.” ~ Roberts, A. L., Rosario, M., Corliss, H. L., Koenen, K. C., & Austin, S. B. (2012). Childhood gender nonconformity: a risk indicator for childhood abuse and posttraumatic stress in youth. Pediatrics, 129(3), 410-417.

“We are at an interesting point in the history of gender, where people are torn between valuing self-identity and believing that biology determines gender. With the development of every new trans-supportive law or policy, there typically follows an outbreak of criticism, which we term ‘gender panics’. Gender panics reveal the criteria for who counts as a woman and a man in our society.” ~ Westbrook, L. (2013), quoted in “Who counts as a man, who counts as a woman”. ScienceDaily.

“The dominant cyberfeminist perspective takes a utopian view of cyberspace and the Internet as a means of freedom from social constructs like gender and sex difference. Cyberfeminism views technology as a vehicle for the dissolution of sex and gender.” ~Wikipedia page on Cyberfeminism (retrieved 1-6-2014)

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