In Favour of The Tentacular

For the children yet to open their eyes

With blunt determination I renounce, and dismantle (obliterate), the epistemology of gender. I stand upon a precipice and hail ‘fairwell!’ to all notion of the fixed, essential and immutable. Screaming goodbye to gender reveals, gender swaps and the coercive gender affirming surgery performed on intersex children without consent; arms flung wide as I welcome the unstable, the unfixed and the in-between with the glee of a rebellious child, or any advocate of chaos. With a wave of my hand the gender-sex binary dissipates, and the world is born anew. In the space left by the absence of legitimized subjectivity proliferates a new kind of Cambrian explosion. The children awaken to find the unbounded possibilities of the cosmos burning in their eyes, the infinite potential of being buzzing in their fingertips; I imagine the freedom of a world without.

I imagine a world without the restrictions of normative gender characteristics. The diversity of sexuality, of bodies and being, left unregulated would grow exponentially. Imagine arriving to a world where only your health is announced at birth. You are named, or not named, or change names with the seasons. You grow without expectation, without coercion to adopt a role of social or economic productivity, without the violence of a patriarchal, neoliberal, colonial capitalism concerned only with your ability to reproduce effectively as labourer, consumer, woman, man. You don’t have to clarify your pronouns because language itself is absent of the constructs that affirm the gender binary. Imagine the freedom and potential for life and ecstasy as you grow into the multiplicity of your being. I’m not asking you to imagine a world of reformed gender-sex binary structures, I’m asking you to imagine a world that never knew them. What might that look like? Feel like? Taste like? What might you do? Be? See? None of us are reducible to anything so complete as a man or woman, and if you feel you are, ask yourself why? Can you say in your heart you’re truly nothing more? We are always so much more; I know you feel it, the uncertainty and instability, let it in. We’re always more and we can imagine more, for ourselves, for the children yet to open their eyes. In my heart I see the cracks in the world I put forth. But a better world is possible, it has to be, and imagining is the first step to making it.

Legally I’m a woman, as dictated on all the documents that legitimise my position as a member of humanity; very few western socio-political regimes will even acknowledge a body as human unless it’s been inscribed as either male or female. If I refute and refuse this label, call myself non-binary (if only out of epistemological necessity), use they/them pronouns, he/him pronouns, refuse to answer to anything but my chosen name, refuse to answer to anything at all. I am still a woman in the eyes of the law, in the eyes of patriarchy and capitalism. If I want to move through the world, if I want the state to recognise my body, I concede this. I remain knowable. After all, if the dominant systems by which our world functions legitimised non-normative identity in the eyes of the law, how would they uphold themselves? Their reproduction depends on the binary to maintain normative identities which are ratified by excluding anything that cannot, or will not, fit. The seemingly essential nature of sex can only be defined by the relegation of some bodies as ‘unnatural’. The truth is that no bodies are unnatural. The binary dwells in perpetual contention.

But despite a rising discourse of equality, they have no vested interest in widening the categories of acceptance because exclusion of the other, of us, is intrinsic to the parameters against which the boundaries of the normative are set. If gender falls, then so too would the family, so too would the systems of social and economic reproduction capitalism hinges on. No, the normative itself depends on my exclusion, our exclusion, we the queer sexual dissidents. And though the depth of violence committed against trans, intersex and queer people is incommensurable (no one’s killed regularly for being straight or cisgender), we all suffer from the reduction of identity to fixed binary categories. Not even the normative, the legitimised subjects who fit neatly into the boxes sold to us as inevitable, are immune to the violence of the gender-sex binary. None of us can truly know the potential for our being under these conditions.

But what can I, one non-woman, sexual dissident, gender freak, hope to achieve? If only my voice were imbued with the power of law, or divinity, so I might renounce the epistemology of gender beyond the confines of my own personhood. A voice infused with the ability to manifest reality in the vein of what J.L Austin referred to in 1954 as a performative utterance. That is, a speech act that seeks to transform reality, as opposed to the constative utterance that simply describes it. But such things rely on power: the power of law (‘You’re under arrest’), of God (‘I christen you’), of Hierarchy (‘You’re fired’). Power not granted to the disenfranchised. As Derrida would contend, the power of a performative utterance is not divine, nor is language transcendent, but predicated on iterability and citation. Conditional to the repetition of social rituals which are themselves dictated by dominant culture, by hegemony. While I can scream my lungs raw pronouncing the death of gender, context precedes my intention. What power do I have to profess such things as truth? And who listening will receive my performance as truth? The answer is, probably, no one. No, our power will never be given to us. The performative utterance itself is a machination of the gender-sex binary, another tool for regulating and reproducing the system it serves. We must seize ourselves.

Judith Butler takes Austin’s theory even further in her conceptualisation of performativity regarding identity, specifically gender-sex identity. Butler identifies gender as a performance; not something we are, but something we do. A set of standardised gendered acts repeated, renewed and consolidated via a stylisation of the body taught to us from birth. These acts one performs have, in a sense, “been going on since before one arrived on the scene.” They stretch back through history and across the horizon of the future. ‘Gender’ is but a hollow (insidious) fiction that retroactively creates our subjectivity, while we inhabit vacant positions in perpetual impersonation. None of us are ever in gender, only ever doing it. Can you be absolutely certain you’d identify as a man or woman were the category not assigned to you at birth? Can you say with unwavering conviction that the trajectory of your being would naturally distill into such a coherent identification? I know my answer. The illusion of essential nature in the gender-sex binary only serves to legitimise, protect and ensure its reproduction, any violation elicits punishment: pathologies of the unnatural, outcries of degeneracy, dehumanising bodies via legislative and social practice, exclusion that makes life for many unliveable. As if any nature of the world could be so formulated, as if the breadth of sexual diversity were not evidence enough of the lie we’ve been sold. The naturalisation of bodily characteristics is a fabrication. Degeneracy is not my enemy.

But how can I articulate to you what I imagine when the basis for its communication (language) is part of the very framework that regulates and constrains our being, reducing it to these oppressive binaries I seek to escape. For all the words I’ve written here, none of them embody my heart. The energy of my being is too frenetic to capture in words, too unstable to define, it’s the burning intensity of queer life. I am always shifting because to remain still is to risk becoming legible. While I am legally ‘woman’, culturally I seek to be unrecognisable, amorphous. I want to be unknowable. The signs and social practises by which my body is read are beyond my control, but I can pervert them. Weave between the normative and illegitimate. Appear as one thing yet talk as another. Unmake myself in the night and emerge new. Alter my body, my behaviour, a network of contradictions in one being. I can be tentacular.

We should all be more tentacular. We should rid ourselves of the notion that multiplicity is comprised of disembodied figures, that we are but individuals in the vast abyss. Tentacularity is not a lonely life, its interconnectedness, tendrilled tree roots, the ecstasy of neural excess, of non-linear progression. It’s spidery, braids of fingers and helping hands, its interspecies understanding. It’s networks of care and intimacy, of compromise, of a shared vested interest in the future of our world - in what the children will open their eyes to. It’s about life lived along an abundance of lines – lines drawn in all directions, but not at the cost of each other and never for the sake of contention. It’s a queer life, a life in revolt of the neoliberal, heterosexual, capitalist destination. By necessity of exclusion, queer’s have always drawn new lines, taken the road less travelled, the path off the map. We make our own fictions, our own worlds. We love in dissident ways and redefine what it means to live. Throw the whole map away, these immutable ‘truths’ are neither sustainable nor divine. The possibilities for a different life have always been there, they lie beyond the confines of the world we know. It’s a utopic ideal for sure, but what joy is life if you have no hope for a better world? I don’t have all the answers, if they’re present, I haven’t seen them yet. Maybe you can. Maybe none of us will. But what hope is there if you cannot even imagine an alternative?