Gender Nihilism

“NOTHING can/will define me! Free to be EVERYTHING!!!”

Miley Cyrus

I wish to speak of something without knowing quite what it is. A disposition; a sensibility; a micropolitical strategy; a navigational heuristic; a performative absence; a forgetting, perhaps; a queer site of refusal and resistance; a creative potential; an experiment, a mode of living within, despite and against the regime of gender, which I’m going to call “gender nihilism”.

Gender nihilism designates a kind of radical agnosticism at the level of (gender) identity; a refusal of the injunction to know what one is, to objectify oneself as knowledge, and to make oneself known; a persistent “no comment” to the police who surround and suffuse us, and marshall against us a vast array of tactics – promises, threats, insults, lies, seductions, manipulations, forms of violence – to extract a confession. It names a possibility latent within any particular gender position: that of disidentification, of non-identification.

Silence too is performative.1 If gender is in some sense the effect of the repetition of gendered expressions, what is the effect of the repetition of a silence when the question of one’s gender is posed? It is not an escape. Norms continue to inscribe gendered meanings on the body, to produce modes of embodiment, and to act upon expression. One remains both a relay for and a product of gender as a form of power.2 It is more like a strike or an act of sabotage, a refusal to function as a site of production for a particular kind of knowledge and an effort to disrupt one’s normal functioning as a force of production.

There is nothing natural about having a gender. The shift from sovereignty – whose mode of action is necropolitical and whose instrument is law – to discipline – in which the fashioning and control of life (rather than consignment to death) becomes the primary concern of power, and the norm its instrument – as the dominant form of power required the expansion of modes of inquiry and knowledge production. Simply: that which is to be disciplined must be rendered intelligible to disciplinary powers; the norm must be defined and delimited and deviance understood in order to be corrected and eliminated. Gender, sex, sexuality are conceptual instruments of this form of power. The belief that one must have a gender, that is, that one must know oneself in gendered terms and be capable of transmitting that knowledge, that gender self-knowledge is a necessary condition for a livable life, and that the absence of such knowledge is a form of crisis, is a historical phenomenon and an effect of power. Gender nihilism is the lived refutation of that belief, the demonstration that life can be lived without such knowledge, and that such a life can flourish.

If the disciplinary society aimed at the elimination of troublesome difference through institutional power, the new capitalism, the society of control, produces a fresh twist on the politics of intelligibility. Control is interested not in the elimination of difference but in its assimilation, the recuperation and reincorporation of renegades into the market, the state, the family and so on by adding additional axioms which conditionally and selectively allow access to the norm. Homosexuality no longer requires a cure, rather the marriage norm is expanded to include gays who conform to certain norms of acceptable difference, while the rest are further abjected. Disciplinary power is tactile and direct, control is remote and abstract. It effects biopolitical control through the modulation of differential access to markets, food, shelter, recognition, rights, protections.

If the assertion of abjected identities, and the hybridisation and invention of new identities directly confronted disciplinary power, such gestures are increasingly incorporated by new forms of control. The assertion of identity becomes the means by which a population delimits itself and renders itself intelligible to power and begins a trajectory of assimilation which assigns it a place within marketing strategies, state institutions, culture and social life.3 It thereby structures oppositional politics according to a logic of recognition, drawing renegade flows back toward the state and the reproduction of the present.

Gender nihilism is disinterested in recognition. Recognition is always “recognition as…” and therefore remains always conditional: “I recognise you as…” is always conditional on a prior identification, always implies a “because you are…”, and always retains the possibility that recognition will be withdrawn if you become something else. The power of recognition is also simultaneously the power of misrecognition and non-recognition, and the goal of recognition, whether demanded or asked for, exposes one permanently to these forms of violence. However forcefully we assert “I am…”, we remain vulnerable to “You are not…”, “You are instead…”4

Gender nihilism has no positive content. In itself it does not prescribe or recommend any particular way of being in the world. It makes no claims about what it is. If identification is drawing a circle in the sand saying “here are the things I am, there are the things I am not”, gender nihilism simply lets the circle be washed away by the waves. The gender nihilist is therefore indifferent to the names they are called and the genders they signify.* Gender nihilism opens the entire space of gendered possibility as a terrain for exploration, but does not replace fidelity to an identity with fidelity to an ethics of exploration. One can stay where one is just as surely as one can set off at a sprint. In this sense it is less a nomadism than a homelessness.5 It opens up gender as a space of play, or of combat, without mandating either. It’s mode of address is “you can…” – “you should…” and “you must…” only emerge when other components are bolted on. It is futural in the sense that it refuses the conception of historicity that grounds identity (“I am what I always have been”) which is always in any case a founding myth, a constantly reworked fiction that establishes continuity with the past. Gender nihilism is at ease with rupture. It allows us to treat our histories as a resource, an archive of past styles, ways of living, memories, experiences, beliefs to be reworked and refashioned in any way desired, but is not innately a postmodernist, or futurist, or accelerationist disposition towards novelty or innovation.

Gender nihilism is political but it is not a politics. It is queer by definition, but proposes no ideal queerness, nor any queer horizon towards which to direct itself. It is a negation that doesn’t presuppose some future dialectical turn. Clearly it is in various ways a marginal and precarious position and thus its structural position pushes towards certain forms of alliance, and indeed may in itself open unique political possibilites. In this sense gender nihilism may be a valuable conceptual component in a political assemblage, but one ambivalent to the particular political projects it connects with.6


1 One stock example of performativity is the “I do” of a wedding ceremony. Consider how the same ceremony also incorporates a performative silence to sanction the legality of the marriage: the moment after “speak now or forever hold your peace”.

2 A question arises here: if we assert that gender cannot be escaped, are we not legislating against the identities of those who claim for themselves a position outside of the gender binary, or outside of gender as such – those who call themselves agender, non-binary, or third gender, for example? This, I think, is a problem that arises in all forms of gender identification, which I call the problem of ‘lived ontology’. That is: any particular assertion of gender identity involves claims about what kind of genders can exist and which cannot, whose implications extend beyond the self to the whole social body. For example, a trans person’s insistence that their anatomy does not dictate their gender troubles the gender of a cis person who understands their gender as grounded in biological fact, while in turn forms of lived gender fluidity trouble some trans people’s understanding of their lived gender as grounded in fixed interior truth. The various forms of gender identity in the world are mutually incoherent, and in some cases mutually canceling. This should not be seen as a problem, rather we should seek to understand the ways that a variety of mutually incompatible forms of gender dissidence each open up their own spaces of freedom and effect their own disruptions of the gender regime. I intend to return to this topic in a more systematic way in the future, but provisionally we can say that all genders are in some sense impossible, and that the extension of recognition despite or even because of that impossibility is one of the ways in which we can collaborate and support one-another to performatively open up possibilities that are barred by gender norms.

3 Of course, this process is not inevitable. Identity categories can be queered and re-queered to resist assimilation. And identity-based movements can exceed containment and threaten power. My aim here is not to proscribe identification, but to question its necessity and sketch an alternative.

4 This condition is perhaps never fully escapable. As social beings we are always minimally vulnerable. We never fully control how we are affected by the names we are called. In this sense perhaps gender nihilism designates a horizon rather than an actuality. In any case, it is certainly not a delusion of invulnerability.

5 My point is not that a nomad ethics is not desirable (I think it is, and there is clearly an affinity or compatibility between the two), simply that this question is external to the proposition of gender nihilism.

6 Indeed I write this in part because I am convinced of the political value of nihilism both as a point to pass through and as a position to act from, but that’s another essay.

* EDIT 11/11/15 The struck-out sentence is one I no longer endorses since it prescribes indifference as an ideal way of living queerness – prescisely the kind of prescriptivism this text seeks to escape. I have struck it out because, while I feel it can safely be removed from the text without loss of coherence, I don’t believe in simply deleting problematic/contentious mistakes so it appears as if I never said them.

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8 comments
  1. Savy said:

    Thank you for articulating these concepts. I recently attended a genderqueer, non-binary caucus, and I certainly encountered folks who would identify with these theories. During introductions we were asked “if our gender were ice-cream, what flavor would it be?” Many people had delicious sounding creative answers. One individual said “I would be lactose intolerant.” Many misinterpreted their statement, but I imagine it was along similar concepts of gender nihilism.

    • Hey thank you for your comment. I had a certain sense when I was writing that what I was talking about was something people already do, but which in some sense does not appear in the discourse around gender (except perhaps in corners of the academy). The reaction I’ve gotten (i.e. a number of people telling me it resonated with them) would seem to bear that out.

  2. peterkiernan said:

    I think there’s a great point here about how we can be suckered in to admitting too much by participation in a discourse we might not fully shape; but I have some concerns that I’d love for you to address (let me be clear though – you can address them in your own time, no combative intention here).

    So I have three concerns/questions:

    (1) – As I understand it there are two ways this kind of attitude toward the subject of gender could be understood; (a) I do not have a gender (b) I refuse to engage the subject *at all*. From what you’ve said (and from the general character of nihilism) you mean something more like (b). I think however that there is a multi-layered conflict here between both. Any account of type (a) explicitly recognizes that there genders and uses this explicit recognition to manage making the claim that *for me* not-gender (so this is familiar to us in agender identities). Any account of type (b) implicitly recognizes that there are genders insofar as closing off discussion about gender can’t be affected without closing it of off *from that subject*. This is one respect in which I think analytic philosophy has the jump on the continental traditions – self-refuting arguments are introduced early (such as in the Tractatus) and recognized as inescapably problematic, so rather than try to make use of contradictory tensions on the basis that if one is radical enough one can treat them as true analytic philosophers might instead either narrow or broaden the meta-philosophical focus of investigation (ie. philosophy should ask less questions, or, some meta-philosophical account of philosophical practice can provide away around this self-refutation). As to the question do you think that there is a sense in which gender nihilism (which I identify here with type (b) ) disputes, unintentionally, type (a) claims? That is when you close out the positive, for whatever reason (political and so on), do you not also close out the negative? Agender claims, which are to be claims about not experiencing gender, are as incomprehensible, under this approach, as positive, experiential claims about gender – and this seems to be an unintended consequence of gender nihilism (either type (a) claims are as incomprehensible as type (b) or type (a) claims always reduce to gender nihilism itself) . Here’s one way to understand it (I’m not agender so I’ll use an example I could reasonably claim to have a good, internal sense of) – if I don’t experience, or claim not to experience, sexual desire I claim a negative identity as a positive feature of my experience of the world. If on the other hand I claim to be a ‘sexual nihilist’ who believes that questions about sexuality should not be asked and the subject should be closed out of discussion I do not preserve that sense of ‘positive negativity’ because that sense relies on a dynamic of their being sexual people against whom my experiences are understood. From such a nihilistic perspective the difference between someone who negatively experiences the sexual and someone who positively experiences the sexual collapses, is no longer expressible – doesn’t this nihilism, which is in some sense an extreme kind of scepticism about gender that is either genuinely felt or simply adopted, take the form, in part, of scepticism around the genuineness of a-anything sexual/gender identities?

    – I did, by the way, read your footnote anticipating just this objection, but it didn’t put me at ease. You didn’t really engage the objection at all. If “all genders are in some sense impossible” then the negative position on gender (as an experiential position) is not possible as a position (because there is nothing for it to ‘not’ be an experience of). Moreover you are not arguing just that people who want to be gender nihilists should be (for who would object to that?) but that there are good political, social, and theoretical/philosophical reasons to be a gender nihilist in general – I hate to pull the erasure card but I can’t see how this isn’t simply and directly the assertion that there are no genuine agender identities. Look at it this way, could an agender person understand the claim that you are making (that one should be a gender nihilist)? I would say no. If I don’t know what gender is like or what gendered experience is like I can hardly take a position on it, I certainly can’t take the position that discussion of gender should be closed off – so I can’t really be, even ideally, a gender nihilist. It seems like gender nihilism comes at the expense of the agender.

    I think, by the way, that this a serious flaw in Butler’s approach too. Her vulnerability approach makes all a-identities incomprehensible. If everyone starts in a position of the negative and has positive notions imposed on them from outside then there simply is no sense in which there are agender, aromantic, or asexual people (except perhaps in the sense that there are people who for some reason just fail to respond to or engage with constructed identities in those areas). I could be getting hysterical here but isn’t this just a very subtle way for people who do positively experience gender, sexual desire, and romantic desire *in some sense* to appropriate negative philosophical spaces that haven’t even been developed yet (I don’t think that is what you are doing here, this is more what I think Butler is up to)?

    (2) – Why is a gender nihilist not simply a nihilist? An identical argument can be made for any given subject (I could take that the notion of an ‘object’ is just a coercive, social construction and that we should be nihilists about it too, or almost anything else, zoological categories, reason, emotion – and this is just what some thinkers do when they talk about a ‘metaphysics of presence’ and so on). Isn’t this nihilism just a politically motivated adaptation of very old radical sceptical arguments directed against the subjects and objects of sentences without any real concern for (a) the metaphysics of subjects and objects (b) philosophy of language?

    (3) – Do you think that it could be the case that Butler’s separation of Austin’s speech acts from the context of broader analytic philosophy of language is a serious misrepresentation of them? What about serious counter-examples that Butler fails (so far as I know) to engage with? Take Kripke’s famous account of names as rigid designators – how would you or Butler respond to theses that argue that names are not only highly functional but very often get things right (water names a thing that is water – a chemical compound, no matter how differently we imagine the world ‘Socrates’ still correctly picks out Socrates). Isn’t this argument itself, against naming, not in fact a position on the philosophy of language, but just (again) an adapted radical sceptical argument made against linguistic terms? Aren’t you forced toward a very serious, broadly nihilistic and radical position of arguing that if an inalienable common ground of meaning keeps cropping (naming terms for example) that common ground should be abandoned simpliciter (by force of will as it were). What’s the difference between Butler and someone like Protagoras or Gorgias?

    • hey there. Thanks for what is (like last time) a really interesting and thought-provoking response. I have to admit straight up that I’m not really in a position to answer point 3 without doing a lot of reading first, which I’ll try to do at some stage, but I can’t promise (my ‘wanna read’ stack is already massive and growing far more rapidly than my reading speed).

      So on your other two points:

      I guess the first thing to clarify is that my intention in writing this was more along the lines of ‘come think through this idea with me’, as opposed to ‘here is a good idea you all need to hear about it’. So the text is constructed to avoid being normative inasmuch as is possible. It’s interesting to me that you (and you’re certainly not the only one) seem to have read a normativity within it nonetheless. Perhaps this says something about how norms operate through language apart from or in spite of our intentions? I do of course try to situate gender nihilism as a response to a particular understanding of the political conjuncture, but I don’t want to say that I think it is the best, nor only, way of responding to that conjuncture. I do, however, want to contest the idea that the affirmation of marginal identities is automatically or unproblematically progressive.

      Regarding your (a) vs. (b) dichotomy, I’m afraid I don’t recognise either as quite the same thing that I’m trying to talk about under the heading gender nihilism. To lay it out very schematically: gender nihilism starts from understanding that gender(ed) self-knowledge is not natural, and in fact depends on being induced or disciplined towards engaging in specific forms of knowledge-production, which could perhaps be understood as the internalisation of certain social phenomena (calling one another gendered names, various medicial, juridicial, religious, psychoanalytic, scientific, forms of inquiry into the self, and their gazes and modes of confession). So gender nihilism proposes that whatever it is that one knows in terms of gender (be that within or without the binary) can be known in other terms. I don’t have to agree to understand my penis (for example) as signifying masculinity, or trans-femininity, or that my non-experience of body dysphoria means that I am this or that gender ‘deep down’. I can refuse ‘knowing what my gender is’ as an ideal project. So I would say that I make pretty modest claims for what gender nihilism is and can do: one can consciously dis-identify with a particular project of inquiry into oneself, much as one can consciously disidentify with the project of knowing if one has a good or a bad soul, or something like that.

      So where does that leave the gender nihilist in terms of (a) and (b) as you set them up? It’s certainly not (a), because (a) to me says “most people have a gender, but I don’t”. One ends up classifying oneself as a different type of being from those who “have” gender. One lacks what others are regarded as really having. So what one asserts is in fact a gender identity in disavowed form.* That’s fine, but it’s not my project.

      But (b) is not quite right either, at least as you go on to use it, because it seems to involve a norm regarding the gender claims of others, that because one does not know oneself in those terms, one must deny recognition to the gender claims of others. That’s certainly a possibility from the nihilist position, but it is not required, and I make the case (in footnotes) that one can and should for political reasons (albeit ones that are external to the nihilist project). There is of course a sense in which I cannot fully agree to the claim of an agender person that they are agender, because I don’t believe in the implied ontology within that claim, but that is, I would argue, an inevitability. I recognise my father as a man, but what we both mean by that term are quite radically different, and I can never fully recognise him as what he considers himself to mean by ‘man’. There is, I submit, no way out of this problem if we recognise gender as anything other than an entirely incommunicable interior experience, that is, if we are to talk about it as a social phenomenon, a material condition, or an element of a discourse. (In fact, even then, we negate the self-understandings of those who understand gender as a process of social construction that has been applied to them and produced certain effects.)

      So to me, recognition is not a matter of a relation to truth – that you and I would come to an agreement about what you mean by your gender and that I agree fully to everything that could possibly imply about the world – but rather of performative effect in the context of the incoherence of language. I recognise the gender of an agender person not because I understand what that means and accept it as truth (I cannot know what it is to not experience gender so I have no capacity to make the truth or falsehood of that claim meaningful to me) but because I wish to collaborate with that person in contesting the meanings inscribed upon them. I do not know what I am saying when I agree that they are agender, ze is genderqueer, xe is neutrois, and so on; I assert the possibility of the position without knowing what the content of the position is, and performatively struggle to create the possibility of that position. I can understand why this kind of recognition-without-truth might be unsatisfying to some, but I think it’s what we’re left with if we recognise that we will never fully know the ‘truth’ of the Other.

      You give an analogy of ‘sexual nihilism’. To me, the analogous nihilism to gender nihilism in that realm would one that refuses to use the concept of ‘the sexual’ to differentiate between different ways of utilising the body for the production of pleasure. (Which would be one way of reading Foucault.) So the claim “I am asexual” is as fully comprehensible as the claim “I have no desire to learn to play the guitar” and should be exactly as interesting. I think the proposition of recognition in this case is relatively unproblematic: understanding what is meant by an absence of desire is a far simpler proposition than understanding what is meant by “I am this gender”.

      As for your second question, why be a just a gender nihilist and not a general nihilist, I can only really answer for myself that the effect of the demand for me to know my gender has been the production of anxiety, an often self-destructive process of struggling to be what I ideally “am”. So I don’t see myself as losing very much in taking this particular position vis-a-vis gender, whereas if I decide to adopt a nihilist position on the meanings of traffic lights, the likely result is I’ll be hit by a car at some stage. I’m sorry if that’s glib, but I don’t really know what else to say on that. I don’t really recognise my position as being merely a radical skeptic position; I think I go to an effort to understand the specific dynamics of gender norms and gender nihilism as a response is motivated by that understanding. I’m open to further argument on the topic, of course, and writing this reply has proved quite useful in clarifying some things for me.

      Anyway, that’s all for now. I’ve to meet friends for cans.

      *(ETA: Or in any case, whatever one asserts remains within the episteme that classifies humans according to gender, which I’m not sure is identical to the assertion of a gender identity. More thought required.)

      • peterkiernan said:

        My concerns/objections in this case are entirely theoretic (with the argumentation) – so I’ll just be clear and say that I’m very interested in what you have to say and do not wish in any sense to imply that these concerns/objections constitute an objection to your being able to say and articulate this gender nihilism – and indeed thank you for the response.

        I think it would also be helpful to recognize that we’re probably coming from different reading traditions (I think you’d have a great time with analytic thinkers like Kripke – but you can get to that when and if you want, I couldn’t respond to a detailed question on Derrida or Foucault and I don’t expect you to deal with a question on Kripkean naming).

        My principle concern is that there is a matter of debate about position/negation. Arguing that all gender identities are negative (that is have no substance) and are as such constructed is making an argument that others can and should contest (and do: the example of Kripke was to put forward some who might genuinely treat gender as a natural kind). There is a confusion here (which I think is a confusion *for me* but is just part of a certain reading tradition that takes in the influence of phenomenology) that if I feel that gender is negative in character and is socially constructed and I think that view is very useful (helps people out who I want to help out) then it is basically true. This just isn’t the case (as I see it). You can feel that gender is negative in character and articulate this without that meaning that ‘gender is negative’ is true (I think there is also a political difference between us, I’d be comfortable arguing that there is a genuine ‘centre’ where rival claims to truth can be sorted out, whereas you might very reasonably object that the centre is *just* the ground of oppression). You have no strong theoretic reason for thinking that gender is negative other than ultra-strong theoretic objections to metaphysics, language, etc in and of themselves. This *looks* to be like radical scepticism because most arguments about the ‘in-coherency’ of language are radically sceptical/self-refuting. For example –

        ‘Language is incoherent’ *but* the statement ‘language is incoherent’ is coherent, therefore there are some theoretically substantive *coherent* statements (self-refuting).

        Language is incoherent because we can’t know x, y, z (about the nature of things, about the nature of the self, etc) (radically sceptical).

        More precisely a radical sceptical position is one in which someone argues that they can’t assess the truth or falsity of a claim because they don’t believe that claim can ever be genuine (I can’t assess another person’s gender identity because I can’t know that identity). This seems to be consonant with at least some of the things you have been saying).

        Importantly I think it is a mistake to try and get genuine difference and plurality by appealing to concepts of in-communicability and absolute difference (and this, from my limited understanding, is what Derrida and Butler go for – this just eliminates difference by making there only individuals, absolute difference or difference as the basis of metaphysics is just getting rid of difference – difference, in a genuine philosophy of it, would not be not being able a priori to understand another person but rather knowing that possibly one could understand that person and knowing that performatively one can not be certain to know what they are saying for any one incident of speech). Again there are thinkers who feel that language is public in character and that everything can be communicated (arguably later Wittgenstein, Kripke, Davidson).

        This would probably explain why I am misreading normative intention into what you are saying (because I think everything can be said (because what cannot be said lies outside knowing – *really* lies outside it, that is cannot be thought of, referenced) so I assume that your position must entail consequences for others – for example I would assume that you are sceptical that the claims of someone who thinks that gender is a natural kind are true, but rather you just don’t feel that you can assess such a claim (?) ).

        For me the performativity claim is just confusing – what makes you think that performance is central to language? Austin certainly thought that some kinds of speech were also kinds of action, but that just doesn’t mean that the objects of linguistic statements are created by the ‘performance’ of the statements themselves (how could this be true?).

        I suppose I feel particularly that your claim not to understand what others are saying is just misleading: you do understand what others are saying or else you would not get on in the world. So there has to be a good enough reason to single out gender as something you don’t understand (in this case I mean theoretically – again I don’t dispute that if you claim not to understand gender that just means that you don’t understand gender – but here I understand what you are saying, because understanding what you are saying is not a matter of getting inside your head but of following what your words mean and what their consequences are, and not all of these consequences are behavioural).

        In regard the sexual nihilism – probably not the best example (was using it more out of necessity than appropriateness). I do however think that you get it wrong, asexuality is not like ‘not having the desire to play the guitar’ it is not being a person for whom sexuality is a primitive part of their identity (problem here is we are in danger of talking past one another, I obviously want to hold onto identity claims). Here is one problem – asexuality isn’t behavioural, it isn’t identical to not doing x, it is an identity claim simpliciter, of me it would not enter into my head to think of not doing x, or doing x (for example: asexual people, myself included, do have sex, so the nature of the claim must run deeper than a claim about behaviour or behavioural disposition). My asexuality isn’t a position on sexuality. It is an orientation toward sexuality (which admits that there are such things as sexualities) and it is an orientation *from another place* (much like, in fact, your gender nihilism – just this other place can be genuinely negative and be linguistically accessible/comprehensible). Of course here you are perfectly correct to say that the one thing (sexuality) and the other (gender) are different, so the argument may not apply.

        In this case your approach to negation (and the meaning of negation statements) just strikes me as simplistic. Negation statements can be meaningful (I think) on their own (and don’t have to be understood simply as the negation of some positive claim). Position and negation (as claims) work round one another – when I claim to be asexual I claim to positively be in such and such a way that I am not naturally sexual. I really think that your position on negation just can’t accommodate this kind of claim because it wants to ban positive claims altogether (and so it can’t deal with there being a relationship between the positive and negative that converts the one into the other).

        “So where does that leave the gender nihilist in terms of (a) and (b) as you set them up? It’s certainly not (a), because (a) to me says “most people have a gender, but I don’t”. One ends up classifying oneself as a different type of being from those who “have” gender. One lacks what others are regarded as really having. So what one asserts is in fact a gender identity in disavowed form.* That’s fine, but it’s not my project.”

        This for me sums up the limitations of your approach to negation – for you a person who claims to be agender, if their claim is consistent, literally has to make themselves another kind of being
        – this just isn’t true. Gender is a property individuals claim to possess, if they haven’t got that property or they have some other property in its place then that doesn’t make them any less individuals of the same kind as individuals who *do* have that property. Agender claims just argue that gender-identities are not *essential* to individuals because you can be an individual without having such an identity (and agender claims can be read, as you say, as just personal claims to not being gendered, but they can be read in other ways too). The agender person only lacks what others have essentially if others have it essentially (but there are lots of genuine properties that I don’t have essentially, that I am twenty-three, that I am Irish, that I have long hair, and so on and this doesn’t make me a nihilist about hair colour, age, or ethnicity).

        There is so much difference in our basic starting position! It really is fascinating. Anyway I will continue to read whatever you write on this topic (very interesting) as I’m certainly benefiting from trying to think through what you are saying and where it is coming from (again different reading traditions – if we end up talking past one another that is not such a bad thing, if we are civil enough we pick up what we can from one another).

        I think it is also a good idea to let the author have the last word (and not get exhausted over issues that take a long, long time to sort out) – so I feel I’ve said whatever I can say that might be useful (and of course I’ll make sure to read through and consider whatever you have to say in reply). If you want to discuss this negation/position stuff, just theoretically, not personally (again I wouldn’t dream of objecting to the claims you make in that capacity, from my point of view I have really good philosophical reasons to take any claims you make about yourself, including this gender nihilism, as true – and as I said above I think that a-claims in general have a family resemblance to this nihilism, asexual claims, for me, are claims about not really understanding, in a strong philosophical sense, what people mean by the sexual and finding it difficult to relate to it, and my experience of it has been an experience not of self-ease in simply not wanting x, but intense frustration and self-doubt over not being able to relate to and process x – here I verge on contradicting myself but that’s why I try to keep the philosophical and the personal separate) I’d be happy to, because I am fascinated by it.

        – Thanks again for the reply!

  3. Luke Hussey said:

    I really enjoyed this, especially the bit where you discuss the productive aspects of “forms of gender identity” that “are mutually incoherent, and in some cases mutually cancelling”. When I was reading this I kept thinking of Stuart Hall’s ‘strategic’ and ‘positional’ identities, whereby identity is conceived as not homogeneous, but contradictory. Although this piece is more politically productive due to its queer application. Nonetheless, I thought the problem of recognition is similar to Hall’s ‘identification’, (which you allude to) in which recurring traits characterise a large and diverse group, which can be violent and negates the particular, local identities that are potentially at odds with the group identity. Hall promotes a conception of identity that is “never singular but multiply constructed across different, often intersecting and antagonistic, discourses, practices and positions”. I think gender-nihilism, as a proposed project that accepts its undefined status, is a great concept in a time where many take up queer theory and (inadvertently as well as intentionally) use it as a weapon against those who (rightly) call themselves trans etc.

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