Understanding gender is an important asset to social justice. It’s theoretical understanding lies at the root of women’s rights, transgender rights, men’s rights, and queer rights broadly. Since Terranism is concerned with cultivating a just world, the concerns of social justice must be familiar to Terranic theology. To that end, a Terranic rendering of gender will help to explore the explanatory power of our theological language. As a syntheist, I understand gender as a social construct. As a Terran, I recognize gender as an aura.
Before we begin, let’s look at where we’re going to end up. There are a variety of souls which we would like to include in our understanding. First, we want to understand the vast majority of people, cis-gender people; those who identify as men and women without a second thought and have done so their whole lives. But they are not our only sample of gender as it is used. There are transgender people, who fit into the binary of men and women but switch their gender at some point during their life. Further, there are non-binary people who do not identify as a conventional gender which lies within the binary, and agender people who don’t identify with a gender at all. These, along with other gender identities (possibly many others), are examples of gender as it is used. Our rendering of gender must be powerful enough to understand all these uses of gender.
Blank Slate or Factory Default?
A pivotal first question is whether gender is a natural part of a person’s soul, or whether it is incorporated into the soul from external sources.
The importance of this question becomes obvious when considering how to understand a child’s gender. Some might argue that gender is an innate quality to a person which rises forth organically from a soul’s nature. Others say that gender is something superimposed on a person and bears no connection to the internal workings of the soul. Children matter to these differing positions because which one you hold will influence how you approach the gender of a child. Is this child naturally gendered due to their biology and mind, or does this child grow into gender through cultivation and environment?
As a Terran, I am keen to differentiate between magical and material elements in a person’s life. While sex is definitely a material part of a person’s life, gender is magical. Sex is installed into us before our parents begin to put labels onto us, while gender is applied to the child long after the sex has been determined by the chromosomes. As such, it is a construction, making it a part of a child’s environment, not their nature. This is important for how a person grows up to interact with gender.
Since gender is magical, it is something cast by souls. Understanding this, we can safely say that gender is cultivated, and that children grow into a gender. Let’s explore this further.
Why do we cast such spells upon others? Primarily, gender is used to communicate about an entity (person or object). We gender babies using sex as the determining factor, and use that gender as the means to communicate about them and to them easily. We gender objects like vehicles to make their knowledge more accessible. Gender provides us pronouns which facilitate communication and reference; less to the entity itself and more about it to other people. By nature of this primary use, gender not only provides pronouns, but attempts to articulate the lived experience of an entity. This articulation relies on comparing the lived experiences of entities within a gender, and contrasting against other genders. It is this expanded use which makes it so important for social justice.
By articulating an entity’s lived experience, gender has far reaching powers. Not surprisingly, people advocate and fight over their gender identity and representation. This struggle over gender is about how an entity is known by others; for articulation builds knowledge. There are two secondary uses gender has which can be used for potent magical effect on this knowledge. The first is to prescribe archetypes and roles an entity should inhabit. After all, if gender is used to describe your lived experience, then it is a small step to prescribe a lived experience. The second is for an entity to influence how they are known by others; thus potentially influencing the first effect. Both of these uses extend from that primary use of pronoun reference. These secondary uses can have monumental impacts on the lived experience of a soul for better or worse.
What is important to remember is that both these secondary uses do not reflect an essential element within the soul; which is to say, you don’t need to have a gender to have a soul. The archetypes which are so important to gender and its uses reside not within souls, but between them. Gender and it’s archetypes are shared between people, they are not essential to a person.
Many of the things associated with gender are meaningless without gender’s broader context. While sex is the determining factor when a person is young, a matrix of behaviors and statuses become far more important than biological sex. Quickly ascertaining a person’s gender does not require seeing their genitalia, but rather, depends on their gender presentation. Things like how they walk, how they sound, their gestures, what they wear, what jobs they work, the vehicles they use, what entertainment they like, and most importantly, how they identify as, are all taken into consideration when a person is being gendered. To reiterate, the reason is not because gender is essential to a person’s soul, but because it is an articulation of a person’s lived experience.
We can see that gender is a deeply magical thing. Gender is a magical aura which envelops a person and is shaped by internal and external pressures. It exists between people; a constant negotiation between how a person is known and how they wish to be known. Gender constructs belong to no one person in particular. Gender flows through you, and you can direct the current.
But if gender is not essential to a soul, why does gender identity matter to people? After all, if gender exists between people, why would it matter to a person how they’re identified? In fact, it is because gender exists between people that it matters how a person is identified. While gender itself is not an essential component of a soul, its effects can be felt deeply. This is due to the secondary uses of gender; its prescriptive and self-descriptive applications. Gender’s prescriptive application can be felt as a comfort when it gives guidance on how to live, or discomfort when it pushes in unwanted directions. Further, gender’s self-descriptive application can be pleasing when you are known accurately, and painful when you persistently feel unknown. While gender itself might not be essential to a soul, the feelings experienced in response to gender are real, and important for a person’s life. Those feelings are the qualia which determine our experience of gender. While most people feel comfortable with the gender assigned at birth, others don’t. Variations are not evidence of corrupted souls, but of diversity in human lived experience.
Using our Terranic rendering, let’s assess how cis-gender, agender, and non-binary souls might be understood. A cis-gender person opts-in to the gender archetype they are assigned at birth. Whether from indifference or pleasure, they find that being known by their cis-gender suits them. They contribute to the archetype throughout their lives and might even put considerable effort into molding themselves to fit a particular version of the archetype they have seen. This particular gender archetype they hold in their minds might be exemplified through person they know or a character that appeals to them. Just think of a man talking about his masculine role model, or a woman reflecting on an inspiring feminine character in a novel. Those around them recognize their gender as a part of their identity and use it as a tool to know them. Most people are cis-gender.
Agender people by contrast don’t find gender to be comfortable or pleasing. Whether this is a strong feeling or not, they wish to be understood without a gendered description colouring how they are known. They don’t fit in the prominent archetypes, and they don’t feel the need to. Preferring to be known more directly as themselves, they forge roles and behaviors that suit their needs, not what is prescribed by a gender. To that end, they opt-out of gender entirely, both its prescriptions and identity.
Transgender people broadly describe a person who is a gender other than their cis-gender. Unlike agender people, transgender people still want to use gender as a means to structure their life and to identify themselves, but they are uncomfortable with the gender they were assigned at birth. To that end they transition into a different gender. Many transition to another gender within the dominant gender binary, but some move beyond the binary entirely. Those who stay within the binary do so because they find comfort or satisfaction in it.
Those who move beyond the binary are non-binary people. The non-binary person might craft their own personal gender, or follow a non-binary gender as established by some other role model. Many take an interest in the language others use describing them, preferring to be known through unconventional pronouns or mixtures of pronouns. Further, they tend to craft their own gender identity by choosing to roles and behaviors which are true to themselves. By casting these spells, non-binary people attempt to give others a means to know their lived experience more accurately.
I believe this covers the largest umbrella for gender identities and roles. Again, gender is not essential to a soul so you don’t need a gender to have a soul. Further, diverse gender expressions are not the result of corruption or evil. Even if the majority of people are cis-gendered, this doesn’t mean that variations from the norm are worse or lesser. It is simply the result of diverse lived experiences.
Your gender identity is something that helps people know you. Look into yourself and examine how you wish to be known. Odds are, you will be comfortable with the gender you already have, and that’s wonderful; we want a world where people are comfortable with how they are known. If you are uncomfortable, listen to the advocacy of others who have gone through similar things. Look for supportive communities which give you spaces to explore and feel safe.
Gendered spells can do a variety of things. They can shape how others view you, how others are viewed, and will shape behavior. It might help you integrate with people sharing your gender (or sharing the same absence), and it might help you feel comfortable in your own skin. The most basic type of spell is communicating what pronouns others should use when describing you. Intermediate spells might be inhabiting gender roles. More advanced spells might attempt to shape gender archetypes.
If you encounter someone who prefers uncommon pronouns, use them! Pronouns are a means by which you can know a person more deeply, and it is a sign of respect to oblige them. By using their pronouns how they ask, you gain access to a knowledge about them which they spent time and possibly discomfort trying to disentangle. In all likelihood, they worked hard to know themselves and they would like you to know them in the same way. Don’t you want to know them? Refusing to acknowledge their gender identity not only degrades their aura, it keeps you from knowing them.
Gender’s establishment on the globe indicates it will not be going anywhere soon. In all likelihood, it will be an important magic as long as humanity is around. It benefits all of us to make gender useful to those who need it, and optional to those who don’t. Not only is it our duty to make gender work for us, but to counter those souls and spells which would use gender to oppress and subjugate. It is in our power to make this world better.
The Second Sex – Simone de Beauvoir