No one has asked me this question out loud. But I often wonder if this is the assumption people make when they hear me talk about some of the central principles of my work.
This might include topics or terms such as:
- Gender-free genitals
- Genital Interviews
- Chests and chest tissue, rather than breasts
- Orifice, hole or place you can enter the body
- People’s bodies
- Use of ‘they’ pronoun, rather than he/she
- People of all genders
- People who have periods
- Saying ‘external erectile tissue’ rather than clitoris or penis
- Avoiding talking about masculine and feminine opposites for energy, experiences, etc.
Am I A Gender Abolitionist?
Does this give the impression that I am a gender abolitionist? That I somehow envisage a world where everyone is gender-neutral or appears androgynous? Where everyone just melts erotically together in one big pot — because, if there’s no gender then the concept of sexuality is redundant?
If you’ve been to my workshops or worked with me one-to-one, then you’ll probably realise that this isn’t the case. That I’m very ready to affirm your gender identity and experience of yourself. I create an environment that encourages everyone present to do this for each other, and this is the case whether you’re trans or cis.
The point is, I don’t base this gender affirmation on what shape your body is or what your name is. Instead, I provide opportunities to share aspects of your gender, such as your pronouns or terms that are affirming to you. If you articulate your gender identity from the get go, of course my recognition of your gender and pronouns swings straight into action. If your pronouns or sense of your own gender change between sessions, then I’m on board with this fluidity. If you have multiple gender states and experiences then there’s space for this in our work.
I take an approach that has two steps, although these steps aren’t necessarily linear and in reality happen over and over again, as we go through life:
Lucie Fielding, the author of ‘Trans Sex’, talks about ‘mystifying’ and the ‘blank slate of naivete’, and I see this as a similar process.
How We Might Queer the Body, Sex and Our Experience
An example of this is the Genital Interview. Asking the genitals ten questions takes a ‘beginners mind’ position and explicitly removes assumptions about some supposedly basic things.
Some people have already had a period of gender freedom, or have skipped that step and are absolutely definitive on their whole sense of gender, as well as the gender felt in their body and organs. Others occupy a more liminal space where there’s an opportunity for exploration of how transition interacts with their internal experience.
I designed the Genital Interview to use ‘clean language’ — this involves using minimalist questions like, “Is there anything else?”, and simply repeating back the last thing the interviewee said.
You might notice that I’m not saying ‘gender-neutral genitals’ or ‘gender-neutral genital massage’. It’s gender-free. I far prefer to promote FREEDOM as a place from which we can explore and self-define. This is in contrast to trying to neutralise a concept and experience which is strongly felt, is powerful and has real tangible impacts on us socially, culturally and politically.
The caveat on this gender freedom is as far as it’s possible to gain any freedom about gender in our heavily-gendered society. Some people feel like it’s not possible to ever be free of the shackles of how other people read and treat them, or the shackles of their legal gender or a body which feels incongruent to them.
It may also feel like trauma/abuse has happened to the body and it’s not possible to imagine a ‘blank slate of naivete’, because of the damage that has been done. There’s space for all of this to be acknowledged.
Affirming the Gendered Experience
Regardless of your individual circumstances, I’ll always affirm the gendered experience you report yourself to have and what your needs and desires are. We can still embark on a Genital Interview and listen to your body voice its identity and advocate for itself — sometimes this happens in a way that’s never been invited before. We can also do this for the people we are close to and intimate with, and ask them to be this way with us.
Are we erasing anyone’s experience with this approach? I sincerely hope not. It’s certainly not my intention. We aren’t doing activities aiming to free ourselves of gender without offering at least the opportunity to reinstate an appropriate, fitting gender experience that feels good and true to you.
Not All Assigned Genders Are Created Equal
There is something important to acknowledge about the experiences of Assigned Female (AF) and Assigned Male (AM) people being different in the world. They face different qualities and quantities of gender-based consequences.
Simplistically, when AF people transition to male or masculine, they gain status in our sexist system. Additionally, the acceptable face of queer tends to be slim, white, androgynous AF people wearing ‘gender-neutral’ clothes (and gender-neutral means trousers, not skirts). Gender neutral tends to default to masculine — is it because women are meant to be made of Adam’s rib in the first instance?
When AM people transition to female identity and/or feminine expression, they get a whole load of wrath in the shape of transmisogyny. This is the brand of hostility, systematic violence and erasure that’s inherent in TERF (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist) ideology.
Relating to this stereotype of queer gender-neutrality, someone gave me some feedback about my use of the term ‘Chest Interview’. They suggested that this was erasing of women and the femme experience, again defaulting to considering the flat male chest with less chest tissue to be the ‘gender-neutral norm’. I guess it comes down to what you picture when you hear the word ‘chest’ — what did you picture just then?
Originally, my ‘Chest Interview’ was called ‘Chest, Breast and Nipple Interview’ but it sounded a bit unruly! So, I shortened it, thinking ‘chest’ can simply mean torso or that bit over our ribs. I also intended to use ‘chest’ in a generic ‘everyone has a chest in all different configurations’ way — that’s the gender-freeing part.
I will call it ‘Chest, Breast and Nipple’ from now on, or ‘Upper Body’ for short because I do understand this point about a wider trend of femme erasure.
Anyone and everyone can come along and fill up this space of gender freedom with their vivid and valid experience:
- I am a trans man with breasts and I am learning to be proud of this
- I am not sure if I am cis or non-binary but I want my chest to be looked at THIS way
- I am a trans woman who has developed breasts through hormones
- I love my energy breasts
- I am a queer cis woman and my nipples like being touched like this
- I respect my chest because it’s been through a lot with surgery and scars
- I enjoyed chest feeding my kid before I transitioned with hormones
- I won’t be happy till I have had top surgery. I don’t want to focus on this part of me
Are ‘Masculine and Feminine’ Made Up and Am I Abolishing Them?
No. I mean, these are heavily culturally constructed and hard to pin down concepts, and I don’t really get into that on behalf of my clients. However, in the field of sex education and sexuality workshops, the terms are used in uncritical ways and sometimes imposed on the audience, such as, “attend this sacred femininity workshop if you are a woman.”
Because of my commitment to gender freedom, I aim for minimal use of these binary ideas. When we do talk about masc and femme, we know we mean this gender galaxy in which anyone of any body configuration can be any combination of masc/femme appearance or sexual expression, etc.
The moment this changes is when a client, or a workshop participant expresses, “I am feminine and I want this to be seen and experienced by you/the world. Let me talk about it and what it means to me.” Then, we can start using the word ‘feminine’ (or femme/fem/girl/woman/Goddess etc) and untangling what this means to the person.
Someone said to me once, “Cis-het people don’t need to work on their relationship with their genitals” and I disagree wholeheartedly!
If cis-het (cisgender heterosexual) people healed and expanded their relationship with genitals, by doing things like Genital Interviews, for example, it would change the world.
Firstly, it might reduce that gendered ‘pleasure gap’ (where cis women have significantly less sexual satisfaction than cis men). Also, perhaps it would shine a light on the true diversity of human sexuality, leading to more understanding and compassion towards trans and queer people.
Freeing My Gender
I can think of ways I’ve been in the process of gender-freeing my own body, in my relationship with myself, and importantly, amongst people I am intimate with.
I have insisted, “keep your binary off my body” and I have spoken up for myself in sexual situations — vulnerably told people how I experience myself and asked not to be called this or that. I keep all of these things on the agenda even when the genital interview is nowhere to be seen!
I enjoy relating to people who have an imagination and an open mind to energy genitals, people who are freeing themselves from the idea that genitals=gender, or the scripts on how to interact with a vulva owner. It certainly helps to be in intimate/erotic relationships with other trans and non-binary people who are sensitive and attuned — people who appreciate mutual dialogue about this. My own erotic peers and anyone I choose to receive bodywork from will be queer or trans.
I honestly believe that everyone would benefit from freeing their gender, not only trans people, not only queer people, but the whole population. It’s not a case of telling anyone they aren’t allowed a gender identity, but allowing people the freedom to really be who they are, which is a fluid and evolving phenomenon.
Call me utopian. And come and have a little taste of gender-free and gender-affirming utopia at the next in-person Quintimacy event!