Notes on the Dialectic of Sex and Gender

Sex and Gender are not identical, but neither are they inherently different.
To the extent that one exists, so does the other.
They are different aspects of the same process in which both are mutually established as reciprocal determinations of each other, in which sex functions as the mode of existence of gender and gender functions as the mode of appearance of sex.

Sex and gender have a history of co-existence, but initially this coexistence was unclear or confused, since what appeared to conscious awareness was only one: the natural kind that is sex. But what appears to awareness as the objective existence of natural sex is not something that exists independently outside of the mind waiting to be later discovered, but is rather a product of dynamic social formations which posit sex into existence, by which an abstract concept is made concrete through the way in which the concept conditions and mediates human praxis. Sex is a social fabrication, and its appearance as a natural kind is a product of a long historical process of naturalization, by which an abstract ideal is made real in concrete material practice.

The genesis of sex coincides with the gensis of civilization, in which there arose for the first time a class of laborers and a class of rulers distinguished on the basis of the division of labor in society. Division on the basis of reproductive labor constitutes sexual class, by which two distinct but complementary functions necessary for the production of life (provisioning of sufficient conditions and cultivation of necessary conditions), which were associated with what were assumed to be distinct and mutually exclusive bodily functions (ejaculation and ovulation), where posited to be, and hence reified as, properties exclusively associated with distinct classes of entities. So sex as a natural category of human being did not exist prior to its being posited into existence, but rather, sex is retroactively established by way of a gendering operation that presupposes the inherent existence of natural kinds in order to justify its prescriptive inscription of gendered sex on the otherwise sexless body. This circular dynamic, though logically self-serving, fulfills a non-logical function: the creation of a patriarchal order whose continual recreation is predicated on the compulsion to perform heterosexual labor, and a system of media (both ideological and aesthetic) to obfuscate the basis of the compulsive operation and mystify its resultant forms. The mystification of sexual difference and its reflective description as either instances of natural kinds, supernatural archetypes or metaphysical forces, produces the collective delusion of its being an inherently existent, pre-culturally given, fact of reality. Sex is not natural, but rather sex is naturalized.

The naturalization of sex occurs on two distinct but mutually informing dimensions of society:

the Mediological, or simply the superstructure, and
the Infrastructural, or simply the base.

The mediological dimension can be subdivided into ideological and aesthetic components.  Divided on the basis of which aspect of cognition it deals with, these two components are always mutually entangled aspects of every media(ted) phenomenon, whether pictorial, textual, electronic or digital. The ideological component deals with that aspect of cognition that deals with symbolic reference and conceptual understanding. The aesthetic component deals with those aspects of cognition that are perceptual and affective in character and deals with sensibility and emotional responsiveness. 

The history of early patriarchal media is a history of the mythologization of sexual difference, which functions to locate sexual difference as a source of cultural identity, which solidifies in the person their sense of the inherent existence of their sex to the extent that they identify with it. Later, with the development of modernity, sex takes on a more reductively scientific definition, characterising differences no longer in terms of forms or essences but in terms of genetic code, morphogenetic structure, and reproductive function. Though scientific inquiry is a useful means by which we aim to discover truths about reality, its distortion by patriarchal law and order expresses it as an ideological component of the medialogical dimension of the process of naturalizing difference. So from ancient religious narratives of the divine origin of sex to secular legal procedures codifying persons on the basis of their designated sex, the mediological dimension of this process assumes sexual difference as a given fact of the matter, and produces a simulacrum of the world founded on the basis of this assumption and functioning to obfuscate, or veil, the real power operations underlying the illusion of difference.

The infrastructural dimension can be subdivided into bio-semiotic and socio-technical infrastructures, both of which mutually inform each other as aspects of the infrastructural dimension of the process of naturalizing difference. 

At the level of sociotechnical infrastructure, society is organized in accordance to a heterosexual productive imperative, with architecture modified to fit into accordance with these parameters. The segregation of the sexes into physically and culturally distinct spheres of life, particularly in terms of their distinct roles in the production and reproduction of the social order, would habituate them to their respective socially designated roles through iterative repetition, consolidating a sense of belonging through the trans-personal imitation of, and inter-personal familiarization with, the abstract idea that is to ascribe meaning to their particular bodies. 

At the level of biosemiotic infrastructure, genetically coded predispositions towards expressing certain mental and physical traits or behaviors associated with reproductive function become exaggerated through a socially instantiated but trans-individual impersonal force of selective breeding by which latent predispositions become fully-fledged active dispositions, forming a part of our psychic identities and fulfilling the role of epigenetically modifying our neural architecture in a more or less bivalent (binary) nature. Presently, the empirical data shows that there is a clear statistical difference between the brains of men and women, but we do not know if this is a real truth or merely an apparent truth unless we presuppose that empirical adequacy entails natural necessity, by which we would take the statistical difference between men and women’s brains as an index of their real difference. But then we would have systematically foreclosed the possible discovery that the “facts” of empirically observable difference are the products of, and highly mediated by, a social history of conceptual fabrication. For what appears empirically to sense awareness as the objective existence of natural entities may quite possibly reveal itself to be, under critical analysis, of an ontologically contingent nature. 

So the naturalization of sex occurs along two dimensions—infrastructural and mediological—and the former gives rise to and causally conditions the latter, and the latter functions to retroactively reinforce the integrity and smooth functioning of the former. This regime of naturalizing sex is a gendering regime, and the classes that this regime produces are genders. Taking into account the historical trajectory of the dialectic of sex and gender, we can reasonably infer that the ultimate function that the process of naturalizing sex would fulfill is the real, rather than merely formal, subsumption of life into the patriarchal paradigm of sexual difference, which entails the progressive absolutization of gender identity at the apex of individual self-realization. A materialized hypostatization or reification of gender identity entails the final erasure of any truth of sexual difference, hence the annullment of the significance of sex by gender, and hence the loss of the capacity to think real difference outside of sexual difference or gender identity.

The process of naturalizing sex, though ancient in origin, persists throughout its various historical instantiations through the same underlying logic, by which a particular phenomenon is characterized in terms of a universal category that defines the phenomenon in terms of an exclusion class of everything other than the phenomenon in question. Said simply, a given thing is what it is because it holds various significant properties that are not shared with other things, and so the class of things that this given thing belongs to is that which is outside of the exclusion class of everything that does not share these same properties. A thing is defined as what it is, in terms of the properties it owns privately. So just as it was previously asserted that the origins of the class division between sexes does not precede but coincides with the development of the class distinction between working producers and ruling consumers, the history of sexual difference is one and the same history as the history of class society predicated on the nomological (law-like) rule of private property. 

With the initial development of class society, sex was identical to gender insofar as gender is said to precede sex, wherein sex is the material manifestation of spiritual essence. As far ranging between the Biblical account of gender in which woman was posited as a derivative of the essence of man, to the Vedic account of gender in which man and woman were both derivate forces of an asexual neutur divinity, in both societies the sexes were posited as instantiations or emanations of these divine principles. In both societies, sex was identical to gender insofar as sex is the material, earthly manifestation of a sacred, metaphysical dimension of reality that is asserted to be more fundamentally true and real than the material.

Both societies, including Vedic societies which superficially venerated femininity through deific and mythic iconography and ritual, identified the masculine gender as most approximate to the original, transcendental source of sexual difference, with the feminine, because of its association at this time with bodies capable of performing reproductive labor, being assigned to the lower realm of mundane, material existence, further behind man in the divine ladder ascending up from ignorance to omniscience. In spite of his divine status, man’s entanglement with woman in the heteropatriarchal productive order is explained as either a retribution for, or a consequence of, an original transgression whereby the feminine element produces in man a self-consciousness of himself as an essentially finite and mortal being, a knowledge through which an otherwise primordially perfected order becomes disrupted, resulting in a fall from grace or wandering in karmic existence, doomed to labor for as long as they live. Reconstitution with the ultimate truth and divine nature is made possible in these societies only for the masculine gender at the exclusion of the feminine sex, whether this exclusion is instantiated symbolically or physically (often both).  Much of this can be considered to be part of the ideological veil functioning to naturalize but also reflecting relations underlying the mode of production, in which women were considered to be the sole property of men, and where indeed traded as objects of exchange.

So for most of its early history, patriarchal class society (which is a redundant expression to the extent that patriarchy is always a class society and that class society is always patriarchal) would operate on the assumption of the natural, though metaphysically grounded, division between genders which corresponds to their sex, and that in spite of this difference, the masculine gender possesses greater proximal value with the absolute godhead relative to the feminine sex, with the godhead conceived as the very source of creation. It wouldn’t be until the development of modern scientific industrialism, alongside the rise of the bourgeoisie and its attendant capitalist mode of production, that such a correspondence between sex and gender, and its explicit value hierarchy, would be questioned. 

The bourgeois revolution was economically complete before it would be politically complete, for it was only with the full legal recognition of the equality between the genders whereby both are recognized as free human persons that liberalism could ascend to its own aspirations at the institutional level. Bourgeois modern feminists argued that without the recognition of the equality of humanity between men and women, civil society could not function prosperously and that liberal government would fail to put its principles of the universal right to life, liberty and property into practice. Since by now, science was rapidly making religious scripture obsolete in terms of descriptive and predictive power, appeals to religious authority on the inequality between the sexes resulted in increasingly diminished returns and loss of persuasive power. However, since the foundational assumption of the inherent existence between men and women as pre-cultural natural and sexual givens were assumed, the struggle for universal suffrage was, notwithstanding the friction it had induced into the social body, made easily realizable. Women were able to secure a more firm foundation with which to participate in the political process which helps produce their subjugation. This is not a valueless development, since it allows one to control some degree of subjugation even if on a prestructured formal level, however it does next to nothing to interfere with the basic underlying infrastructure that makes possible the medialogical, political superstructure. 

In the wake of the collapse of classical liberalism in the post-war period, building upon the foundations developed by the suffrage movement, women would initiate a cultural revolution that would pose to re-evaluate the status of women on the economic and interpersonal levels and integrate the feminist movement with a broader coalition of struggles including race, economic class and gay liberation. Key to this cultural revolution was the critical distinction made between sex and gender, where sex was still articulated as a natural property distinguishing reproductive functions but gender consisted of sets of socially prescribed roles and expectations based on beliefs around the body that, if not entirely false, were highly mediated by patriarchal interests. This critical distinction would serve to, on the one hand, narrow the definition of sex, bring to light the reality of feminine sexuality and demand attention to female reproductive rights, and on the other hand, expand the realm of possible gendered expressions between the sexes such that characteristic traits or behaviors traditionally associated with exclusively one sex could now be inclusive of both.  

The moment that sex and gender are distinguished would also mark the development between two alternative trajectories of the feminist movement: a progressive feminist trajectory that seeks to expand the realm of possible expression between genders and a radical feminist trajectory that considered gender to be the means by which class conflict between the sexes is obscured. With the development of these two differing trajectories, we get the steady but logically inevitable collapse of the duality between sex and gender in uniquely distinct ways.

With the progressive trajectory, sex increasingly recedes into the background of significance, either being subsumed or made irrelevant by gender. Through this trajectory, sex is as many as there are genders, and gender nothing other than sex. Cultural identity would render meaningless or superfluous any sense of natural sexual difference. Sex and gender no longer relate in terms of correspondence but in terms of coincidence, in which the previous opposition between sex and gender is subsumed as a momentary but necessary moment in the progressive historical unfolding of the absolute idea that is identity without sex. From this view, liberation appears as the totalizing all-inclusive, non-exclusive recognition of all actual and potentially existent gender identities with absolutely no remainder. 

With the radical trajectory, sex is foregrounded as the primary ground of contention or site of conflict between classes of men and women, with gender considered to be an expression of reified conceptions of human personhood that veil, while being causally conditioned by and dependent upon the maintenance of, exploitative power imbalances that underlie the apparent equality of genders under the law. Sex and gender are no longer in correspondence but posed as mutually exclusive domains with only an historically contingent and arbitrary relationship founded on modes of production that posit the female sex’s capacity to perform reproductive labor as her source of value. For this view, scientific and materialist accounts of sexual difference would supplant our ordinary folk-psychological conceptions of gender, perhaps by abolishing gendered language entirely by superseding the need to signify ourselves or others in gendered terms once their conditions are eliminated. From this view, liberation would entail the abolition of the unitary subject of experience presupposed by gender, with sex ceasing to possess any transcendental value or significance, becoming merely one particular fact among many.

The present state of affairs reveals the ascendancy of the liberal trajectory, whose abandonment of sex in favor of gender reflects the latest development in the political economy of the globe in which speculative financial markets become the primary focus of capital valorization at the expense of the basic industrial economy. The proliferation of gender options and futures markets are both instances of a culmination of a deep historical process by which abstractions are made to function as if real by abandoning recourse to their transcendental conditions or material grounds of genesis as their basis of reference and source of value. With the ascendancy of the progressive trajectory, and its possible apotheosis in a full digitally mediated sociality that would mark the final “planned obsolescence” of the natural body’s social significance, the originally benign fork in the road between progressive and radical feminist movements would turn into a bitter rivalry by which each orientation posits the other as an obstruction that is to be overcome in order to achieve its own ultimate aims. 

In desperate efforts to reinvigorate itself in the wake of the “gender revolution,” radical positions would start to directly contradict the very basis of the movement to resist and surpass class society—the disavowal of intrinsically existent differences between sexes—by asserting the legitimate existence of natural and essential sexual differences that could never be changed by intentional design. In an effort to save its project on its own terms and in opposition to the other, the radical trajectory would posit as legitimate the very thing that it originally sought to overcome, going as far as to form cross-interest coalitions with anti-feminist conservatives. Citing exactly this contradiction, the progressive trajectory gains increasing legitimacy, at least at the juridical level, in all private, public and non-governmental institutions, as well as glamorized representation of their advocates on popular media. 

It is unclear to me at present as to what potential consequences we may face with the increasing tendency towards the apotheosis of gender, though the steady rise in gender detransition among female-assigned-at-birth individuals and the persistent reality of global femicide indicates that the consequences will be predominantly at the expense of those assigned at birth and recognized in life as women, especially those in underdeveloped and hyper-exploited countries in the global south that provide much of the surplus labor necessary for the lifestyles of the developed nations. Like industrial commodity production, violently imposed sexuation has been exported to the third world, where traditional patriarchal structures, now conditioned in terms of the global logic of differential accumulation, work to sustain it. While much of the developed nations enjoy freedom surrounding gendered expression, much of the global poor are compelled even more forcefully than ever before to instate a regime of gendered sexuation predicated on the compulsion to produce heterosexual labor in order to massively reproduce the global proletariat of the capitalist world-system. 

A civilization and mode of production predicated upon the differentiation between sexes and their attendant gender roles does not cease to be a sexually classed society merely by moving the locus of social signification from assigned-sex to identified-gender. In fact, such a move necessitates the opposite: the deepening of the consequences of sexual difference through its sheer ignorance or lack of recognition. The biosemiotic and sociotechnical consequences of a long-term developmental history of sexuation is not effaced through the exclusion of sexual difference. On the contrary, it would have room to take on full reign, whereby psychological and physiological maladies produced through a traumatic history of violently imposed sexuation could be misplaced as characteristic qualities of gender identities, a vector by which pathologies have the potential to be systematically normalized. 

With the poison to be rid of—identity without sex—being served as the very antidote itself, civilization rapidly beckons forth its own collapse, unable to diagnose the real basis of its suffering while still maintaining its incessant drive to accumulate affirmations. The real basis of alienated suffering or dysphoria is found in the compulsion to identify itself, rather than the unease produced from a misplacement of identity. The latter, misplacement of identity, is only a symptom of a deeper disease that is the former, the compulsion to identify. A misdiagnosis by which the latter is identified as the primary source of dysphoria rather than the former functions to perpetuate and prolong the issue while postponing its resolution into the indefinite future.

The correlation between sex and gender has been a constant motif throughout the progressive development of the patriarchal idea by which sex is always already gender and gender always already sex, as an inherently existing, necessary relation in which neither can be understood independently of the other. Even with the latest aspirations to supplant the one by the other, whether gender by sex or sex by gender, the logic of this supercession presupposes their necessary correlation, whether this correlation itself is rendered natural or artificial. From the initial moment in which gender is a representation of sex, to the subsequent moment in which gender is substantially different from sex, to the later moment in which gender becomes an instance of sex, the necessary and inherently meaningful correlation between sex and gender was always presupposed and taken for granted. To think the problem of sexual difference differently is not to think it in terms of an a priori necessary correlation between sex and gender. To think the problem differently is to call into question the very correlation itself, such that sex and gender are understood as contingently correlated historically but necessarily non-correlated at the ontologically due to the epistemic observation that their establishment as reciprocal determinations of each other indicate their lack of reference to anything that is not itself non-self-grounded. To say it more simply, since sex and gender only make sense with reference to each other (sex as the basis of designation of gender and gender as the mode of appearance of sex), and since neither are self-existent givens, then the correlation between them is a contingent arising and not an ultimate truth. 

Gender, as the contingent result of a socially fabricated process, is but an illusion, and only nominally exists as a conceptual imputation upon a non-conceptual basis that functions as sex. As illusion, gender is not without causal efficacy, since to exist as an illusion and to possess causal powers are not contradictory, just like how a desert mirage, even if illusory, has the power (assuming sufficient conditions are met) to cause a man to move in a certain direction, even if that man does not end up finding anything like what appeared to him initially. 

Sex is not the substantial basis of gender, but a spatio-temporally distributed and contingent configuration constituted through the practical abstractions dynamically “creordering” (creating, ordering and re-ordering) a given society. Since sex is constituted by a dynamic and contingent configuration, gender is also necessarily contingent and subject to momentary disintegration since its basis of imputation is just as momentary. Thus neither gender nor sex are ontological or epistemic givens, and neither gender nor sex ground each other in any metaphysically necessary sense. Gender is only possible when the contingent configuration of sex that sustains it exists. Sex only exists to function as the mode of existence of gender insofar as the conceptual designation of gender presupposes an identity with its basis of designation. Since the apparent necessity of their correlation is itself sustained by an entirely contingent configuration, the correlation itself is a contingent arising, subject to momentary disintegration. Thus, the very possibility of the arising and persisting of a historically necessary correlation between sex and gender is made possible by the fact of their ontological contingency, a fact which also makes possible—and from a process-relational standpoint, points to the inevitability of—its cessation. 

Since sex and gender are only correlated historically and ontologically non-correlated, it is hypothetically possible to finally disentangle their necessary relatedness and discover a mode of existence without, or a kind of difference beyond, sex or gender. However, it would not be possible to immediately posit a mode of existence that lacks sex or gender without the successively mediating moments by which the correlation is logically decohered through the immanent unfolding of its transcendentally contingent nature. But this logical decoherence of the correlation is only an abstract possibility, and not made into a concrete actuality without the practical transformation of the systemic operations that give rise to the illusory play of sex and gender into operations that are indifferent to those terms. In order for such a practical transformation to be both sensible and realizable, one must work from within the conditions one finds themselves, locate critical junctures by which the correlationist schema fails to deliver and struggle to make decisions driven by values and interests which are, though not contextually insensitive to the problem of sex and gender, ultimately indifferent to their apparent realities. So with the successful annihilation of the conditions which give rise to the systemic procedures of codification that impose gendered sexuation, such that these procedures may never rise again, the subsequent realization of the ultimate sexlessness of the body would fully actualize the uncountable plenitude of potential qualities that is the true reality of each and every body.

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