1. D U A L I S M
1.1 SOLID GROUND: nature and normativity
Since the beginning of time man has lived under the invisible force of nature. Truth and naturalness mingle just like a love story set in the tropics, peaceful, idealized and swinging to the sound of Coltrane with piña coladas; a hammock facing the beach as we look at the stars and sigh, relieved that nothing will ever take the sheltering sky over our heads away from us. Nature — or the natural — as a synonym for perfection is a historical construct that has provided us with the ideal bricks so we could build the yellow brick road we’ve been dreaming of for so long. After all, let’s face it: the ease of being able to pave ethics, morality and good moral values over a shining road given to us as the utmost truth is heartwarming.
The concept of divine nature as the axis of our lives dates back to the beginning of time, when the most perfect woman came to Earth from a rib in a certain paradise, and since then the order of things has been the order of things, period. The supreme and unquestionable truth was the base for defining humankind and human characteristics for thousand of years, and even today this annunciation is part of our discussions. But at the same time we are planting the flag of salvation in this solid, safe ground, a siren song keeps whispering: is this real life?
Nature has always been our promise of redemption, but when we find ourselves surrounded by bionic arms, implanted chips, artificial insemination, pills to control dysfunctions, flasks, hormones ordered from Walmart, silicone breast implants evolving from liquid to gel, video games controlled by brainwaves, smartphone-enabled motion sensors, or robots that can sing in Spanish and question the meaning of life, can we still stick up for the promised land? Naturalness is a utopia, biology is no longer a safe destination, and the fact is that every truth is invented, no matter what. The ideal is cosy and warm, but reality is bigger.
1.2 TRUTH AS COMPARISON
Close your eyes and imagine a man. Now think of a woman. This binary model was institutionalized in our culture to define gender, and under the auspices of religion, institutions and traditional social relations, we have validated and strengthen this construct over time. The solid ground of the natural taught us polarized thinking, where the radical opposition between two sides defines the identity. Right and wrong, the natural and the artificial, yes and no. I am what I am because I am not the other. Simple, easy and logical. And, most importantly, safe.
The need to clearly define and delineate opposite sides was built upon the fear of losing identity. In a world where nature dictates the rules and the divine is the announced truth, fitting in is necessary to be. Belonging is the security required to move forward, and normativity is the welcoming embrace of the gods.
Binary gender is reinforced, especially in Western culture, as one of the major bastions of this order, the indisputable certainty of the nature of things. Is it a boy or a girl? With the genesis initiated, the rest is continuity. And based on this construct of sex and gender, we learn to play roles like actors in Hollywood movies: the boy, the girl and the colorful story with a happy ending.
2. M U L T I P L I C I T Y
2.1 FLUID GROUND: plurality
We are sons and daughters of the conveyor belts of mass production, of globalization and linear reasoning, where the future is a movie-scene dive into a bottle of bubbly soda in the middle of Times Square, right in the very heart of it. In this giant’s dream of consumption, everything that does not fit the standard is either disposable or needs fixing. Dualism and exclusion are key to industrial logic; this is the recipe of the true empire of dreams.
But the 45-second TV commercial needs more than the same sundae, the same shirt, and the same faces in the crowd to deserve a place in the sun. When the standard becomes a commodity, the norm loses status and differentiation becomes the diamond ring for the perfect wedding. Questioning nature as substance brought to light the dynamics and fluidity of the subject and the things surrounding it, making room for man to see himself as a multiple being. The assembly line moved on and Madonna dyed her hair at least eight times in the 90’s alone. In the meantime, the Internet arose like the three neon archangels playing bugles: a grunge fan, a hippie girl, and a preppie brat who reads Nietzsche and plays beach tennis (not necessarily in that order) opening the door to a new kind of age. Horizontality and the redistribution of communication channels appear as tools for self-empowerment and strong drivers of the celebration of differences; cultural borders become more fluid and traditional identity categories no longer keep up with everything that exists in the mix.
We now orient ourselves according to a new constellation: a cross-cultural, open, restless, authentic and plural spirit, and these new values challenge the normativity and the dualistic logic that called the shots for so long. Absolute meanings get ambiguous and “and” becomes more seductive than “or”.
By moving on a new axis of rotation, the rules that were once deemed deterministic start to also be seen as castrating, and the close relation between “definition”, “construct” and “limitation” gets clearer than some people might prefer. The land of possibilities becomes the sought-after paradise: we go from many to multiple, and we witness the emerging acceptance of differences and the mainstreaming of the plural.
2.2 TRUTH AS POSSIBILITY
Angela was born with male reproductive organs, but has never considered herself a man. She changed sex at age 22; she is dating Lucia, who born a female, identifies herself as a woman, and is sexually attracted to other women. João is a sensitive guy who wears tight jeans, colorful shirts, puts gel in his hair and gets his nails done. He is married to Ana Maria, who prefers to talk about gender fluidity rather than be defined as woman or man. Alice has always dated both men and women; for two years she has been dating Aman, who does drag performances every night in a cabaret in Hell’s Kitchen. Drumroll please…. an attempt to assign labels is an exercise in insanity. If yesterday biological sex, gender identity and expression were limited to clear definitions — man or woman, male or female, heterosexual or homosexual — today we are making room to navigate between poles that once were opposed and discuss what is beyond us. In-between is actually somewhere.
Our identity is an effect of our performance, not the cause. It is fluid and has absolutely nothing to to with the essence. Putting it simply: gender and identity are what you do, and not who you are, universally speaking. Biological sex is the physical characteristics you are born with (yes, the sex assigned to you at birth still follows the male-female binary). Gender identity is how you feel and see yourself internally, who you know you are regardless of the gender assigned to you at birth, or simply a way of classifying your personality. Gender expression is how you outwardly express the gender you identify with. And sexuality, the desire you feel (or not) for a person, is completely different and has nothing to do with the concepts above. Confused? Don’t be a fool, just be cool: instead of trying to find a fixed attribute for an individual, gender should be seen as a fluid variable, a field for ambivalence that drifts and changes in different contexts, time periods and settings. The complexity of terms and definitions, as you can see, makes it impossible to deny the need for a new order of things. “Gender is always a failure” — something good to put on a T-shirt.
With the desire for expansion establishing a new aspirational model, the binary format is dying. We don’t want to be one but many; we praise individual differences and space to simply be whatever we want. This flexible, more open mindset – which, let’s face it, is not recent at all, since non-binary gender diversity has existed in the world for many years and has been documented by historians, anthropologists and fashion designers all around the world – fosters a cultural shift and makes room for a new meaning of gender and the creation of original narratives that are more connected with what is actually real, not with an ideal normativity. We start to observe a wider spectrum and to challenge the polarized perspective of male and female. The need to belong to one of the two known M/F boxes gives rise to the need to build other, endless boxes. An expansive and freer spirit directly stands up to the fear of the unknown, challenging it. In this new age of possibilities, we go from binary gender to the plural, ambivalent gender, and gender as choice becomes gender as the possibility to choose.
Just be, honey.
3. M U L T I T U D E
3.1 COSMIC GROUND: transformation
Let’s invite two important references to join us for tea this afternoon: Simone de Beauvoir once said, “One is not born a woman, but becomes one.” Judith Butler completed the thought, years later, saying, “Does one actually ever become one or is it that to be a woman is a mode of becoming without end, a mode of becoming that has no end or goal?” Eternal construct or never-ending development, it’s up to you. The boat we took in the age of possibilities assures us one destination: endless sailing. To be is to be open to an unknown future.
On our way from dualism to multiplicity, we unlocked our cultural meanings to a postmodernist and poststructuralist spirit in which ambivalence suits many. Eager to be defined and to belong, we went from closed to open subjects, from normativity to possibility in the quest for the sought-after space to be whatever we want, to be different and unique. To be two OR to be many is still part of the same logic, the logic of being. Taking a plural normative approach does not mean overcoming the rules; it is what it is, simply taking a plural normative approach. It is better, more comfortable, more generous, but it still is. The fact is that we dream far beyond our grasp, and in the spiral of being, we began to ask ourselves: would the future be the continuation or the rupture with the past? To overcome is to transcend.
Exponential plurality is a movie by Tarantino, with a transsexual blond woman with red nails and a stunning Japanese girl in a white leather outfit racing their cars side by side to the Grand Canyon at a hundred miles an hour, and we all know that no one is going to hit the brakes. In the end, landing doesn’t matter anymore… immortality is the length of the leap.
3.2 TRUTH AS CONNECTION
Dualism is heaven and hell.
Multiplicity is an erupting volcano.
Multitude is the Big Bang.
As a phenomenon that is continually being produced and reproduced, gender will always be relative, cultural and performative. In binary gender we are one of two. In plural gender, we are one of many. But if the exponential plurality and the spiral of being provide us with endless transformation, to transcend is to let ourselves float from be to being.
With this opening of perspective, a golden rule: multitude is not erasing differences but breaking down the judgment of others. It is non-estrangement. Saying less no and more yes. So acceptance becomes the motto in this new journey and becomes more generous than the traditional sayings: acceptance as more active and less passive. Every journey is building, and every milestone, no matter how fluid, demands recognition – simply because being already means to be. We are, in short, everything that we are being. We have broken the social chains to be our best on this journey, and if the present simply means embracing chance, gender becomes, in its most splendid shape, a genuine space for freedom.
The particle of gender blend is the denaturalization of the divine, the emergence of the super-human from the connection with inner truth and a dive into infinity.
It is meant to scattered into quantum space in all directions.
It’s not a non-opposition through absence, but by wealth, and by the consequent insignificance of excess.
It’s identification through non-identification, reaction through non-reaction.
Less labeling and more acceptance, less transgression and more relaxation, less tension and more pleasure, fewer boxes and more universe.
It’s the cosmic dust from the explosion of differences that, instead of being erased and pasteurized, are celebrated when they are more real and genuine.
It’s a collective space for diversity and creativity.
It’s abundance instead of scarcity, maximization instead of leveling.
It’s the shining beauty of the multitude of expressions.
It’s truth instead of naturalness.
It’s transcendence as free-floating in our own universe.
It’s inviting the divine to play.
It’s becoming your own God.
In situational gender, we are one when we are in ourselves.
4. R I S I N G S T A R
Amazon wins two Golden Globes for Transparent. Caitlyn Jenner has the first Twitter account in history with a million followers. Selfridges has tremendous success launching Agender, a pop-up that suggests a “genderless shopping experience.” In 2014 Facebook expands its traditional gender binary to 58 options; a year later, it creates a customizable button where people can define their gender as they like. Barneys’ 2014 spring campaign features 17 transgender models; the TIME cover with Laverne Cox is one of the most talked about of the year, and the NYFW catwalks never saw so much diversity and gender nonconformity as they did in 2015. Not enough? Nearly 700,000 Americans are transgender, more than the entire population of Boston.
Historically speaking, gender has always been one of the major factors in defining identity, a simple binary framing (mistakenly) based on biological reasons. But as the media begins to embrace the question of what is, in fact, identity, appropriation and, particularly what is to be yourself, the old parameters no longer explain all the cards on the table. In demographic studies of younger groups, especially in urban centers, these traditional signifiers are changing dramatically. Consumers’ emerging desire to be recognized outside traditional paradigms is growing; there is a growing shift beyond old, known definitions and identity landmarks. A mainstream concept of gender is giving rise to perceptions of identity that are much more personal and unique.
Diversity is driving consumption at 100 miles an hour, and the traditional retail market, which has always been based on the predetermination of what is male and female, has to run to catch up. Marketing has always been based on the safety of polarized definitions for picking sides and establishing routes and proposals, and traditional fashion segmentation has always been made for men or women. The world has always been like this. But the world no longer is what it used to be. Today, companies and segments see new profiles, and the logic of renewal and diversity is the display window that makes the eyes of new consumers sparkle. Pop culture sets the pace and accelerates the machinery; old stereotypes of identity fall down noiselessly. Diversity and beauty are more connected than ever, with both concepts interdependent and increasingly referred to as truth – not that old, naturalized version imposed from on high, but the truth of each individual. Today consumers shuffle the known codes and want to talk about gender using their own words. The turning point is clear: it’s about time brands get the guts to widen their definitions of what it means to be a man or woman in the twenty-first century. Welcome to the in-between.
The world is waking up to new gender possibilities; more than that, to new possibilities of choice or simply not needing to choose. Ideas and gender become increasingly broken down, and the future that lies ahead – the one that brands need to start taking up right now – is open, generous, multiple, gender creative, and definitely not divided into pink or blue.
truth as connection