Why Gender is a Sphere

Over in her blog, Helen comments on the idea that gender has Shapes, Not Lines. The following was originally posted on Sphere, a website and listserv for genderqueer identified persons.

Why Gender is a Sphere

The following explanation is excerpted from an article in the Summer 1998 issue of Anything That Moves, The Magazine for Anything Bisexual. The article is “I Just Do This to Seduce Gay Men,” by Jan Steckel.

Try this experiment. Buy yourself one of those magnetic poetry kits, and start sticking the words up on your freezer door. Make columns for the different parts of speech.

VERBS NOUNS ADJECTIVES ADVERBS
run
hide
eat
crawl
table
desk
soup
blue
hard
square
itchy
slowly
quickly
venomously

Here’s a verb: ‘ask.’ Always a verb, can’t even imagine being a noun.

VERBS NOUNS ADJECTIVES ADVERBS
run
hide
eat
crawl
ask
table
desk
soup
blue
hard
square
itchy
slowly
quickly
venomously

Here’s a noun: ‘peach.’ Under the right unusual circumstances it might explore its adjective side, as in ‘peach pie,’ but its principal orientation is as a noun.

VERBS NOUNS ADJECTIVES ADVERBS
run
hide
eat
crawl
ask
table
desk
soup
peach
blue
hard
square
itchy
slowly
quickly
venomously

But what about ‘moan’? When you’re moaning it’s a verb, but when you let out a moan, it’s a noun. Okay, you say, so we’ll line up our words in part-of-speech columns, but in between the main columns we can have little Kinsey scales for these half-noun, half-verb kind of words.

VERBS NOUNS ADJECTIVES ADVERBS
run
hide
eat
crawl
ask
moan table
desk
soup
blue
hard
square
itchy
slowly
quickly
venomously

Still, if you counted up the occurrences in English literature of ‘moan,’ you would find that it had a predominant orientation. It would more often be one or the other, a verb or a noun, right? ‘Moan’ has a preference. I don’t mean to rain on your parade, but ‘rain’ can be a verb, an adjective, or a noun. So parallel columns aren’t going to cut it, but we can make word clusters at the vertices of a triangle, with nouns, verbs and adjectives comprising the three corners.

Words 1

Some words go along the edges, and words that can act as all three parts of speech go somewhere in the middle of the triangle.

Words 2

The distance of the words from the corners is determined by the frequency with which they are used in each context. All of language is a plane right? Well, now, take the word ‘fast.’ You fast on Yom Kippur, then you break your fast in the company of a fast woman, and drive home fast together to her place. That is, ‘fast’ can be a verb, a noun, an adjective, or an adverb. If you make your triangle a square, you’re not defining unique points anymore.

Maybe you need to go beyond the Cartesian plane for this. Maybe you need a third dimension, [a sphere!] and some of your words are going to end up inside the freezer. Now take all the words in all the languages on earth, and try to represent them on a simple graph. You’re going to need a lot more than three dimensions. You’re going to be in hyperspace in no time. Hmmm… a bouncing spinning sphere, moving through time as well as space? If Barbie thinks math is hard, gender must be hell for her!

If language is impossible to represent linearly or to categorize neatly, how much more complex must be our sexuality, which may be the only domain of the brain more creative and more quintessentially human than language? For after all, linguistic expression is limited by the range of words and inflections, but sexuality is limited only by the imagination that created the words in the first place. So even if phonemes aren’t discrete, and linguistic combinations might not be finite, sexuality has got to be a whole different order of infinity from language. Sexuality isn’t a continuum along a line. It’s more than a plane, and more than a space. It’s so complex you can never categorize it, and from my perspective, the categories are just one more role play in which people indulge so they can get off in shorthand.

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