Accueil > Queer feminism > Reality is a continuum

Reality is a continuum

Publié le 28 novembre 2009

By Tanguy Pinxteren, OII-member and
Co-founder of Genres Pluriels

Translated from the French by Curtis E. Hinkle

The numerous studies on differences between the sexes and the equally comical « Mars/Venus » genre of theatrical productions are puzzling and perplexing. Certainly they demonstrate the disturbing resurgence of rampant obscurantism and persistent relativism which continue to confuse science with widely held beliefs based on religion, myths and other traditions. In fact, continuing to speak about gender and studying male/female differences is based on the most fundamental form of sexism in the same way that studies of racial differences reflect their underlying racist foundations, given that these studies deny that fundamentally nature is expressed on a continuum, especially gender, sex and pigmentation. Without doubt, this is due to the sexist nature of exact science which continues even today to a large extent.

Sexist Science

Biology, the science of living organisms, and therefore the closest exact science to the social sciences, is without doubt the main culprit. To persist in classifying living organisms into two discrete categories is evidence of inexcusable intellectually dishonesty on the part of any self-respecting biologist. This alleged sexual dimorphism is a deception. Having two arms, two eyes and two balls, men who have historically been the ones who have constructed the framework of the biological sciences have been incapable of imagining a non-binary world. Fortunately biology has evolved, in particular by observations made concerning « hermaphrodites » or intersexed individuals, which exist in all animal species, and today the idea that sex is expressed on a continuum appears self-evident to many.

Mathematics, which deals with abstract objects, speaks about continuous functions or discontinuities and teaches us the distinction between a square and a circle. These are powerful tools for various conceptual models, among other functions, if they are used as intended. It has been tempting to apply set theory to classify human beings into categories but the fact is that disjoint sets are visualized only within our own consciousness but discontinuity DOES NOT EXIST in our surrounding world. It is an abstraction.

In physics, even though some scientific models use the notion of discontinuity, it is because such models can help in considering quite a few observable phenomena and in making predictions based thereon. However,these models remain simplifications of reality. Thus, the discreet levels of energy in quantum mechanics rely on statistical tendencies and only superficially conceal the underlying continuum of matter and energy ! Even « on/off » and 0/1 are not completely discreet states (a switch is never completely on or off) ; often time is the factor which allows one to speak of the transition (which is again a continuum) in one case and on the other hand to describe these transitions in terms of the existence of two discreet categories.

Classification for the purposes of more « effective » segregation

As opposed to classes of abstract objects with discernable properties, classification schemes of the natural world are inherently arbitrary and when dealing with the human species, they probably have only one goal : discrimination or segregation. They can be useful (for demographic, epidemiological, and sociological reasons) in coming up with treatments and analyses based on differences of specific human traits but it is indispensible never to lose sight of the fact that each trait is only one of the numerous facets which make up a complex organism (the human body, humanity in general) which is continuously interacting with its environment and constantly evolving. Every classification system which tends to define or establish fixed differences among all human beings is therefore extremely suspect.

To conceptualize sex differentiation as an invariant (note of translator : In mathematics, an invariant is something that does not change under a set of transformations.) within the human population and to want to make this the foundation of our society leads directly to sexism. The concept of gender, even though it permits us to highlight and prove that sexist discrimination is a reality, is also an imperfect model, and in many cases can foster more sexism. Binary gender is just as abstract as a square or a circle and is often used in a manner which appears to impose binary divisions and classifications of all human sex variations which are real, not abstractions, and which are infinite. As a result of this abstract social construct of gender as a binary, people are excluded, reduced to slavery, normalization and mutilation.

To think beyond gender is indispensible if we desire a more open and diverse society. But is that what we really want ? If the answer is yes, let us accept the continuum of diversity in the world and leave binary logic to computers !