Buddhism and The End of Sex-&-Gender: From Denial to Freedom.

A guest authored edgy essay by Motoki Kudo

***

APP Editor’s Note

By request of the author, the essay below has been edited for clarity, grammar, and style; the original text can be found HERE.

***

The properties which are important vary from man to man and from hour to hour. […] But many objects […] have properties of such constant unwavering importance, and have such stereotyped names, that we end by believing that to conceive them in those ways is to conceive them in the only true way. […] and whilst so classing, naming, and conceiving it, all other truth about it becomes to me as naught.[i] (William James, The Principles of Psychology)

1. The argument in this essay can be summarized in the following three words: “You are You.”[ii] This is not a mere tautology, because the subject term “You” refers to the readers of this essay, whereas the predicate-term “are You” refers to the active property possessed by You, of rejecting all the “essences” that define or regulate You. That is, as the referent of the subject-term, the You, is aware of its own existence, and as used in the predicate-term, the term “are You” recognizes all the others and differentiates them from You. The relationship between the two corresponds to the relationship between the negative and the positive in photography. The You is an arrow pointing to the reader, so it does not have its own content. Using Buddhist reasoning, this essay denies the reality of all sexes-&-genders, and at the same time it affirms an infinite number of sexes-&-genders.[iii] In other words, this essay absolutely affirms that “You are You,” and nothing else, by denying the reality of any and every “essence” or social construction that purportedly defines You.

2. There is a phrase to describe the thought of Adi Shankara, a leading figure in the Vedanta school of Hinduism, “Advaita Vedānta.” Shankara inherited the Upanishadic philosophy and Hindu scriptures, and argued that The Principle of the Universe (Brahman), whereby it exists without the need for a cause, and The Self (Ātman), are essentially the same. Nāgārjuna,[iv] the founder of the Buddhist school of Mahāyāna, said that The Self is The Emptiness (Śūnyatā). The term “The Emptiness” refers to the absolute nothingness that transcends the dichotomy between existence and non-existence. Shankara also argues that the self is an absolute that transcends the dichotomy between existence and non-existence, but he rejects the Buddhist view that the self is The Emptiness. In my opinion, while Shankara’s thought says that absolute existence mediates between existence and non-existence, Nagarjuna’s thought says that the absolute nothingness transcends existence and non-existence, Correspondingly, the thesis I am defending is The Emptiness of Sex-&Gender.

3. The main topic discussed in this essay is that of sex and Sexes. Therefore, the theories in this paper are strongly influenced by, and inherited from, feminism, transgenderism, and masculism. At the same time, however, it is quite different from them all. This essay rejects not only sex, but also gender.

Many readers might raise the question, “Why do you deny all of sex-&-gender?” My answer is this: “It is in order to maximize freedom of Sexes, to escape from sexist domination, and to affirm an infinite number of Sexes.” So in order to maximize freedom of Sexes, we need to deny all sexes. This may seem very paradoxical at the moment, but we can affirm the infinite openness of Sexes only when we deny all of them. Therefore, by denying sexes, this essay does not affirm the modern view of the equality of the sexes, but rather denies it. This is a homogenization of the various Sexes open to You, and it is where crucial differences are ignored. Forcing You into the frame of a single sex is violence. We need to be free of any and all “essential” sex-classifications.

4. This essay is not intended to be an exercise in social reform. It is simply intended to help readers escape from the sex-classification “essence” that binds them. So it is a form of counseling, a one-on-one dialogue with the reader, and a cure for the disease name of “essential” sex-classifications. Thus, while this essay may deny essentialism about sexes, it does not offer a direct critique of sexism, transgender exclusion within feminism, or LGBT oppression. I am not taking up any stance of authority or power in this discussion, largely due to my lack of knowledge.

5. All human animals by nature desire to be free. An indication of this is the early state of rebellion that appears in infancy from the start of walking to about 2 years of age (depending on the individual); for even apart from their usefulness we rebel against our parents because we love freedom above all things. For not only when parents are in control, but even when parents are not going to try to control us, we prefer freedom to everything else. The reason is that, most of all, freedom makes us happiest by allowing us to exercise our creativity and to reject all domination.

6. The above homage to Aristotle’s Metaphysics — all human animals by nature desire to know — is one of the grounds for achieving achieve freedom of Sexes. In this essay, however, I am also rejecting essentialism. Therefore, I am also denying essentialism about freedom. So, why do we seek freedom? My claim should be taken as provisional and stipulative: I am proposing that we take it as an axiom that freedom must be pursued. This abandons grounding, but I am also generally deny the necessity of grounding. Therefore, this is an essay for those who seek freedom, and if you are not seeking freedom, then you are perfectly free to stop reading here.

7. If we were to divide the general concept of “sex” into two broad categories, they would be sex and gender. Generally speaking, the former is considered biological while the latter is social. However, Judith Butler responds to these definitions in their classic book, Gender Trouble, as follows:

And what is “sex” anyway? Is it natural, anatomical, chromosomal, or hormonal, and how isa feminist critic to assess the scientific discourses which purport to establish such “facts” for us? Does sex have a history? Does each sex have a different history, or histories? Is there a history of how the duality of sex was established, a genealogy that might expose the binary options as a variable construction? Are the ostensibly natural facts of sex discursively produced by various scientific discourses in the service of other political and social interests? If the immutable character of sex is contested, perhaps this construct called “sex” is as culturally constructed as gender; indeed, perhaps it was always already gender, with the consequence that the distinction between sex and gender turns out to be no distinction at all. (Butler, 10–11)

Here, Butler examines the notion of sex, which was previously considered to be objective and scientific, and holds that even the biological concept of sex is culturally constructed in accordance with our social interests. Moreover, it is generally assumed that there is a natural gender difference between male and female. But Butler argues that if sex is culturally constructed, then the same goes for gender. So why did this sex/gender dichotomy arise in the first place? Butler considers the causes as follows:

The sex/gender distinction and the category of sex itself appear to presuppose a generalization of “the body” that preexists the acquisition of its sexed significance. This “body” often appears to be a passive medium that is signified by an inscription from a cultural source figured as “external” to that body. Any theory of the culturally constructed body, however, ought to question “the body” as a construct of suspect generality when it is figured as passive and prior to discourse. (Butler, 164)

8. Assuming that Butler’s argument is sound, then both sex and gender are socially constructed. If this is the case, then what kind of society is it that constructs that sex and gender? The word “society” is a translation from the Latin word “socialis,” meaning sociability, which is a compound of “socius” meaning companion and “alis.” The sociologist Emile Durkheim describes society in The Rules of Sociological Method as follows:

[S]ociety is not the mere sum of individuals, but the system formed by their association represents a specific reality which has its own characteristics. Undoubtedly no collective entity can be produced if there are no individual consciousnesses: this is a necessary but not a sufficient condition. In addition, these consciousnesses must be associated arid combined, but combined in a certain way. It is from this combination that social life arises and consequently it is this combination which explains it. By aggregating together, by interpenetrating, by fusing together, individuals give birth to a being, psychical if you will, but one which constitutes a psychical individuality of a new kind. Thus it is in the nature of that individuality and not in that of its component elements that we must search for the proximate and determining causes of the facts produced in it. The group thinks, feels and acts entirely differently from the way its members would if they were isolated. If therefore we begin by studying these members separately, we will understand nothing about what is taking place in the group. In a word, there is between psychology and sociology the same break in continuity as there is between biology and the physical and chemical sciences. Consequently every time a social phenomenon is directly explained by a psychological phenomenon, we may rest assured that the explanation is false. (Durkheim, 129)

According to Durkheim, then, society is composed of individuals, but we cannot know society by considering individuals alone. Therefore, society cannot be elucidated by any sort of Cartesian reductionism to essential kinds or to atomic individuals. According to the French political thinker Proudhon, society produces a collective social phenomenon that is greater than the sum of the individuals; indeed, he believed that society has a consciousness, or “collective reason” that is different from the consciousness or reason of individuals. Proudhon also divided society into two opposing kinds: (i) the deep “real society,” consisting of individuals or groups of individuals, and (ii) the superficial “official society,” which is what we commonly call society. Proudhon, in his Notebook, says this about these two opposing kinds of society:

The official society is the society as we see it. […] A real society is a society that lives and grows according to the law of absolute immobility. This society supports by its own life the temporary scab of pus that we call society. (Proudhon, 272)

9. Aristotle defined human beings as not only rational animals but also “social animals” (or, to borrow Marx’s term, having a “species being”). It is true that society has no small influence on us. Durkheim defined a “social fact” as a peculiarly sociological object of study in his Rules of Sociological Method:

[It is a] category of facts which present very special characteristics: they consist of manners of acting, thinking and feeling external to the individual, which are invested with a coercive power.

A social fact is every way of acting, fixed or not, capable of exercising on the individual an external constraint; or again, every way of acting which is general throughout a given society, while at the same time existing in its own right independent of its individual manifestations.

So a social fact has two characteristics: (i) it is “external,” in that it exists outside the individual, and (ii) it is a “constraint” in that it restricts the individual’s thoughts, feelings, or actions. For example, almost all States and cultures have a norm such that one must greet others when one meets them. This norm is external to the individual in that the individual did not create it, and it is a constraint in that it makes us believe that we must greet individuals in our encounters with others and thereby disposes us to act as such.

10. Such norms, however, are not necessarily binding on us. This is because some people do not actually greet each other, and some people may choose to act of their own volition not to greet each other. The political thinker Rousseau assumed, for the sake of argument, that there is no sociality innate to human beings, and he defined the natural state as the state in which isolated natural people, who are unaware of others, exist freely in a solitary way. We are alone when we are born, and we are also alone when we die. We are also alone in our feelings and sensations, which are known only to us alone. In the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein conducted a thought experiment called “the Beetle in the Box,” by analogy with our ability for introspection. In this thought-experiment, each person has a box purporting to contain a beetle, on which, as it were, the word “beetle” is written. Only you can see what is inside your box. However, you can see also the word “beetle” on a box held by someone else. The contents of the box are different for each person. It is fully conceivable that the contents of the box might vary widely or contain nothing at all. Therefore, it is impossible to tell what is in the box. The only thing that can be verified is that each of us has a beetle box/minded body, which we claim to be able to inspect/introspect privately.

But if you look around you, you will see that individuals benefit in no small measure from their interdependence with others. Without a carpenter you cannot shelter from the wind and rain under your roof, without a farmer you would starve, and without a doctor you would be left to wait for death when you fall seriously ill. What are You? You are neither a social fact (species being), nor a public persona. In short, You are just like the beetle in the box, something that is essentially the negation of both a social facts and public personae alike.

11. As I mentioned earlier, I am denying sex-&-gender altogether. Therefore Butler’s attempt to turn sex, like gender, into a social construction is insufficient in that it falls short of the truth about You. If You are neither a social fact nor a public persona, then you are not socially constructed, You are nothing at all.

12. What is sex? It is generally considered to be a biological categorization, as opposed to social one. Let’s now examine in detail whether there can really be sex in the biological sense. The biological source of the male/female distinction are genitals, female and male hormones,[vi] chromosomes, breasts, and the pelvis. Of these, the genitals, breasts, and pelvis can be altered by surgery. If so, then these stipulations are changed into the shape of the opposite sex. Or, if one changes them into the shape of neither of the binary sexes, then what does that human animal become? Would it lose that sex, or would it reverse it? Hormones can also be altered by injection or medication. This raises the same questions as above. The last thing that remains is the chromosomes. This seems to me to be the determinant of sex because we cannot change them with current medical technology.

But what if we try this kind of thought experiment? A short story by Australian science fiction writer Greg Egan contains the following scenario. It takes place in the future, where medical and IT technology is much more advanced than it is today, and a technology has been developed that completely simulate a person’s personality. For this reason, people are implanted with a device in their brains immediately after birth, and at the same interval as their brain cells grow, the device reproduces itself and replaces their corresponding brain cells. At a certain age, a creature is born that is identical to the human person, yet all of its brain has been replaced by the device. It is also backed up by a computer and guaranteed eternal life, but that’s not the point here. Instead, what is important for us is how to think about the sex of the new creature. There are no chromosomes in the creature. Nevertheless, it behaves exactly the same way as a human animal. Now, I think, it is self-evident to the reader rethat there are no physical, scientific, or biological factors that determine sexes. Treating sexes, which are “prajñapti,”[vi] as some sort of “essence” or substance is a mistake. Sex is nothing more than an illusion.

13. But the reader might think: “That’s just a story in science fiction, not reality. Nevertheless, you’ve tried to apply it to a real-world story about biological sex. Thought experiments are mere fantasies unless they can be shown to be naturally possible.” However, I would point out that we find sexes in the characters of fictional novels, comic books. What we find here is biological sex. Indeed, some people buy pornographic cartoons, pornographic animated movies, and erotic novels for masturbation. Needless to say, masturbation is a biological act, not a socially constructed one. But pornographic cartoons, pornographic animated movies, and erotic novels are all fiction. Cartoons are ink stains, animated movies are flickering lights, and novels are a series of symbols. The same is true of photography, film, and sound. A photograph is not the person itself but a patterns of ink, a film is a flicker of light, and a sound is a vibration of air. Where is the biological element in all of this? In this way, we find biological sex even in fiction.

14. As we can see in the Durkheimian argument that I cited in section 8, society cannot be reduced to individual, psychological, and biological considerations. Therefore, some readers may think that we need to rethink gender as a social construct in a different way from the case of sex. However, the main thesis of this essay is “You are You.” And, as I mentioned earlier, my intention is not social reform, but rather a one-on-one dialogue with readers. Therefore, I do not want to discuss gender in society, but rather gender in an individual who is affected by society. Therefore, we can see here that there are two kinds of gender: (i) social gender, and (ii) personal gender, and it is the latter that I am discussing in this essay. In order to examine the individual against the backdrop of society, we need to consider the individual within society, not Proudhon’s collective reason. At this point, the reader may agree with me that You are neither a social fact nor a public persona, and I have just said that I am not going to discuss gender as a social fact here. Moreover, in order to deny something, one must know what that something is. Therefore, I want to consider personal gender as public personae.

15. Personal gender and sex are, in a sense, in sharp contrast. This is because the factors that define personal gender are many but are all rejected on the same basis, whereas the factors that define sex are fewer compared to personal gender, but each factor needed its own basis for rejecting them.

The factors defining personal gender are appearance, hobbies, habits, language, and character as a psychological phenomenon. Personal gender is defined by the dichotomization of these factors and the assignment of each of the opposing terms to men and women. For this reason, some have attempted to “deconstruct” this dichotomy in order to solve the problem of gender, but in this paper, I want to argue that the fundamental problem about personal gender is the arbitrary association of a factor with a group. Therefore, I believe that deconstruction of the dichotomy is a mere symptomatic treatment, and that it only superficially solves the problem. Here, I would like to try to solve the fundamental problem I just mentioned.

16. The argument I used in denying the reality of sexes can be used to deny the reality of personal gender as well. And if we examine each of the factors defining personal gender that I listed — appearance, hobbies, habits, language, and pychological character — we do not find femininity or masculinity in any of them. Here we find exactly the same structure as Marx’s critique of commodity fetishism. In other words, we find a group of people starting out with some shoes or hair style or pants and so on (let’s call these elements) as meaningless signifiers, then projecting masculine/feminine qualities onto the elements, and correspondingly acting in a masculine/feminine way, and thus fetishizing gender in that group. And at the same time, the fetishizers falsely believe that they behave in a masculine/feminine way because they are born with gender.

17. Another theoretical tool that is applicable to the dismantling of personal gender is Saussure’s theory of language. According to Saussure, language is a system of signs, and signs are combinations of signifying/signifiant expressions and signified/signifié content. And this combination of the signifying/signifiant and the signified/signifié is an inherently arbitrary one. Thus the Japanese word “ki” can be associated with the signifying expression “tree” in English, “arbre” in French, “Holz” in German, or “legna” in Italian. Correspondingly, for this reason, one can associate the tree as signified with any signs whatsoever in creating an artificial language. This structure of the process of creating a meaningful word by the arbitrary combination of a signifier and a signified coincides with the structure of the process of creating personal gender by the arbitrary combination of an element and a fetishizing group. Thus, shoes or hair style or pants and so on are a type of signifying expression and personal gender is a type of signified, and that the union of elements and groups is arbitrary and not essential. Hence gender is also an illusion.

18. So far I have argued that the nature of sex-&-gender, in Buddhist terms, is “The Empty.” The reason why it is empty is that in order to claim that something does not exist, that something must in some sense already exist.[vii] What I have argued is that sex-&-gender are neither X nor Y nor some other actual or possible Z, whether essentialist or socially constructed. So my view is neither sex-&-gender dualism, nor monism, nor pluralism, but rather nihilism. I am denying that sex-&-gender are anything at all that has an essence or is a substance, or that can be socially constructed. At the same time, however, I am also affirming an infinite number of sexes-&-genders. If sex-&-gender are empty, then a so-called “man” is free to wear a skirt, and a so-called “woman” is free to shave her head. Nothing counts as essential sex-&-gender, so anything goes. Therefore, The Theory of Sex-&-Gender Emptiness is not only sex-&-gender nihilism but also a sex-&-gender infinitism. One may ask how it is possible to affirm an infinite number of sexes-&-genders when one denies the reality of all sexes-&-genders. The answer to this question is that I have nominalized sex-&-gender, by which I mean that sex-&-gender are nothing more and nothing less than names. Therefore, you are free to call yourself a member of any sex or gender of your choice, just as if you were making it all up as you go along — precisely because you are making it all up as you go along.

19. You are the present You. You don’t live in the past and You don’t live in the future, but You live in the here and now. You don’t need to be governed by the past, nor do you need to be bound by a any project for the future. You are in constant change. You do not need to be governed by a lifetime of coherent thought. Why should we be governed by a past that has already passed, and why should we plot the future when we may die tomorrow? If you want to break out of what Heidegger called Das Man, then you should simply stop remembering or projecting, and live creatively. There is no such thing as a You-by-nature or a You-by-social-construction that defines You, simply because You are You, end of story.

20. Therefore, after the end of all sex-&-gender, whether essential or socially-constructed, there is the creation of a new and infinite series of sexes-&-genders awaiting You.

NOTES

[ii] The use of “You” in this essay is unorthodox, and similar to Max Stirner’s use of “Der Einzige.”

[iii] This is only superficially paradoxical. The paradox is resolved when one recognizes that because sexes-&-genders are really nothing, they can be anything we want them to be.

[iv] The logic of this essay’s denial of sex-&-gender follows Nāgārjuna’s thinking in Mūlamadhyamakakārikā.

[v] Calling hormones “female” or “male” is strange. In so doing, are you suggesting that the structure of a mere material hormone contains an ideational or notional feminine or masculine nature? This strongly reminds me of what Marx called commodity fetishism.

[vi] This is one of the Prajñaptivāda’s doctrines: everything natural is merely phenomenal, and determined by our concepts or notions.

[vii] This is an application of Nāgārjuna’s thinking in Mūlamadhyamakakārikā, ch. 7, verse 31.

AGAINST PROFESSIONAL PHILOSOPHY REDUX 498

Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Monday 23 November 2020

Against Professional Philosophy is a sub-project of the online mega-project Philosophy Without Borders, which is home-based on Patreon here.

Please consider becoming a patron!

Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store