“Imagine a world without gender.”
– Judith Lorber
Vikramaditya Sahai, also known as Vqueeram Aditya Sahai on social media, is an active queer activist who teaches at Ambedkar University, Delhi. He recently held a workshop called, ‘In the name of love: Workshop on Gender and Sexuality’ at the Indian Languages Festival, Samanvay 2015.
Vikramaditya has a very unconventional view of the gender binary, and he started the workshop with a not-so-complicated question:When we talk about gender, what do we actually mean?
Do we mean the two sexes, male and female or something else?
Women in the audience were asked this question, and they gave not-so-uncommon answers: my gender has oppressed me, my parents treated me differently because of my gender, I wasn’t allowed to wear this outfit, that outfit, etc, etc.
In fact, I felt that many in the audience were attending the workshop because somewhere, deep down, they felt that ‘patriarchy’ had subjugated them to distress and differentiation.
According to Vikramaditya, the biases associated with our gender are actually a form of violence. He went on to state that a critique of gender is actually a critique of violence inflicted on us. The basic premise of this violence is how certain ‘archy’, and ‘isms’ cover one in colours they don’t want. Society white/blue/pinkwashes an identity on a person, whether they choose to accept it or not. An understanding of gender can only come with this main distinction, because gender is violence + something else.
What I took away from his explanation is the fact that many arguments have arisen as to how the world may shape up without gender. Those in favour of it believe that doing away with the gender binary will lead to a kaleidoscope of diversity, where people can assume any identity they wish to, without fearing judgement. It will also do away with the classic scenario of do’s and don’ts.
Vikramaditya also tried to address an extremely important question of how can gender be defined, and how can it be interlinked to one’s sexuality, desire and ultimately, love. For him, gender is actually defined by one’s external sign systems, not by one’s life story. For example, one of India’s first social reform movements was the movement against Sati. How did one find out if the Sati was willingly or unwillingly sacrificing herself to the fire? That was through her external signs.
He then touched upon another important topic that linked gender and our ‘external signs’ with our identity. And that’s ‘desire’. The external sign systems that we read on one’s body is a manifestation of desire. Our desire sees an object, and then sticks to it. That way, desire is polymorphous – it sticks to too many things too quickly, which is why human beings wish to be monogamous.
From what I understood of Vikramaditya’s explanation was that desires define us more than our gender, which is why gender is a problematic term, not only for the stereotypes it brings with it, but also because of the violence associated with the term.
As human beings, we have a social plot in life, which is why life is conventional. Which brought Vikramaditya to his next point – that is love. The plot of love is extremely conventional. In fact, he even stated his theory that the intensity of the truth of our love is the intensity of the conflict it generates (this sent fits of laughter through the crowd).
He posed an important question for the audience. How can we build the narrative of our lives? Because since love is conventional, it also brings with it an element of failure. After all, according to Vikramaditya, we all love ‘bad lovers’. Vikramaditya then opened the floor for questions after leaving the audience with many things to ask about love, desire, sexuality and gender.
In the ensuing Q&A, he was quizzed on a question he avoided throughout the workshop session- where the third gender fit into all of this. His answer was simple – without gender, there will be no need for a ‘third gender’. Gender is the root cause of all trouble. Biologically, there are five sexes, but just two conventional ‘genders’. All it boils down to, at the end of the day, are our desires and their manifestation, which are not in tangent with our gender, many a times.
To illustrate his point, he showed a video of Anne Hathaway reading a story of Dorothy Parker, called the Garter, in which the author is in immense distress because her garter broke during the middle of a party. The garter symbolises the expectations of her gender, because a woman isn’t expected to be walking around without stockings at a party in 20th century America.
What I took away from this workshop was a new perspective on the debate on ‘gender’. How my identification of a bias or crisis within my gender had nothing to do with my ‘identity’, it was more to do with violence, that my gender identification was inflicting on me. For a lot of us, many things bind us down in society, gender being one of them. If we let our desires flow, then maybe we can move over gender, create an alternate identity for ourselves, where we are what we choose to be, not what society or we ourselves inflict on ‘us’.