Part 2: Insights about our Identity, Relationships and Sexuality
In my previous article about my job-out and coming out, I shared about my process of deep transformation, coming from both love and pain. Reshuffling what success meant for me led me to question my own identity and the way we relate to one another in our “permanent-beta” societies. In my personal identity struggle over the past eight years “I went from labeling myself as heterosexual to lesbian, then bisexual, and finally now, hyper-gender”. I’ve loved men, women, couples. I’ve had intense emotional affairs with friends. I can imagine a domestic life scoped around more than one partner. And none of this was easy. The shifting experiences and perspectives across such a range of feelings made this a deeply confusing process. It would have been easier to cling to one identity, but it didn’t feel true. Sharing this among my peers made clear to me that many of us have a common exploration, with many of us struggling with existing social norms and barriers without identifying or belonging to any.
During the last four years of my own exploration, I couldn’t help but keep asking myself: What are the new conversations we’re having with ourselves and with others around how we perceive our gender identity? What new social contracts can help us govern relationships that increasingly defy categorization? What longings are coming into focus now that we previously didn’t have the language to articulate?
For many people I’ve spoken with, the concept of hyper-gender has some queer resonance: It’s not about ending gender power relations (like in the feminist tradition) but creating a more inclusive environment within ourselves where all parts of our fluid identity can find acknowledgment. It’s not just a personal mission, but a need to reconstruct society to offer us more honest reflections for the people that we are. That means having new scripts and frameworks to shape the way we interact and relate to each other around love, identity, and family. This is nothing new. The LGBT community started the conversation about what it means to live outside gender stereotypes for a while. But there is still further to go… What does it mean to claim to be “gay” or “heterosexual”, or “4 on the Kinsey scale”? I think we have much more fluid identities than these categories allow and encompass.
The way we deal with people born with intersex traits (up to 1.7% of people worldwide, roughly the same proportion of the population who have red hair) is an interesting illustration of the discomfort society has towards biological differences. In addition to that, younger people and teenagers do increasingly not recognize themselves in the existing labels. Almost a quarter of all Britons surveyed by YouGov UK say they are not 100% heterosexual, and for adults age 18–24, that number jumps to almost half.
The “non-binary understandings of gender” have been expressed in many parts of the world, like in the Bugis group in Indonesia. “The Bugis are the largest ethnic group in South Sulawesi, Indonesia, and are unique in their conception of five distinct gender identities. Aside from the cisgender masculinity and femininity that Westerners are broadly familiar with, the Bugis interpretation of gender includes calabai (feminine men), calalai (masculine women) and bissu, which anthropologist Sharyn Graham describes as a “meta-gender” considered to be “a combination of all genders.” What is noticeable however is the spread of non-binary understandings in Western media and acknowledgment in pop-culture today. In the 90’s the Icelandic singer Bjork was already a strong “Hyper-Gender” advocate (and still is), and today we see more artists blurring the gender frontiers like the Belgian singer Stromae or the American actor Ezra Miller. A new Japanese fashion trend is that of “genderless boys”. The word they, used as a gender-neutral singular pronoun, was voted as Word of the Year in 2015 in the US. Last month, National Geographic published a groundbreaking issue on “the Gender Revolution exploring and explaining through children around the world how humanity’s understandings of gender — both scientific and social — are shifting.
Does this mean we must add many boxes, like Facebook when offering 51 new gender categories? Certainly not. To me, the idea is to acknowledge fluidity in gender and our identities and build relational frameworks around it. As my friend Michel beautifully said to me: “For me, Hyper-Gender is not about negating polarities but rather embodying them in a fluid way to express all that is within ourselves. I love polarities, as long as we don’t get stuck on either side and use the creative tension to spiral upwards into a more evolved version of what’s possible.”
What frameworks can we position ourselves in to support an individual’s longing for freedom, authenticity, and autonomy while satisfying the need to nurture and care for ourselves in our relationships with others? What models do we want to build if not the traditional concept of marriage and the life-long faithful monogamous couple — a social contract that is no longer sufficient as the sole answer in our fast-paced societies?
It is important to provide a structure to our conversation so we can explore these key questions about designing our society and the values we want to share by relating to others. It makes even more sense as “alternative” relationships models are moving from hidden hippie practices to becoming more widespread. We have been entering an era where the practice of “free love” is no longer restricted to closed communities like Tamera in Portugal. More stories about polyamory and open relationships are shared and analyzed in mainstream media. Three years ago a civil union between a trio in Brazil raised a big polemic in the country.
What I find even more interesting than the search for neo-relationships formats, is what this implies in terms of claiming a more inclusive approach to sexuality. My own quest about hyper-gender through my love-life experiences, readings, and conversations made clear to me that many of these interrogations cannot be separated from questioning the narratives about sexuality.
Changing the narrative about sexuality
The reflection by the philosopher and founder of the School of Life Alain de Botton in his essay “How to think more about sex” is a great example of a conversation where we no longer separate the way we perceive our relationships from our vision of sexuality. He says, “The true mesmerism of sex, isn’t even in the physical act itself — it’s in the existential promise that it holds: “The pleasure we derive from sex is also bound up with our recognizing, and giving a distinctive seal of approval to, those ingredients of a good life whose presence we have detected in another person. The more closely we analyze what we consider ‘sexy,’ the more clearly we will understand that eroticism is the feeling of excitement we experienced at finding another human being who shares our values and our sense of the meaning of existence.”
In 2017, one of the first entry points to sexuality among the upcoming generations of children and teenagers, who will shape our future societies and gender dynamics, is hardcore pornography. 12% of the websites on the Internet are pornographic, and one-quarter of all search engines requests are pornographic. We can try to fight this phenomenon by trying to forbid porn access, or we can change how porn is made, consumed, and influencing our lives. Academics like the Brigham Young University or academic journals like Porn Studies are having a closer look at the topic of porn. Meanwhile, online companies are booming since the porn industry is such a flourishing business.
An increasing number of people have been developing projects to change our collective narrative about sexuality. They include direct education efforts like Love Matters, a global multimedia platform for young people, with a version in Arabic, about love, sex, and everything in between. Or this documentary about the old tradition of female ejaculation in Rwanda (L’eau Sacré).
Others are artistic projects questioning sexuality and its representations, like Sandra Torralba or Curated by girls. There is also the growing movement of Feminist Pornography, a genre that challenges and electrifies typical, mainstream pornography. It claims a political vision and led by Swedish porn feminists activists like the film director Erica Lust; and content like Queer Porn. Sex positivity movements are growing, spread through “festival culture” coming from the spirit of Burning Man. The idea that all sex, as long as it is healthy and explicitly consensual, is a positive thing takes shape within the cities with events and gatherings like the Kinky Salon, or physical spaces like Hacienda Villa in New York. The app OMGYes teaches (men and women) how women masturbate. The “Orgasmic Meditation” movement brings together people who meditate through caressing women’s clitoris.
I have been learning mostly through my experiences and see how these thoughts and practices are spreading. Emerging projects and movements are shifting the power structures in our digital era. I’ve increasingly found myself using the concept of “Hyper-gender” to describe this paradigm shift happening in society that is reconstituting gender identity and social interactions beyond labels, in the 21st century.
I vividly remember when it all started — from a magma of thoughts and emotions to a real project carrying a strong vision. A year ago, a friend, when talking about the people I am friends or working with in Berlin, was explaining to me how “these people are all into gender bullshit, questioning their sexuality and relationships formats”. I felt personally attacked when I heard this sentence. It stayed anchored in my head and triggered my need for opening the debate and doing something about it. I believe the shift happening is bigger than a bunch of people who are lost in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s. I have had these “bullshit” conversations with folks from any generation, sexual orientation, gender, and culture. From Paris, Berlin, Rio de Janeiro, Casablanca, Beirut or Cairo. All these Hyper-Gender salons and gatherings proved me the need to keep connecting and spreading safe spaces around the world allowing us to speak up and have more conversations about our identities, relationships, and sexuality, beyond gender and borders.
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This article would never have been published without the inspiration and help of great people around me. Special credits to my dearest editors Bianca Pick and Aline Mayard. Many thanks to my friends with whom I had precious conversations about this topics: Alexa Clay, Marie-Pauline Chartron, Michel Bachmann, Adam Yukelson, Aurélie Salvaire, Francesca Pick, Nader Wahba, Franziska Krüger, Jon Stever, Alex Minkin, Oksana and many more.