Letter from the Editors

Letter from the Editors

Volume 26, no. 1, Gender: Beyond Binaries

Artwork by Mol Mir

As scientists, our training compels us to reduce the complexity of the natural world into discrete categories. To counteract reductionism, as radical and critical thinkers, it is our imperative to recognize when these categories are inherited from systems that reproduce structures of power and control in society, and to question how our own practices reify them. Faced with the rapid criminalization of trans bodies, the attack on reproductive rights, and the precarity of service workers exposed by the pandemic, this inquiry has never been more pertinent. Gender has always been continuous, but became binarized through historical and material forces seeking to limit and control bodies. Two current examples are  legislative efforts to limit gender-affirming care and state-level attacks against abortion rights.1,2 It is clear that the limits placed on bodily autonomy are set to disproportionately impact poor BIPOC women as well as trans and genderqueer folks. 

The issue you are holding in your hands or viewing on your screens is an attempt not only to reflect the process of questioning, but to share a material vision of a different world. As researchers, activists, artists, organizers, and movement builders, we reject the gender binary on ideological grounds. We also reject it on scientific grounds.This means we explore how this false dichotomy emerged over time, whose interests it serves, and how science has been weaponized to maintain those interests. We also forward an alternative, a truly inclusive investigation of gender that can radically transform scientific inquiries and expand the reach of the people new insights can begin to serve.

Science has historically been misappropriated to erase and nullify what people already know about themselves and how they move through the world. It is not our goal to attempt to legitimize variation in gender identity and expression solely by using scientific evidence and arguments. However, as the Right attempts to reinforce the gender binary under the guise of scientific credibility and in the interest of maintaining familial structures that best serve capitalism, reproductive rights are under attack and access to life-affirming care is  increasingly being denied to trans and queerpeople. This is clearly the time for radical scientists to clarify the science and politics behind gender constructs and act in defense of trans lives and reproductive justice.

A liberatory and revolutionary framework of gender politics cannot be developed without a critique of capitalism and colonialism. The deep ties that exist between inheritance of private property and control of reproductive freedom have long been established within the framework of historical materialism. Social reproduction exists within the metabolic rift that separates humans from natural resources. This operates in two ways: care work and domestic labor, necessary to sustain and reproduce humans, are excluded from dominant economic frameworks; and the labor that workers perform for wages seldom serves as an outlet for their political agency or their will to impact the world. Pursuing the thread of Marx’s assertion that gender roles were created to divide labor along reproductive ability, Engels offers that “the first class opposition that appears in history coincides with the development of the antagonism between man and woman in monogamous marriage, and the first class oppression coincides with that of the female sex by the male.3 In a critical analysis of western feminism, Anuradha Ghandy warns of relying too heavily on the presumed antagonism between the sexes and centering the reproductive role of the sexes in the feminist movement. She writes that “instead of determining material, social causes for the origin of women’s oppression they [western feminists] focused on a biologically given factor (reproductive role) thereby falling into the trap of biological determinism,”4 Today trans people are showing up in high numbers in radical movements. As argued in Transgender Marxism, “gender has come to be a topic of such attention, and explicit confusion, thanks to a disintegration of material circumstances – one inaugurated by the right and since officiated by liberals of every possible orientation.”5

In contrast to liberal, western feminism, we strove to include perspectives from the Global Majority. Camila Valle writes about Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, illuminating how people can find power in scientific techniques to achieve liberatory ends, even under a military regime. Centered around the recent uprisings in Iran in response to the murder of Mahsa Amini, Targol Mesbah traces the evolution of feminist thought in the Kurdish liberation movement. This issue also includes pieces that reflect on how limited institutions within the realm of public service become when they uphold the gender binary, whether it be in healthcare (Andrea Kim), education (River Suh), or academia and research (Lindsey and Hillary Thurston). In exploring antiquated ideas and movements that resurface in new avatars, Claire Atkinson draws on personal experience to provide a critical commentary on autogynephilia, while Anne Rumberger and Marcy Darnovsky outline two distinct types of eugenicist beliefs that both pose a material threat to reproductive freedom and bodily autonomy. To explore the connection between gender and labor, and how the COVID-19  pandemic led to waves of organizing within the domain of social reproduction, Vassiki Chauhan interviews organizers from Emergency Workplace Organizing Committee (EWOC) and workers supported by the organization. 

Historically, Science for the People has stood in opposition to biological determinism and sought to examine the sources of gender-based oppression as emerging from material and social causes. This rich tradition is traced in the links between contemporary thought on gender and the legacy of movements for reproductive freedom and writing that already exists in the archives of our publication. We offer these connections as resources to our readers so that you can trace the evolution of our collective ideology. Some of the articles in this issue have deep connections to our publications in the 1970s and 80s, while others present new avenues of exploration, particularly trans and queer perspectives, which were not as present in the earlier issues. 

In the present moment, it has become important to understand the use of science as a tool by capitalist forces to propagate colonial eugenics and in the societal enforcement of the gender binary. We must critically examine the avenues, particularly within public health, where supposedly scientific debates materially impact the autonomy and care available to people with diverse gender identities. Liberal feminism holds the reins of the conversation around representation, but it is everyone’s prerogative to end cisheteropatriarchal control of who participates in the process of scientific work. In contrast to movements that call for more women CEOs, we draw inspiration from queer, radical feminist traditions and collective efforts.6As with all other forms of historical oppression, we will only succeed in breaking the shackles of the gender binary by questioning the historical processes, rooted in the domination of the many by the power of the few. This history brought us to where we are today. Our challenge is to understand and disrupt the continuity of this oppression, and to shape a different reality for ourselves, for our bodies. Our lives depend on it.

—Volume 26, no. 1 editorial collective

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  1. Ernesto Londoño, “Nebraska Votes to Restrict Abortion and Transgender Care for Minors,” The New York Times,” May 19, 2023, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/05/19/us/abortion-transgender-bill-nebraska.html, Kate Kelly
  2. “North Carolina Legislature Reapproves Abortion Ban, Overriding Governor’s Veto, The New York Times, May 16, 2023, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/05/16/us/north-carolina-abortion-ban.html
  3. Friedrich Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (London: Verso Books, 2021).
  4. Ghandy, Anuradha, Philosophical Trends in the Feminist Movement (Beijing: Foreign languages Press, 2021).
  5. Jules Joanne Gleeson, Elle O’Rourke, and Jordy Rosenberg, Transgender Marxism  (London: Pluto Press, 2021).
  6. Combahee River Collective. “The Combahee River Collective Statement.” In Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology, edited by Barbara Smith (Tallahassee: Naiad Press, 1983), 264-74.