One of the terms I have in my lexicon but also something that I could expound upon for quite some time. I was talking with someone recently about my idea of the gender galaxy and she said something about liking femininity, not wanting to give it up. I kind of balked at her and asked how that was what I was saying at all. I find it so ridiculous that people assume that taking gender off of a binary means that femininity must go away.
On one hand, it makes sense, because a lot of the work of the feminist movement has been, basically, to do the same work as patriarchy and discredit femininity only from the other side of it, discrediting it from the inside, because it’s constructed. One thing I love about the idea of performativity is that it names everything as a performance, the constructed nature about the way we think about gender, but it doesn’t mean that we all don’t have some sort of pull toward one or many types of gender expression.
But, I digress. The term “gender galaxy” first appeared in Expanding Gender and Expanding the Law: Toward a Social and Legal Conceptualization of Gender that is More Inclusive of Transgender People by Dylan Vade, published in 2005 in the Michigan Journal of Gender and Law. He says:
I suggest a non-linear alternative conceptualization, which I call the gender galaxy. The gender galaxy is a three-dimensional non-linear space in which every gender has a location that may or may not be fixed. For instance, butch woman is one particular gender location. Feminine FTM is another gender location. These are two different valid gender locations that are not linearly related.
The article is fascinating, and I highly encourage you to read it as well, for further information of his explanations. He mentions that generally when we try to go away from the two options of (he uses male and female but to me those are sex categories rather than gender, and so I would say masculine and feminine) gender we move it onto a spectrum instead of just a one-or-the-other option. However, moving it onto a spectrum means it is still grounded in that binary, and his idea of a gender galaxy is moving away from that, as mentioned in the quote above.
Gender galaxy is a term that Sinclair of SugarButch has written about and defines, and I highly encourage all you who haven’t to look at his brilliant writings on the subject. One of the best examples of his writing about the gender galaxy comes from his telling of his journey of learning how to navigate within the gender galaxy and finding his identity as butch:
It took such a long time for me to come to comfortably sit in this butch identity, for me to (if we’ll continue the metaphor) navigate the gender galaxy, and find a comfortable orbit around an identity label. Some of us don’t ever settle into that – some of us are radical little spaceships that explore treasures from all sorts of different worlds and words that we orbit. I guess the trick is, in my opinion, to simply find the routes that are the best to navigate (not necessarily the easiest, but the most satisfying), the orbits where there is plenty of oxygen, the alliances that create treaties and share resources and have excellent adventures.
We basically have to make our own gender galaxy maps. And while some gender mapmaking tools – queer theory, gender theory, postmodern theory, queer literature, smut and the language of lesbian desires – while some tools help immensely, I still couldn’t quite escape the praxis, the application of the theory, because of the ways that the social constraints and social policing affected my own process deeply.
I’m working on a post of my own personal galaxy map to femme, how I’ve gotten here, what it means to me, and I’m hoping to be done with that soon. In the meantime, you have Sinclair’s to reference and my ideas of gender galaxy to ponder, as follows.
Basically I see the gender galaxy as having lots of little solar systems, with the sun or focal point of that solar system being a certain gender identity. There are some people who stay in orbit around one sun. Some are closer than others, like the difference between Mercury and Jupiter, and some are farther away and have irregular courses like Neptune. Still others are asteroids or comets, moving around multiple solar systems, moving through the gender galaxy itself without one focal point or another. Some people may inhabit two planets or three or four. The beauty of the gender galaxy is the limitless amount of possibilities.
Obviously, as my own gender identity includes femme and therefore includes femininity (or, femmeininity) I am not anti-femininity, nor do I believe that gender should be abolished or that the gender galaxy is getting rid of gender, on the contrary. Gender is even more emphasized in some ways in the gender galaxy, except instead of confining it the gender galaxy makes gender overly available. Opening up gender from a gender binary or even a gender continuum to a gender galaxy makes it so that there are no expressions of gender that are considered incorrect. We would no longer be able to fail at gender, either, as there is no set limits as to what gender is or could be.