Out of chaos, a new gender paradigm?

I am currently half way through writing a new novel in the Boy & Girl Saga entitled Girl, Boy or Whatever. The following article inspired by Chaos Theory takes a different look at gender and healing as part of the reflection behind the new book.

From waking to sleep

Let’s begin with sleeping and waking. It is relatively easy to wake a sleeping person. Moving the other way is less easy. How do you fall asleep? If you are wide awake, sleep seems almost unattainable. If you are tired or drowsy, sleep is much easier to reach. In fact it calls to you and the closer you get the more irresistible it becomes. Till finally you have to fight not to drift off. It is almost as if sleep were like a magnet. So you have two very different but related states, both anchored in tangible bodily reactions, which draw you all the more strongly the closer you get. If you get too close, you are pulled in and held captive by that state until something happens to jolt you out of it. Looking at the phenomenon in more abstract terms, you are continually in a delicate state of equilibrium (whether awake or asleep) that could swing to the other state but doesn’t immediately do so because the current state exerts an attraction holding you in place. However that attraction rapidly diminishes the further you move away.

Multiple forms of gender?

Now here’s the major question. Given the licence that fiction allows, what if gender as laid out in the blueprint of each cell and expressed in the form of our bodies and the perceptions we have of ourselves were a similar phenomenon? What if the current binary gender set-up were only one of many possible forms? What if, given the right conditions, we could switch from one gender form to another, without the aid of drugs or the surgeon’s scalpel? Admittedly it would seem that the attraction of the rigid binary form we are familiar with is particularly strong, giving the impression it is the (only) natural state of affairs.  However, in an increasing number of cases the human body has adopted more flexible forms. This variation is all the more pronounced if we consider only people’s perceptions of their gender rather than their physical attributes.

Mind over matter

Why does our current dominant form of binary gender seem ineluctable? It is tempting to reply, because it is inscribed in the blueprint of our cells and consequently in the physical form we take. But if we examine the question more closely, this argument hinges on the primacy we grant to matter over mind. What if mind could shape matter? What if our perception of gender, seen as a far more fluid way of being, could have an influence on the blueprint itself and bring about changes in our bodies to align them to the way we perceive ourselves?

Switching forms of gender

In my series of novels Boy & Girl, the whole system of healing developed by the young protagonists is founded on the premise that mind can influence matter, that a healer can intervene to encourage the body to return to a healthy equilibrium by favouring the natural harmony and balance reflected in the cell’s blueprint rather than intervening from the outside, as modern medicine does, with drugs, rays and a scalpel. In other words, healing is achieved by strengthening the attraction of a natural healthy state as expressed in that underlying blueprint. Having ventured so far, the inevitable next step is to ask if mind can shift the body from one blueprint to another, from one relatively stable state of gender to a different one? Although such a move also relies on the primacy of mind over mater, doing so is not at all identical to the young people’s healing method. It requires changing the blueprint rather than strengthening it. Being able to do so would solve Peter’s dilemma of how to hold on to the apparent androgyny of prepubescence without suffering the long-term undesirable effects of blocking puberty or needing a surgical intervention. It could potentially do much more. It could enable his body to align with that wished-for, in-between state by being both boy and girl.

Gender as a social phenomenon

By concentrating on the cell’s blueprint and implicitly the primacy of matter over mind, we fail to take into consideration a major factor. Gender is very much a social phenomenon. The binary gender system we are familiar with is firmly anchored not just in a biological reality, but also in a web of social interactions and shared perceptions. If Peter were to manage to shift to a different gender configuration by changing the form of his body, growing breasts for example while retaining his penis, he would find himself at odds with the dominant social perception of gender as a rigid binary division. He would likely be the target of violent rejection if not outright attempts at eliminating him as an aberration. Attempts to modify the underlying blueprint for gender and its impact on the body would have to go hand-in-hand with efforts to transform the social perception of gender. The novels are set in 1960 when ideas of sex and gender were even more rigid than today. Nowadays, considerable advances have been made in a number of countries towards a more fluid vision of gender.

Pandora’s box?

Whatever the outcome of Peter’s fictional endeavours, a major ethical and practical preoccupation remains. His strivings are centred on the transformation of gender by intervening on the body’s blueprint. But there is nothing to stop those discoveries being used to modify other bodily features, opening the way to eugenics. That spectre alone and society’s likely abhorrence might well put an end to experiments like those of Peter and like-minded people, if ever they became known. Of course, aware that these different ‘sets’ of instructions dictating the form of life in a human body are the result of a delicate equilibrium, it is possible that many of the nightmares that fans of eugenics might dream up would not be stable and their corresponding life-forms unviable. Such a reliance on a higher force, embedded as it were in a ‘code’ of life that rules out aberrations, although appealing, is probably over-naive.

The Boy & Girl Saga

  1. Boy & Girl Dressing like a girl and being in a girl’s head are not the same challenge, as Peter finds out.
  2. In Search of Lost Girls – Abruptly severed from his soulmate, Peter goes in search of Kate and finds much more.
  3. Girl. Boy, or Whatever – In their quest to develop a new paradigm for healing and a radical approach to gender, Peter and Kate face violent opposition.

Healing from within – learning from writing

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It seems so strange to our eyes, but at the time they couldn’t see things otherwise (…) They came at the body from the outside. It wasn’t simply that they didn’t have our techniques to enter the body with their minds. All their knowledge was buried in books, in scientific papers and in data gathered by machines. They kept new healers away from people in need of healing. They would have been horrified if anyone had tried to heal others without all that knowledge, whereas, in reality, it blocked access to what they really needed to know. Inside out, Alan McCluskey, April 2012.

One of the greatest difficulties with improving long-established systems, like the one we call Health Care, is being able to step outside the system and, from that unaccustomed vantage point, explore new possibilities that go beyond what is currently thinkable. Freeing ourselves from familiar logic is hard to achieve, rather like stepping through the mirror for Alice. It can be liberating, but more often than not, it is a frightening and disorienting experience.

What’s more, the moment you venture out, a chorus of expert voices intones from the safety of comfy armchairs, You can’t do that. It doesn’t work. Of course it doesn’t, in their logic. If we listened to them there would never be any major breakthroughs. Transgressing social norms and the fixed mind-sets of our institutions can be explored in inspiring ways through fiction, especially Sci-Fi and Fantasy. All that is demanded of the author is plausibility, a quality that can be built up over time as a novel moves forward.

In writing Boy & Girl, speaking mind-to-mind was a first step in creating a bridge between two worlds, between two people, Peter and Kaitlin. Travelling mind-to-mind followed on quite logically, making it possible for my young protagonists to lodge in each other’s minds and to see and feel the world through their eyes and their senses. What I did not anticipate, as I began writing, was that being able to travel to the body and mind of another had deep-seated implications for health care. That healing could better be assured from within than without, that the body knew exactly what it needed to be healthy, that healing could use this knowledge to counter illness and accident. All this became apparent as my characters affronted challenging situations.

These perspectives struck me as so important, I wrote a separate short story called Inside out that explored, under the guise of fiction, what might be possible in health care from such a standpoint.

Further reading

Inside out

Boy & Girl

In Search of Lost Girls

Madness

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Sculpture: Huguette McCluskey. Photo and reworking: Alan McCluskey.

(…) When he looked closer, the whole surface was teeming with pulsing fragments of stories vying for a place in the light or struggling to make off with a character. Many of them were dark and sinister. The sight not only disgusted him, it filled him with deep apprehension. If he couldn’t heal the wounds, that wild underlife would continue to crawl out and burrow its way into the characters and take over the whole story. Extract from the Prologue, Storyfolk (draft written Oct 2011)

Madness has never been closer to the surface than it is now. As if the skin that contains it has worn perilously thin. And when that frail protection cracks or rips, madness bursts forth in unexpected places and splatters the front pages of  newspapers, its sinister tidings ricocheting across online  feeds: stabbings, shootings, rapings, bombings not to mention years of unreported abuse. Often inexplicable, it is sometimes justified by ideology or recuperated by groups that feed on violence and terror. But whether explicable or not, it is always unbearable.

As the outbreaks spread and multiply, we wonder if much more of the madness is crawling like maggots beneath the social veneer. Suffice it to watch a speech of Trump pointing an accusing finger at the one he calls “the devil”, his mouth twisted in hate and disgust, seen against the backdrop of his enraged supporters screaming, “Off with her head!” But madness is not just the prerogative of top-of-the-bill political loudmouths and fear mungers. It emerges unbidden in daily life when individuals rage in the face of their neighbours, when colleagues repeatedly stomp on workmates’ toes till all the victim can do is hobble disfigured through life, when people turn their backs on friends in difficulty, retreating into a world where “I” is the only God and “We” has been banished forever.

The madness evoked here is not some romantic flight into fantasy. It is not a stigmatised transgression of social norms. It is a rupture in the very fabric of society that inflicts intense pain and suffering on bystanders and targets alike and leads to death and destruction.

And the solutions? The causes are complex. Any solution, also. One possibility: reinforcing social cohesion on a local level that people feel they belong to a wider community and are linked to those who belong to it and are anchored in place by its structures. Another, cultivate openness and exploration, favour difference in which each person is a source of delight and richness. Channel imagination into creativity and artistic pursuits. Writing for me, for example, is an absolute necessity. Reinforce social values that go beyond the monetary to embrace the uncountable and the transcendent…

Autism and Chimera

When I began writing my novel Chimera – which is finished but awaiting editing and publication – I had no idea what I was embarking on. I had my own experience of being wrapped up in my stories and my worlds, missing out on what was going on around me, feeling worryingly absent at times around people. But from there to imaging myself in the head of a being who was totally unable to communicate with words and gestures was a giant step. My intuition was that seen from the inside Sam, my character, would  be wildly creative but no one else would know. What frustration. He had no iPad or computer to bridge between him and the world. To make things worse, or possibly better in the  longer term, he discovers he is a chimera, someone who shares his mind and body with another being. Sami, that other being, is quite the opposite to him. She is articulate, communicative and deft with her hands and feet. She offers him a chance to leave his long-standing isolation and span the gap to the world through her. But will he want to relinquish the security of the fortifications he has built around himself?

The video: a contribution from Apple to celebrate International Autism Day.