Note from Cavar: I included the following piece primarily for its transMad epistemological approach — the intertwining of the “low brow” Internet research and “high brow” transfeminine engagement with math/data modeling/code. I find transMadness to be a necessarily disidentificatory project, wherein we link trans & Mad ways of navigating the world even as we resist the institution as constitutive of either one. In this piece, Robyn both creates a kind of algorithm for (circum)gender subjectivity and approaches it in a tongue-in-cheek way, “curating” genders through the very systems that so often refuse us autonomy.
Fox Auslander’s recent history of the “circumgender” concept has been turning in my mind recently. As a brief recap, circumgender is an identity/label that describes a relationship to one’s assigned gender at birth through transness, or “like a trans person.” As an example, a person coercively assigned “female” at birth who described herself as circumgender would probably use she/her pronouns and maybe call themselves a transgender woman, or perhaps a woman who is trans. The “circum” prefix seems to describe a “circumscribing” of gender: birth-assigned womanhood, transition, and embracing of womanhood as a transgressive gender making up the loop (it later turned out that this naming convention was actually a pun on circumcision, but the association remains colloquially). As is always the case in gender identity pondering, all of the above should be understood loosely and hypothetically, but nonetheless this paints a picture of what circumgender more or less is understood as.
There is much to be discussed about circumgender identity; Auslander notes the heavy controversy around the label especially at its inception, and as a trans woman I can’t help but be concerned about transmisogyny and the ways it does and doesn’t affect certain people/bodies. This piece is not about any of that! Rather, I will be discussing here some further gender-fuckery: an expansion of the circumgender label to a whole system of gender exploration and description.
Let’s try and describe the relationship between circumgender, transgender, and cisgender identities abstractly using a number line. We’ll use womanhood as an example. Imagine cis womanhood as 0 on a single axis, and now trans womanhood as 1. Circumgender womanhood can now, delightfully, be a 2 on this axis. We know from algebra class, however, that axes in a numerical system are theoretically infinite, and are not required to stop at 2. So what can be 3? What would a 3 on this scale look like in terms of identity?
Let me give you a theoretical possibility for a 3 on the axis of womanhood. Each numerical increase so far seems to be an increase in referent: a transgender woman takes the womanhood of a cisgender woman as her reference, a circumgender woman takes the womanhood of a transgender woman as hers. So a 3 on this access would take the womanhood of a circumgender woman as hers. As a person who was coercively assigned “male” at birth, I imagine myself looking to circumgender women and saying “that’s me, I am a circumgender woman, a woman in the way a circumgender person is,” and experiencing transness by my perhaps dysphorically perceived differences from circumgender women. Let’s call me trigender, because I am a 3 on this line.
Dear reader, surely you’ve discerned where this is going by now and begun grinning in chaotic glee, gaping in cosmic horror, or rolling your eyes in perpetual annoyance. Nonetheless, Pandora’s box is once again open here: the axis of womanhood in our example is infinite. A 4 on this axis, a quadgender woman for convenience, takes a trigender woman as her referent. Let’s accelerate the process using exponent notation: cisgender women are womano. Trans women are woman1. Circumgender women are woman2. Etc., ad infinitum! Imagine woman7, or woman69420! Gawk at the sheer transing potential of silly math gimmicks!
We can’t stop here, however. So far it is still all too easy to assume a ridiculous “AFAB/AMAB” binary on this scale: for example, one might presume a man2 to have been coercively assigned “male” at birth to have access to the circumgender experience. To this I say, we haven’t come this far to get caught up in a silly little thing like that! I submit that these identities are open universally to all different experiences of coercion, especially considering the number of intersex identifying people using the circumgender label. I was coercively assigned “male” at birth, and I will not be stopped from using woman2, woman4 , or especially woman0, for this is a project of liberation and creativity, not a search for a new ultimate taxonomy.
We still can’t stop here! Even in our basic algebra classes we weren’t limited to a single axis on our graphs. Why not take womanhood as our x axis and manhood as our y? Perhaps I identify with maleness in the way a transgender man does, and identify with womanhood in the way a trigender woman does. In other words, I am man2 and woman4, or simply (2,4) for convenience. Or instead I may be (5,5), or (0,0), or (666,1337)!
And yet still we cannot stop here! Why should our (0,0), our ultimate referent, be cisgender people? Why must they always occupy the center? Instead, we can make any identity/label we desire our (0,0), or anyone or anything! Perhaps I am (3,4), with trans womanhood as my (0,0). Perhaps instead I am (314,159) with a delicious pecan pie as my referent!
And yet even still we cannot stop! Why must manhood and womanhood be our axes? Surely there’s more room for creativity in our personal worlds than that! Maybe our x axis is animality, and our y axis is humanity! Or perhaps x is pink and y is blue! Or maybe an axis could be transness itself!
Even after all this there is more! Mathematicians play in dimensions like children play in puddles. 2 is a silly number of axes, I propose 4, 5, and any Nth dimension gender models! This is it my friends, this is where I draw the borders of my canvas, and where I begin to play! For your enjoyment my friends, a selection of genders curated by yours truly:
Taking frivolity as our x axis and frugality as our y, with my grandmother’s lasagna recipe as my referent, I am (5,4)!
Taking seniority as our x axis, insectlikeness as our y, and rejuvenation as our z, with a monarch butterfly emerging from a cocoon as our referent, I am (1,1,1)!
Taking 8 axes, each of which being one of the schools of magic in the 5th edition of Dungeons and Dragons, with Bigby as our referent, I am (6,7,8,9,1,2,3,4)!
Taking womanhood as our first axis, a 1 on that axis as our second axis, a 1 on that axis as our third, and continuing this pattern infinitely, I am the set of all sets of numbers which do not contain themselves!
My hope, friends and enemies, is to provide a new and exciting format by which we may paint with gender, and to this end I implore you: join me in the creation of elaborate identities as above, let’s all engage together in a creative process so antithetical to cisgender binarism that its ludicrousness may never escape our perceptions, and our own ludicrousness may always challenge it!
Robyn is an aspiring ethnographer, phenomenologist, and anthropologist finishing up her undergraduate degree in anti-civilization anarchisms (and indigenous studies minor) at Gallatin—NYU. She is the ongoing author of the perpetually in progress Loaded for Bear, a roleplaying game about anthropology and backpacking. She keeps her public work and social media at linktr.ee/postrobynist, and is hoping excitedly to meet some like-minded people in the homelands of the Nipmuc and Pocumtuck people (sometimes called Western Mass.) where she is making her new home.