“A Trans Graphing Model” by Robyn

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 (She/her)
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. ‬