WHO'S IN YOUR GENES »
OF GENDER IDENTITY
It can be argued that the Androgyne are our first Transhumans, as they have philosophically and culturally abandoned the all too human restrictions of gender. While a Transgender merely switches sex, an Androgyne finds a sliver of grey area to exist in, being neither male nor female. To be sexless is to remove one's self from any preconceived and misconceived illusions imposed on either gender. Under such definitions, we might do well to redirect our attention away from Ray Kurzweil and zero in on French photographer, writer, activist Claude Cahun. If our male gender bias in the arts and sciences make such detours difficult, not to worry; with Claude it's tough to know the difference. Which was kind of her point.
By the way, "Claude Cahun" was not her real name.
It was a pseudonym she picked for its gender ambiguity. Daniel Douglas was another pseudonym she adopted for her early writing.
Her birth name
was Lucy Schwob.
Far ahead of her time, as all true futurists are, Cahun challenged gender roles by virtually not having one. With her head shaven and clothing that could swing in either direction, Cahun blurred
the lines between what people knew her to
be (female) and what they perceived her to be (male).
Such ambiguity is still the best example of the
transcendental human yet; especially since Cahun's ambiguous
gender works best on a psychological level. After all, the human
is arguably the defining quality of us humans.
Cahun not only found for herself a genderless voice, but also put with it a sexually ambivalent visage. During the 1920s she created a large body of photos with her pseudonymous co-conspirator
Marcel Moore (Suzanne Malherbe).
Having flirted with the surrealists, fired at political issues and frequented hospital lectures, Cahun and Moore's work was inherently nomadic as they seemed to have sought out and eventually rejected any long term destination for their radical ambiguity.
Even the amateur nature of Claude Cahun's photography can be seen as her ambivalence of the "professional artist."
The pseudonyms turned out to be useful camouflage during the 1940s when the Nazi's
the Channel Islands, where Cahun and Moore chose to live. Being neither male nor female, or perhaps both, the Nazi's struggled to identify and find these two anti-fascist propagandists. Many of their leaflets spoke directly to German soldiers, challenging their obeisance and encouraging them to defy the prison of conformity.
Both knew that the masquerade could only last so long, and on July 25, 1944 they were arrested in their homes. A surviving text from Cahun suggests that their discovery by the Nazi's came as no surprise:
"I had been
expecting (this event) almost daily for the past three years. So I just said,
'Good evening', and waited for them to state their business."
Their business was to arrest the women,
following which they were sentenced to 6 years in
prison as well as a death sentence. Irreverently, one of the women asked which of the two
sentences was to be served first. This indifference to their sentence was due to their having
already planned suicide in the event of capture. "In the event of arrest, suicide," Cahun wrote
"a mortal dose of barbiturates." However, the suicide attempts failed, and the death sentences were appealed resulting in harsh Nazi treatment during their time of imprisonment. In May of 1945 the Islands were liberated from German rule. Cahun and Moore returned to their home where the bulk of their work had been destroyed. Cahun died on December 8th, 1954. Moore endured without her partner for another 18 years, but eventually ended her own life in 1972.
Force-fitting historic figures into future ideas is a temptation that should be avoided, and it's impossible to know how Claude would have responded to the label of "Transhuman". Through her works and words we have some idea on how she felt about personal identity, which is central to most questions about the intersection of art, science and humanity. Should the day of the PostHuman visit us and questions about the absence of gender be asked, we can refer to the life of Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore. They might advise that the transcendental future find comfort in the existential ambiguity found between the rigid and uncompromising lines of male and female.