One aspect of myself that I’ve talked about less here is that I’m trained as an ecologist. And one of the coolest concepts that I learned in my ecology degree program was how ecological niches can be visualized as an n-dimensional hypervolume.
Now that’s a lot of sciency jargon there but I’ll break it down for you. In ecology, one of the most important features of an animal is how it matches up to a specific set of environmental conditions and resources it needs to find it’s unique place in the ecosystem that doesn’t completely compete with another species. And the number of factors involved are so numerous that they are theoretically infinite. Which means that you can’t really map out niches on a 2 dimensional or even 3 dimensional drawing. You need a near infinite number of dimensions (n here mathematically representing the number of dimensions) to accurately portray it.
Here’s a visual representation of an n-dimensional hypervolume (source)
The reason I bring it up is because this is how I think of gender. To a cis person, gender might seem like a simple, 2 dimensional concept. For most people who haven’t really thought about it, there are only 2 main categories and if you’re lucky, some basic variation within them. There might be some outliers or people that switch boxes but overall pretty basic.
Well for most of the queer and trans people I know, especially nonbinary folks, gender is a multifaceted abstract concept. Depending on the person you talk to, it can be static, fluid, a void, or something else entirely. But I don’t know a whole lot of nonbinary people who really describe it in a form you could easily represent in a 2 dimensional drawing. Now maybe 3 dimensions is enough but I think that when you look at all the different sets of expectations, behaviors, ways of thinking, ways of being, feelings, attitudes, context in which you are deciding, etc, that you have a hypervolume. Or in this case, a hypergender.
I’m sure that I’m not the first person to conceptualize it this way. Some quick searching shows that Asmaa Guedira wrote a bit about this idea starting in 2016. But I wanted to share my nerdery about how my concepts of ecology and gender have overlapped. Because even though I don’t work in ecology (thanks recession), the concepts I learned there have helped me synthesize knowledge by looking at a bigger picture.
There is so much diversity of gender out there in the world. Just here in Seattle I know people who are agender or gendervoid and don’t feel any strong sense of gender. I know folks who are genderfluid and switch presentation and pronouns depending on the day or mood or context. I know people who solidly feel like they are a third gender halfway between male and female. There are people who are demigender where they partially identify with a particular gender and partially not. And then there are of course hundreds of other concepts from cultures around the world, some of which have been around for thousands of years.
One of the foundational concepts that you learn in ecology is that diversity begets stability. The more species you have in more niches interacting with each other, the more stable, resilient, and resistant to extreme disturbances the ecosystem is going to be. In other words, we need all this diversity because it makes humanity greater as a whole. If you only have one or even two genders, races, cultures, etc at the table, you are missing huge chunks of human experience that are probably relevant to whatever you are discussing or deciding.
I hear a lot of people saying that “we don’t need labels” or that we are trying to create a world without gender. Which is exactly the opposite of what I’m trying to do. I want to build a world with an infinite number of genders co-existing in an ecosystem of human experience. It can feel at times like having so many labels makes gender irrelevant or meaningless but for many of us, having words that we can put to our experience is so empowering and freeing. Especially in the modern age of the internet, it gives us the ability to find people like us and the language to share what this important part of life feels like.