Nope, I didn't make that word up. A quick Google search reveals 156 pages which reference it. I don't know if they mean the same thing I do, however.
When I use the term, I'm thinking of a characteristic that might apply to transhumans. So whereas humans have masculine and/or feminine qualities, transhumans may possess transmasculine and/or transfeminine qualities. Plus there are likely to be other options that we can't quite get our heads around yet, seeing as we're physiologically tied to a dichotomy which allows us to reproduce and which has played into how we organize society at the most fundamental level -- and which has therefore been significantly reinforced by our own societal structures over the past many thousands of years.
But as humanity undergoes significant changes, how much of all that will change, and how rapidly? A plausible future is one in which human beings, or rather transhuman / posthuman intelligences, resident in a silicon or subsequent substrate and largely (or totally) freed from the limits of the previous substrate -- including the template of human physiology -- switch genders as easily as we change clothes. Or it might be a better analogy to say that they will switch genders as easily as we change hats, since most of us consider hats to be pretty optional and often choose not to wear one at all.
Now that's a pretty alien world for me to try to imagine. But we already have hints of it in our current substrate. Transvestites and transsexuals both represent attempts by human beings at our current level of development to define gender, or at least some aspects thereof, on their own terms. But these early forays into the gender-optional lifestyle will be seen as crude and primitive by gender-switching intelligences living in what we would think of as virtual, electronic worlds. And I think it's fair to guess that the increased ease with which that kind of change can be made will only make it a much more popular option than it is now. Consider this recent news story:
Sam and Kat met in the virtual world Second Life. And although they shared all kinds of intimacies in Second Life, the real people have never laid eyes on each other.
That didn’t seem to matter to Sam. He fell pretty hard for his avatar sweetie. They bonded intellectually, emotionally, and yes, thanks to Second Life animations, even physically.
Here’s where it gets complicated. Unlike his avatar, which is female, in real life, Sam is a man. A married man. And the person behind the blonde, curvaceous Kat? Married. And, quite possibly, a man, too.
We're still in the very early days of this sort of thing. Second Life can be a compelling world for many of its inhabitants, but they can't really live there the way we live in the real world. Not yet, anyway. Some would argue that the residents can't achieve the same level of identification with their avatars as they have with their "real" selves resident in their real bodies. That part I'm less sure of. Fundamentally, our lives take place in our brains. We can feed our brains with real experiences in the form of sensory input from our environment and the people around us, or we can feed it with wholly imaginary input, or we can compromise between the two -- most of us do this -- or we can find an alternative, which is what people who live some portion of their lives in places like Second Life have done.
As human beings from this substrate move into the next substrate, questions will arise as to the meaning and relevance of terms that are hugely significant in our present-day lives. What do the words "male," "female," "heterosexual," homosexual," etc. mean to an intelligence which can experience a good deal of its life without reference to a physical body? Or that no longer even has a physical body? And what will those terms mean to a subsequent generation which originates in the new substrate, beings that don't necessarily start out with gender as a fundamental part of their identity?
I think the differences between those two generations will be enormous. For example, if I ever move into the new substrate, I expect to pretty much remain a guy. From where I sit today, I can't imagine wanting to switch to a female identity. Of course, even today in Second Life, I don't change much about myself.
Phil Speculaas is pretty much just an electronic version of Phil Bowermaster. I didn't give myself wings or re-make myself as a translucent plasma being or any of that kind of stuff -- much less make myself into a woman. And, yes, I would consider the third option a much more significant change. But that's me. Old substrate. The two guys(?) in the story above are a little more flexible than I am on some of these issues, but maybe not as flexible as they would like to think. I don't know any of the facts of the case, so I cheerfully admit that the following is purely speculative and will gladly admit the error should subsequent facts emerge (or if they already have and I haven't seen them.)
It's not hard to imagine a guy taking on a female persona in Second Life because he thinks girl-on-girl action is kinda hot...so long as the girl with whom he's having said action is actually a girl. Here we could have an example of two guys caught in a rather absurd trap, where they don't mind being virtual lesbians but might have a HUGE problem with being virtual gay guys. Again, I don't know that those are the facts in this case, but it's pretty easy to imagine such a scenario.
All of which is an extremely long-winded way of saying that -- like it or not -- we're going to carry a good deal of thoughtspace into the new substrate about gender and sex. Part of that will be our notions of masculinity and femininity. A fascinating discussion on these topics has ensued in the comments to Stephen's recent review of The Dangerous Book for Boys. Stephen explains how a book that encourages boys to engage in activities that naturally tend to be appealing to boys has somehow managed to become controversial for doing so. Reading the review (and having followed some of the extensive coverage on the book over at InstaPundit) I took the naive position that there must be less to this controversy than meets the eye.
The comments proved me wrong. Stephen pointed to a thread on Amazon in which the following delightful assessment surfaced:
What are they talking about 'de-masculination' of men. Masculinity is based solely on pushing women down, to prop up some exaggerated sense of self about themselves. Its all bull. Only the weak need illusions like that.
Not to be outdone, some readers of the Speculist responded with some equally strident thoughts, such as this:
When applied to boys, feminization is a nasty word. They are not designed to be feminized. The attempt to do so will create wimps and thugs, and a lack of well adjusted men (strong, stable and capable of appropriate treatment of women).
But hold on: feminization isn't just bad for boys:
I think "feminization" is bad for girls too. I think it's just a special form of consumer-ization based on the sterotype that women like to shop; let's teach girls to shop too. (all the way to games about the being at the mall)
I have to give special props to reader Jaafar who brought us into the neighborhood where I think these discussions always end up living, name-calling:
I posted a positive review of this book, which DID include the key sentence, "Men and women are not interchangable parts." A few days later, a really nasty commented zinged in, alleging (like one of the posters here) that her DAUGHTER had fallen madly in love with the book etc. etc. and so forth.
Rather than reply with the obvious fact that -- if the report was true, that made her daughter a tomboy -- I simply deleted the review, and the comment went with it.
Jaafar doesn't go into the details of what made the comment nasty, unless disagreeing with him is nasty in and of itself -- or perhaps airing one's dirty laundry about having a tomboy DAUGHTER who likes to engage in the activities described in the book is disreputable enough to be called "nasty." But the distaste with which he tosses out the word tomboy is not an unfamiliar one.
I was born in 1962 and attended public schools in the 1960's and 1970's. So depending on whom you ask, I either suffered under the early stages of a dehumanizing PC agenda that was trying to "feminize" me, or I enjoyed the last few halcyon days of a golden era when boys were allowed to be boys. In point of fact, I think the latter is closer to the truth, but let me just point out one important feature of that lost golden age: it could pretty much suck for boys who weren't terribly interested in boy stuff.
Personally, I hated sports when I was a kid. I read a lot, and very indiscriminately -- meaning that I cheerfully read books that my older sister was reading or had just finished, even though many of these were "girls'" books. When I was in the 5th grade, I wanted an Easy Bake oven for Christmas. It's hard to imagine in the age of Emeril what a stigma there once was around a boy showing an interest in cooking. For these points of divergence with mainstream boyhood, I was rewarded with a label which -- unlike tomboy -- was never considered complimentary: I was a sissy, later a queer or fag. Some thought it cute for a girl to be a tomboy; nobody ever thought it was cute for a boy to be a sissy.
What I would have really liked when I was a kid was for other people to leave me alone and let me be who I was. But no such luck -- and I don't think the peer pressure to be "masculine" had as much to do with trying to raise a just and noble and manlike society as it did preventing boys from growing up to be homos. I was always getting crap about how I walked. There was this bizarre belief that boys who "walked funny" had started down a one-way highway that ended in Queersville.
But as we all know, the opposite of crazy is still crazy. And in this case, we get craziness on a much vaster scale. My longed-for world of live-and-let-live never really came about. Instead, rather than persecuting the few boys who don't have traditional masculine inclinations, we've put a system in place that persecutes that vast majority of boys who do have such inclinations. Progress!
The persecution I suffered -- actually, I'm uncomfortable with that word. I don't want to cheapen that word. Some people in the world suffer real persecution. Being mocked on the playground for being a nancy-boy is no cakewalk, but it ain't persecution, either. The stigmatization that I suffered then, and the oppressive PC nonsense that boys are subjected to today, stem from the same problem -- highly negative views of what we mean by "masculinity" and "femininity." Note that in the above-quoted comments, both masculinity and femininity are held accountable for human brutality. And being feminized is apparently something we should wish on neither boys nor girls.
You see this all the time. Ever heard of testosterone poisoning? Ha ha ha. Ever heard the theory that society is falling apart because it's becoming feminine? That one is a little less hilarious, I'm afraid. Prager makes some good points, but the idea that there's something "feminine" about a society throwing reason and justice away in favor of weakness and emotion is about as helpful as that old feminist chestnut about how all heterosexual sex is rape.
I don't know what the future holds in store for the concepts of masculinity and femininity even in this substrate, much less any subsequent ones. I do believe, however, that the concepts will be more useful for us if we begin to see them as positives rather than stand-ins for the things we hate the most. Using "femininity" to mean weakness and cowardice gets us no further than using "masculinity" to mean vulgarity and brutality. To take a more positive approach, perhaps we could define masculinity as physical courage; a desire to build things; an enthusiasm for solving problems and overcoming challenges. And then maybe we could define femininity as a desire to nurture others; to create beauty; to build community. (And those definitions are probably way off base, but let's not get hung up in the specifics for just a moment.)
If those are the things that it means to be masculine and feminine, then -- irrespective of natural inclinations, which will still have most men going one way and most women going the other -- there is nothing to be feared in encouraging either masculine or feminine behavior in either boys or girls. Since the two are complementary, it would seem that the more you have of each, the better of you're likely to be. Add to that a societal default position of letting people be what they are, absent doing any harm to others (I know -- I'm dreaming) and it seems to me that we have the beginnings of a recipe for both transmasculinity and transfemininity, two different terms which might end up referring to the exact same thing. Namely, a quality of masculinity or femininity which has grown to include what's best from both of of these important sets of characteristics.
Interestingly, from that perspective, it's possible that our concepts of masculinity and femininity will prove more persistent and durable -- because they are ultimately more valuable -- than our concepts of gender and sex.
UPDATE: Thanks for the link, Glenn!