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IEET > Security > Rights > Neuroethics > FreeThought > Personhood > PostGender > Life > Innovation > Health > Vision > Psychology > Sociology > CyborgBuddha > Futurism > Technoprogressivism > Contributors > B. J. Murphy

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Time to Start Looking At ‘Cyborg’ As a Gender Identity

B. J. Murphy
By B. J. Murphy
Ethical Technology

Posted: Jan 28, 2015

I am a Cyborg. No, I don’t have any technological enhancements just yet, though I plan on doing so very soon with help from my friends within the DIY grinder community. Even then, my “choosing” to identify myself as a cyborg is more than a mere desire for cyborg enhancements, but is an identity that I feel deeply within myself – a longing to express myself in ways that my current biological body cannot.

Before adhering to Cyborgism, I took on the gender identity of Non-binary, because I always looked at “male” (masculine) and “female” (feminine) identities as being far too simplistic in understanding myself, due to the fact that I didn’t have static attributes of only one or the other. For me, it was both and more. So Non-binary was the closest that I could think of that properly conveyed my own identity.

Sexual orientation wise, I adhere to pansexuality. Meaning, like how pan-Africans adhere to the nationalist identity that pans the entire spectrum of African culture and history, pansexuals adhere to the identity that pans the entire spectrum of sexual orientation. Where bisexuals acquire a sexual preference for two or more gender identities (prominently both male and female), pansexuals acquire a sexual preference for all gender identities (male, female, Transgender MtF & FtM, androgynous, gender fluid, etc.) When you couple that with my Transhumanist ideology, my pansexuality is also enhanced to include cyborgs, and eventually post-humans and sentient machines.

Once I came to that realization of how my Transhumanist ideology enhanced my own sexual orientation, I knew I had to start enhancing my perspective of gender identity. By that time, I started thinking about what it meant to be a Cyborg. It’s a term that is defined differently through a whole range of different people. For UK cyborg citizen Neil Harbisson, he doesn’t believe that the term “cyborg” should be adhered to until you reach that point where cybernetic enhancements begin affecting your biological systems – i.e. whenever Neil Harbisson falls asleep, he now can have dreams where he’s hearing colors quite like how he does so when awake. But I have a problem with this definition of “cyborg,” because it negates what being a cyborg means in a more deep and personal level.

Cyborg, for me, is more than just your symbiotic relationship with technology; cyborg is a gender identity for the 21st century. A great example in understanding this would be the gender identity of Transgenderism. If you ask any Transgender male or female when they felt they were either male or female, they’ll tell you that they always felt this way. While phenotypically expressing the attributes of male, a Transgender female knows they’re actually female, regardless of what they currently look like at the moment. The same goes for those who are Transgender male. So to call a Transgender female a “male” would be not only erroneous in understanding their gender identity, it would subsequently be very offensive insofar that their gender identity is put into question. Cyborg is no different in my mind.

Yes, my current biological body doesn’t properly convey the Cyborg identity – that is, I don’t attain any cybernetic enhancements at this very moment – but deep inside myself I feel like a Cyborg. I have this innate drive to enhance myself and to acquire a much more grand relationship with technology, but can’t properly express this in any significant way due to my biological limitations. In fact, my current predicament reminds me of a fascinating quote by Battlestar Galactica’s character John Cavil, where he goes into a rant about how his biological body cannot convey the identity that he wishes to express.

“I don’t want to be human! I want to see gamma rays. I want to hear x-rays. And I want to smell dark matter. Do you see the absurdity of what I am? I can’t even express these things properly because I have to conceptualize complex ideas in this stupid, limiting spoken language. But I know I want to reach out with something other than these prehensile paws and feel the solar wind of a supernova flowing over me. I’m a machine, and I could know much more. I could experience so much more, but I’m trapped in this absurd body!” – John Cavil

​No quote properly addresses this “identity crisis” than that of John Cavil’s, because it conveys this unleashing of raw emotion – this longing for something much more that cannot be attained due to the absurd limitations of the human biological body. It’s a cry for help, really, for people to see him as he sees himself. This is no different from Transgender people who only wish for people to see them as they see themselves. Acceptance is a powerful expression; though, so is neglect. And when the Cyborg identity is neglected – whether it’s the simple refusal for friends and family to recognize you as a Cyborg or for government institutions to play a role in preventing you to express your Cyborg identity by outlawing cybernetic enhancements – the peril of gender identity neglect really starts sinking in.

Even today, it’s still an ongoing struggle for the Transgender community to acquire the backing of government for medical treatments to help in their period of transition. Similarly, for Cyborgs, we cannot attain cybernetic enhancements under a properly regulated format by the medical industry. This is due to the fact that surgeons are forced to neglect the Cyborg identity and deem it as too dangerous to help those wishing to express it. Even for UK cyborg citizen Neil Harbisson, he had to convince his surgeon that he wouldn’t release his/her name in order for him/her to do the operation for his Eyeborg antenna, which is attached to the back of his skull. In doing so, this surgeon has seriously risked their profession.

In conclusion, I would argue that it’s time that people began looking at Cyborgism as something much more than a relationship with technology, but equally a gender identity. In doing so, we begin pressuring the status quo and those government institutions who refuse to support and provide funding for the medical procedures needed for people to properly convey said identity. Until then, we’re left with only two choices: either we maintain our biologically limited bodies until we die or we step into the shadows of non-regulated DIY biohacking and put our lives on the line in order to acquire the phenotypical attributes we long for. I’m all for letting my friends within the DIY grinder community to help me in this period of transition from human to Cyborg, but even they long for the day that biohacking, and equally Cyborgism, is accepted and backed by our own government. 

B.J. Murphy is a Technoprogressive Transhumanist activist within the East Coast region of the U.S. He's worked with the asteroid mining company Planetary Resources as a member of their Planetary Community Vanguard, helping campaign funding for the ARKYD 100 Space Telescope, an open-source means of space exploration. He is a Writer, Editor, and Social Media Manager for and runs his own blog called The Proactionary Transhumanist. He's a co-author of both Longevitize!: Essays on the Science, Philosophy & Politics of Longevity and The Future of Business: Critical Insights On a Rapidly Changing World From 60 Futurists.
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‘Cyborg’ as a gender identity is an interesting angle I hadn’t considered before. I propose a new title prefix to replace Mr. and Ms. “Cy.”? “1/0”?
Your cyborghood is soon approaching, B.J.!

You are mischievously quoting Harbisson here. I’ve been following him for years and I’ve always heard him define cyborg in 3 different levels, 1. a biological status, 2. an identity and 3. a role. You’ve used his biological status definition in your article when your article is about identity. When Harbisson defines being a cyborg as an identity he defines it as a feeling regardless of biology. He has compared himself with transexuals in the talks I’ve attended and in interviews - he even uses the word cyborgstite (cyborg travestite) to describe how he felt before surgery. He’s the only person I know who has been drawing attention to the parallelisms between his experience as a cyborg and the experience of transgenders from the 1950-60s. So it’s so out of place that you would talk about Harbisson as someone who “negates what being a cyborg means in a more deep and personal level”.  He even has a foundation to defend cyborg rights! Are we talking about the same Neil Harbisson??

Thinking of cyborgs as a gender is not 21st century… it’s 1980s. This was heavily discussed after Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto. To talk about cyborgs as a gender is to fall in the tradition that there is gender.  Cyborgs are postgender.

The Hyper-Hetero Gender and Transcendence [Updated!]

As our virtual forms become more advanced and our physical forms become more voluntary and flexible, we should expect to see other gender identities emerge that are variations on heterosexuality. I imagine “hyper-heterosexual” identities forming, where heterosexuals fantasize about and experience romantic encounters in at least four combinations:

1. Male-Male
2. Female-Female
3. Female-Male (Regular-hetero)
4. Male-Female (Swapped-hetero)

Hyper-homosexual couples could also interact with the their homosexual partners in similar configurations.

I also imagine this leading to opportunities to explore different ethnic bodies and cultures by allowing partners to assume different bodies. Cultures could work to provide presentations of their way of being that can be voluntarily inhabited in nonthreatening ways that help to build deep empathy for those living in other ways.

Whatever genitals a human is born with, about half of the population is born with a different genital configuration. Perhaps those that are able to comprehend perspectives from other genders and ethnicities are more capable of imagining universal solutions to the problems that plague the human race.
My private sexual fantasies are hyper-heterosexual - where I’ve considered homosexuality and found it to be less desirable to me. I suspect that many others have had similar experiences.

I’m not so interested in using physical prosthetics to act out opposite sex roles, however, I am interested in the possibility of virtual reality technologies that may someday enable gentler, more discrete ways to simulate the experience of being the opposite sex.

Perhaps future technologies for modifying one’s physical body will even allow couples to voluntarily change their sexual configurations in ways that may not require permanent modifications. If you should consider experimenting with physical prosthetics or modifying your body - I encourage you to investigate other’s experiences and consider talking with physicians and counselors to make sure that you understand the probable consequences of your decision.

Thanks for this article! Gender is a difficult topic that I’m still learning to conceptualize and express about.

While I understand what you’re trying to achieve, I have to respectfully disagree. Cyborg has a clinical definition - that is, an organism with both biological and mechanical functioning parts. It’s a description of a physical entity.

Genders, on the other hand, are loosely defined groups of common social traits. You can be a man, a woman, neither, both or any other gender that fits you because these things are a description of your personality as seen by other humans.

Being a cyborg does not fit into the category of a gender - it requires physically changing your body. Just as you cannot have a gender of “amputee” because you wish to have a part of your body removed; you cannot have a gender of “cyborg” because you wish to have something added to it.

Now, I have no doubt that at some point, as cyborgs become more common, there will be one or more groups of social traits shared in common among cyborgs - that could be considered a gender. For now, I think you’re trying to apply something that doesn’t fit to the wrong category of activism.

@Rachel, if that is so, then I greatly welcome Harbisson’s views. The ones I’ve seen - albeit quite limited - are that of his descriptions of cyborgism from a physical standpoint. It’s great to know, however, that he looks at cyborgism from other angles as well. smile

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