Last June, NPR reported that the “end of gender” was near, citing everything from gender-neutral prom courts to clothing ads to suggest that perhaps people aren’t so hung up on the male/female gender system anymore.
Sure, smashing the binary is number one on my list of priorities, but I was skeptical of NPR’s genderpocalypse. Selling “boyfriend jeans” to women isn’t going to stop gender-variant folks from getting kicked out of public bathrooms, and RuPaul’s Drag Race won’t prevent transgender people from being disproportionately arrested or detained.
But NPR provided evidence of some more practical advancements:
- A Muskegon, Michigan, high school made last year’s prom court gender-netural after denying a transgender student the homecoming king crown the year before
- Last year the State Department began replacing “father” and “mother” on U.S. passports with gender-neutral “Parent One” and “Parent Two,” helping non-traditional parents outside of the male/female combo get passports for their kids.
Nine months later, evidence of crumbling gender constructs keeps rolling in:
- A Wisconsin law barring state funding for hormone treatments or SRS for transgender prisoners was struck down, a decision upheld by the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the case last week.
- Gender-bending Justin from Ugly Betty has been replaced by Roscoe of the Showtime series, House of Lies. Roscoe was Sandy in his school’s production of Grease, thanks to his father’s support.
- Then, of course, there’s Marc Jacobs model Andrej Pejic modeling womenswear, cultural reverence for androgynous fashion icons like Lady Gaga and Rooney Mara of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and stores like American Apparel peddling unisex clothing in cities and suburban malls across America.
But despite the growing trend of gender neutrality, the response to disappearing gender constructs in politics and in popular culture isn’t always positive. Columnists like Melanie Phillips believe that upsetting gender roles will bring on an “increasing tide of misery.” So how does participation in “gender-neutral” culture contribute to “the end of gender?” How does the backlash against the coming “gender apocalypse” make existing gender constructs all the more powerful? And which side is winning?
For the next two months, I’ll explore everything from parenting to public policy, from fashion to fandom, to discover whether the end of gender is really on its way and what it means.
Hold onto your underpants—the end is near.