Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Digital Hermaphrodite

Hermaphrodite; the term smacks of disorder and confusion to the gender and sex-oriented world humanity creates and expects. The name itself, derived from "Hermes" and "Aphrodite," reveals this complicated nature and represents a masculine and feminine union divined by the gods. Much of society's reluctance to accept this figure is derived in part from its ambiguous nature and inconclusive representation within literature. Yet, what if literature, both formal and informal, became the means whereby the idea of a masculine and feminine knowledge could be brought to life in a socially acceptable manner? The implications of such a claim imply that one person, a writer, could utilize the medium of literature and, through words and associated imagery, become one physical body representing the idea of hermaphroditism, a wholeness of knowledge achieved through understanding which is both masculine and feminine in nature.

Language used by an individual transmits more communic
ation than the words themselves give meaning to. Though text itself is genderless, it has been found that the use of certain words and linguistic structures are more frequently utilized by one gender or another. This fact was noted in an article exploring gender identity in relation to blogs when it reports, "The communication patterns of males and females often differ, with males using a direct and forceful style while females use a more indirect and intimate style of interaction" and continues on giving specific examples of such communication patterns. This is one fact central to a writer exploring a gender other than his or her own. Words themselves can be used to reveal the chosen masculinity or femininity of the author, whether or not that gender is in accordance with the author's sex. Words are not the only form of communication which contain gender indicators. This being the case, there is another factor which plays a prominent role in assigning gender to a text, visual appearance.

Text constitutes what is read and visual appearance of and surrounding a text contributes to how a text is read. The Renaissance, a prominently homosocial and male dominated society, makes for rich studies of emerging ideas concerning gender. These surfacing ideas were brought to social consciousness through the transvestite theater whose basis played upon this notion of visual appearance indicating how a text was to be interpreted in relation to gender bias. Costumes assigned gender to the actor and their lines regardless of sex. Elizabeth Tudor herself, master of this social transvestism, integrated this theatrical practice within her reign as Queen of England one of her more noted "performances" occurring during her speech in reaction to the threat of the Spanish Armada.

Fast forward nearly four hundred years and this same principle of appearance influencing the reading of a text through a gender-oriented paradigm has made its mark on the modern social scene through an interesting medium, the World Wide Web. This virtual reality is the social stage of the twenty-first century. Social networking sites become ideal forums utilized to explore gender identities by creating avatars, electronic images that represent a computer user. On this virtual platform, users can masquerade as any gender
identity they choose and perform for their virtual audience accordingly. Similar to the Renaissance's transvestite disguise, men can take on female avatars and vise-versa with the online community none the wiser. The transvestite theater's use of gender-oriented language and visual appearance to interpret a text is echoed in the modern century's blogosphere creating a socially accepted forum for exploration of gender orientation.

The implications of such a forum become apparent when seen in the light of the hermaphrodite and the ideas this figure promotes. This androgynous being, both male and female anatomically speaking, possesses a complete, unbiased state of knowledge and is the ideal state of human knowledge, possessing both a masculine and feminine gender paradigm with which to understand the world. The workings of the transvestite theater are echoed in today's modern blogosphere, both working as social platforms creating a stage wher
e a mindset containing wholeness of gender-based perspective and knowledge becomes possible from a gender-oriented mind.

A/N: This is the first in a series of three blog posts which explores the idea of the hermaphrodite as related to the Renaissance and modern digital age.
  1. The Digital Hermaphrodite
  2. The Hermaphroditic Sovereign: Renaissance Exploration of Gender
  3. Avatars: Exploration of Gender in the Digital Age

1 comment:

  1. Becca, this is incredible.
    You bring up some verrrrry interesting points. Brava!