“”Does science back it up?
No, but why does that matter?Scientists have better things to do then to prove all genders. And there is no proof against us though.
|—Tumblr user Pro-MOGAI-Trans exemplifying the standard of justification associated with xenogenders.|
| Part of a series on|
|Spectra and binaries|
Xenogenders are neologisms formed by combining plants, animals, objects, concepts and fictional characters with the suffix -gender, claimed by their adherents to be non-binary genders. Xenogenders originate in MOGAI, a fringe online community adjacent to the mainstream LGBTQ community that ostensibly exists in reaction against gatekeeping; the term was first coined by Tumblr user baaphomet, a probable ufologist, who was responsible for creating tens of other MOGAI terms for made-up genders and sexual orientations with which they did not themselves identify. Despite MOGAI being widely regarded as problematic, xenogenders became quasi-mainstream in around June 2020, losing their MOGAI connotations and becoming associated with neurodiversity and autistic people's "unique relationship to gender."
There is not a shred of evidence that so-called xenogenders are actually genders. Criticism of xenogenders is silenced by accusations of transphobia, transmedicalism and, because of the association with autism, ableism. Requests for evidence are generally met with information about the claims of xenogender advocates without any attempt to support these claims with evidence, followed by an insistance that, as an "identity", xenogenders are exempt from evidence-based challenges. The scant available explanations of xenogenders are mostly not even wrong: those from before June 2020 rely on misunderstood postmodernist jargon and a specific quote from GenderSpectrum.org; later explanations are based on the principle that neurodivergent people have "a unique relationship to gender".[better source needed][note 1]
The majority of "xenogendered people" also identify simultaneously with a real gender identity, and most xenogenders are simply a name, a pride flag and some strange pronouns, acting much more like some kind of an aesthetic than a true gender. Transmedicalists and ace exclusionists are the most vocal opponents to xenogenders, arguing that they incite mockery and hostility towards the LGBTQ community. Despite crossing from MOGAI to the fringes of the mainstream LGBTQ community in June 2020, xenogenders remain an obscure concept and are not widely recognised even within the community.
As a fringe MOGAI concept
The term xenogender was coined in 2014 by a Tumblr user, baaphomett, who also invented at least eighteen other nonsensical "gender terms". User baaphomett thought that xeno- meant "alien" and intended xenogender to mean something like "alien gender"; in reality, xeno- means foriegn or Other, as in xenophobia or xenoglossy, and the confusion rather embarrassingly suggests that baaphomett was probably involved with ufology, where the "biology of aliens" is referred to as xenobiology. His original definition really played up the alien aspect, defining a xenogender as "a gender identity that cannot be contained by human understandings of gender; more concerned with crafting other methods of gender categorization and hierarchy such as those relating to animals, plants, or other creatures/things."
User baaphomett's eighteen terms were coined in the context of the then-nascent MOGAI (Marginalised Orientations, Gender Identities and Intersex) community, an ostensibly less-gatekeeping alternative to the LGBTQ community that emerged in late 2013 and early 2014 on Tumblr. Wanting to fuck anime characters and being pro-ana are two depressingly typical examples of MOGAI orientations and genders, and surprisingly enough, it has always had a problem with paedophilia and incest, which are sometimes, though by no means unanimously, condemned. MOGAI as a result occupies a fringe position in relation to the modern community, with most of the mainstream LGBTQ community disliking them. A large amount of people who brand themselves under MOGAI (and by extension xenogenders) tend however to be teenagers, who are simply looking for an in-group to belong to, with most maturing out of it and typically identifying themselves using more conventional gender identifications (such as non-binary) as they grow up.
As pseudo-mainstream bullshit
For reasons that are as yet unclear, xenogenders suddenly crossed into the mainstream in mid-2020, associated with neurodiversity and the pseudoscientific notion that autistic people "experience gender differently" in such a way that they often identify their gender in plants, animals, objects and concepts. This explicit (and ironically rather ableist) link between the weirdness of xenogenders and the unique perspective of autistic people does not seem to have existed when xenogenders were restricted to the MOGAI community.[note 2]
Evidence and justification
“”Things exist without being prove.
|—What are Xenogenders + Two Common Questions|
Since around 2015, about a year after baaphomett originally included xenogenders on his list of MOGAI gender neologisms, there have been some attempts to explain xenogenders more formally. These divide into three categories:
- Arguments based on an out-of-context quotation from GenderSpectrum.org that was intended to illustrate the existence of non-binary people.
- Arguments based on critical theory, often the conclusively disproven theory that gender is a social construct.
And, since mid-2020:
- Arguments based on the rather ableist premise that the weirdness of xenogenders is a corollary of autistic people's way of seeing the world.
That one overly long quotation
- "Children who see themselves as “neither” will often speak of how regardless of whether they’re with a group of boys or girls, they feel like they don’t fit. This is not necessarily a sad feeling. They just see the kids around them and know that they are not “that.” Kids in this category often appear androgynous, and will frequently answer the question “are you a boy or a girl” by saying their name (“I’m Devon”) or by identifying themselves as animals. When asked to draw self portraits, they will portray themselves as rainbows, or unicorns, or another symbol of their choosing."
- —GenderSpectrum.org's FAQs in 2014, now removed.
According to xenogender advocates, this quotation "proves" the existence of xenogenders. Presumably, the intended contention is that children "identifying themselves as animals" when asked their genders supports the idea that genders based around identification with non-human entities exist. It is not difficult to see that this is rubbish. Children "identify themselves as animals" all the time in ways that have nothing to with gender; child psychologist Professor Tracy Gleason explained in the New York Times in 2016 that this is due to children developing theory of mind. In context, it is clear that the example given is supposed to illustrate the child evading the question "are you a boy or a girl?", illustrating that they do not identify with either label; no other mention of identification with non-human "genders" is made anywhere else on the GenderSpectrum.org site.
Furthermore, even if the evidence in the quotation were more helpful to xenogender advocates, its use would still not prove anything. An archived FAQ on a charity's website is no reliable evidence for child behaviour. In addition, in 2015, when this quote was first mined, xenogenders were still associated solely with the hyper-fringe MOGAI. Is it really plausible that when he was coining eighteen "gender terms" at once, baaphomett was thinking carefully about child psychology in relation to the UFO-based one?
Critical theory woo
“”Vee expressed a reluctance to identify as openly xenogender: “I tend to use [these labels] in a low-key way because I’m nervous about being attacked as a ‘Tumblr special snowflake.’” (...) Criticizing identities that are ‘too out there’ is one way that people try (consciously or not) to preserve cisheteronormativity. The problem exists even in communities fighting for equal rights: “The sad truth is that we always seem to create feminist and queer movements designed to challenge sexism on the one hand, while simultaneously policing gender and sexuality ... on the other”.
|—Feraday, Christine. For lack of a better word: neo-identities in non-cisgender, non-straight communities on Tumblr. Toronto: Ryerson University (2014).|
In what is actually a featured article (one can only assume the bar must be so low it's a tavern in Hades), the Nonbinary Wiki explains that "When people talk about nonbinary gender, they often find that there aren't any words for their experiences. This is called a lexical gap. In order to fill a lexical gap, this wiki takes up "xenogender" as an umbrella term for an entire category of nonbinary genders that are defined by characteristics with no relation whatsoever to "female" or "male". An entry on Queer Undefined, a crowdsourced LGBTQ dictionary, similarly explains "My personal perspective on this in regards to my gender, as a xenogender person, is that due to the impacts of the gender binary on mine and others' perceptions, there are genders that exist outside the binary but are extremely difficult to put into language and explain due to how heavily the binary and binary perceptions have been ingrained into society. So the best way to conceptualize and explain my gender is through aesthetic terms and things I associate it with since I don't feel that current language and binary perceptions can actually put my gender into words in a suitable manner."
Arguments from autism
In June 2020, justifying "catgender", Twitter user @bunsolvd explained that "Gender is a social construct, meaning that it will be perceived differently by neurodivergent folk. Thus, xenogenders are extremely difficult to comprehend if you are outside of the autism spectrum." This is a fairly typical line of reasoning for post-2020 xenogender activism. What bunsolvd is really arguing is:
P1: Gender is a social construct.
P2: Social constructs are perceived differently by neurodivergent folk.
C: Gender is perceived differently by neurodivergent folk.
P1 is a faulty premise. The theory that "gender is a social construct" has not yet been scientifically proven, however, on a cultural basis, some genders such as non-binary and two-spirits do exist. P2 is also at least a little shaky; a 2005 study showed that autistic students integrated into social structures in schools in ways that were indistinguishable from their neurotypical peers, which certainly challenges the assertion. It would seem more consistent with the clinical understanding of autism to suggest that social constructs are understood once they have been explained in black-and-white terms; the barrier would be one of communication, not understanding. An investigation into gender identity in autism in 2018 found that autistic people often had atypical gender identification but then emphasised that "gender identification is a distinct construct from gender identity" and finding no evidence that autistic people had atypical relations with the latter, directly challenging the conclusion here in relation to xenogenders.[ad hoc]
And then, bunsolvd's argument continues:
P1: Gender is perceived differently by neurodivergent folk.
P2 (unstated): Xenogenders are a corollary of this different perception.
P3 (unstated): Non-autistic folk find it extremely difficult to comprehend the way autistic people perceive gender.
C: Non-autistic folk find it extremely difficult to comprehend xenogenders.
As shown above (where it was C), P1 is a junk premise. The inclusion of P2 as an unstated premise is begging the question—the reason why non-autistic people can't understand why autism leads to xenogenders is because autism leads to xenogenders.
Also in June 2020, Twitter user STUCK_H0M3 claimed "Xenogenders are really important. Autistic folks spend their whole lives being different to 'the norm' and finding our solace in things/concepts/etc, and that is a core aspect of our identities that we have the inalienable right to express through our gender." Ironically, this captures succintly the very reason why xenogenders are bullshit—from the outset, they have existed as means of "expressing oneself", rather than as meaningful labels to refer to non-binary gender identities. Not every "core aspect of [one's] identity" is necessarily a reflection of one's gender; suggesting that every personality trait must necessarily be tied to one's gender would actually be a weirdly conservative stance that insists on gender stereotypes for ostensibly emancipatory reasons. Furthermore, "right" is rather irrelevant to the matter. Gender is mainly a behavioral reality, not entirely a social construct. [ad hoc]
Since xenogenders crossed from being a fringe MOGAI concept to a quasi-mainstream LGBTQ concept in mid-2020, the main resources for explaining and loosely justifying said concept have been educational 'carrds' (small micro-websites made using the site carrd.co), often shared on Twitter.
Created on 13 June 2020, one carrd in widespread circulation identifies itself as having been created by Twitter user dykeyuns. This carrd quotes baaphomett's original alien-orientated definition of xenogenders verbatim, and claims that "a lot of neurodivergent people identify with xenogenders because they have a complicated relationship with gender, and xenogenders are some of the best ways they can express themselves. along with that, some people with trauma use xenogenders as an escape and as a way to get away from their trauma." It also trots out the usual line about how you have to go along with it even if you don't understand, and adds that "if you think xenogenders make the [LGBTQ] community look like a joke, you don't belong", claiming that those who oppose xenogenders are homophobes (as opposed to the more normal cries of transphobia or ableism). None of this is novel or addresses any of the real concerns.
- See the use of the term lexical gap here, "Xenogender" at Nonbinary Wiki, which would make any linguist's eye twitch.
- See, for example, this whole explanatory and justification post about xenogenders that doesn't once mention autism or neurodiversity from late 2019.
- Pro-MOGAI-Trans. "What are Xenogenders + Two Common Questions" pro-mogai-trans.tumblr.com, 21 August 2019. Web. Accessed 15 June 2020.
- This tweet from June 2020 even tries to deny that there was ever any connection in the first place, saying "please dont call it MOGAI . MOGAI is super harmful and shit lmao . xenogender is specifically for like. autistic ppl and their complex relationship w gender."
- theyreid (March 3rd 2021). "all about xenogenders/neogenders".
- MOGAIpedia, "gender is indefinable, and therefore definable as anything"
- masterpost of genders coined by baaphomett
- Wiktionary entry on xeno-
- Oxford Dictionary definition of xeno-
- Transsexual differences caught on brain scan
- Male-to-Female Transsexuals Have Female Neuron Numbers in a Limbic Nucleus
- Transsexual differences caught on brain scan
- Male-to-Female Transsexuals Have Female Neuron Numbers in a Limbic Nucleus
- 5 GENDERS: the story of the native american two-spirits - The Numinous
- Boutot, E. Amanda, and Diane P. Bryant. “Social Integration of Students with Autism in Inclusive Settings.” Education and Training in Developmental Disabilities, vol. 40, no. 1, 2005, pp. 14–23. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23879768. Accessed 15 June 2020.
- Cooper, Kate et al. “Gender Identity in Autism: Sex Differences in Social Affiliation with Gender Groups.” Journal of autism and developmental disorders vol. 48,12 (2018): 3995-4006. doi:10.1007/s10803-018-3590-1