Non-binary opens up the mind to, well, non binary everything! – An update by Lara Catone

What are we being called upon to do – or embody – as practitioners of ART in a more gender fluid world? How do we relate with gender when the old rules no longer apply? And the new rules are still taking shape. Can we have what feel like edgy conversations? Even when we might inadvertently say the wrong thing or choose the wrong pronoun…?

The topic of non binary gender has been bubbling at AR+

from the preGatherings of February, into the March e(CO)Retreat and beyond that, including the April post Gathering. Lara Catone and Verna Delauer started us up by facilitating an inquiry into the new frontier of Feminine and Masculine. We wondered what, if anything, the whole issue of non binary gender means for our ART. Turns out, quite a lot!

Lara Catone gives us an update:

“We started our inquiry in the context of the AR+ Gathering with an invitation to untangle the biological, social, and psychological aspects of masculine and feminine. Not a simple matter! But an important matter with all sorts of practical implications for those who work with people – perhaps especially young people – these days. According to a 2020 Gallup Poll, one in six Gen Z adults (18-24) identify as LGBT.

In my training as a sexuality educator I learned to differentiate biological sex from gender and to inquire into the assumptions that people made about me based on how they perceived my gender. I then noticed that the general use of the terms, feminine and masculine, to describe psychological constructs and/or archetypal energies, often collapsed into notions of gender. Yes, even as people go to great lengths to say that they are not the same.
My conscious inquiry into gender began when I was five or six years old. I was riding in the car with my younger sister and my single mom who worked full time as an advertising executive. Out of nowhere my sister piped up, “Mom, if there are managers, why are there no womangers.” This question, like a splash of cold water in my face, immediately brought into focus something I was sensing and hadn’t yet put into words. I felt enlivened by my sister’s question and added, “Yeah, and how come there have never been any women presidents?” (I then promptly changed my future profession from astronaut to president).

For as long as I can remember I have been told that I am too confident, too independent, too focused, too righteous. And that I should smile more. While I am all for constructive feedback in the right developmental moments, these comments have often been unsolicited; commentary on how I am not quite “feminine” enough. Unfortunately, I think for much of my life this created a socialized repression of some of my best qualities.
Differentiating sex, gender, and archetypal energy, and then zooming out to see our own gender conditioning and then how we might project assumptions about gender onto others – can serve as a practice of reflexivity for our ART. Where do we hold gender rigidly? Where are we more fluid with our notions of gender? The more of our authenticity, self-acceptance, and inner diversity that we can bring to our work, the more we are enabled to invite this for our stakeholders too.

Sex is based on biology and is determined by our genitals at birth. The possibilities inside the medical model of biological sex comprise male, female, and intersex.
Gender, on the other hand, is a social construct. It is determined by someone’s appearance and/or the gender identity that they claim. The western social conventions for gender have traditionally been woman and man (sometimes ascribed feminine and masculine respectively). As many of us find the traditional gender roles limiting, there are new visions of gender including nonbinary and gender fluid, in which one gender is not claimed or both are embraced.

The capacities that we are naming in our invocation of The Feminine and The Masculine often allude to an assumed kind of wholeness together. Yet, there is a lot of room for interpretation when we use these rather vague, and all encompassing, terms. The archetypal energy or psychological constructs that underlie Feminine and Masculine are social constructs of sorts. Inquiring into where these deeper ideas come from, and what we specifically mean when we use them, can be a useful endeavor.

In our current cultural transitions, these concepts call for more, and better, questions. Engaging the inquiry for ourselves is more important than finding immediate answers. I offer the following inquiries from my developmental edge:

  • What are the particular qualities and developmental capacities that live inside notions of archetypal feminine and masculine?
  • How might we all benefit by naming these qualities and capacities more directly and specifically (and trying them on for ourselves)?
  • How might we find more social, economic and ecological balance if our systems aligned more with the cyclical nature of our (female) bodies? What are women, with their complex hormonal cycles, repressing/suppressing in order to function in our current patriarchal inflexible schedules in education and work? What are the long-term costs of this suppression?
  •  How can our organizations and economic system become more equitable by truly supporting and balancing the cycles of pregnancy, birth, and parenting?
  • How might a re-storying of gender support us to be in deeper relationship with the life-giving force of eros through our developmental friendships and ART?”

These questions became seeds of our discussion before, during and after the eCORetreat.

Participants reported …

  • “I’m aware that things are shifting with gender but I haven’t been able to have a conversation about it.”
  • “I’m afraid I’m going to offend or hurt someone.”

In reflection.

The eCO Retreat offered the beginnings of a space to have a vulnerable conversation about a topic whose depth and importance we’re only beginning to understand. It’s not always easy. In the Gatherings we were a multigenerational, gender diverse, cross-cultural group. 20 countries were represented. Naturally we found differences and discomforts. For example, we found that the growing practice in the United States of asking someone their gender identity and pronouns, would be downright offensive in the work context of our colleague from the Philippines. While in other cultures gender fluidity is a given.

As a part of our core identity, discussing gender clearly encompasses and touches into our deepest feelings of fear, shame, trauma, confusion, and resistance. The conversation can shift from concrete to subtle to avoidance, all contributing to the slipperiness of the topic. One participant, themselves non-binary, invited us into the fun of finding gender confusing, but in a most delightful way!

The primary inquiries we were left with – and which we now invite you to take on – include:

  • How can our conversational space – our protainer – safely hold the many layers of this topic?
  • What is our tension around gender really about?

Perhaps the notion of non-binary opens up the mind to, well, non binary everything!

Yes the instability is scary. But think of the co-creativity!