Crossing Genders is a Political Act- The Transgender Body as Representing Hopeful Xenofeminist Futurity
“First comes the realization that we are not limited by our sexual anatomy. Then comes the awakening that we are not limited by our anatomy at all” -Martina Rothblatt, as quoted by Reid ( 2021)

In this essay I will make the case that gender transition represents a wider hopeful futurity, encompassing ideas of technological optimism, self design and anti-naturalism. I will be drawing heavily from the fields of xenofeminism and transhumanism
Helen Hester, a member of Laboria Cuboniks defines Xenofeminism (XF) as an attempt to “Articulate a feminism that is fit for an era of complexity, globality and technology”, and to further propose a “gender politics that fits within that’ (2021). Xenofeminism rejects any kind of contemporary neo-luddism, instead embracing technology as a tool to be used for “technomaterialist, anti-naturalist, gender abolitionist” (2021) ways of living and being.
I will define technomaterialism here as a critical interest in technologies as an activist tool, while confronting a contemporary reality and emphasising the more obviously material elements of interaction and intervention.
Donna Haraway’s 1991 collection of essays Simians, Cyborgs and Women draws parallels between the attitudes towards apes, women, and cyborgs as hybrids, sitting at respective intersections between “man” and the animal, the technological, and the non-male. To Haraway, it is critical that we assess the “union of the political and physiological” (p.7), as the physiological has consistently been used throughout history to justify domination based on differences seen as “natural, given, inescapable and therefore moral.”(P.8). Laboria Cuboniks, the group behind the Xenofeminist Manifesto (2015) asserts the same point- that biology has historically been a tool for the justification of oppression- particularly that of women, however they provide a potential solution:
“If nature is unjust, change nature!”
-The Xenofeminist Manifesto (2015)
Very often, transhumanism is viewed as a promethean male endeavour; pro-market, libertarian, Silicon Valley venture capitalists such as Elon Musk fashioning new sets of metaphorical Icarean wings in pursuit of profit (Reid, 2021). However, thinkers such as Haraway advocate for this boundary porosity between human and technology as a site of socialist-feminist potential. Like the throughline between “civilised” man and “uncivilised” nature that Darwin’s ape represented:
“The cyborg appears in myth precisely where the boundary between human and animal is transgressed. Far from signalling a walling off of people from other living beings, cyborgs signal disturbingly and pleasurably tight coupling”
-Haraway (1991) (p.105)

Cyborgs represent artifice, a platforming of the synthetic and designed. They illuminate other constructed categories and boundaries we live with- man/woman, natural/artificial, mind/body, self developing/externally designed. Sølvi Goard, in her essay Making and Getting Made: Towards a Cyborg Transfeminism (2017), details the recent Victorian origin of our current myths of gender and race, and how they are leveraged to justify the oppression of women and colonised groups. If the cyborg, as Harwaway suggests, exists in a “post-gender world” could this offer a potential for undermining these myths? Can the cyborg be a useful metaphor for our current forms of embodiment, and a way of asserting self autonomy?
In her piece, Goard characterises the imposition of gender as a stripping of autonomy, and a reproduction of pre-existing social norms:
“a way of regulating and disciplining the relationship with the body” (2017).
Every person is compulsarily designated a gender, often before they are born, which according to Goard and other feminist thinkers, is problematic in the sense that
“the horizon of one’s action is suddenly limited, and for those assigned female this is violently oppressive”. (2017)
We might think here of Judith Butler’s 1990 Gender Trouble, and its thesis that sex and gender are seperate, with gender as a series of performative actions, wherein deviants are socially punished. Goard expresses this mandatory performance as a process in which the subject is:
“[...]socialised, cajoled, encouraged and in some ways coerced to understand and use [one’s] body in a certain way, that may have no relationship to the way you perceive and experience it”
-Making and Getting Made: Towards a Cyborg Transfeminism (2017)

In a Marxist interpretation, Goard reads this enforcement as alienation- “in that we have the ability to determine [our bodies] seized from us”.
If we deem oppression on the basis of gender to be a negative, feminist scholars such as Butler assert that the outcome of our realisation that the gender binary is an artificial creation should be to subvert it and “queer” the boundary, inviting new forms of gender expresssion and disentangling gendered traits from sex, ergo., undermining sex-based oppression.
Laboria Cuboniks, and Donna Haraway advocate a “post-gender world”. For XF, this means not “gender austerity”, but “gender-post scarcity”- a world in which the patriarchy is denaturalised and categories other than male and female are allowed to bloom- that “the system of gender difference to be abolished via the proliferation of gender differences” (2015).
In any situation where gender and sex distinction are interrogated, trans* identity very often rises to the forefront of discussion as a battleground in which ideological battles are hashed out. Goard also advocates for a post-gender world as a liberatory dream, however she notes that this ideology is often used as a indictment of trans people for reproducing such a binary, when this accusation is rarely leveled at those who see themselves as cisgender (2017). Gender nonconforming people face tremendous violence and abjection for straying from their pre-assigned script, and for many trans people, appearing to fit into a binary is an easier lived reality than total rejection of social norms.
Trans bodies have very often been depicted as hybridised and monstrous in their artifice. In Susan Stryker’s Words to Victor Frankenstein[...] (1994), a text in which the author ponders the myth of Frankenstein as a metaphor for her own transgender embodiment, she quotes a letter to the editor from a prominent San Francisco gay & lesbian periodical in which the author describes “transsexualism” as “a fraud”, and the proponents to be “perverts”. As evidence for this, the letter’s author cites the desire for the “transsexual” to “change his/her body in order to be his/her ‘true self’”. To this writer, this claim of embodying one’s authentic self contradicts the need to change one’s physical form. Any action taken to “manipulate[...]” the subject’s “exterior”, is “war with nature”, and “alienated from true being”.
In essence, the sentiment behind this letter is that one is born as one’s truest and most authentic self, and any willful construction or artifice serves only to deviate from one’s most genuine identity, through subverting nature.
This viewpoint necessarily links nature and ‘goodness’, with the ‘born’ being oppositional to the farcical, ‘badness’ of artifice. However, as Haraway points out, under modernity we all inescapably exist as cyborgs- we eat cooked food, we use medicine, we drive cars. It is only when technology challenges seemingly naturalised social norms that it becomes problematised.
We might compare this alledged “corruption” that transgender people enact through embodying their desired presentation to the indictment women suffer when they stray from their “biologically predetermined” roles of maternalism and homekeeping.
Like Haraway, Helen Hester is quick to establish that nobody is born into a pure, “natural” state, even with regards to their “natural”, “biologically predetermined” endocrine system. Under modernity, Hester reminds us, “there’s already things hormonal and otherwise that we are ingesting as part of our everyday life”, however she is keen to condemn the “eco-sexual boundary keeping” that prevails in predominant discourse.
For Hester this means creating a “proactive hormone discourse” which rejects patriarchal sanctification of sexual boundaries, and dismisses the notion of extracting onesself from the “toxicant economy” as a non-generalisable possibility. While Hester is keen that hormonal interventions in the body should be a matter of choice, this necessary participation in hormonal circulation means that our agency is never truly absolute, and that we are controlling our bodies within a space that is fundamentally restrictive.
In a 2019 review of Xenofeminism (Hester, H.), Bogna Koir challenges whether environmental activists reproduce the attitudes of “paranoid guards of the natural order”, by advocating preservation of human and nonhuman animals in their current “natural state”, opposing co-evolution with an “artificial” environment. She notes the intertwining of “natural” with social norms, closing off the possibilities that artificiality offers us as a tool. In Xenofeminism (2018), Hester cites trans* writer Michelle Murphy:
“[if the] ‘living being is now hailed as alterable, and materially transformable in new ways, opening new possibilities for a malleable ontology of life, chemical injury calls for a more critical politics of alterability and greater attention to the kinds, modes, and exercise of power manifest in malleable life”
Much of the discourse surrounding endocrine affecting pollutants focuses heavily on the “sexual anxiety around ambiguity, variability and changeability, with sexual diversity being positioned as some kind of industrial accident” (Hester, 2018). Right wing pundit Alex Jones, who infamously warned of “chemicals in the water that turn the friggin’ frogs gay” (2015) told listeners in 2018 that the rising popularity of transgender rights activism was secretly paving the way for measures protecting cyborg rights, that:
“The most protected class are going to be augmented humans [...] you’re going to have humanoids, which again isn’t a man and a woman with the chromosomes splicing together” (Jones, as quoted by Holt (2018))
In Jones’ fear of trans artificiality, we see Daisy Reid’s assertion that “transhumanism is a threat, both bodily on an individual scale, and existential on a societal, moral scale.” (2021). Non-normative gender and sexuality are “pollutants” and contaminants, which pose a threat to wider society.
Helen Hester says that her accelerationism is founded in the belief that we “can’t imagine a new starting point” (2021), in essence that we must acknowledge the world as it is, and rather than rejecting its conditions and technologies, create a “reparative framework”, which repurposes and re-appropriates existing tools to a new end. Hester cites Marx’ assertion that “Man makes his own history, but does not do so in conditions of his own choosing”.
In these limited circumstances, as with the wider world and political spectrum, perhaps it would be more productive and progressive to “co-evolve”, to “make with”, as Haraway often urges us to do. Perhaps we should take a more open view of the artificial and view alteration as a form of new possibility, rather than “pollution”. In Xenofeminism (2018), Hester interrogates the rhetorical concept of “The Child”, ie; the figure for whom societal change represents the biggest threat. Hester argues that the defence of the child is a proxy argument for indefinite reproduction of the present, and a “shutting down of mutational possibilities”. Essentially, that “by protecting the children we protect a version of the future which is the exact same” (2021). When we leverage repulsion politics, and attempt to protect “the natural”, or “the pure”, we are ultimately anchoring ourselves in the present. When we view mutation and artificiality as a tool, a potentiality, we can begin to imagine new futures.
“It’s not really surprising, for example, that there’s a disproportionately large overlap between computer hackers and trans people. You’re unlikely to try to hack your own endocrine system and radically rebuild yourself as a social and embodied subject if you don’t have a bit of restless radicalism in you. It’s not surprising if the same sensibility eventually has you reverse engineering software and searching for exploits.”
-Bogna Koir quotes Lucca Fraser, of Laboria Cuboniks (2019):

Hester is quoted as saying that one must always simultaneously be “A hacker and an engineer” (2021). Perhaps by enacting agency over our own bodies, by willingly hybridising with the artificial we can challenge and trouble wider social boundaries. In the metaphor of the trans body as a cyborg, the idea is established that the human body “isn’t confined by a set of observable processes but instead what we as humans can and are willing to do to it”.
In Susan Stryker’s identification with Frankenstein’s monster, an embodiment in which the subject is acted upon- “flesh torn apart and sewn together in a shape other than that in which it was born”(p.248)- we see her reckoning with her own “artificiality”- “The agenda” under which her body was “medically constructed” to “affect [...] naturalness”(p.248). This view of Stryker’s own body as seeking to:

“stabilise gendered identity in service of the naturalized heterosexual order”
(1994, p.248)

Is distinct from the metaphor of the cyborg, in which the cyborg is :

“conceived of as taking autonomy over a ‘natural’ human body and choosing how to live in it”
-(Cook, 2018)

In Stryker’s text, she struggles with reconciling her own body as an affect of nature, she describes herself as being forced to comply to “a system of exchange in a heterosexual economy” (p.253). Rather than viewing her medically intervened body as a utopian transhuman futurity, Stryke seems to feel suffocated by a kind of eco-nostalgia, wherein she is forced to comply to a strict biological binary, doomed to an “unassimilable, antagonistic, queer relationship to a Nature in which [her body] must nevertheless exist”(p.253).
Conversely, in response to Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto (1991), Sam Doran embraces the image of the cyborg:
“[...]while many trans people may disagree with this depiction, I must admit that I find a great deal of empowerment in the notion of my own gender, as well as my body, as my own construction”
-We are All Chimeras: Transgender Embodiment as Cyborg Hybritidy (As quoted by Cook, 2018)

In the cyborg metaphor, being trans becomes a matter of personal autonomy, a rally against the bodily alienation imposed by the performance of gender that Judith Butler details. Goard (2017) posits transgender lives as an attempt by those who “experience that pain of alienation” to self-determine, to negotiate “the value and meaning of [their] own bodies”. She harkens back to Hester’s notion that we cannot “return to an ethereal state of nature”, but that the pain of bodily alienation must be “embraced, and retooled” (2017). Haraway, in her Cyborg Manifesto (1991), describes the cyborg body as one “without an origin story”- Goard notes the “germ of liberation” within alienation, that “we are offered the chance to relinquish any investment in a self-destructive society” (2017).
In the mythology of the queer body as a cyborg of its own design, we see the rejection of bioessentialism, econostalgia, and technological optimism.
“‘Queerness is essentially about the rejection of a here and now and an insistence on potentiality or concrete possibility for another world.”
-Goard (2017) referencing Esteban Muñoz’ 2009 text, Cruising Utopia

Xenofeminism insists that this “possibility for another world” will necessarily entail re-negotiating and re-tooling our relationship with the man-made and artificial, to better reflect the mutational tendencies present in our contemporary world. In J.E Cook’s 2018 article for Medium, they criticise the frequency with which people are deemed “less real and less deserving of human decency because they live as something man made”, and illuminates that this embodiment of artifice is “only capable because of how complex the human experience is, and how much we allow that complexity to shape our societies”. The technology that allows trans* people to alter their bodies is only problematised when its use is not on people who view themselves as cisgender- HRT therapy for menopausal women, vasectomies and mastectomies, for example. The desire for trans* people to undergo these procedures as a form of bodily autonomy is pathologized, and as in Susan Stryker’s account, pushed away from experimentalisation and towards the hetrosexual, normative matrix which seeks to preserve the affect of nature.
Bogna Konoir (2019), cites Andrea Long Chu’s suggestion that we could see transition “recast in aesthetic terms, as if transsexual women decided to transition, not to ‘confirm’ some kind of innate gender identity, but because being a man is stupid and boring.”.
Helen Hester’s Xenofeminism details the similar attitude of Paul B. Preciado, author of Testo Junkie, who underwent self administration of testosterone outside of the matrix of what he terms the “Pharmacopornographic Era”. Hester quotes Preciado’s perspective that the body constitutes a “political laborator[y]”, a potential space for “political agency and critical resistance to normalisation”.
Hester compares this “DIY gender hacking” to the kinds of “radical amateurism” and “self help” movements that emerged in the feminism of the 1970s, a kind of appropriation by the marginalised of the tools of their assimilation and oppression, with the aim of liberation.

“As Malcolm Harris writes, capital does not “double down” but multiplies and “splits,” it is not a bureaucratic stiffness but an ever-multiplying fluid network of porous powers that spit up identity constellations through exploitation.” -Bogna Koir, 2019

Goard (2017) points out the pitfalls of “imbuing the act of trying to live trans with a sense of political transgression [...] It is an attempt at survival”. She asserts that the experience of living as a trans person only makes sense within our current political matrix, the sets of binaries and categories that we live under. Goard further describes the “attack on the social wage”, the “crisis of social reproduction, the tearing apart of social infrastructure; accumulation by dispossession”, concluding forcefully that:
”[...] transgender liberation needs to be understood within a nexus of attacks on people’s determination over their body and health, whether by gender, race or ability”
In order to access this liberation, it is necessary for us to imagine futures that we cannot yet access.
In a system of power structures dependent on classification beginning at the level of the individual’s own body, technomaterialism, or the retooling of technologies, must take place on the individual level. The existence those who embody hybridised identities, whether that be trans* or cyborg or both, is structurally significant. Again, as Hester argues, activism must encompass both hacking and engineering: “conceiving of ‘a total structure as well as the molecular parts from which it is constructed'' (2018, p.147). Through this embodiment of the non-normative, and embrace of the artificial, Trans* people can “make with”, and “make kin” in the legacy of Donna Haraway. Through appropriation of every useful tool, we can “engag[e] in an ecology of activisms that may be better suited to bridging the micro-, meso-, and macropolitical levels of our complex technomaterial world.” (Hester, 2018, p.147)
Hester argues that gender should become as irrelevant in the determination of a person’s life as eye colour, and that even in our current world
“Biology is not destiny, because biology itself can be technologically transformed, and should be transformed in the pursuit of reproductive justice and the progressive transformation of gender” (2021)

We should embrace the artificial as it coexists with the natural, and erase the boundary dividing what is made, and what is born- “If a cyborg is about what humans can make out of our bodies, this view of trans life is about what we can make out of our genders” (Cook (2018)).
Under a Xenofeminist view of the future, “bio-synthetic, technologically-assembled bodies” offer a way of escaping naturalised identities (Koir, 2019). Through mutational possibility and the permission of “a thousand cyborg genders bloom[ing]” (Laboria Cuboniks, 2015), an opportunity appears to bypass the heterosexual matrix, to determine the value and meanings of our own unique body, one of our own design.

1. Butler, J. (1990) Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, Routledge, New York
2. Cook, J.E (2018), The transgender cyborg: an inexhaustive primer, Published online by Medium, Available at:
3. Goard, S. (2017), Making and Getting Made: Towards a Cyborg Transfeminism, Published online by Salvage, available at:
4. Haraway, D (1991) Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York, Routledge
5. Hester, H., appearing on Citarella, J (2021) ‘Xenofeminism w/ Helen Hester’, Joshua Citarella (August 2021), Available on Spotify (
6. Hester, H. (2018) Xenofeminism. Polity Press, Cambridge
Holt, J. (2018) Alex Jones: Transgender Rights Activism Is Really About Cyborgs. Published online by Right Wing Watch, available at:
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9. Navarro, T. (2019), Helen Hester: Biology is not destiny, it can be technologically transformed, Published online by CCCBLab, available at:
9. Reid, D (2021) I Don’t Want to Be Flesh”: Feminist Transhumanism in Years and Years (Part one). Published online by Available at:
10. Reid, D (2021) I Don’t Want to Be Flesh”: Feminist Transhumanism in Years and Years (Part two). Published online by Available at:
11. Stryker, S. (1994) My Words to Victor Frankenstein above the Village of Chamounix: Performing Transgender Rage, GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, Volume 1, Issue 3, pp. 237-254. Available at: