The First Question: What is Laboria Cuboniks?
Ask the Internet about xenofeminism and you will inevitably land on a mysterious, colourful and not-so-epilepsy-friendly site: Laboria Cuboniks. Is that some kind of laboratory? My brain immediately wants to find a link. Well, only in some sense. Laboria Cuboniks – an anagram of the pseudonym Nicolas Bourbaki – is a collective of six women who created the xenofeminism theory.
"We first met during a conference in Berlin," explains Helen Hester, one of said initiators with whom I meet in London. "Between us we had artists, scientists, archaeologists and even one security professional. Since then, the project has been in development online. First we wrote the manifesto and now we’ve been working on a book."
Helen has been devoted to gender studies since the beginning of her academic career. At present, she’s a University of West London lecturer on gender in the context of media and gender equality (or the lack of it). After two minutes of conversation, I have no doubts about her eagerness to share her energy with students.
The Second Question: What is xenofeminism?
If Internet search suggestions are to be believed, xenofeminism is cut from the same cloth as accelerationism – a futuristic theory announcing the end of capitalism and urging the political left to consolidate on a global level to bring about a post-capitalist future without work. Are they right? Is xenofeminism a feminist accelerationism?
To answer this question, we need to briefly return to Berlin, the cradle of xenofeminism. Helen explains: "In the course of one of these open discussions, we asked: ‘What is there within the left's accelerationism that can be levered into feminism? What would a feminist accelerationism look like? What does the left's accelerationism have to learn from feminism?'" Thus, rather than through direct derivation, xenofeminism is brought to life through a dialogue with accelerationism.
The mothers of the movement describe it as a technomaterialist, anti-naturalist, and gender abolitionist form of feminism. Too much to digest at once? Let me decode it for you.
Xenofeminism is technomaterialist because, similarly to accelerationism, it states critically that modern technologies are not inherently beneficial, due to the history behind their design, the existing infrastructure into which they emerge, and the imbalances in who can access them. "Xenofeminists debate over how existing technologies could be re-purposed to be more useful to society and – over all – not be used as a tool of gender discrimination," Helen explains.
Xenofeminism is also anti-naturalist in the sense that it contests the determinism of nature in the political context. Helen expands: "Anyone who's been deemed 'unnatural' in the face of reigning biological norms, anyone who's experienced injustices wrought in the name of natural order, will realise that the glorification of 'nature' has nothing to offer us." Xenofeminists affirm that biology is not destiny.
Similarly, the gender into which we are born does not define our destiny either. Xenofeminists don't just argue for gender equality; they go as far as being "gender-abolitionist". This doesn’t mean that they want to abolish gender altogether, they rather fight against those limitations imposed by gender. "Instead of eliminating differences between genders, we want them to proliferate. Let a hundred sexes bloom!" calls Helen.
The Third Question: Is nature unjust?
"Let a hundred sexes bloom?" I ask Helen to elaborate on this fragment of the manifesto that she co-wrote. I need to get a better grasp on the anti-naturalist aspects of the movement. My first inquiry: what exactly is "gender hacking"?
"Have you read Testo Junkie by Paul B. Preciado?" asks Helen. From her enthusiasm I can tell that I should have. "Preciado identifies the antagonist as willing to become someone else, so through experimentation is playing with testosterone to see what it does to subjectivity and identities. That was our starting point."
As xenofeminists underline, only full access to hormones can grant real liberty in making decisions about oneself – as well as one's body and identity. Today, access to hormones is protected by a multitude of legal (and moral) regulations. "What we, as a collective, are interested in is the way in which we can circumnavigate such regulations," Helen explains. This view is promotion through the proliferation of open source platforms, as well as through the popularisation of endocrinological knowledge.
Today, hormones are widely available on the dark web, Internet pharmacies and the black market. As to endocrinological DIY – thanks to open source platforms – it's becoming easier than your average biology A-level. "It has already been happening," Helen confirms. "I started with self-help groups and now people are running their own home hormonal laboratories. The project Open Source Gendercodes is a perfect example here."
However, xenofeminists demand more. In their opinion, this "gender hacking" should be allowed to emerge from the realm of quasi-legality on the deep web.
The Question I Forgot To Ask: Have you seen Sexmission?
Before I met Helen and brushed up on my xenofeminist knowledge, I thought that the movement sought to establish a new Sexmission, like in the cult Polish comedy by Juliusz Machulski. Its two main protagonists wake up from hibernation in an utopian underground society of women, where unisexuality goes hand in hand with dizzying technological progress. Its female inhabitants reproduce via in vitro methods and, thanks to genetic control, only give birth to girls. Advanced use of technology? Check. Overcoming limitations imposed by nature? Check. Abolition of gender? Check. But only at first glance.
First of all, Copernicus was not a woman, as they say in the film. She was a man.
A fragment of the film Sexmission. The two protagonists wake up in the world they least expected.
First and foremost, Sexmission is a parody of a totalitarian state. It's a caricature of a model of ideal social organisation, at the same time ridiculing the ambitions of those who seek to create such a utopia of human progress and exposing the cruelty that is created when human individuality is repressed.
Xenofeminism, in turn, clearly indicates that an imposed social order is our oppressor, because it generates divisions (based on gender, class and race) and through this, ideal conditions for discrimination.
Furthermore, the new shape of society proposed by xenofeminists doesn’t completely resemble the vision of uniformity presented in Sexmisssion: the elimination of men at no point being on the menu. Instead, they want to enlarge our repertoire of existing genders to one hundred blooming sexes.
Nor is the use of technology in Sexmission consistent with the xenofeminists’ manifesto. According to said document, technology's application should evolve out of being imposed from the top down and beneficial only to a few – as is the case in reality as in the film. Xenofeminists want to see roles reversed and technology democratised so that it can be accessible to everyone.
Thus, there exists no direct link between xenofeminism and Sexmission.
What a huge mistake it was to dig so deeply into 80s Polish science fiction! And what a good idea it was to confront my rusty cultural references with reality. A high-speed reality, stuffed with new updates. Let’s hope it will be a good breeding ground for a new feminism that draws the prefix "xeno" out from the realms of negative connotation.