In this article, Rebecca Reilly-Cooper argues against the spectrum model of thinking about gender. She argues that, while the idea of gender as a spectrum is supposed to be liberating, it is in fact incoherent and politically problematic. . . . (To read the remainder of this post, click 'Read More')
Moreover, she argues, it is self-defeating. There is a problem, she claims, with holding on the one hand that gender is a spectrum, while at the same time identifying oneself as 'non-binary' (as opposed to cisgender). If gender really is a spectrum, then, strictly speaking, there is no such thing as cisgender.
There are also political and epistemic inconsistencies with the notion of multiplying gender 'identities', she claims. Epistemically, if we apply gender categories to people at all, it must be because we believe it offers some explanatory power. If I say, for instance, 'Sarah is wearing a zibali shirt,' and you respond by asking, 'what does "zibali" mean?', to which I respond, 'I have no idea,' then the term 'zibali', as an explanation applied to Sarah's shirt, is useless to both you and me. Likewise, the more we proliferate categories of gender 'identity' along a purported spectrum, the less explanatory work it actually does, (and she argues, that if you get right down to it, there are currently 7 billion gender identities on the planet).
Finally, the very notion of gender 'identity' is no less restrictive and binding, simply because it's no longer conceived in binary terms. We do not escape the 'boxed-in' conceptualization of gender merely by multiplying the number of boxes available to put ourselves in.
If I'm understanding her argument then, it seems that her problem is not so much the conceptualization of gender on a spectrum, but rather, the problem for her is the notion that the spectrum consists of fixed nodes that hold static a person's immobile gender 'identity', and that this gender identity remains ever the same for that individual. She proposes dropping the notion of gender altogether, claiming that everyone is, in fact, non-binary, (because no one is, in fact, pure masculinity or pure femininity).
I wonder though, is she overlooking the right of the individual person to self-identify in whatever way they feel most aptly applies to them? Put another way, couldn't the case be made that one very good reason that a non-binary-identifying person might want to hang on to this notion of non-binary gender identification, (as opposed to cisgender), is that, just as they do not want a cisgender individual telling them that they are not, in fact, non-binary, (as some of the more vitriolic comments in response to Reilly-Cooper's article posit), that likewise, they (the non-binary individual) do not want to take away the right of someone who cis-identifies to so self-identify? Even if, at the level of ontology, Reilly-Cooper is correct, and we are each of us constituted by a web of activities and passivities, ever in fluid motion and negotiation, such that the notion of gender 'identity' (in any rigid sense) becomes thorny for anyone; is it not nevertheless worrisome to assert that no one is cisgender?