Reflections on the Gender Wheel

I recently blogged about gender as a Koosh ball. A friend pointed me to another resource that is aimed at young leaders: The Gender Wheel by Maya Gonzalez.

Unfortunately, this is another circumstance where a resource created by a person with a marginalized identity is appropriated/plagiarized by a person with a significantly less marginalized identity (see also GenderBread Person). I am not going to link to it, but if you see a less beautiful, more analytical version of the Gender Wheel, please give credit where credit is due and/or check the author of the plagiarized version.

The Gender Wheel is a book for young people and also a curriculum. I have seen neither, so this is not a proper review. However, given the similarities to my Koosh proposal, I do want to reflect on some of what I find powerful about the Gender Wheel.

First, I think it is worth pointing out that our goals are different. The Gender Wheel is a tool for young people and my Koosh proposal is aimed at moving from “Newtonian” gender to “Quantum” gender. So it is fair to argue that my Koosh proposal is not intended for teaching kids and the Gender Wheel is not intended to unpack “Quantum” gender writ large. Furthermore, mine is a blog post, not a fully formed curriculum!

Despite different intentions, I believe that both models share many values and have a lot in common. In particular, they both critique the linear thinking of the Western/colonial worldview. Indigenous worldviews often lean into circles (and spirals) that embody connection, where as Christian and European approaches are often intimately connected to lines that separate. These dynamics are certainly at play in both resources.

From what I can tell, the Gender Wheel is pretty explicit about that post-colonial critique.

The Gender Wheel gets its inspiration from ancient Mayan and Aztec calendrical wheels, patterns of growth in nature and the infinite, nonlinear aspect of circles. Embedded within the Wheel is a perspective of gender that is holistic and community-centered. Beyond 2 boxes or a spectrum with two ends, The Wheel is a place to find yourself, see your community and know you belong in the circle.

from About the Gender Wheel

While I have made related critiques (particularly in OtherWise Christian: A Guidebook for Transgender Liberation), my Koosh post did not make those connections and I am really appreciating those added insights as a result of seeing and reading about the Gender Wheel.

Models that use a line do not demonstrate the connections between their extremes. Similarly, a color spectrum and a color wheel both represent the same thing, but the color wheel shows how the colors all connect and are in relationship. A color spectrum (or line) obscures those relationships. Even if a color spectrum includes all of the colors, it presents those details in a fundamentally different way by introducing the idea of “ends” of a spectrum.

As I reflect, I am imagining that a scientist might have something to say about wavelength measurements (longer and shorter waves determine color) as a rationale for the spectrum approach. They might not be wrong! But an artist or designer might find an emphasis on measurement to be a distraction from the art and experience of color. They would not be wrong either!

The reference material for the Gender Wheel talks about infinity in contrast with the idea of limited options (like only two or even three gender options).

The Gender Wheel moves and in moving it opens up infinite combinations in every direction which include everybody that ever exists.

This represents infinite human experience and potential. As a part of nature, this kind of infinite diversity is common and shows the strength of a species to both adapt and stabilize. Gender diversity is a necessary and intrinsic part of nature.

From the Gender Wheel Principles

Technically, a linear spectrum includes infinite options, but artistically a circle is a much more powerful representation of infinite variety. This gets to my fundamental point with the Koosh proposal: that there are more options in the world than the spectrum models allow for. There are both more categories of things to consider than the popular models allow for and there are also more options in each category.

Finally, the Gender Wheel is playful, colorful, and beautiful. While my Koosh proposal is admittedly not as skillful in that regard, I do believe that it embodies a similar principle: that discussions of gender should not be so overwhelmingly serious and analytical. The way categories and examples of gender manifest in unique, real life human beings is a thing of beauty to be enjoyed and experienced. Something important is lost in the rush to measure and categorize.

Games are a great way to learn. A sense of fun and play, in and of itself, is shown to make learning faster and easier. It also takes any rigidity off the subject of gender and keeps the energy flowing through the heart, body, and mind.

From the Gender Wheel Principles

That said, the three dimensional life of a Koosh toy is something that is absent from the Gender Wheel. This is less a critique of the Gender Wheel and more a celebration of how the Koosh proposal is something we can carry with us and literally play with. It demonstrates how different strands of our identity touch and even press upon one another. Perhaps it even demonstrates how categories can shift and stretch in relationship with the world around them. A 3D toy like a Koosh allows for change and fluidity more effectively than any printed image is ever going to be able to do. Again, gender is an experience, not a measurement.

Nonetheless, these ideas are certainly reflected in the Gender Wheel.

All of the circles within the Wheel move and the Wheel itself represents movement because The Gender Wheel is about the dance, not definitions.

Life and living, even the body, are a process. Seeing gender as dynamic means seeing how gender, like personality, flows through bodies.

From the Gender Wheel Principles

While I haven’t seen the book or the curriculum, I have seen is this awesome video from the Gender Wheel website! My point at the end of my Koosh post was that looking on the outside really doesn’t tell us what we need to know. This video rocks that point for real. It’s the author reading from the end page of They She He Me:

From The Gender Wheel Video Resources

The Gender Wheel video resources page actually includes author readings of Call Me Tree, They She He Me, and They, She, He easy as ABC.

Compiled by Mx Chris Paige on January 23, 2020.

Note: This blog is intended to be an on-going work in progress. Please contact us if you have additions, corrections, or concerns.

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