Techno-Idolatry in Transhumanism

Updated: May 2


By Donovan Cleckley


It is a conceded fact that woman is being reared as a sex commodity, and yet she is kept in absolute ignorance of the meaning and importance of sex.

- Emma Goldman, “The Traffic in Women,Anarchism and Other Essays (1910)


Transhumanism derives from the expansion of biotechnology, a thoroughly capitalist venture, driven by man’s desire to subordinate nature to his will. Man has found himself seduced by the idea that he can advance the human species beyond mortality through enhancement by technology.


From a Judaic perspective, Hava Tirosh-Samuelson critiques transhumanism as a “secularist faith,” exemplary of what she calls “techno-idolatry.” Alienated from the flesh, the human being appears as the automaton to be used and destroyed. Technology becomes deified, therefore godlike, for the body itself becomes a new Manifest Destiny.


Jennifer Bilek writes of Rothblatt as “a founding father of the transgender empire”—who also just so happened to found a “transreligion” known as Terasem. Its four core tenets read: “Life is purposeful, death is optional, God is technological, and love is essential.”


Rothblatt has been a critical figure in not only his philosophical contributions but also, far more importantly, his financial investments in biotechnology. Bilek notes that, from the 1990s onward, Rothblatt has been central to creating the “gender identity” bills currently being passed around the world.


As featured in New York Magazine in 2014, Rothblatt had been described as “a white, Jewish lawyer and also a transgendered woman who is a father of four married to an African-American woman and therefore also, sort of, a lesbian.” Picturing Rothblatt, the cover reads: “The Highest-Paid Female CEO in America Used to be a Man.” A heterosexual male can declare himself a woman and a lesbian, and the world accepts it as true—including far too many women among the most devout followers.


Separated, unlisted with these other identities, however, Rothblatt also just so happens to be a multimillionaire, having “earned” $38 million dollars as of 2013. According to Forbes, Rothblatt’s wealth increased from $330 million in 2020, where it had remained between $320 and $340 million from 2017 through 2019, to $585 million in 2021.


In a lesser-known moment of the 2014 feature, Lisa Miller describes Rothblatt playing in the online game Second Life, where he “appears as a sexy brown-skinned woman named Vitology Destiny.”


Published in 1995, Rothblatt’s book The Apartheid of Sex: A Manifesto on the Freedom of Gender draws the analogy between racial apartheid and sexual dimorphism. He writes:


Like the apartheid of race, blurring of class boundaries is the gravest offense because it challenges the reality of the division of reality. Hence the old feminist doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ was more acceptable to the male power structure, because they knew that it would never occur. But the new feminist doctrine of sexual continuity is threatening—it destroys the male-dominated power structure completely. If there are no hard and fast sex types, then there can be no apartheid of sex. If there is no apartheid of sex, then there is no entrenched birthright of power—people must achieve on their own. To men threatened by economic and social survival, loss of birthright superiority is frightening.


Conveniently, males can escape “the male-dominated power structure” by claiming a new proprietorship over femaleness, making womanhood into men’s sexual and intellectual property. I provide the above example from Rothblatt’s book to demonstrate the level of analysis as well as man’s appropriation of feminism as masochism.


Anne Fausto-Sterling praises Rothblatt’s theorization as “sound,” but he relies on a false analogy. Essentially, Rothblatt contrasts “sexual dimorphism,” which he calls “the old gender paradigm,” with “the new gender paradigm”: “sexual continuism.”


Yet sex appears conflated with sex-role stereotyping, for Rothblatt writes “[s]ex should really be the sum of behaviors we call gender.” One’s body can become redefined by others’ ideas about the body, internalized as one’s sense of self. He claims the commodification of the human body through biotechnology represents human rights, but the opposite seems true. There is no “freedom of gender” there.


Ironically, Rothblatt’s vision does not get rid of sex-role stereotyping; rather, it medically inscribes it upon the body as commodity. Thus, “sexual continuism” has the paradoxical effect of further reifying male-as-masculine and female-as-feminine.


Man claiming proprietorship over womanhood has done nothing to destroy man’s dominion over woman. On the contrary, it reinforces men possessing women, as coverture had made wives subject to their husbands. Men consume women as costumes under Rothblatt’s utopia—which makes a dystopia for women. It may be further considered why there has not been an equivalently well-funded industry constructed around race as there has been for sex. Rothblatt’s analogy does not hold up even here.

Illustration by Stella Perrett (Radical Cartoons)


Almost two decades following The Apartheid of Sex, in 2011, Rothblatt self-published his newly titled and expanded second edition: From Transgender to Transhuman: A Manifesto on the Freedom of Form. The book’s cover art seems to feature Rothblatt’s “sexy brown-skinned woman” avatar: Vitology Destiny. In a particularly significant new section titled “Is Consciousness Like Pornography?,” Rothblatt writes:


The transhumanist paradigm is that consciousness arises from millions of cross-correlated relationships among general neurons far removed from the basic hard-wired sensory neurons that are like the footings for the skyscraper of the mind. There is nothing magical that makes our brains conscious other than this web of interconnected neurons. Consequently, there is no reason that consciousness cannot exist in software provided the same level of interconnected complexity rooted ultimately to sensory apparatus is provided. This is the challenge to the 21st century neuroscientist and computer scientist. Build minds that pass the pornography test—minds that seem as authentic as our own. Once that is done, sexual identity will be liberated not only from genitals, but from flesh itself. Consciousness will be as free to flow beyond the confines of one flesh body as gender is free to flow beyond the confines of one flesh genital.


The passage above illustrates Rothblatt’s argument that transhumanism presents the logical conclusion of transsexualism and transgenderism. These ideas appear further developed in Rothblatt’s 2014 book Virtually Human: The Promise—and the Peril—of Digital Immortality.


Misogyny and capitalism meet in man’s identification as proprietorship over womanhood, as disembodiment embodies his commodification of her. While Rothblatt appropriates women’s liberation and gay liberation, among other progressive social movements, “trans liberation” cannot liberate anybody—most of all women. Techno-idolatry and its fetishism present only new enslavement, not freedom.


Donovan Cleckley holds a BA in English and Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of Montevallo and an MA in English from Tulane University. His research focuses on the relationship between women’s rights and gay rights, literature and sexual politics, and the social and political implications of transgenderism as an ideology, an industry, and an institution. Learn more about his work at https://donovancleckley.com.


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