On Gender Theory And The Gender Binary

Gender identity and expression are deeply rooted in our culture, more so probably than sexual orientation is. It is much easier to accept that a man may be sexually attracted to another man; but that a man by sex may be a woman by gender is a much more intimidating concept. Gender and sex have such a presence that when something like the concept of gender fluidity comes about, many if not most people will disregard it as something for only the “far-left”. But in recent years, the transgender movement has become more mainstream, and by extension more controversial. I find that when someone says that they support LGBT rights, they are usually just referring to Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual rights. Transgender issues seem to be an entirely different thing. We seem to, for the most part, accept fluidity on the topic of sexual orientation, but when we begin to suggest that gender too can be fluid, the matter seems to become much more complicated. Gender is everywhere. It is on our bathroom doors, it is in our locker rooms, it is present in sports teams, our basic perception of our being, and how we look at others; I could go on. In this piece, I will attempt to pick apart and examine the concept of gender fluidity, the prejudices rooted in those who oppose it, and the cultural fabric that transgenderism threatens to change.

Before we go on, I must tell the difference between gender and sex. There is a very good reason they are different words.

Gender is how you identify yourself based on cultural and social constructs. An example of one is the gender binary system, which is what most Western countries have historically adhered to. This is basically just man and woman, and the notion that gender and sex are synonomous.

And now, sex.

Sex is much more factual. Sex is determined by your chromosones. XX for biological female, and XY for biological male. But sex is much more complicated than just XX and XY. There are billions of people on Earth, it makes no sense to think you can divide that many people into two concrete columns and say that you cannot mess with it. Intersex is when your chromosones and/or genitalia do not adhere to the gender binary system and you do not have either XX or XY, or a penis or a vagina. Intersex people are born in every 1 in 400 pregancies, making it much more common than you would think. The argument against the gender binary goes farther than just gender. What about those who are neither male nor female biologically? What are they? Normal human beings, thats what.

Gender expression, however, is much different than gender identity. Gender expression is how you present yourself based on cultural notions of gender. For example, if a man wears what our culture determines to be women’s clothes, he is not a woman, but rather a man whose gender expression is female. If a man wears makeup, his gender expression is leaning towards female based on how our culture correlates makeup with femininity.

So, we’ve enumerated that sex is your chromosomes that cannot change (as far as I know), and gender is how you identify yourself based off of cultural notions of gender. I’m going to say it, something you may have heard before when your friend is making fun of liberal activists: Gender IS on a spectrum. Just like sexual orientation. Just like color. Just like gender expression.

There are some cultures that acknowledge more than two genders. Some prime examples are Native American culture, in which there is such thing as a two-spirit. Or when there are four acknowledged genders: Masculine men, feminine men, masculine women, and feminine women.

But accepting that gender is not black and white is HARD; I’m not saying it is usually easy. Accepting this as a fact means undoing what you have thought to be true your whole life, what your friends and family and peers have probably thought to be true. But there is only one reason that we ever believed in the gender binary in the first place: We and the people around us were taught that the gender binary was the only gender system. That all loops back into my stating that gender is a social construct. Gender can even change over the course of your life, based on how you identify with the ever changing gender roles and cultural interpretations of male and female.


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