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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Non-Binary Genders 101

            In general in America we’re all taught generally the same thing about gender. There’s boys and there’s girls. They are different. Boys have XY and penises and Girls have XX and vaginas. You might have been taught about the existence of transgender people but I doubt it. Now the major problem is… well, everything. It’s so oversimplified and wrong, I can’t even point to one issue with it. The gender binary is a hilarious oversimplified model of how humans actually work.
            Now to help you understand exactly why this is, I’m going to have to talk about all of the aspects of gender as we’re taught it in America. First there’s biological sex, then gender roles, gender expression, and finally gender identity (Or really what I’m getting at when I say “Gender.”)

Biological Sex
            Experts have understood for… well, quite a while now that sex and gender are two different things. The fact that it’s even on this list is practically a fluke. Now, the main reason people don’t know the difference is because they have no need to. A majority of people fit the binary male/female and have their biological sex and their gender match up. So for their purposes gender and sex are the same. The thing is, to talk about the problem with this and the problem with the binary is… we need to split this up into some more subpoints. So for our subpoints we need to talk about genitals, chromosomes, and sexual dimorphism.

            “Well that’s easy, men have penises, women have vaginas.” Hahaha WRONG! And I don’t just mean cause trans women are women with penises and trans men are men with vaginas. See, the thing is uhhh… intersex people exist. They’re kind of people too. Intersex peoples’ genitals are far from that simple. Sometimes they have both in varying degrees, sometimes they have something that can’t be objectively stated to be either a penis or a vagina. Sometimes they have “ovatestes,” gonads that aren’t ovaries or testicles. Sometimes they have a mix of gonads. In case you couldn’t tell, it’s kind of complicated. But we’re so ingrained that people need to be male or female that often doctors perform surgery and…. Well, guess. And surprise, sometimes they’re wrong!

            You should hazard a guess now that XX and XY doesn’t work. Here are just a few examples why: XXX, XXY, XYY, Swyer Syndrome (XY but have a vagina), and De La Chapelle Syndrome (XX but have a penis.) And that’s just a few of many things that can happen. In fact, there’s some question as to if having a Y actually has that much to do with it. We’ve seen some people that have XX in some parts of their body and XY in others, and they’re not even chimeras! So again, intersex people, they exist.

Sexual Dimorphism
            Now, I don’t know if these even actually go together, but I’m gonna put secondary sex characteristics in with these. For those that don’t know, sexual dimorphism is certain parts of the body that are similar but markedly different between male and female, and this I believe includes secondary sex characteristics like dropping voice in guys, wider hips in girls, boobs, etc. The thing is again… not always that simple. Guys can have high estrogen or low testosterone or girls vice versa. Some guys find themselves developing typically female secondary sex characteristics. These things are extremely complicated.

            In other words what I’m getting at is… even viewing biological sex as male and female is troublesome because it just doesn’t work that way! So many things go into it and influence it, it’s like a complicated spectrum we’re only beginning to grasp.

Gender Roles
            Ok, this one is going to be short cause most people understand them. Gender roles are things like the idea that women should be the ones to stay at home and take care of the house and kids. And men are supposed to be tough and manly and never show too much emotion. Yeah, just face it, it’s all bullshit and men and women should be allowed to socially do whatever they want. K? Good, glad we got that one out of the way.

Gender Expression
            This one is highly related to the last one but is still distinct. Gender expression is the things we do to express ourselves that are associated with a certain gender. This is things like mannerisms, clothes, or interests. And everyone has a mix of stuff like this. I wear make-up, so there’s a point for feminine. I like cargo pants, there’s a point for masculine. I screech and go “Awwww” when I see kittens. That’s neutral, cause seriously, if you don’t do that you’re a monster. So what I’m getting at here is… it’s another spectrum type thing. People express themselves in multiple ways with varying degrees. There are feminine men and masculine women. What we even see as “masculine” and “feminine” is almost entirely a social construct developed by our culture, and cultures don’t all share what things are seen as what.

Gender Identity

            Now this is the big one. This is the very sense of self. This is your self-concept of being a man or a woman. The thing is, notice how everything was on a spectrum? Yeah, so is this. See, gender identity is also a cultural thing! Because it’s heavily related to the other concepts. Even though men can be feminine, we still have associations of certain things with female. But not all cultures have simply “Man” and “Woman.” There are cultures that have 3 genders, or even some that have 5! There is one culture that has Man, Woman, A woman that takes on male roles, a man that takes on female roles, and neutral. (This of course is very oversimplified from their language.)
            But the point being it isn’t a super neat male/female box. It is, in fact, totally possible to identify differently! Some people have a self-concept that is neither male nor female. Some people have a self-concept that is both male and female. And there’s tons of others inbetween. Genderfluid, where people’s self-concept changes throughout the day/week/month/year. Agender, feeling neither gender. Bi-gender, two spirit, neutrois, demi-girl, demi-boy, there’s so much! Because it’s not a neat little box, and that’s so awesome, cause we’re all different! We all associate on different parts of each scale. You can have a penis, be super feminine, but identify with no gender. You can have ambiguous genitals, be very masculine, but identify as female. We’re all so unique and wonderful, and we need to realize that! We don’t need to be put in these silly “male” and “female” boxes that don’t truly describe anything anyway. We need to start seeing gender for what it is; complicated, personal, and wonderful.


  1. So I'm sure you really roll your eyes when someone roles out the worn out phrase, 'God created man and woman.' While that may be a true statement, what you say in this article is true, there are people born with a variety of physical and genetic differences to the simple man and woman. We are only beginning to try to understand (at least some are). I am intrigued by your life story and watching to see where it leads you. I hope you find peace in your life (sounds like you are finding some). Mark

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