Whewww I’m starting with the big one. Let me tell you why the gender binary is sort of a problem.
In our country, most people are sorted as either “boy” or “girl” right at the moment they pop out and start screaming. This creates a lot of problems, mostly related to the fact that gender (our ideas of appearance and behavior that indicate either masculine or feminine) is a socially construction, but it tied in our minds to sex, a biological construction.
The problem is that gender is not the same as sex. It’s very, very different. Sex is determined by biology: someone’s anatomy, physiology, hormones, and chromosomes.
Gender is determined by culturally specific social constructions as well as someone’s personal identity.
The other problem is that gender is not a binary. We often think of only man OR woman, only masculine OR feminine. The reality is that gender is a spectrum or a cloud of different identities and ways of existing. Some people identify as only one gender, and it’s the gender that was assigned to them when they were born, usually based on their genitals. However, some people identify differently than what they were assigned. Some identify as between genders, or they don’t identify with a gender at all. One way of thinking about it is like this:
where I found this neato graphic: curtisgrahamcracker.tumblr.com/
Here’s a good list of a bunch of terms relating to non-binary identities: http://genderqueerid.com/gq-terms
There are many terms to describe a vast number of identities, and people typically use whichever one feels best for them.
These people exist. There is much more variation within people than just man and woman. It’s also important to note some other stuff:
-people’s genders can (and do) change over long or short periods of time. people can flow between genders freely, even from day to day.
-gender is performative: this means it consists of actions we do, ways we present ourselves, and ways we think about ourselves.
-gender is NOT the same as sexuality. the way you perform your gender doesn’t have any bearing on who you are attracted to or who you form relationships with.
-while many people might use the same label to identify themselves, everyone’s experiences are unique, and are affected by their other identities such as their race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, nationality, sexual orientation, able-bodiedness, etc.
-even within biological sex, male and female are not the only possibilities. intersex people or people with intersex variations have anatomy, chromosomes, hormones, or other traits that fall in the grey area between what we think of as the sexes. learn more here: http://www.isna.org/
-our ideas of gender are specific to our cultural history. I’m speaking about the ideas of the mainstream culture in the U.S., which has its roots in Europe. all cultures have their own concepts of gender, and many of them look much different from those in the mainstream U.S. Just because they seem unfamiliar doesn’t mean they’re in an way less valid. for example, many groups of people indigenous to North America share the idea of two-spirit identity: http://gender.wikia.com/wiki/Two-Spirit (it’s important to note that there are hundreds of distinct indigenous groups in N.A., each with their own cultures, and they’re in no way homogenous).
that’s my little explanation. tomorrow I’ll write about people outside the gender binary and what sort of consequences it has.
all I can write about is what I’ve learned through my education and personal experience. there are many, many activists who have more experience and knowledge than me. I want to promote their work and urge you to seek out many voices!
Here’s some resources & info about nonbinary and gender nonconforming experiences, as well as some info about how gender is constructed: