Writing

The Gender Binary is an Unnecessary Construct

If you’re unfamiliar with the gender binary, it refers to the idea that there are only two genders and everyone falls into one of those two categories (male or female). It’s an idea that causes unnecessary strife in our society. While the concept is nothing new—people have believed in the gender binary since before we had scientific evidence to support it—it’s still not one without consequences or negative effects on people who don’t conform to it. Luckily, we have generations of scientists and forward-thinking humans who are working hard to dismantle this concept in every aspect of their lives.

There are more than two genders and they can be hard to tell apart. You can ask people if they’re male or female, but not everyone will have a simple answer for you; some may say both, while others may tell you that their gender embodies a specific definition that exists outside of the binary. Try not to take it personally—it’s nothing personal, it’s just a person’s biological makeup (or, at least, as much of their biological makeup as we’ve discovered). It’s very rare for someone to wake up one day and proclaim that they’re a different gender than they were yesterday; it usually takes years or even decades of self-reflection and discovery. The best thing you can do is respect your friends’ identities and pronouns. If they want to share with you what their gender identity means to them, then listen closely because it’s probably something important. The most important thing is to accept your friends regardless of how they identify themselves—that way no one feels excluded from society because of who they are.

The gender binary only further perpetuates outdated ideals, dictating that biological sex determines gender and gender roles within society. It reinforces a traditional (antiquated) family structure where women are subservient to men and expected to adhere to prescribed gender roles of docility and domesticity in addition to out-of-date stereotypes of appearance and demeanor. It doesn’t make sense that we need gendered societal constructs based on outward appearance at all. The next time you’re about to make sweeping generalizations about someone’s character based on their physical appearance, think before you judge.

Being nonbinary, gender non-conforming, or transgender is not a choice; it is part of who someone is. In particular, transgender people are unfairly targeted in society and suffer from violence, harassment, and discrimination. Even more importantly, many of them feel as though they need to hide who they are out of fear that others will not accept them. This should not be the case; we all deserve equal rights and protections under the law. We need to be able to live our lives freely with as little hindrance from others as possible. Society should not dictate who we are, who we love, or how we identify ourselves.

Although America has taken major steps toward equality for LGBTQ individuals through civil unions and same-sex marriage becoming legal nationwide, there is still much work to be done toward acceptance of nonbinary gender identities throughout society. The gender binary created by society inhibits all individuals’ ability to openly express themselves without fear of judgment or reprisal.

Another widespread misconception is that hormones are often treated as panacea. Far too often, people think that hormone therapy treatments are a magic bullet for gender dysphoria. But, it’s actually not as simple as taking testosterone and waking up feeling like you’re a man, or taking estrogen and feeling like you’re a woman. Hormones don’t change who you are — they simply allow your mind and body to better reflect how you feel on the inside. The same applies for plastic surgery.

With that said, there are still risks involved with taking hormones, including blood clots and liver disease. It is also important to remember that no matter what treatment plan one chooses, transitioning can be a very difficult process — one where dealing with interpersonal relationships is paramount to success. It’s also important to note that while transition-related medical expenses may be covered by insurance, these costs aren’t always so explicitly defined. In fact, many plans cover only some aspects of transitional care — such as facial surgery but not breast augmentation or reduction.

It’s also worth noting that many transgender people choose not to pursue any type of medical intervention at all because doing so may make them feel more uncomfortable in their own skin. They may choose instead to live openly and honestly about their gender identity without undergoing any physical or hormonal changes whatsoever. Regardless of whether someone gets surgery or takes hormones, though, trans people face a unique set of challenges in everyday life. This has been proven time and again through studies showing just how high attempted suicide rates are among transgender and intersex individuals — as much as 41 percent according to some studies. The bottom line is that when it comes to LBGTQ issues, both physicians and society need to do a lot more listening than talking if we want things to get better for everyone.

Of course, speaking out against conventions and established societal norms isn’t always easy, especially when they’re written into law or have otherwise been codified. Public opinion on gender identity and expression can vary significantly from place to place, which is why it can be difficult for many members of a marginalized group to speak up. In some cases, people are put in danger simply by speaking out. There’s also general harassment and discrimination that marginalized groups may face for not living up to expectations about how men and women should behave.

When you speak out against society’s gender binary, it isn’t just your reputation on the line; your livelihood may be at risk as well. For example, if you were to say that there was no such thing as boys’ toys and girls’ toys, a toy store might fire you. For these reasons, fighting back against social constructs is often easier said than done. However, if enough people speak out and protest those conventions together—even at great personal cost—it can create enough momentum to make real change happen over time.

It’s important to note that gender identity doesn’t change your sex. Being transgender, genderqueer, or gender-nonconforming does not mean you are suddenly a different species of human than you were before; it means you are who you are. Gender is not and should not be determine on ones genitalia we have, nor does it define us as humans. It is just a term that describes how we feel and express ourselves. As such, gender should be treated with no more validity than hair color—it’s simply one way some people choose to describe themselves.

However, in today’s society, being male or female is considered by many people to be one of two concrete options—and if you don’t fit into either category, then something must be wrong with you. This way of thinking about gender roles has led to a culture in which nonbinary, transgender, and intersex people are often harassed and discriminated against for not fitting into one box or another. If everyone could accept that there are infinite ways to identify yourself (not only male/female), then maybe we could live in a world where everyone was accepted for who they truly are.

Fortunately, there is some progress within the medical community, at least from a diagnostic standpoint. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-5, which was published in May 2013, did not include gender identity disorder as a mental illness. Rather, it combined all gender diagnoses under one umbrella term: gender dysphoria. This means that those with gender identity issues can receive treatment from a mental health professional without having to first be diagnosed with another condition (such as anxiety or body dysmorphic disorder). The phrase gender dysphoria specifically refers to negative feelings about one’s own sex and/or gender.

An individual who has been medically diagnosed as being born intersex must still state that they identify as transgender in order to receive necessary medical intervention.

According to The National Library Of Medicine: Gender dysphoria is a marked incongruence between one’s experienced/expressed gender and assigned gender. It may cause significant distress or impairment. Children who experience gender dysphoria are often described by parents as being preoccupied with their genitals, wanting to dress like their opposite sex, and insisting they will grow up to be their preferred gender. Many children outgrow these preoccupations by adolescence. However, some adolescents develop an enduring cross-gender identification that results in a desire for hormonal and surgical transition to obtain physical characteristics consistent with their preferred gender. Others have persistent discomfort with their primary and secondary sex characteristics, but do not identify as transgender. In many cases, adolescents have never heard of anyone else experiencing similar feelings and think they must be unique or crazy. They feel isolated and alone until they find others on the internet who also describe such experiences.

But, while it is progress that gender dysphoria has become an understood term in the medical community, it is still not correct to pathologize it or call it a mental disorder. People who suffer from gender dysphoria—the feeling that your biological sex does not match your true gender—have long been considered mentally ill by mainstream society, even though there has never been any scientific evidence supporting such a diagnosis. In fact, most studies show that gender nonconformity is perfectly normal behavior. He says, Gender nonconformity itself isn’t pathological; rather, how people react to it is what makes it pathological. But now things are changing. Over 100 mental health professionals signed a petition calling for an end to diagnosing transgender individuals with GIDD (Gender Identity Disorder) in 2012 after rejecting its validity since 1974 when homosexuality was removed from the list of psychiatric disorders in DSM-III.

The gender binary does not have a concrete basis in scientific fact. The idea that there are only two genders is a social construct. People should feel free to express themselves however they like without being subjected to societal backlash or stereotypes. We’re all people and deserve to be treated as such. When it comes to gender identity, our society still has progress ahead of it before we reach true equality.

Colophon
The header image Photo is by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash. [Source]

Asides
What It’s Like To Be Born With Female Pseudohermaphroditism | Dissecting Gender Roles | The Superior Gender | Gender-Inclusive Education | Gender | A Quick Guide to Sex, Gender Identity, & Gender Expression | LGBTQIA Definitions: Intersex | Transed Your Phobia | What It Means To Be Intersex – Susannah Temko

2 Comments

  • Liz Filskov, aka Dem Ford ;)

    Bonjour, Thomas! May I have permission to print this post to share with students? I’m doing an LGBTQIA history, issues and activism minicourse next year, and this will be a perfect short reading for our curriculum.
    Merci beaucoup!

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