So having explained what we mean by the gender binary, and why it is complete nonsense, what then should we use instead?
The Gender Spectrum
This post will by no means be definitive, as there are still whole areas of the spectrum unexplored, and our understanding of gender is ever evolving, but I will do my best to explain it in a way that means something, and will use later posts to explain parts in more depth.
Here is a chart:
Ignoring sexual orientation for the moment (that spectrum is a whole series of posts within itself), this does a fairly good job of breaking down just how complex and issue gender is. The 4 different areas used here don’t even cover the whole thing, but this post is an overview, not an in depth analysis.
The easiest way to go about this is to take the 4 different areas above and discuss them in turn, because trying to discuss it any other way is just a headache waiting to happen.
Biological sex, as noted above, is the sex assigned to you at birth. It is based on genitalia, steeped in societal biases, and causes way more trouble than it should. Society sees biological sex on the binary: penises are male, vaginas are female, and occasionally we see something in between, but those are “medical anomalies”. Which is an awful way to think about people.
If you were paying attention to the post on the gender binary, you will know why this is harmful.
Changing society’s perspectives on biological sex is going to take a lot of time and work, but it is something we should start doing loudly and more often, not so much for our generation, but for the one coming behind us. Knowing that sometimes women have penises, guys have vaginas, and there’s nothing wrong with being somewhere in between would change the lives of so many queer youths, and would likely see a massive drop in the number of young queer suicides and abuse cases. A person’s genitalia has whatever sex they say it does, and we don’t get to tell them otherwise.
This is also the basis for a lot of prejudice against trans folx, particularly in this whole mess with bathroom laws in the States. Ignorant people are using the “penises are always male” line as a reason to decry trans women, calling them “perverted”, and claiming they only want in the women’s bathroom to perv on kids. It’s bullshit, but it’s dangerous bullshit.
This part is way more important than biological sex, as this is the part that informs who you are and how you will go on to present yourself to the world.
As you will see on the chart above, 100% masculine, or cis-male is at one end of the line, and 100% feminine, or cis-feminine is at the other end. Cis is not the insult some people will try and tell you it is, it merely means someone who’s identity conforms with the gender corresponding to their biological sex. Therefore a cis-man is someone who was assigned male at birth, and who’s gender identity lines up with this. It’s mostly used as a way to differentiate from trans or non-binary folx, because using “normal” to describe these people is just disgusting and wrong.
So what is in between cis-male and cis-female? This is where we get into the trans* and non-binary identities, and wow are there a lot of them.
Here is another diagram:
It’s a lot to take in.
Leading on from above, gender expression is the version of yourself you present to the world, and can come in many different varieties.
A non-exhaustive list includes:
Agender, androgyne, bi-gender, non-binary, butch, femme, genderfluid, genderqueer, neutrois, trans, transmasculine, transfeminine, and so on.
Now, a lot of people say there are too many labels, and folx who identify with them are being picky for the sake of looking oppressed and attention-seeking.
To those people: FUCK YOU.
No one chooses to make their lives harder just by being themselves, fuck sake.
The main point about gender expression is that again, it is entirely individual, and a lot of the confusion and backlash come from stereotypical gender cues coming from that dreaded binary we talked about last time. A lot of abuse aimed at those who identify with the labels above and others is mired in the fact that “men do x things” and “women do y things” and we can’t seem to move on from this. So femme guys who wear make-up are abused, and butch women who like to wear shirts and chinos get abused. And androgynous kids get called names for existing. And and and and.
I can only speak to my experience, as I identify as a genderqueer trans guy (I love queer because it’s a great word), and in my instance this means that whilst I have the haircut and glasses and quite often clothing associated with being male, I still love make-up and nail polish and clothing coded female. And this upsets a lot of people, which is very silly and I would like them to stop, but I am not a genie so I can’t grant that wish.
Again, to reiterate: a person’s gender is their own, and how they choose to present that is entirely up to them.
Ok, last heading.
The chart above says this one is “how the world sees you”. And as I have said a hundred times in this post already, that’s usually from a cisgender, binary gender-centred point of view, and is likely to be about 99.9% wrong.
The important thing to concentrate on here is this: please relearn what you know about gender. If you are not sure of someone’s gender, don’t worry about it. Use singular “they” as a pronoun until someone tells you otherwise. Don’t ask prying questions, or try and steer people into situations that you think they should be in based on what you have perceived their gender to be.
Be kind. Be patient. Don’t judge.
So yeah, that’s a brief break-down of the gender spectrum. I’ve likely missed out loads, and I will go into certain aspects, such as the identities, in greater detail later. Please fire any questions or things you’d like me to talk about at me on twitter (@captwordbeard) or through the email here.
Let’s get a conversation started.