Breaking Myths and Stereotypes Surrounding Sex and Gender
Lately, gender, sexuality and attraction take away enough of the spotlight for continuing on a spectrum in identities and expression. Howbeit, much to our disbelief, biological sex exists on a spectrum too, and binary has been a myth all along!
Before we unpack the biology behind this, let’s get a basic understanding of the terms- sex and gender. While sex refers to the biological differences between people, such as genitalia, hormones, and genetic differences, gender relates to the individuals’ concept and perception of themselves and their bodies.
The male/female split is designated as binary and “normal”, but this is not true. Biology isn’t as unambiguous as it seems to be. There is much more that takes place on a molecular and cellular level that determines the genetic make-up of the individual.
A biological man has a set of 46 chromosomes including, an X and Y, while a biological woman has a pair of X chromosomes. Variations in these biological traits can occur more commonly than we realize. For instance, some people assigned male at birth are born with two or three X chromosomes, just as some assigned female at birth are born with a Y chromosome. Sometimes, a child born with androgen insensitivity can have a mix of female and male genitalia. We call these people as intersex. Most times, people’s bodies can possess a combination of physical characteristics which do not represent the typical binary. Traits, including hormone levels, can still differ within and across sexes.
So, how can sex be binary if it presents itself with a continuum of variations?
We have these ingrained perceptions of natural science and binary, medically and as an individual, as a normal way of expression. We consider anything and everything beyond these definitions as an anomaly and/or dysfunction. Once upon a time, that was the case because of a lack in research and evidence, which is absolutely not the case right now. Evidence and my personal experience as a queer-affirming Occupational Therapist is that any person of any gender and sex can have a fulfilling, meaningful life. Harmful medical approaches, personal biases, and internalized ableism to sexual traits carry over to gender because our society often thinks of sex and gender as interchangeable.
Initially, gender was studied in a social-cultural context as the role a person plays in the society. However, we disregard this theory as it’s a piece of garbage. Nobody except us can define our role(s) in this society. Roles are not gendered neither are skills.
Everyone needs to learn basic life skills, have a right to choose what work they want to do, and deserve to be treated the same way as we are all humans. Humanity is our foundation and fluidity in identities and expression adds layer and flavor to our individuality.
Gender is ones’ internal, personal sense of being a man, a woman, a combination of both, or none. For example: for transgender persons, their gender identity does not match the sex assigned at birth. Non-binary, gender non-conforming, or agender people may not entirely relate to binary identities. None of this makes them abnormal or reflects dysfunction, but shows that human experience is vividly dissimilar. They make no two bodies the same way, no two bodies feel the same way, and no two bodies express the same way.
The concept of binary as normal is toxic and is only used to assert power, and suppress individuals in communities. If something is beyond someone’s comprehension and perception of what sex and gender could be, it automatically becomes not normal and unethical. It’s not a result of our culture, but the policing done in the name of religion and culture that narrows the thinking of individuals and creates these biases. If it was our culture, we wouldn’t be teaching the world how to find sexual pleasure using Kama Sutra. Yet here we are focusing on the rigidity in sexual drives, instead of celebrating the fluidity in which we can bring about and maximize pleasure by being true to our body.
Changing attitudes and social structures to recognize sex as a spectrum is a daunting task, but it is possible. This change needs to happen both at a personal and community level. We cannot change the world with an empty cup so, before we start work at a community level, we need to keep challenging our own biases, and reflecting on our education. At a community level, we need both professional and public education covering all dynamic aspects of sexuality.
We’re where we begin. We’re where we bring the change first, and that’s how we unravel and break sexuality stereotypes.
Before you leave you to change the world, remember this mantra-
Roses are Red,
Bigotry is Dumb,
Sex, Gender, Attraction & Sexuality,
All exist on a spectrum!