Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Gender Blogs: X. Gender Binaries

Written 27 August, 2008

The Gender Blogs

X. Gender Binaries

In my last post I brought up the issue of deception as it applied to transsexualism. In this and the next post, and the next, I will elucidate.

Pretty much everybody has an opinion about the “real” sex of transsexuals. Just about any transsexual you might ask will tell you they feel as if their “real” sex is the sex with which they identify. Their physiology is an encumbrance. Many of their family members and friends and a good portion of the general population would agree with their assessment.

But some people are absolutists when it comes to gender: they consider sex immutable. No matter how transsexuals might perceive themselves, absolutists “know” the “true” sex of transsexuals is that of their birth. When quizzed, absolutists might cite religion (God created them male and female, so he did) and will usually point to one or more physical or societal characteristics they consider definitive of one’s sex. These might be sex chromosomes (XX vs. XY), external genitalia (penis vs. vagina), internal genitalia (ovaries vs. prostate), hormonal state (estrogen vs. testosterone predominant), the ability vs. inability to give birth, the pronouncement of sex at birth, or the sex role in which the individual was raised. To them, sex is absolute and immutable.

Curiously, however, human beings can’t be reliably and absolutely separated into categories by ANY of these binary criteria. That’s because real life, as most of us know, is analog and messy. So you can sort XY individuals into a blue box and XX individuals into a pink box, but sooner or later (and most likely sooner) you’ll come upon an individual who doesn’t fit in either, or who seems to fit in both.

I’ll use chromosomes as an example. Males have one male chromosome (Y) and one female (X), for a chromosomal makeup or XY. Females have two female chromosomes (XX). But there are people with XXY chromosomal makeup (this is called Klinefelter Syndrome), or XYY, or XO (Turner Syndrome, in which there is no male chromosome), or mosaicism, in which some cells are XX, some XY, and some neither. Or you’ll come across XY individuals who have given birth or XX individuals who have fathered children or XY individuals who are more feminine in body form and psychology than XX individuals because they’re totally unable to process testosterone (which is present in every human being and to some extent masculinizes female brains).

If you’re an absolutist, it has to make you crazy to learn sex doesn’t have one determinant, but many. You really don’t want to hear humans aren’t always categorizable into the binary categories of male and female—and so you use the only tools at your disposal: denial and rationalization. Those people aren’t like you and me (and frankly, I’m not so sure about YOU!). They’re aberrations, freaks of nature. They’re psychologically sick / being punished by God / should be kept away from “normal” people.

And YOU, of course, are a normal person. Despite that third nipple.

No comments: