Gender ≠ Genitals: Misconstruing Gender As A Binary
Do you believe that what’s in our pants determines our gender identity? Let’s examine how our perspective of sex and gender as biological binaries is flawed and why assuming that all women have vaginas and all men have penises can isolate and erase an entire community.
“Is it a boy or a girl?”
That’s the first question, parents or almost anyone else asks. A textbook example of how we look at gender as a biological binary, when the truth is that there’s way more to being male, female or any gender assigned to you at birth. Sex is a label and it is given on medical grounds including your chromosomes, hormones and genitals which does not fully capture what’s going on inside our body whereas gender is simply much bigger and more complicated than assigned sex. Gender includes gender roles, which are expectations society and people have about behaviors, thoughts, and characteristics that go along with a person’s assigned sex.
There’s just no way to tell what gender a baby will identify as later in life, irrespective of their assigned biological sex. This is also why people prefer to steer clear of the term “biological sex” and are more accepting of “assigned male at birth” or “assigned female at birth” as this brings about the much yearned for acknowledgment that someone (probably a doctor) is making this decision for someone else. People who feel that their assigned sex is of the other gender from their gender identity (i.e., assigned sex is female, but gender identity is male) are called transgender or trans. It’s important to note that not all transgender people share the same exact identity. And people whose assigned sex and gender identity are pretty much the same, or in line with each other are called cisgender.
“What’s in your pants?”
Being a man doesn’t necessarily mean you have a penis or even want one. Being a woman doesn’t necessarily mean you have a vagina, either. So basically the next time you talk about vaginas, don’t immediately associate them with women and penis with men. And there’s more.
There are a number of trans men who haven’t or can’t undergo sex change surgery. This can be a personal choice or a result of financial constraints or simple inhibitions but this, in no way makes them less trans or less of a man. In fact this transitioning isn’t even necessarily about “becoming a man” but more about being a version of yourself you’re truly comfortable with. Being transgender doesn’t necessarily mean you take issue with every aspect of your body. Some of them have gender dysphoria that focuses exclusively on specific parts or features. And for those who are very dysphoric about their genitals, our society hasn’t exactly made their life easier. They feel weird about getting intimate with their partners, using public bathrooms and getting access to proper healthcare.
Accessible healthcare or rainbow coloured merch?
The queer and trans population of our country faces a number of affordability, accessibility and infrastructural issues when it comes to healthcare. It is sad to see how the needs and demands of the community have boiled down to just rainbow coloured hoardings or free offers from corporate conglomerates. What they really need is a healthcare system which looks after their mental and physical health.
Things like absence of transgender specific wards in public hospitals or denying them to be accommodated in wards of the gender that they identify with are a reflection of the ignorant attitude of the medical and non medical staff in these hospitals. The medical and nonmedical staffs in these hospitals need to be sensitized and trained to handle issues specific to queer and transgender people. They need to learn how not to hurt the dignity of queer and transgender people. The demands shouldn’t be restricted to accessible antiretroviral therapy (ART), hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and sex-reassignment surgeries (SRS).
We should try to avoid using language that can be exclusionary or confusing. Medical advice shouldn’t be and is usually not given on the basis of gender identity but based on physiological characteristics. There are plenty of men with vaginas, women with penises, and people who don’t identify with being either a man or a woman and not addressing them or erasing and isolating them will potentially cause a lot of damage.
Gender is truly limitless and so it makes sense that our bodies are too. It’s liberating and absolutely beautiful to embrace our uniqueness. Your body might be different but that doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful. You can’t force yourself to believe in something just by doing what society expects you to do. Your genitals do not define you. You are who you are and you should always celebrate that.
Cover Illustration Source: Teen Vogue