Editorial: Is Gender Binary?

At birth, western society forces us into a gender binary. After you’re born, a doctor observes your genitals and then assigns you to one of two biological sexes, male or female.

Society then uses your sex to determine how you are to live your life. Males are expected to present masculinely, and females are expected to present femininely. Society often treats sex and gender as one, and harshly rejects all who fail to fall into the gender binary.

However, today’s young people are developing significantly different understandings of gender and biological sex, and western society is now opening up to the fact that gender is not as simple as ones and zeros.

The fragility of the gender binary reveals itself when a doctor attempts to sex an intersex person. Intersex people are those who are born with certain variations in phenotype, genitalia, or sex hormones that prevent a doctor from clearly assigning a male or female sex. 

The ambiguity of an intersex person’s sex at birth almost always results in a forced gender reassignment surgery that manipulates the person’s body into whatever the doctor assigning sex thinks it needs to be. This coercive reassignment is done in clear spite of the fact that intersex people’s bodies are simply not binary.

The gender binary also breaks down at the feet of non-binary/genderqueer  people, and those who reject masculinity and femininity in favor of androgyny. In fact, human history provides little support for the existence of a gender binary at all. Genders that don’t fit into the binary have existed in many cultures and ethnic groups dating back to antiquity.

People with abnormalities in genitalia, including eunuchs and intersex people, were sometimes categorized into different genders than men and women. Hieroglyphs from the Middle Kingdom of Egypt explicitly state that the Egyptians recognized three genders: male, sekhet, and female (in that order). The Scythians of Eurasia are known to have honoured genderqueer people as religious figures and warriors, and even invented Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) in the 7th Century BCE.

In addition, many pre-colonial Native American tribes are known to have recognized multiple genders. Today, these genders are commonly referred to with the blanket term, “Two-Spirit.” The Māhū of Tahiti and Hawai’i were non-binary people that also existed before colonization.

All of this being said, many people attempt to prove the existence of a gender binary by pointing to the differences in scans of brain activity between men and women. This old idea, however, is quickly being put to rest.

Neuroscientist Dr. Daphna Joel of Tel Aviv University tested the theory of a gendered brain by taking brain scans of 1400 self-identified men and women between the ages of 13 and 85. She found that across her sample, between zero and eight percent of people had brains that were entirely male or entirely female.

From her and her colleagues’ work, Dr. Joel concluded that “most people are in the middle,” and that there is no basis for an absolute gender binary.

Clearly, gender is not binary. Science and human history support the fact that gender cannot be categorized with only two options. Rather, gender can be understood as a spectrum, with men and women taking the most extreme positions on that spectrum.

So no matter who you are or what your gender is, you can rest assured that your existence is valid, purely human, and is entirely unique to yourself.