Opinion: Defining Gender

Note from author: The following post is a rant, a ramble, a brain dump, entirely an opinion piece and not meant to be a study or a research article. This is as much a journey to improve my own understanding as it is to try to bring some understanding to you and others. So while I encourage you to hold me accountable for any inaccuracies that might be here, please understand that the goal isn’t to be factual and scholarly, but to just rant and ramble and together figure some things out.

So what are we talking about here? We’re talking about gender. Boys and girls and in between and beyond and so on. But before we get into all that, let’s talk about what we’re NOT going to be talking about here.

We won’t be talking about DNA an X an Y chromosomes or various rare conditions defined in medicine as “intersex” and so on. Just as DNA and genetics do not define your personality or your preference for the color green or whether you like blue jeans or khakis, DNA does not define gender. While it DOES define your body’s sex and reproductive organs and reproductive capabilities, those are NOT gender. Sex is not gender. The ability to produce sperm or to ovulate define your sex, but not your gender.

Sex and genitalia are not gender.

So what IS gender? What makes a person a “boy” or a “girl” if it’s not what is in their underwear?

What makes you “Bob” different from that other “Bob” who works in the office down the hall? You’re both Bob, but you’re different people, right? He likes NASCAR and duck hunting and Bud Lite, you like Elton John and wine and British cooking shows. What is it that makes you different people?

Without getting into some heavy deep psychological stuff, stuff WAY beyond the scope of a blog post that is just a rant and a ramble let’s just say there is a part of you that is ‘you’. Call it your brain or your soul or your ‘inner self’ or what you will, there is a ‘you’ that is inside the flesh and bone being you live in. The thinking, planning, dreaming, imagining, you. The part that likes chocolate ice cream, but not cheesecake. The part that is hoping you have enough in the bank for pizza, but knows you should probably save the money to put gas in the car.

The true inner ‘you’.

And that ‘you’, there’s a lot to it besides your preferences, likes, and dislikes. It’s everything that is you. Everything. And that includes your gender. It’s ingrained in that part that makes you, ‘you’.

Clear as mud? No? Ok. Like I said, that’s some heavy duty psychological stuff that is beyond the scope of a ranting, rambling, opinion blog post. But if you truly want to learn some about it, visit your college library and search the subject “Psychology of Gender”, there are a LOT of big fat books on the subject. It’s some dry reading at times, but you’ll learn a lot. (I found some summaries online that gave me some ideas for this post, too many to mention here, but I googled “Psychology of Gender Books” and that’s what helped me.

Now, furthermore, gender is more than binary. Binary meaning two things, in this case, male or female. As I’ve already said, outward genitalia and reproductive ability are NOT gender. It’s not “boy” and “girl”. It’s a lot more complex than that.

A WHOLE LOT more complex than that. But let’s start simple. Before we even get further let’s make another distinction.

Sexual preference. Boys who like boys. Girls who like girls. Boys and girls who like both boys and girls. And a lot of other definitions and ‘combinations’. Who we fall in love with. Who we want to take to bed and have some cuddle time with.

That is not gender.

A boy who likes other boys does not secretly want to be a girl, not necessarily anyway. A boy can fall in love with a boy and not want to turn into a girl.

Who you love does not define your gender. Your preferred sexual partner or partners is not a part of your gender identity.

Ok? Again, that’s a lot of psychological stuff. But like outward appearance, it’s not part of your gender identity.

Moving on.

So let’s talk about boys. Just boys. Boys who are boys who want to be boys. Think about boys and men. Within what we, collectively as a society, define as ‘men’ there is a pretty broad category of what is ‘man’. From early ages, we have boys who are into toy trucks and we have boys that are shy and are into books and we have boys that would rather play with the girls. And we accept them all as boys. As they grow we have the athletes that are more what we call ‘alpha’ male, and the geeks, and the types like “Ducky” in the Pretty in Pink movie who are just square pegs, yet they are all ‘men’.

We just accept that there is a range, a spectrum within what is ‘men’.

And here is the kicker. All gender is like that. It’s all a spectrum. You, dear reader, right now can think of some guys you know that are very effeminate. And you can probably think of some women you know that you might define as very “mannish”. Like light split through a prism, gender has many colors other than ‘pink’ and ‘blue’. And it’s more than “men” on one side and “women” on the other, it’s a bigger, broader, harder to define range, and some people don’t fit into any category easily, and others tend to slide up and down the spectrum seemingly at will, and that’s OK too.

Are you still with me? Let’s sum up where we are so far.

What gender is not:
DNA, X, Y, or other chromosomal definition.
External genitalia
The ability to produce sperm or ovulate
Any other biological factor of your body
Defined by your preferred sexual partner(s)

What gender IS:
Part of your psychological makeup
A range, more than “male” or “female”
Some are “fluid” within the range

Still hanging in with me? OK good. Like I said, there is a LOT of psychological stuff that I am barely scratching the surface. It’s been a long while since I’ve been in college, so some of this is from way back when, and some of it is from summaries that I looked up as I mentioned above. But this is a blog, where I rant and ramble, and I GREATLY ENCOURAGE YOU to seek and learn this stuff on your own.

Let’s carry on.

Gender is part of what makes you, ‘you’. Gender is more than “boy” and “girl”, even within our traditional definitions of ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ we accept that there is a range of what is acceptable, so in our modern world we’ve come to see that there is actually a range that is broader across gender altogether and is more than even ‘boy’ and ‘girl’.

So how many genders are there?

Well, that depends on who you ask. This controversial Wikipedia page lists several different ideas:

“In the case of the Navajo, there are four genders: man, woman, masculine female-bodied nádleeh, and feminine male-bodied nádleeh. Intercourse between two people of different genders, regardless of biological sex, was not stigmatized.”

Nanda, Serena. Gender Diversity: Crosscultural Variations. Waveland Press, 1999. Print.

“Anne Fausto-Sterling proposes that a body does not necessarily have to fit into the orthodox gender binary set by a society, but rather can be categorized under the possibility of male, female, merm, ferm, and herm, which are labels given to individuals born with a variation in sex characteristics.”

Fausto-Sterling, Anne (March–April 1993). “The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female Are Not Enough”. The Sciences: 20–24.

But psychiatry is coming to realize just like light is a spectrum of colors, gender is a spectrum. How many colors are there? If we were to define every variation there would be infinite genders. Are any of us truly 100% in one ‘box’ or another? Are you 100% male or female according to some societal standard (that, honestly, doesn’t mean much in terms of who you really are?)

“But then what about transgender people?”

Well, I am glad you asked, random internet person. A transgender person is no more or less than someone who feels that their external, biological, appearance does not match their true gender and wants to change their appearance to match. It could be as simple as dressing to match their gender identity, or as extreme as surgically altering their body to match their true gender. Many legally change their name and will try, if possible where they live, to legally change their gender on legal identification such as passports and driver’s licenses.

“Then what is a drag queen?”

Well, now this is a tricky question. Because while a transgender person is someone who becomes who they are as a different-than-assigned-at-birth gender permanently, a drag queen is typically a character, a persona, that is assumed temporarily for a performance, and while it is an art form that is almost strictly the domain of gay men, most are not interested in ‘transitioning’ into women permanently and their “Drag Queen” character, while perhaps part of their identity, is not part of their gender identity.

Being a cis-male I know I am not nearly the most qualified person to be talking about this topic (or, honestly, nearly anything in this post), but, as I said, I am doing this as much for my own ‘figuring this thing out’ as for anyone else reading this.

What more can I add to this? There is a lot of ground to cover, way more than can be shared here, but as I’ve said many times here, if you want to get into this, go visit your local college library, it’s a deep heavy subject.

At heart, what I want to say here, dear reader is there is one thing I am sick to death of hearing, and it’s that there are only two genders, that there are only boys and girls. I am sick to death of getting on social media and seeing tweets and posts and videos of people who think they are clever by saying that “DNA says…” or “Science says…” or “Check your underwear….” and they just don’t get it, that there is more than outward appearance, there is more than DNA that determines personality and who you are and what you are and part of that is your gender. Your soul, our being, your true self is what tells you who and what you are. Don’t let some idiot try to tell you that just because your blood cells have two Xs in the chromosomes that you have to wear dresses and heels and play with dolls. Or that because you have a penis you have to play football and drive trucks and shoot guns. f

Our society’s constructs of masculine and feminine are artificial an have no real bearing on what real gender identity is and it’s way past time we accept and embrace that our American ideals of pink and blue and ‘boys will be boys’ and football and cheerleaders is outdated and out of sync with the rest of the world now that we have a global society. We need to grow up as a species and as a collective of souls and embrace our collective selves for who we all our no matter how ‘weird’ we all might be in the eyes of each other.

One thought on “Opinion: Defining Gender

  1. As a trans girl I want to say how thankful I am to read this. Thank you for standing up for us. We do matter and we do exist.
    One part you left include was gender dysphoria. Its the feeling you get like youre in the wrong body. It feels as confining as putting on a shirt thats too small. When our true gender is expressed we experience the opposite… gender euphoria…when our outside matches our inside.

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