Maine and Massachusetts have added themselves to the list of states taking measures to offer a third gender option, “X,” on drivers’ licenses and state-issued IDs. Residents will no longer have to identify themselves based on their anatomy.
The third classification can be selected those who either choose against identifying themselves based upon their biology and those who feel they fall somewhere in the middle. Still, the transgender community faces heavy discrimination on the streets and in the statehouses.
We’re all aware of the legal hurdles the trans community is tackling in terms of equal treatment under the law. But the struggle doesn’t end there. It’s often reported that the transgender community is highly susceptible to violent crime. But what does that really mean?
According to the U.S. Dpt. Of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime, half of all transgender people are the victims of sexual abuse and sexual assault in their lifetimes. And research performed in the United Kingdom found more than one third of all transgender people were victims of hate crimes in a one-year period.
So how is it that something celebrated by expectant parents can become a subject of hatred and cruelty? After all, parents excitedly await their gender reveal parties, anxiously anticipating balloons of either pink or blue.
They’re happy either way – unless perhaps it’s a mom or five boys who knows this will be her very last pregnancy, but even she isn’t horribly devastated if the cake turns up blue. Couldn’t they be just as happy if those balloons rising from the box were orange or purple or green with white polka dots?
What if we stop thinking of two genders? Penis and vagina are body parts, a biological designation. But just as we’ve come to understand that sexual orientation isn’t necessarily tied to reproductive organs, gender can mean so much more.
Multiple Sexes, Multiple Genders
Anne Fausto-Sterling wrote of five sexes in 1993’s “The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female are Not Enough.” She described the sexual gradations running from male to female, obscure physiologies more often referred to as intersexed. In fact, Fausto-Sterling suggested as many as 23 sexual classifications. And statistics prove her point.
Intersex can describe a variety of conditions whereby a person is born with reproductive anatomy that doesn’t fit the standard definitions of male and female. The variance might be found in over- or under-sized genitals, an odd assortment of X and Y chromosomes or internal reproductive organs that don’t match their external counterparts. Traditionally, babies born obviously intersexed were assigned a gender at birth and even surgically altered to match the label.
The scenario isn’t as rare as one might believe. According to Fausto-Sterling’s research, intersex conditions range in frequency from one in 1,666 births for which a specialist is called to confer on ambiguous genitalia to one in every 100 births of those whose body varies from standard male or female.
So, if biology can vary across of spectrum of typical male to typical female – and so many fall somewhere in between – why can’t gender be the same?
After all, gender is more than anatomy. It’s a feeling. If someone asks a child if they are a boy or a girl, do they think about their likes, dislikes, friends and roles in their communities; or, do they think about what’s hidden in their knickers?
National Geographic’s Robin Marantz Henig described it perfectly:
“Gender is an amalgamation of several elements: chromosomes (those X’s and Y’s), anatomy (internal sex organs and external genitals), hormones (relative levels of testosterone and estrogen), psychology (self-defined gender identity), and culture (socially defined gender behaviors). And sometimes people who are born with the chromosomes and genitals of one sex realize that they are transgender, meaning they have an internal gender identity that aligns with the opposite sex—or even, occasionally, with neither gender or with no gender at all.”
We no longer assume that a baby born with a penis has to be attracted to women when he grows up. We understand that sexuality lies on a spectrum, ranging from completely heterosexual to completely homosexual, with many stops along the way. Whether or not a person will grow up to be gay, straight, bisexual, asexual, demisexual or something else isn’t determined by their genitalia. So why must their gender?
The Gender Spectrum
The idea that gender is tied to biology is better known as binary gender – everyone must be one of two. Penis or vagina? Boy or girl? Blue or pink?
But what if – like sexual orientation and, in the only somewhat-rare cases described above, biological sex – gender falls along a spectrum? There is no “normal.” Instead of assigning transgendered people a separate label, why not label everyone?
A gender spectrum can include girls who love pink and boys who play with worms, tomboys, lipstick lesbians, transgender women and men, effeminate males, queers, jocks, cisgenders and everyone in between. Transgender equality equals all gender equality.
Before we can start calling ourselves trans or cis or anything else, we should probably start by learning a few of the different points on the gender spectrum and what they mean. We might be surprised how much gender diversity we see every day.
- Agender – a person with little or no connection to either traditional binary gender; a person who considers themselves without gender.
- Androgynous – a person who expresses elements of masculinity and femininity, or a person with both male and female anatomy.
- Bigender – a person who fluctuates between gender identities traditionally associated with male and female, or one who identifies with both genders.
- Cisgender – a person whose gender identity matches their biological sex assigned at birth, often shortened to “cis.”
- Cross-dresser – a person who wears the clothes of a gender other than their assigned sex at birth, but who doesn’t necessarily identify as that gender.
- Drag king – A biological female who theatrically presents as masculine.
- Drag queen – A biological male who theatrically presents as female.
- Feminine-of-center; masculine-of-center – A person whose gender identity is more feminine or masculine than typical for their biological sex, but who doesn’t necessarily identify as the opposite gender.
- Feminine-presenting; masculine-presenting – A person who expresses gender in a more feminine or masculine than typical.
- Gender fluidity – An identity that can change over time between masculine, feminine and a combination of the two.
- Genderqueer – A person who does not identify as either binary of male or female.
- Pansexual – a person who experiences sexual and romantic attraction for people of all gender identities and expressions.
- Skoliosexual – a person who is primarily sexually and romantically attracted to genderqueer, transgender and non-binary people.
- Transgender – a person who lives life as a gender other than that assigned based on their anatomical sex.
- Transsexual – a person who identifies psychologically as a gender other than that which typically corresponds with their biological sex.
- Transvestite – a person who dresses as the binary opposite gender expression for relaxation, entertainment or sexual gratification, often referred to as a “cross-dresser.”
When 1,000 millennials were recently surveyed, half of them indicated a belief that gender is on a spectrum. Perhaps, by labeling everyone, those labels will hold far less importance. There would be no reason for any parents to attempt raising genderless “theybies.”
Or, everyone can check the box marked, “X,” and accept everyone for who they are. It’s none of their business, anyway.