The Gender Binary

Most societies view sex as a binary concept, with two rigidly fixed options: male or female, based on a person’s reproductive anatomy and functions. But a binary view of sex fails to capture its complexity.

"Even the biological categories of male and female are blurred; we know today that not just the X and Y chromosomes but at least 12 others across the human genome govern sex differentiation, and at least 30 genes are involved in sex development."--Simona Giordano, Director of Medical Ethics, Manchester University Medical School

Not only are female and male bodies more complex than most realize, there are also bodies that fit neither category. While we are often taught that bodies have one of two forms of genitalia, which are classified as “female” or “male,” there are Intersex traits that demonstrate that sex exists across a continuum of possibilities.

This level of naturally occurring biological variation by itself should be enough to dispel the simplistic notion that there are just two sexes. The relationship between a person’s gender and their body goes beyond one’s reproductive functions.

Research in neurology, endocrinology, and cellular biology points to a broader biological basis for an individual’s experience of gender. In fact, research increasingly points to our brains as playing a key role in how we each experience our gender.

Bodies themselves are also gendered in the context of cultural expectations. Masculinity and femininity are equated with certain physical attributes, labeling us as more or less a man/woman based on the degree to which those attributes are present.

This gendering of our bodies affects how we feel about ourselves and how others perceive and interact with us. Source: GenderSpectrum