Sex is on a Spectrum
Sex is determined by more than whether a person has a penis or a vagina. Sex is a result of many different characteristics. This is why sex is not binary.
By Coraline Pettine.
Where Did Gender Come From?
When a person is born, the individual is assigned a sex and assumptions are made about that individual’s life. Sometimes, the acknowledgment of this characteristic comes even before birth.
Individuals assigned to the male sex are allocated to the male gender. Those who fall under the male gender are expected to grow up to be a male who carries himself in a manner considered by the culture and community to be masculine. In the United States, he is expected to be tough and aggressive. He will wear the color blue and be good at math, as reported in the American Journal of Political Science.
Individuals assigned to the female sex are given to the female gender. Those who fall under the female gender are considered warm and compassionate. They will wear the color pink and be timid in social situations.
There are three flaws in the cultural idea that people of certain genders act a certain ways:
- Wrongfully assuming there are only two genders;
- Wrongfully assuming there are only two sexes;
- Wrongfully assuming that sex determines gender.
Sex assignment is recorded at or soon after birth in the United States. According to “Gender Identity and Sex Assignment: A Reappraisal for the 21st Century,” a parent, relative, midwife, nurse or doctor will examines the child’s genitalia and assign the sex based off that examination.
Judging by whether the newborn has a penis or vagina, a physician will typically victoriously shout: “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!”
In many instances, sex is determined before the child exits the womb. This also occurs either through the examining of genitals on an ultrasound or by conducting blood tests to determine the present sex chromosomes.
However, sex is more than genitals and chromosomes. Sex is comprised of six categories of characteristics: external sex organs, internal sex organs, chromosomes, genes, hormones and secondary sex characteristics that are present during and after puberty.
“Since sex is more than “penis or vagina” or “XX or XY,” sex is not binary.”
Because individuals can fall anywhere on the spectrum with all six categories of characteristics, there are essentially infinite combinations that comprise a person’s sex.
Regardless, sex is currently limited to three check boxes: male, female or other, referring to intersex individuals that present a combination of both male and female sex characteristics. Then, the individual is given one of two genders: male or female. If the person’s sex does not entirely align to one category, they are allocated to the gender in which aligns with the sex their physical body most closely resembles.
Once assigned a gender, a person’s path is determined— if not entirely determined, at the very least suggested.
Those considered the male gender will be assertive. They will be able to make more money than their female counterparts for the same work. They will not be allowed to express emotions. They will be more likely to commit assault.
Those given the female gender will be passive. They will make smaller wages than their male counterparts. Their actions will be a result of their frailty and emotions. They will be more likely to experience abuse by an intimate partner or in the workplace.
Gender-based issues arise when billions of individuals are shoved into two categories.
There are infinite sexes. There is a nearly infinite combination of sex characteristics for the seven billion people on this planet. There are infinite biological compositions of human beings.
Yet American culture only recognizes two genders.
One solution to the gender-based issues that arise by stereotyping and making assumptions about individuals by the external genitals they are born with— and thus the gender they are assigned— is to recognize the spectrum of sex and gender, and accept that both are infinite, not binary.
Or, instead of recognizing infinite genders, society could cease recognizing gender.
Individuals would not be evaluated as male, female or some combination. They would be observed and expected as people. Their genitals would not play a role in their life.
Instead of being a gender, they would just be a person.
By Coraline Pettine