Moving away from Binary to Non-Binary

What is gender anyway?

Gender is a very powerful category around which we construct our social (and legal) life. Currently, we have designed it into two distinct categories — you’re a man or a woman. Each category in this binary system comes with a set of expectations from society regarding characteristics, behaviors, and thoughts.

However, these expectations are by now means rigid, but in constant flux and change throughout history and culture; One moment, wearing make-up is considered masculine (e.g. Ancient Egypt), the next it’s feminine. In the 1920s pink was a color for boys, and blue was a color for girls.* (Boulton, T. Oct 17, 2014. The Surprisingly Recent Time Period When Boys Wore Pink, Girls Wore Blue, and Both Wore Dresses)
But it has often been an either-or question, now, everything seems to be shifting away from the binary perspective. For some, this is extremely liberating, but it’s is terribly frightening for others. Why? Let’s deconstruct this. 
non-binary vs binary

 

Gender and sex 

In the binary gender system, your gender is based on your sex, which is usually assigned by a doctor at birth — male or female. This label is given on the basis of biological factors, such as hormones, chromosomes, and most visibly the genitals of a person. With this mind, many people fail to distinguish the difference between sex and gender. Whereas sex is purely biological, gender is an entirely social construct. It’s a collective idea that only exists in our minds. Similar to how we construct the value of money, laws, or fame of an individual. It only works if we all believe in it, but it’s by no means a tangible truth.

However, since the idea of gender is based on the concept of sex and is directly linked to it, it causes many people to wrongfully use them interchangeably. Nevertheless, even for those who do understand this fundamental difference, a binary gender system still seems very logical; gender is based on sex, sex is binary, and therefore gender should be treated as such too. However, this is a hastily founded argument since the dimensions of sex are more complicated than they might initially seem.  

In between sexes

With sex in the world of humans, the rule goes like this; a person with XX chromosomes becomes a female with female primary and secondary sexual organs, and a person with XY chromosome becomes a male with male primary and secondary sexual organs. It’s that simple, right? Well, there are often exceptions to the rules and this is no exception.

Among us, there are people who have XXY or XO chromosomes, possess a mix of reproductive organs, or who in all forms are considered female, but carry XY chromosomes.** People who don’t fit the binary sex boxes of strictly “male” or “female” are intersex. And this number is not as small as you might think; statistics say 17 out of 1000 children are born intersex. ***
**Hamann, S., Stevens, J., Vick, J.H., Bryk, K., Quigley, C.A., Sheri A. Berenbaum, S.A., & Wallen, K. (2014). Brain responses to sexual images in 46, XY women with complete androgen insensitivity syndrome are female-typical. Hormones and Behavior, 66 (5): 724 
***Fausto‐Sterling, A. 2000. Sexing the body: Gender politics and the construction of sexuality, New York: Basic Books.
gender non-binary flag
Gender non-binary flag 

Still, because they assigned to be male or female legally, this is not as visible in our binary structured society. When looking at the above facts, we have to conclude sex is by no means as binary as we are made to believe in our biology classes.