I saw a thing on Tumblr today that said, “sex is what the doctor sees when you come out of your mom; gender is when the doctor wraps you in a pink blanket if you have a vagina or a blue blanket if you have a penis.”
Once upon a time, I would totally have agreed. The first time I encountered Kate Bornstein’s take on gender, I scoffed, but now? Not so much.
Auntie Kate sayeth:
Sex is fucking. Everything else is gender.
And I agree. When people say “biological sex,” what they mean is “having enough of the biologically-measurable signifiers we have attributed to a particular gender.” These markers include but are not limited to:
- Chromosomal arrangement (XY vs XX; any variations thereof are suspect)
- Gonad arrangement (ovaries vs. testes; any variations thereof are suspect)
- External genitalia (penis vs. vagina; any variations thereof are suspect)
- Hormone levels (testosterone vs. estrogen; the ratios associated with female vs. male aren’t very well-defined, though)
Here’s the thing: plenty of people are born every year with those markers on both sides of the sex binary. Those folks, if they’re identified at birth, are often assigned to a gender and then surgically “corrected” to match; whether the surgery is needed or not is subjective and in some cases the doctors don’t even ask the parents before operating.
Each one of those markers fails as a total binary, and knowing that one person can have, say, XY chromosomes, internal gonads of indistinct type, a vagina, and high testosterone levels and still be designated as female because “well, there are enough female markers, so let’s go with that” sure as shit makes it sound subjective to me.
Plus, I’ve read accounts by a number of trans folks who transitioned and had surgery because their external biological sex indicators affected how people treated them. They had to change not just their clothes/hairstyle/makeup/whatever, but also their physical bodies, in order to be accepted as the gender with which they identify.
Biological sex markers are gender markers.
Yes, these biological features usually come in groups, XY-testes-penis-testosterone or XX-ovaries-vagina-estrogen, but not always – the same way that in our society most folks identify as men or women, but not all.
It’s the same way that societally-agreed-upon gender markers tend to come in groups – pink-horses-princesses-woman-biological-markers vs. blue-cars-guns-male-biological-markers.
Hell, international sporting federations can’t even properly agree on what makes someone male vs. female. When are we going to stop pretending that this stuff is subjective?!
Call me a radical gender anarchist, but I’m with Auntie Kate. Sex is fucking. Everything else is gender.