DIY gender assignment with nonbinary identity range


INTRO: . . . Despite a widespread assumption that everyone fits into neat gender categories, I’ve always been treated as a gender question mark. My social interactions since childhood have been filled with wildly vacillating gender expectations. These days, though, I identify as nonbinary not because I am androgynous. Rather, I do so because experiencing life as an androgynous person has made me acutely aware of how gendered expectations and assumptions saturate our lives.

Unreflective critics like to accuse people like me of being ‘obsessed’ with gender. But far from being obsessed, many of us are just plain tired of it. I am tired of living in a society where everyone forces each other into a blue or a pink box. The ferocity with which these gender boxes are maintained – and the Hail Mary attempts to justify them with science – is truly staggering. Anyone who dares to challenge these boxes is met with distortion and ridicule. I don’t want to put up with it any longer: my identity is a petition for an escape hatch.

Most people assume that gender is tied to biological sex. For the majority, this means that gender is identical to sex, where sex is taken to be determined by one’s reproductive features. Call this the ‘identity’ view of gender. For others, following Simone de Beauvoir, gender is the social meaning of sex. Call this the ‘social position’ view of gender.

On either the identity or the social-position view, your gender is constrained by whether your body is sexed as male or as female. According to the identity view, your gender just is your sexed body. And, according to the social view, your gender is unavoidably indexed to your sexed body, because society imposes social roles onto you on the basis of your biology. On either view, then, it would seem that nonbinary genders do not – cannot – exist. But this is mistaken.

Consider first those who hold to a strict identity relation between gender and sex. On this view, nonbinary gender cannot exist because – it is assumed – everyone has either a male or a female body. This view proliferates on countless blogs, forums and news sources, where one finds wildly distorted discussions of what it means to be nonbinary. Nearly all conclude that nonbinary gender is a biological impossibility. The more vitriolic commenters add to this that anyone who says they are nonbinary is deranged.

It seems, then, that when I say: ‘I am nonbinary’, a staggering number of people take this to mean: ‘I don’t have female or male reproductive features’, and so dismiss my claim as absurd. But this is a conversational failure. Maybe even a bald-faced lie. We are nowhere near the end of militant insistence that nonbinary genders are a ‘biological’ impossibility. But the insistence is a façade hiding a bad argument. Let’s take the reasoning at face value:

Premise 1: Someone’s gender is identical to their set of reproductive features.

Premise 2: There are only two possible sets of reproductive features.

Conclusion: So it is impossible for someone to have a nonbinary gender.

An initial thing to notice is that the second premise is demonstrably false. The science journalist Claire Ainsworth, writing for the journal Nature in 2015, points out that this ‘simple scenario’ is distant from reality:

According to the simple scenario, the presence or absence of a Y chromosome is what counts: with it, you are male, and without it, you are female. But doctors have long known that some people straddle the boundary – their sex chromosomes say one thing, but their gonads (ovaries or testes) or sexual anatomy say another … What’s more, new technologies in DNA sequencing and cell biology are revealing that almost everyone is, to varying degrees, a patchwork of genetically distinct cells, some with a sex that might not match that of the rest of their body.

In other words, it’s uncontroversial among doctors, biologists and geneticists that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to find a line in nature that cleanly divides people into males and females. So, even granting the first premise, the argument fails: reproductive features do not neatly fall into binary categories. The biological world is far messier than XX and XY chromosomes.

Making this point and walking away would be hasty. True, intersex people – those whose biological features combine male- and female-coded reproductive features – exist. But it doesn’t further our understanding of nonbinary identities, because having an intersex condition is neither sufficient nor necessary for being nonbinary. The majority of nonbinary individuals do not have an intersex condition, nor do they take themselves to....


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