MOVING BEYOND THE GENDER BINARY

We live in a society that operates under the assumption that there are only two genders, male and female, and that the sex that you were assigned at birth determines what your gender will be.

In the last several decades scholars and activists have come to understand gender to be a “social construct.” This means that gender is a socially agreed upon set of rules and behaviors. Because these rules vary between different cultures and change over time, many have argued that gender doesn’t have the biological basis that people have traditionally thought. This doesn’t mean that gender isn’t real. It has very real impacts on our lives and how we experience the world. It just means that it doesn’t have a strong demonstrable basis in human nature.

Gender is solely about how you identify yourself, independent of your physical body. Our genders can change and shift and evolve over time. While a person might identify as cisgender now, that doesn’t mean that this always has to be the case. There’s also a long and rich history of cultures where people have identified as something other than men or women. Examples include Two Spirit people in Indigenous North American cultures, Hijras in Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh, and the sworn virgins of the Balkans.

Recently, terms have come into popular use as ways to describe identifying outside the gender binary system. These include:

  • nonbinary
  • agender
  • bigender
  • genderqueer
  • gender nonconforming
  • transgender