No, Sex Isn’t Binary
The concept has always been a lie
By: Xenon Rae (she/her)
In elementary, middle, and high schools across the country, sex education and science classes rarely stray from the concept of two distinct and binary human sexes with simple and defined characteristics like genital appearance, internal reproductive organs, hormone levels, and chromosomes. The assumption that you can jam people into the essentialist two-sex system is deeply embedded into the seams of society, despite the existence of people who don’t fit into this construct since the beginning of humanity.
Generally, at birth, a doctor takes a quick look at a baby’s genitals and assigns them either an ‘M’ or ‘F’ gender marker on their birth certificate. The problem with that is 1.7 percent of the world population(about 127.5 million people) are intersex and don’t fit into the arbitrary categories of “male” or “female,” and 0.6 percent* of the population of the United States(more than 1.4 million people) have a gender different from their assigned sex at birth. The binary definitions of “male” and “female” simply aren’t based on the reality of sexual and gender diversity in the human species. How would you categorize a person with XY chromosomes, a penis and testes capable of reproduction, and a uterus? What about someone who was born with a penis but now has a vagina? What about a man who may or may not be testosterone dominant hormonally, has ovaries, a uterus, and a vagina? What about the children who have genital surgery performed on them before they can give consent so that they’ll fit into a “normal” sex category?The answer? It’s not any of your business. Our bodies, minds, and spirits are our own to define. Not a piece of paper. Not some administration in the White House. And absolutely not anyone else.
Trying to label sex as some mystical absolute is a way of forcing the human experience into neat little boxes of oppression rather than dismantling the deeply sexist cisheteronormative world (believing that being cisgender and heterosexual with their accompanying roles are the default). You may have heard about the leaked Trump administration memo that talks about sex being “determined by the genitals that a person is born with,”and “either male or female.”This is a terrifying example of forced categorization. The aim to make a someone’s sex legally unchangeable from the one assigned at birth without a chromosome test isn’t just nonsensical; it’s erasure and blatant targeting that marginalized people are already subjected to. The spectrums of sex and gender have always existed, but the binaries have continued to be pushed socially and legally, throwing everyone who doesn’t match up into the hellscape of marginalization. The sex binary was invented, and just like gender, it is constantly broken by reality.
*It’s important to keep in mind that this percentage is larger in the real world because of the number of transgender people who have to hide for their safety and other reasons.