A quick note before I begin: I will use the words man and woman to refer to the genders and male and female to refer to the sexes. Just to make this clear.
Believe it or not I used to be a non-binary snowflake. Also asexual but I’ll get to that in another post.
I used to identify as non-binary. In case you didn’t know, non-binary is a gender identity meaning a gender that is neither male or female or a combination of both. But is non-binary a legitimate gender? Well it hasn’t been proven, but there’s a lot of debate around this and I’d like to weigh in with what I’ve learnt overt the last few years about gender and gender identity.
So the first thing to consider is:
What is gender?
People have different definitions. Some see it as a feeling or an identity or a perception of oneself. Others see it as a strictly biological thing that is connected in some way to sex. I interpret gender in the following way:
Gender is a category of psychological and behavioural characteristics that are associated with a certain sex. This definition supports the view that gender is indeed biological and is not a social construct. It is not a feeling or perception of oneself but more akin to a computer’s operating system.
So now that we’ve defined gender, we can now ask:
So how do non-binary genders fit in?
As an ex nb, I used to hold the view that gender is a spectrum between man and woman, and that there are an infinite number of combinations of male and female characteristics. In this case, there can be an infinite number of genders but they only fall into 3 categories- man, woman and non-binary. Other genders known to the non-binary community are:
Neutrois, genderqueer, bigender, genderfluid, genderflux, trigender, demigril, demiboy etc. There are some genders which have nothing to do with the binary- such agender or the maverique gender. There are A LOT, but most non-binary people choose one of these. (You can find a gender master list here. This blog also has a pronoun and orientation master list if you’re interested in knowing that kind of thing…)
Have in mind: that while there are general definitions for these terms, individuals often put their own meaning or interpretation of the word to suit their perceived gender so they kind of overlap quite a bit.
Let’s get to the point. Are they real or nah?
To decide this, we need to refer back to our meaning of gender. A gender represents the characteristics of a sex. So in order for a gender to exist, it needs to relate to a sex. That would mean any non-binary genders that don’t relate to sex are not real (maverique, agender) though there at some arguments to be made, but we’ll get to those in a minute.
So does that mean non binary identities that relate to the sexes are valid? Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
A gender describes certain characteristics of a sex. This means the only possible genders are man and woman.
But not so fast! What if gender is a spectrum between man and woman? Doesn’t that mean non-binary people can exist if they fall between the extremes of man and woman? Think of it this way. A non-binary person has a mix of male and female psychological and behavioural characteristics so non-binary genders must be real genders, right?
Well… if that were the case… we’d ALL be non-binary! There is no perfect man or perfect woman? We naturally have a mix of the characteristics exhibited by males and females. And besides, genders are categories. You don’t have to check every box, just the majority. And these characteristics don’t include what you wear or whether or not you like the colour pink.
So, two genders? Well, let’s consider one last argument before we make a final judgement:
How Many Sexes are There?
Depending on who you ask, you may get:
Well I guess you could say 12?
Sex is a spectrum!
Sex is a social construct, dummy!!
Sex is seen as a strict binary- male and female- and this is indicated to through a person’s sex characteristics. However sex characteristics are not always strictly adhered to. Chromosomes don’t always match genitals, and sex characteristics you find in one sex, can occur in the other sex.
In other words: the sex is not a perfect binary. Does that mean there are more than two sexes?
Well, using this as an argument is flawed. The people who have sex characteristics that don’t match up (to put it simply) are called intersex. These people have sex chromosome disorders which are extremely rare and because of this you cannot characterise intersex as a sex in itself.
But perhaps the best argument you can make against this is that sex isn’t simply just a combination of sex characteristics. Sex is a reproductive role. In the human race there are only two types of gametes. There are only two types of functional genitalia. You can either get pregnant of make someone pregnant. Sex is a reproductive role because if we did not reproduce, we would have no need for it.
So. Two sexes, and two genders.
But I’m not done yet!
It’s possible to argue that if you do not have a sex, a reproductive role, you do not have a gender (be agender). This could apply to intersex people who are sterile and could potentially apply to non-intersex people who are sterile. Though it’s important to note that agender is not a gender- it is the absence of gender. It’s an interesting argument, but really we should avoid labelling people.
Okay so now I’m actually done.
So that was some arguments against non-binary genders. If you disagree with anything or would like to add anything feel free to comment.
And if you want to hear what other people have to say about non-binary genders, check out these links below:
What is Gender? | ＣｏｎｔｒａＰｏｉｎｔｓ, Contrapoints
Is Gender a Social Construct? | Transgenders and Transtrenders , Roaming Millennial
There Are Only 2 Genders, Get The F**k Over It, Blaire White
ONLY 2 GENDERS, Ash Hardell
Watch this debate between Blaire White and Contrapoints
Watch Ash Hardell’s collab video featuring many non-binary people introducing and explaining their identities