beyond the binary: a plea for recognizing the fluidity of gender
Lucas Kieran is an eighteen-year-old genderqueer trans person, preferring male pronouns and presentation, who was born and raised a member of the Church. He hopes to attend the University of Utah for Film/Media Arts and Psychology, after having top surgery and testosterone therapy, as well as a legal name and gender change. When he is not defending trans* and general queer rights and looking critically at Mormonism, he likes to write, play the piano, bake, collect rocks, bottlecaps, and mint tins, play Minecraft, and cuddle cats.
Growing up Mormon, we are taught that gender and sex are identical, and that this gender-sex concept is in the form of a strict binary: Male and Female.
The Family: A Proclamation to the World states that “gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” The document’s text separates “God’s children” into “sons and daughters”, “man and woman”, “Adam and Eve”, “husband and wife”.
But, in reality, gender is not this simple. It is not a binary, a strict line dividing male and female identities. Gender is a fluid characteristic, a spectrum involving male, female, and everything in-between and outside. Sometimes people who are designated the gender “male” at birth find they prefer to present and be referred to as female, and vice versa. Sometimes people don’t identify as male or female at all, or as both, even. Next to binary identities of male or female, we have genderqueer, bigender, and agender trans*people, Native Two-Spirit people, and an entire range of identities that are not strictly male or female.
As members, this does not always occur to us very early. Often it doesn’t occur to us at all — that perhaps male and female are not our only options. The gender binary is, after all, instituted in general society as well as in our church: boys have penises, girls have vaginas. Genitals are more often than not conflated with gender as some sort of unbreakable union: your gender identity HAS to match what’s in your pants!
However, ambiguous genitalia are present in as many as one in every 1500 births, although many intersexed newborns are assigned a gender at the hands of their doctors and parents, and sometimes corrective surgery is involved.
If what is known as “biological sex” can be variant, why can’t gender identity?
The door has been opened, although it is rather monitored, to our Gay and Lesbian brothers and sisters. The conversations to “understand” what the Church refers to as “same-gender attraction” have been started.
Perhaps it is time to consider our other Queer siblings and their needs. Those who fall between and outside the binary; those who recognize that, just as gender isn’t a solid either-or binary, neither is attraction: our Bisexual, Pansexual, Asexual, and Aromantic brothers, sisters, and siblings.
In a Church that preaches acceptance and equality, we are admittedly far from it in many areas. But we have the ability to create change. The question is now: will we?
15 Responses to “beyond the binary: a plea for recognizing the fluidity of gender”
It’s my understanding that many “intersexed” children are not just arbitrarily assigned a gender by their parents, but that they do DNA tests to figure out whether they have XX of XY chromosomes. What do you have to say on that?
Further, are you suggesting that gender never existed, or do you wish to deconstruct longstanding culturally-accepted concepts of gender?
Also, as this blog identifies itself as Mormon– are you directly contradicting the so-called prophetic revelation, and if so, how do you reconcile being Mormon with disagreeing with an actual established doctrine of the church?
Actually, the majority of intersexed children are assigned a female gender marker, and their equipment is likewise modified to reflect that. We recognize genitalia, and not chromosomes, as the proper signifier of sex–and consequently, gender.
Furthermore, gender is indeed a construct. So-called longstanding gender roles actually only apply to white middle/upper class people in the western world. Traditional gender roles look very different in other situations.
Finally, plenty of Mormons disagree with various parts of scripture and revelation. You do not get to decide what set of parameters allow for someone to call themselves Mormon. That is a personal decision.
But would you say that gender is totally societally constructed? Or is there actually something to be said for an inherent gender– society didn’t create genitalia.
perhaps “sex” is a better word for it. Most people are born with either male or female genitalia. Just because there are people who have both or neither does not denormalize those with normal genitalia.
Gender is be divine, but there is no guarantee that the gender of your spirit is always perfectly synonymous with the gender of the mortal (and imperfect) physical body that the spirit is in.
The leaders of the Mormon Church have from the beginning “contradicted divine revelation” anyone remember polygamy, the ban on blacks having the priesthood etc etc. If what the church teaches can’t be challenged or questioned then what was that fight in heaven over free agency all about?
Secondly DNA tests aren’t always done on intersex babies, often they are assigned the female gender. I had a high-school Mormon friend who had this happen to him when he was born. He was raised a female but as a teen he realized he was male. He made the transition to the sex he felt he always was. He was a normal, good person who didn’t want to live as someone he wasn’t.
Why is it so hard to understand?
As for reconciling his Mormonism that’s Liam’s business. How is he contradicting Mormon revelation? Because you clearly aren’t God so therefore you don’t know the whole story.
If the members of the church were half as smart and courageous as Liam the church would be a much better place.
As someone who struggles to fit into the church because of asexuality, thank you for this.
Depizan, I run a facebook group called Asexual Mormons, and I approve most everybody, so you are welcome to join it.
Thank you for this post. To believe that there is only one sexual binary in the 21st century is like believing the earth is flat. There are gender clinics at every major childrens hospital in the USA. As a nurse, I have seen my share of patients in these clinics. There is so much ignorance about this topic, especially in conservative religious groups like LDS. To try to fit every human being in the “either”, “or”box is archaic. Please, educate yourself on this topic. Scientist are still making discoveries on this specialty. We, as humans beings, are capable of exercising empathy and kindness towards everyone regardless if we do or don’t understand fully about all the complexities of sexuality. I feel it is our responsibility as followers of Christ to help everyone feel loved and worthy. I feel the word perfection is also very misunderstood.
Haha, when I hear the chromosome argument… Peope that explain that XX and XY are the key of understanding gender don’t know about the sexual trisomie XXY or the sexual monosomie X…
I love this article, but I do believe that gender is significant and eternal. That’s why we can not consider that someone thinking his body and his mind have not the same gender, just has to live normaly and stop thinking about this. The problem of gender dysphory is a big issu, specialy because we think that gender is part of our eternal identity. I’m sure you know the experiment with the little baby boy, turned chirurgically in girl after his catastrophic circoncision. This boy knew about his real gender, even years of lie. So why not believe trans-people are right ? Why not believe that we know our gender because it is a part of our eternal identity ?
Trans* people who identify as a certain gender should be respected for that. Same with cisgender people who identify as a certain gender.
I also think that genderqueer people who identify with both genders or with neither should also be respected. I think we need to trust that people know themselves better than we do.
I don’t honestly believe that trans* people exist. I think it’s a mixture of extreme psychological confusion and in some cases DNA and chromosomal anomalies. But the key word is anomalies– it is literally a biological defect to have any chromosomes other than XX or XY. And what a tragic trial for people to have to undergo– especially when messed up hormones confuse them. But I truly do not believe that trans* personhood is a real thing– I think you are one gender or the other and that gender matches your genitals. I do not believe that there are women born with penises- by definition, they are not women. I do not believe that there are men born with vaginas– by definition they are not men. Gender is not defined by how you feel or what you think you would rather be. Gender is defined by literally what you are, as a sexually functioning human being. If you have a penis, you cannot sexually function as a woman. You are a man.
And the psychological side of it, where people are convinced that they are a different gender, I believe, is a psychological problem that needs to be worked through. We should not celebrate psychological diseases and problems that cause great distress and trauma, we should help people resolve it and learn to be their gender. Gender IS binary. There is nothing to refute that– anomalies are anomalies, and cannot be used to refute evidence that gender is binary.
I really just don’t buy it.
SEX is defined by what you are biologically speaking. (We all know there are people beyond the sex binary of XX and XY).
And when somebody identifies as the opposite gender than the sex they were born into, after decades of research, the American Psychiatric Association has concluded that the best thing for their psychological health is to LET THEM BE THE GENDER THEY IDENTIFY AS.
Believe what you want. The scientific community disagrees with you, though. And the research and experience is on their side, not yours.
Further the argument about the little boy who had a catastrophic circumcision and was assigned a female gender instead– that proves my point, not yours. He was supposed to be male, he was born with male genitalia. Changing his genitals did not change that he was supposed to be a man. Just as giving a woman a penis if she was not born with it does not mean that she was supposed to be a man.
Not really, because that’s one case of one person’s gender experience. It doesn’t prove anything about anybody else’s gender experience.
Life will be a lot easier the moment we accept the fact that every individual is experiencing sex, relationships, and gender differently.