The Idea of Two Genders | Mitakshara Medhi

Mitakshara Medhi

When human beings are born, they are usually classified as male or female based on their genitals, decided by their genes. With this comes the gender roles ascribed to them by the society. Sexual orientation is then seen as being directed towards the opposite gender. Any deviance from this – whether socially or sexually – is considered an aberration or a ‘disorder of some sort’. One such aberration that has been classified as a disorder in the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is Gender Identity Disorder (GID). There are two markers for this – first, the person identifies with the other traditional roles and normative sanctions of the other sex; second, there is a discomfort with one’s own gender, as if one was born into the wrong sex. It can occur at two phases – either during childhood, or adulthood. Childhood occurrences may or may not continue into adulthood.

There are, however, distinctions that need to be in place. First, people who are diagnosed with GID do not have any physical manifestation, unlike in the case of Hermaphrodites, intersex or people born with ambiguous sex organs. Although people with GID are majorly cross dressers, choosing to wear the clothes traditionally meant for the opposite gender, not all cross-dressers have GID. There is another class of disorders called Tranvestic Fetishism, which refers to heterosexual males who dress up as women for sexual gratification. In case of GID, the primary purpose is not sexual in nature, but a desire to be a member of the other sex. And although used interchangeably, GID and Transsexuals are different. GID is more on a psychological level, where one feels a persistent discomfort with one’s gender and feels that one is born the wrong sex. Transsexuals actually choose to indulge in procedures like hormone intake, surgeries, and the likes which would help them live as the other sex. So a person with GID may or may not go for such medical procedures, due to many constraints. Lastly, Transgender is the umbrella term encompassing all – gender dysphoria, gender queer, transsexuals, and so on.

In terms of sexuality, three patterns have been identified for transsexuals. First is the homosexual male-to-female, where a man is attracted to other men, and has lived a life as a homosexual, but he is not satisfied with that, as he wants to be loved as a woman. Second, homosexual-female-to-male, which is a woman who, dissatisfied with living as a homosexual, wants to be loved as a man. Third is the heterosexual-male-to-female transsexuals, whereby a man is attracted to women, and may even be married, but there is still discomfort and dissatisfaction with his life, as he wants to feel love as a woman. No such pattern has been identified for women, probably because a woman behaving as a man is better tolerated than a man behaving like a woman, or because in many cases, the woman’s discomfort in a “seemingly” happy marriage is not really taken into account.

Now that the distinctions are in place, it is essential to understand where and why this “disorder” exists. For anything to be classified as abnormal, it must follow the 4 Ds – Deviance, Distress, Danger, and Dysfunction. Deviance surely follows this disorder as the normative society considers only two genders and sexes which are rigid. This may result in distress for the person, and also lead to dysfunction (occupational and social) because there is no acceptance. Danger, however, does not come into this picture.

Speaking of the rigid male-female sex ascription, Kamla Bhasin, in her book “Understanding Gender” (2000), has talked about how even the biology of sex is not fixed. For a person to be considered a male or a female, three characteristics must align – internal sexual characteristics, external sexual characteristics, and secondary sexual characteristics that appear at the time of puberty. According to her estimates, such rigid categories of what is and what is not does not align in about 80% of the human population. Let us examine this with an example. For a person to be biologically “female”, she must have internal sexual organs of uterus, cervix, as well as hormones like estrogen. External sexual organs would form the vagina and breasts; while secondary sexual characteristics would comprise of (along with development of breasts), widening of the heap, the start of menstruation. Now the problem that arises is this – after the menopause, when women stop having the monthly cycle, would she continue to conform to the rigid sex ascriptions, now that one of her secondary sexual characteristics have stopped? More importantly is the recent phenomena of PCOS in the ovaries of women. About 2 in every 5 women have been estimated to suffer from this, with the present times seeing tremendous escalation of this. One of the major causes of PCOS is “abnormally” high levels of testosterone, a hormone which is “biologically” male. So, now that more than 20% of the women have failed to conform to the “internal sexual characteristics”, where would their biological sex fall? Hence, not only just the socially constructed gender is arbitrary, even sex seems to be made to fall into rigid dichotomies.

Owing to the knowledge above, how fair it is, then, to fix gender roles to specific sex. Are there just two sexes, with those with ambiguous genitalia labelled as “abnormal”? Should there just be two genders? In a world, where it is beginning to make sense to not look at anything through categories, how fair is it to just have two stiff dichotomies for sex and gender – something that is assumed to form the crux of human identity?

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