Beyond Binary

I used to get some pushback when I called attention to Emily Nussbaum’s article on intersexed newborns. I argued that students should both be aware of the incidence of intersexed babies (for pastoral reasons), and should be able to think through some of the issues that arise as these children complicate people’s casual assumptions about gender either-ors. Not everybody agreed.
Caster Semenya’s situation, though, brings the topic of non-binary gender and identity back to the fore. However much simpler it would make life if we could just assert that everyone is one or the other, fundamentally and irrevocably, naturally and legally, that insistence tells us more about our uneasy need to categorize than about the way people turn out. Arguments from “nature” tend to rest on the premise that “nature” equals “nature operating the way we suppose it usually does and always ought to,” rather than by observing the unruly range of what actually (naturally) happens. We don’t know well enough what-we-don’t-know to make loud pronouncements about what it oughta be like.
I don’t know anything about Caster Semenya’s physiology, and I can see numerous debating points for and against admitting biologically-complex women-identified participants in racing events for “unambiguous” women. I don’t see any basis for insisting on a binary taxonomy of gender identity when we persistent encounter evidence that things are more complicated than that.

2 thoughts on “Beyond Binary

  1. Pfaugh! I was saying it long before Ben Goldacre made the scene.

    (Runs off to check on Ben Goldacre’s vintage)

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