Deconstructing Gender, Sex, and Sexuality as Applied to Identity. (the Culture War)

By Mitchell, Whitney | The Humanist, July-August 2002 | Go to article overview

Deconstructing Gender, Sex, and Sexuality as Applied to Identity. (the Culture War)


Mitchell, Whitney, The Humanist


By nature, we as humans have a need to identify ourselves and others in broad and exclusionary/inclusionary terms. But then, "human nature" is actually nothing more than human habit. Every set of standards that we as a society currently use to identify ourselves is coupled with an opposing set: good versus bad, female versus male, hetero versus homo. This system of duality in the everyday assessment of ourselves and those around us holds the power to rob individuals of their dignity as human beings.

What we must understand is that, just because an individual doesn't fit one set of standards, the individual doesn't then automatically fit the opposite standards. Specifically, the female/ male binary is constructed as a natural occurrence and presumed to be unchangeable. However, intersexuality, by definition, offers clear evidence to the contrary. It serves as an opportunity to disprove the concepts of what is "natural" and to disrupt the heteronormative systems of sex, gender, and sexuality. It presents the possibility of proving gender to be nothing more than something abstract and conceptual. Analyzing intersexuality therefore provides greater opportunities for individual liberty and social understanding.

Gender, as it stands, is currently defined by society in the simplest terms of female and male. However, gender only exists because our society, consciously or unconsciously, wills it to. What makes a woman is her specific social relation to a man, and what makes a man is his specific social relation to a woman. To refuse to be a woman, however, doesn't mean that one becomes a man. It only means that one refuses one's designated ideological, political, and economic characteristics as identiy and thus refuses gender.

Therefore, if the class of "man" were to disappear, if it were no longer used, then the same would occur with the class of "woman." Gender would no longer be able to leave anyone behind, condemning them as sick or mentally ill for not fitting our standards. (Transgender identity and expression are the psychiatric classification under the Diagnostic Codes 302.3, transvestic fetishism; and 302.85, gender identity disorder.) Identity could exist independently of gender. However, because we continue to use gender classifications, people who don't identify with such labels are left in a state of confusion, with no language to use in claiming their own identities.

Our society commonly uses the equation gender=sex. This is a naive and oversimplified statement. It further categorizes individuals by way of black-and-white, unrealistic standards. It is difficult for most people to understand that individuals exist who identify as men with vaginas and women with penises. Therefore gender and sex aren't interchangeable terms. The difference is as simple as that between the mind and the body. Where gender is a device used for identification of the mind and emotions, sex is about biology and comfort within one's own body. …

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