Are there more than two genders?
We tend to use the terms 'sex' and 'gender' interchangeably, but the two are not at all the same. While sex is purely a biological categorization, the concept of gender is a social construction, meaning society decides what it means to be a man or a woman. However, it must be acknowledged these definitions have no real scientific roots and cannot be assumed as the be-all and end-all.
And while some experts continue to argue gender may be biological, most biologists now acknowledge sex itself is not a binary concept. Though we tend to think only 'male' or 'female' classifications are real, the existence of intersex individuals provides evidence that sex lives on a continuum. Parents of intersex children often face tough decisions about whether to bring up their child as a boy or a girl, when really, this isn't a decision they should be forced to make.
Like most other facets of human identity, it is impossible for us to perceive gender as just a binary model. People operate on a broad range of levels, and we cannot expect the entire population to be categorized into just two distinct groups. Many cultures across the world actually do recognize a third gender. There are the Sekrata in Madagascar, the Hijras in South Asia, the Muxes in Mexico, and what are known as two-spirited people in Native American culture. The notion that there are only two genders is, therefore, merely an ideological stance. And though it is a stance many try to reflect onto science, the science itself proves otherwise.
Only two recognizable genders exist: male and female. Gender is 100% backed by biology, the X and Y chromosomes. Males have the X and Y chromosomes—the Y coming from their father. Females have two X chromosomes—one from the mother and one from the father. Along with the corresponding reproductive organs known to male and female organisms (the sperm and ova), biological distinctions between the two genders is what must be present for all advanced life-forms (i.e., non-single-cell organisms) to procreate. Although the internet is riddled with examples attempting to define into existence more than two genders—often conflated/used interchangeably with the concept of sex—it is not biologically (or scientifically) possible to define more than the two genders for life on Earth to have passed genetic information from one generation to the next.
For life to have evolved on Earth, two distinct genders are necessary. It’s what has allowed life to go from asexual reproduction of single-cell organisms to humans, which are the most biologically advanced form of life. As some argue, if there were additional genders, the biological processes that allowed for the evolution of life would not have worked. Any human differentiation of gender—that is additional genders or non-conforming genders—are purely psychological in nature, and should be treated as such. Biology and the processes that have defined life on Earth for the last three billion years have relied on the differences between males and females. To believe there are additional genders, third, or non-conforming genders is to defy the well-researched scientific principles defined for hundreds of years, not to mention the billions of years of biology which have differentiated the only two genders that exist.
- John Money (1921-2006) invented the concept of ‘gender identity,’ theorizing gendered behaviors were societal constructions not bound to biology. Opening the first US gender clinic at Johns Hopkins University in 1966, Money was among the first doctors to study/perform “sex reassignment surgeries” and tested his gender theory on the male-born Reimer twins in the controversial “John/Joan” case.
- Before Money coined the terms “gender identity” and “gender roles”, “gender” was primarily a language term applicable to grammar and not synonymous to “sex” until the 20th century.
- The American College of Pediatrics released a statement in 2021 asserting that gender and sex are not synonymous, saying “gender identity, resting largely upon a psychological comfort or discomfort with one’s biological sex, is neither innate nor immutable and does not in any way determine biological sex.”
- A 2018 Pew Research survey reports around 42% of Americans believe that when forms or online profiles “asks about a person’s gender, it should include options other than ‘man’ and ‘woman’ for people who don’t identify as either.”
- As of February 24, 2021, a Gallup report estimates 5.6% of US adults identify as LGBTQ, with 11.3% of that group identifying as transgender.