Exploring the sex/gender binary


    The Binary

    “Binary” means two. In this context, the labeling of human beings into two – and only two – rigid, unchanging and unchangeable categories: girl/woman/ female and boy/man/male. Sex/Gender is the basis for how the binary labeling is done, almost entirely on the visible appearance of certain body parts examined at birth by medical professionals, the “high priests” of sex/gender labeling. This kind of labeling has happened in civilized societies for millennia and is central to maintaining the patriarchy, or dominance by persons perceived to be masculine.


    As a result of second-wave feminist advocacy beginning in the 1960s, many persons would express an understanding that gender is constructed and as a result can change or be fluid. This advocacy also supported the belief that sex is an immutable biological characteristic, and that everyone is born as one of two – and only two – sexes. Thus, has the category sex been separated from gender.

    We would assert, however, that sex is just as constructed a category as gender. Among other supports for this understanding is the existence of persons born with genitalia that don’t conform to the binary – persons often considered to be “intersex.” Indeed, every fetus begins its journey as an “innie” and only after some months of gestation do some come to be “outies,” physically. Further, every person has every kind of hormone (there aren’t “male” or “female” hormones), and even so-called chromosomal sex doesn’t hold up under even basic re-examination, with many of us having chromosomal structures that diff er cell to cell.

    Who Are Persons who Express Diverse Sex/Gender Identities

    Everyone who is alive is growing and changing. Always and in all ways. Life is alive, and so is each of us. Our aliveness includes our sex/gender identities and how we express these changing identities throughout our lives. And so, everyone expresses diverse sex/gender identities. This includes you.

    Nevertheless, due to the shaming violence we all endure as a result of being labeled at birth and then being socialized into our designated label, most persons are in no way consciously aware of their growth and change. None of us who are alive can be wholly defined by stereotyped binary categories, and no one is the same day-to-day. Still most persons claim simply to be “men” or “women” eternal and unchanging.

    Some persons for reasons unknown and likely unknowable remain awake to their sex/gender growth and change. Such persons may make conscious choices that don’t conform to the role they were socialized into. These choices are fraught with great fear and trepidation as persons are aware that these are not rules they dare break. Most persons who consciously express diverse sex/gender identities are believed to be “in the wrong body,” an experience which is simply not possible as human beings are corporeal; we ARE our bodies, each of us. They also can struggle with “dysphoria,” which is a consequence of internalizing societal rules about how bodies MUST be shaped and also of enduring years, decades, lifetimes of violence for choosing to consciously express their diverse identities.

    We would recognize such persons as leaders, prophets even, who bring gifts of liberation from the sex/gender binary system. As anyone who leads in ways that threaten long-held beliefs, they are vilifi ed often and rarely understood. We all have much to learn from such persons because all of us are healthier when we are more whole and as we make empowered choices to grow and change in our lives.

    Jane Heenan is a licensed psychotherapist and director of Gender Justice Nevada. Heenan’s pronouns are they/ them/their and they identify as a Water Dancer. Heenan has lived in Las Vegas since 1994 with their partner of over 27 years and (now) two dogs.