In the excerpt from her article “Two Sexes Are Not Enough,” Anne Fausto-Sterling argues that western culture should recognize at least five sexes, at the very least because human biology produces more than two sexes. In addition, she argues that medical practitioners should change how they handle the births of intersex babies. Cheryl Chase, born intersexed herself, also argues that we need to change such practices, which, in her own personal experience, cause more harm than good, both physically and psychologically.
Let’s review some terms from the reading: gender, sex, transgender, transsexual, transvestite, intersex. The following definitions were taken from the LGBTQIA glossary:
Gender: refers to the social attributes and characteristics, or identity, generally associated with being male and female in a culture.
Sex: refers to someone’s biological category (e.g., having male, female, or intersex genitalia). Gender does not always follow from one’s sex (i.e., one may be biologically male but gender-identify as feminine).
Intersex: describes people who naturally (that is, without any medical interventions) develop primary and/or secondary sex characteristics that do not fit neatly into society’s definitions of male or female; these individuals may or may not have both male and female genitalia (or parts of both) at birth. Has replaced “hermaphrodite,” which is inaccurate and generally offensive, since it means “having both sexes” and this is not necessarily true, as there are at least 16 different ways to be intersex.
Transgender: an umbrella term, that describes a wide range of identities of people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from conventional expectations based on their assigned biological birth sex. Some commonly held definitions:
- Someone whose behavior or expression does not “match” their assigned sex according to society.
- A gender outside of the man/woman binary.
- Having no gender or multiple genders.
- Some definitions also include people who perform gender or play with it.
- Historically, the term was coined to designate a transperson who was not undergoing medical transition (surgery or hormones).
Transsexual: A person who perceives themselves as a member of a gender that does not “match” the sex they were assigned at birth. Many pursue hormones and/or surgery. Sometimes used to specifically refer to trans* people pursuing gender or sex reassignment.
Crossdresser (formerly Transvestite): describes a person who dresses, at least partially or part of the time, and for any number of reasons, in clothing associated with another gender within a particular society. Carries no implications of “usual” gender appearance, or sexual orientation (i.e., a straight man may crossdress as a woman but not be gay). Has replaced “transvestite,” since it was historically used to diagnose medical/mental health disorders.
Note: There are additional more specific terms that people who identify as “queer” use to identify themselves and members of the queer community. These paint a picture of just how complex human sexual identity can be. See the glossary for more!
“I’M NOT A BOY” – JULIE JOYCE
The following short documentary was created by Julie Joyce, a transgendered teen, and won the Empowerment Award at the Media That Matters Film Festival: