Following Bill Nye ‘the vagina guy’ and his recent television show; which is blowing up all over my Twitter right now with all sorts of people throwing down their 2c. I figured I should probably post something about spectrums and the more I think about it, the more sexist and archaic the idea seems. Which is odd since its supposed to be this progressive idea of inclusiveness.
First, lets look at what the spectrum seeks to replace; the binary ideas of sex and gender. The binary, in its simplest form is just 1 or 0. Male or female. Man or woman. the idea serves us well because… yeah… that’s what we observe when we look at what is typical for our species. We see men and women, we see the sexual dimorphism between them. We know that male + female = baby. We know that women typically have breasts, ovaries and that men typically have penises and produce sperm. These are just the facts of not just our species, but many other sexually dimorphic species too. And of course, I wasn’t giving an exhaustive list there.
Even in animals you’ve heard of that seem to be non-binary – like seahorses or hyenas. There’s commonly misunderstood things about these animals, yes male seahorses do carry their young – but no they do not produce eggs. No female hyenas don’t have actual penises, they have an enlarged clitoris, it takes an entirely different developmental path.
So now lets compare the spectrum of sex vs the binary idea of it. The common argument for the spectrum is that within sexes there is enough variance and overlap with the other sex that it makes no sense to call it a binary. Instead its a spectrum and you appear somewhere along it, between male and female. Except… this doesn’t really work for me, because it kinda seems like you’re saying if you’re a man who doesn’t grow to 6’0″+ you’re not even a real man. If your height starts with 5′ tap out or trap out.
Typically speaking, whether or not a male can grow a full bushy beard & grow tall as heck or not, they are still a male. Not more male, or less male than any other male. Just a male. It’s kinda fundamentally sexist when you think about it, the same as when you tell people “you’re not man enough” or whatever.
Another argument made in favour of the sex spectrum is intersex people – who make up at best 1.7% of people and at worst less than 0.1%, depending on how you draw the definition. If you include conditions such as Klinefelter’s syndrome and Turner’s syndrome then the number is 1.7% – but there’s a lot of debate within the field at the moment on whether or not the term intersex becomes an arbitrary term this way. Its less than 0.1% if we define it the other way, which relies on chromosomal type not matching phenotype, so tldr being born with a penis but having XX chromosomes or something to that effect.
Either way – the argument is that look, these exceptions to the binary exist! So that must mean there’s a spectrum! But it doesn’t – by definition these conditions are atypical and do not invalidate the rule for what is typical. Its not like we start saying humans can have three or four legs when a random mutation happens that causes that in someone. We’re still a bipedal species. Or are our legs on a spectrum now too?
Now onto the gender binary – which should be quicker, because… well… yeah they’re not talking about the actual idea of gender that relates to intersex and trans people. The idea that your brain is wired one way and your body set up another. Like trying to play an Xbox One game on a SNES. One of these things does not fit with the other and its gonna cause you issues. They’re instead talking about the social constructionist view of gender, the one that feminists tend to use.
This idea relies on roles and expression fundamentally altering your identity. So a male who is a man who likes to get dommed in bed and wear frilly dresses sometimes, gets a new identity different to other men because of that. He places somewhere else on the spectrum to the dude with the beard who only fucks from behind while the TV is on. Whereas trans inverts that, identity – what your brain says you are – tends to inform your roles and expression. For example, my identity lead me to change my expression which now means people never ask me to carry heavy things any more. Its great (Y). Before anyone loses their shit, no, I don’t mean inherently, but all people take part in social roles in different ways as a matter of choice. If I wanted to lift heavy things I could insist that they let me. But I don’t, fuck that.
A man who likes films like The Notebook is as much a man as a man who only watches gore videos on 4chan. A woman who hunts deer and feasts on their still beating heart is as much a woman as the home-maker who bakes and always has nice nails. That’s the function of the binary, its important because it makes all women equally women and all men equally men. A spectrum inherently puts people either on the more of a man side of the scale or more of a woman side of the scale. Which implies they’re less of a man or less of a woman, as if its a percentage you can have.
I get the idea, I get wanting to try and be all like “ooh look guys, we’re all the same because we’re all on the same spectrum” – but maybe if you want people to be the same, and to be inclusive and intersectional. Just maybe you shouldn’t keep drawing up arbitrary lines between things? Because whether the lines are blurry at the edges or not, there are still distinctive labels and separations between colours in the colour spectrum. The same holds true for the gender and sex spectrums and well… that’s hardly inclusive at all.