This is another one of those posts that started on Facebook, but that I wanted to preserve here. It all started when I was up in the middle of the night and replied to a stranger’s comment in Facebook land. Between now and then, the original comment was deleted, so there wasn’t a chance for a reply (at least not one that I saw). The comment was unfortunately all too common. Something along the lines of there being only two genders and it’s basic biology and there are no transgender dogs (yes, there was a specific mention of dogs…I wouldn’t say that part is typical, but it was there nonetheless).
Here’s the thing, I understand how people see the world this way. It’s the way we’re taught. In the United States, our babies wear blue or pink. We say it’s a baby boy or a baby girl, and the majority of us grow up thinking of ourselves as boys, then men, or girls, then women. But what I don’t understand is why it’s so hard to move from that binary understanding of the world to a more nuanced view.
I think of it like I think of colors. “Standard” crayons are four colors: red, yellow, green, and blue. It’s not unreasonable to imagine a world in which those are the only names for crayon colors, at least for a little while. But then you might get a box of sixteen crayons that add new colors like purple (which is really just a mix of red and blue) and orange (which is just red and yellow). Eventually, you get introduced to the box of sixty four crayons (with the built-in sharpener) and all of a sudden you’ve got “goldenrod” (which is really just a type of yellow), “cornflower” (which is really just a type of blue), and so many more. But it doesn’t stop there. At some point, you might have to buy paint to paint a room in your house…and then you learn that there are what feels like an infinite number of shades of white. But this doesn’t rock our worlds (although it undoubtedly leads to arguments between partners about which white is best for the room). We just accept it as reality and move on.
Why is it so hard to see gender that way? We start with boy and girl (man/woman) and add some shades. The person to whom I was responding in this now-deleted post asked the rhetorical question, in a mocking manner: how many genders are there? The question was an attempt to paint current thinking as unreasonable, but what the question’s premise assumes is that the language we used from the start (the binary language) was correct. But in the same way that only having four color names (red, green, blue, and yellow) doesn’t capture the reality of the world, having only two types of gender doesn’t capture the reality of the world, unless millions of people actually do fit into the binary categories and are actually lying to us. I sincerely doubt that, and find it far more reasonable to believe that gender isn’t binary, much like so many things aren’t. I believe that there’s a spectrum, and even those like me who consider ourselves on one end or the other could, if we tried, find plenty of shades of white if we dug deep.
It’s unfortunate that this is so difficult for so many people, and that the difficulty is literally deadly at times. Let’s hope it won’t still be that way by the end of our lifetimes. There’s room for change. Let’s be part of that change.
As an aside, I have no idea how many genders there are in dogs. I haven’t asked enough of them how they identify, and the ones I have asked haven’t answered in a language that I understand. Maybe someday we’ll figure out how to ask them in a way that allows them to answer us, but we haven’t gotten there yet.