Recently, there has been a lot of discussion around this topic. Is the two genders scientific? No, yes?
To be fair, if you are someone, who has never met a non-binary person, you will probably be pretty confused, given that there is a lot of pseudo-scientific, gaslighting disinformation out there.
So, what is the case for non-binary genders really?
The philosophical case for non-binary genders
The mere existence of NB (people identifying as non-binary gendered) should itself justify their recognition.
Case I: Self-justification
You won't necessarily need a scientific case to justify their acceptance, as the acceptance, alike the acceptance of trans people, requires relatively little to comply with. They merely ask you to use a non-gendered pronoun, like "they", and some even say you can use whatever you want to.
The annoyance it induces is marginal compared to what the compliance does for the subject, whose dysphoria and overall well-being will often be significantly improved due to a simple change in language, a simple word recognizing their identity.
Transhumanism is the philosophy of modifying the human conditions to obtain ones, which you feel comfortable with. In other words, it is about transitioning to a body, which you feel matches you identity.
The mere demand for such transitioning (e.g. hormonal therapy) among non-binary/genderqueer people improves their conditions, and thus should justify itself.
Thus, from a preference utilitarian¹ perspective, their existence justifies their acceptance. As any annoyance induced is unnecessary (e.g. bigots getting mad), and greatly outweighted by the freedom and happiness given by transitioning, the preferred options for the subject.
¹Hedonistic utilitarianism would need an argument of how transitioniing does indeed improve conditions, not only that it is preffered.
Case II: Biological determinism
The binary gender system is restrictive to the individual's autonomy. Through the cultural stereotypes, it restricts what one is allowed to do, disregarding their preferences. Although such restriction often isn't legal, it can be just as serious through cultural expectation.
If de facto you exclude yourself from various cultural relations by coming out as non-binary, you aren't free to do so; your autonomy over your own body and mind is stripped from you.
Thus, binary genders is a cultural stereotype of biological determinism, which restricts the indidual's ability to exercise their autonomy, and thus necessarily bad.
The cultural case for non-binary genders
Gender is determined by society; it's a social construct.
In fact, this sentiment isn't simply a philosophical one. No, it can be proven.
There are several societies where they use a non-binary gender system. In fact, there is one relatively big, currently existing ethnic group (around 7 million people), the Bugis, which recognizes:
- makkunrai: cis gendered women
- oroané: cis gendered men
- bissu: androgynous shamans (approximately genderqueer)
- calabai: trans men
- calalai: trans women
This is not to say that the Bugis are some kind of perfect gender utopia, but they do have a completely different system, which is far different from ours.
This system wasn't forced on them. It developed naturally, and it proves how gender is largely constructed through society.
There have been several ancient societies with such systems as well. Most of them died during the introduction of Abrahamic religion.
Here's a few examples:
- Hijra (in India): Although perhaps best approximated by 'trans-woman' in western notions, they're often seen as a androgyne.
- Köçek (in Turkey): Although not necessarily a gender itself, it is a kind of feminine male, but not necessarily homosexual.
- Mahus (in Hawaii): The third gender, in between male and female, sometimes seen as gender-less. It largely died out as christianity came to Hawaii.
- Muxes (in Mexico): A male who dresses as woman, but not necessarily transgender; often androgyne.
- Waria (in Indonesia): These are often seen as "the third gender". It's androgyne; in fact, the word is a combination of the word for "male" and the word for "female". Although they're not the most well-represented minorities, they're not looked down upon to the same degree that homosexuals are.
- Maale (in Ethiopia): seen as a third androgyne gender.
As can be seen from the few examples above (and there are many more!), this is quite geographically diverse, and not an isolated instance.
The scientific case for non-binary genders
Although there aren't many scientific studies of NBs, like there is for trans, there are a few.
Intersex is a collective term for people who are neither XY nor XX in chromosomes. Although their sexual development is often delayed, they're not disabled per se.
(Note that intersex might also refer to other non-gender conforming biological properties, like hormonal levels)
Around one in 1,000 has Klinefelter syndrome (XXY chromosome), one in 2,710 has Turner (female missing X). Other similar disorders are around one in 1,666 (source).
Intersex are significantly overrepresented among NBs, around 20% are NBs (Furtado et al.), 52% are homosexual or otherwise non-straight (Jones et al.).
As a result, this partially explains it.
If you don't recognize NBs scientifically, it follows that people who identify as NB are dysphoric or delusioned, however many don't fall under DSM-5's gender dysphoria disorder, and live perfectly normal lives.
You can't just dismiss them as "crazy" or "ill", as that would require that either: (A) they are unable to make rational decisions and navigate the daily life without by an adult, or (B) their gender identity presents a threat to their well-being, and obstructs their ability to life a functioning and happy life.
Although there are cases of such, there are many who don't fit either, and thus are normal, functioning people. Whether or not they live up to society's expectations doesn't neglect their gender identity.
This is evidence for the existence, because if something causes no issues to the subject or their peers, it cannot be said to be a disorder. Whether or not it is "normal" is another, quite pointless debate.
Variation in hormonal levels
Hormones affect how one thinks, how one's body's developes, etc. Although hormones don't determine everything, they are very important in gender dynamics. It practically decides how masculine or feminine you think.
Hormone levels variates greatly among individuals. As such, any binary model will necessarily have a quite significant number of deviants in terms of hormonal levels.
If we accept hormonal level as a good predictor of gender, we must accept that gender is a spectrum.
Variations in neural structures
It has been shown that the transgender brain is quite special in its neural structures. In some ways, it looks like the gender, the individual identifies with. In other, not.
Although, similar studies haven't been made specifically with NBs, it does show how even brain structures can't be predicted by sex. People who identifies with another gender can deviate greatly from their sex's neural structures in several ways.
The pedant's case for non-binary genders
Per Oxford's dictionary:
Either of the two sexes (male and female), especially when considered with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones. The term is also used more broadly to denote a range of identities that do not correspond to established ideas of male and female.
So, per their definition, there is more than two genders.
the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex
Although not as directly, this indicates the usage of non-binary genders.
a similar category of human beings that is outside the male/female binary classification and is based on the individual's personal awareness or identity.
This directly says that gender is broader in the sense.
Gender as a social construct
I want to clear up some confusion around "gender is a social construct", because it really means that the gender classification is a social construct, meaning that the "available categories" are defined by society around us.
The idea gender should eventually be abolished as obsolete, as no person (not even a straight cis person) perfectly fits male-female classification.
However, the society around us has certain expectation to our behavior. It is not considered normal (in fact, it's considered weird) to not conform to the binary genders.
If everyone was free to do what they want in terms of gender, people would likely be much more experimenting and you'd see fewer people (maybe none) who would fit themself into the binaries.
That is not to say that there are biological differences. There are, but they don't confirm the binary classification, thus we must conclude that the binary model is enforced by society, not biology.
Gender as a spectrum
I understand how the spectrum approach makes sense aas a tool to understand gender, but we must remember that it is a model, which is merely just an extension of the binary model; it places people within two "extremes".
This doesn't mean it's binary. Just like there are more colors than red and blue. Or that there're more political ideologies than communist and nazi.
However, it is slightly simplistic in some ways; it tries to classfy people through some number. It will necessarily miss people.
Some people (agender) feel they don't belong on such spectrum. They're not male and female; they're neither. They are gender-less in a sense.
A spectrum model is the easiest non-binary model to swallow within the society's stereotypes, but it's incomplete, as any classification system is. The end goal is to abolish these models all together in favor of 0 genders, because no two persons are identical.
There are not 2 genders. There are 0 genders, because binary gender is a social construct. People can be neither male nor female, as is argued above.
In fact, their identity justifies itself, as identity don't always need justification. If it doesn't hurt anyone, it deserves acceptance.
- Contrapoints (genderqueer, former professor in philosophy, and neurologist): "What is Gender?".
- http://nonbinary.org: Various resources on non-binary genders and advocacy.
- The Clayman Institute for Gender Research, Stanford: Research into genders
- Stanford Philosophy Lexicon, "Feminist Perspectives on Gender": An in-depth philosophical introduction to gender
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