The Gender Spectrum Explained

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The Gender Spectrum Explained

Jo Orr

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On July 1, 2012, The Massachusetts Board of Education added to their anti-bias policy: “No person shall be excluded from or discriminated against in admission to a public school of any town, or in obtaining the advantages, privileges and courses of study of such public school on account of race, color, sex, gender identity, religion, national origin or sexual orientation”.

The LGBTQ community has been fighting the problem of discrimination for hundreds of years, but with the new age of technology making communication clearer, it is becoming a prevalent issue in our society. In a recent poll, 7.9% of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) students said they did not identify as cisgender (identifying with the gender they were assigned at birth). The MVRHS health class curriculum does not cover teaching about multiple genders or define transgender, so it’s good to have a comprehensive list to keep up to date with society’s new norms. Let’s break it down.

Gender is a spectrum. There is a female side and a male side, and there’s an inbetween gender expression. This is commonly referred to as nonbinary. Binary, by definition, is composed of two things. This is what is considered “normal” in “normal” society. You have either a male or female—always determined by his or her genitalia. However, the concept of a “third gender”, or more distinctively the idea that gender is not binary, has been around for thousands of years.

Some history—let’s start in 385 BC. Plato wrote a story that said that with the invention of mankind, there were three sexes: male, female, and androgynous. In 200 BC, the Laws of Manu (the basis of Hindu rules) were written, explaining that babies can be born as a third sex. In Native American culture, they acknowledged five genders: female, male, Two Spirit female, Two Spirit male, and transgender. In 1918, Earl Lind published The Autobiography of an Androgyne, a memoir about coming to identify as “third sex.” The book, still studied widely by scholars of gender and sexuality, describes the author’s life in New York City, sexual encounters with both men and women, and the decision to undergo a sex change. Clearly, a “third gender” is not a new concept, but it’s becoming more widespread thanks to activism and celebrities that have come out.

In different cultures throughout time, gender is defined differently. But now that we understand how different gender is from our society’s influence, let’s define some common titles.

Nonbinary, as we discussed before, refers simply to being neither male nor female, but a third gender. Agender people identify with no gender; they are genderless. Genderfluid is someone who does not have a permanent gender; it may change all the time. Transgender female is someone assigned male at birth who identifies as female and may physically transition. Transgender male is vice versa. There are many titles for genders, but these are the most common ones.

The one thing that makes people transgender is dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is being uncomfortable with the gender you were assigned at birth. That is how someone knows they are transgender. For a genderfluid person, they don’t wake up and say, “Oh, I want to be a boy today!” They wake up and feel dysphoria against one or multiple genders.

Sometimes, as a part of transitioning, trans people will physically transform themselves. For some, this has a direct trajectory: for example, a transgender man might get top surgery (removing breast tissue), hormone replacements (testosterone), and bottom surgery. However, no one must change any part of them. A trans man who feels comfortable with breasts is just as valid as a trans man with a flat chest. The only thing that makes people not trans is a lack of dysphoria. Simply put, if you see someone who doesn’t look like their identity, don’t question it. It’s not your business.

Back to the main point: gender is a social construct. Ideas that were thought of thousands of years ago now prevent men from wearing makeup, women from not wearing makeup, men from wearing heels, women from being leaders, men from painting nails, nonbinary people from existing in society.

What can you do? Respect people. You don’t have to go to pride marches if you don’t want to, and that doesn’t mean that typical gender expressions have to be thrown out the window. But by showing trans people basic respect, it can make a huge difference in the validation of the community.