All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. (The Universal Declaration of Human Rights).
From the time we are born we are taught that there are only two biological sexes and subsequently two different gender types, which correspond to the biological sex (often only considered as external genitalia at birth, and not taking into account internal biological factors). In other words, we are taught that sex = gender. This equation is not only very wrong, as our Genderbread Person breaks down for us – the societal norms upon which the equation is built on has a detrimental impact for individuals whose gender identity differs from the prescribed social gender:
- LGBTI youth are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers (US numbers)
- LGBTI people have a much higher rate of depression and substance disorder than heterosexual people.
- LGBTI people experience institutional discrimination; in some 76 countries, discriminatory laws criminalize private, consensual same sex relationships. 7 countries have a maximum penalty of death.
- LGBTI people experience human rights abuses, both by individuals, institutions and societies.
Gender and culture
Culture; the learned behaviors and attitudes that are characteristic of a particular society or population as a shared belief system of society.
Gender is a socially created construct which becomes adopted within a culture and society through the process of gender socialization where a person will internalize the roles, norms and values deemed as culturally appropriate. Gender norms and what is accepted expressions of gender varies across cultures, with some cultures having a more binary view of gender, whereas others view gender as a more fluid construct. Western societies have largely looked at gender as a binary concept, where individuals are socialized to express gender as either male or female. Individuals not expressing their gender within the binary framework have traditionally been seen as culturally non-conforming, and furthermore exposed to several forms of discrimination – something that luckily has slowly begun to change. Not all cultures and societies have however traditionally practiced a binary view on gender. Among Native Americans, the role of a third, fourth and fifth gender has been observed. Children with an assigned sex of female or male at birth showing a proclivity for expressing their identity within the opposite gender have traditionally been encouraged to live their lives within their preferred gender identity, such as the Mohave Alyha. Cultures across Polynesia operate with different terms for gender roles, with a third-gender term such as the Fa’fafine of Samoa, the Mahu of Tahiti and the Fakaleiti in Tonga. These recognized gender identities are used to describe individuals assigned a male gender at birth, which explicitly embody both male and female gender traits.
The variety in gender roles and identity across cultures shows that there is no one right way to express gender identity, and a call should be made for abandoning the current gender labeling craze within our societies and cultures, as clearly there is not a one size fits all approach to something as complex as biological sex, gender expression, gender identity, sexual attraction and romantic attraction. In fact, our Genderbread Person tells us that these 5 factors have their own continuum and that they are all independent from one another, meaning that labeling a person into a limited number of gender categories will inherently be wrong and never fully explain and accept the complexity of us as human beings.