Let’s Talk (More) About Gender

Gender.

A six letter word with a whole lot of implications. In my last post I mentioned that science was discovering the complications that lay behind categorizing people as men or women. We tend to think that men have penises and women have vaginas. That’s what I was told when I was a kid and I believed it – until I couldn’t.

I remember visiting a farm in rural South Africa as a child and seeing sheep graze in the distance. “How do you know if it’s male or female?” I asked, confused. “The male ones are bigger,” the farmer answered. As if that was all there was to it.

If size really did matter, I would’ve been classified as male as soon as I entered my teens. I grew and grew until I turned into a 6″1′ monster. At least, that’s how I felt. A freak and an outcast. Not just because of my height. I hid my burgeoning breasts under hoodies, my widening hips in tattered jeans. At school, I had no choice but to wear the school uniform I was assigned – a blue skirt, white blouse, tie and blazer. I liked the ties and blazer. Even the skirt was OK. The way it sat tight against my skin before widening further down. I liked how it made me look like I had narrow hips.

Only once I was in my twenties did I learn that chromosomes had a way of getting muddled sometimes. Sure, XX was usually a female and XY was a male, but what of the other naturally occurring combinations: XXY, XYY, XXX, for instance. Numerous disorders of sexual development (formerly known as intersex conditions) exist, such as Klinefelter Syndrome (a genetic condition occurring in males only, where men are born with an extra X chromosome resulting in lower levels of testosterone production and smaller testes) or Androgyn Insensitivity Syndrome (where a genetically male person is resistant to male hormones) or Congenital Adrenal Hypoplasia (a disorder of the adrenal gland which causes abnormal genital development). And here is the kicker: 1 in every 100 babies has an intersex condition of some sort. That’s 1% of the population. That’s 70,000,000 people world wide if the world’s population is 7 billion. Yes, that’s right: 70 million people worldwide. That’s twice the population of Canada.

That’s a pretty significant number in my world.

Even if that number is an over-estimate. Even if the more accurate count comes to no more than 1/10th of the above number. That’s  7 million human beings. The size of a mega-metropolis. Are we really going to pretend that intersex conditions don’t matter, or don’t count? Are we really going to claim that males and females are the only natural occurring phenomena, even when science reveals the existence of intersexuality in the animal and plant worlds alike?

I have no idea whether I have an intersex condition. I no longer speak to my mother and my father is dead, but if I were to ask them, I think they would say that I looked like any other normal, female baby when I was born. As it turns out, looks can be misleading. Who knows, maybe at some point science will find a genetic marker that points to transsexuals also being a kind of disorder of sexual development. Some would argue that the science is already getting there. Until this tangible, irrefutable truth rolls in, all I have to go by is what I feel to be true about myself. That is, that living my life as a man is a much better fit for me temperamentally, socially, physically, than attempting to function as a woman in our society. I’ve learned a lot walking in women’s shoes, and I have witnessed first-hand the gender inequality women experience. I consider myself a feminist ally and a believer in equal opportunity for all. But I also know that for all my support of women, I am not one myself.

And that’s OK.

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