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Deconstructing gender, sex, and sexuality as applied to identity. (The Culture War).

By nature, we as humans have a need to identify ourselves and others in broad and exclusionary/inclusionary terms. But then, "human nature" is actually nothing more than human habit. Every set of standards that we as a society currently use to identify ourselves is coupled with an opposing set: good versus bad, female versus male, hetero versus homo. This system of duality in the everyday assessment of ourselves and those around us holds the power to rob individuals of their dignity as human beings.

What we must understand is that, just because an individual doesn't fit one set of standards, the individual doesn't then automatically fit the opposite standards. Specifically, the female/ male binary is constructed as a natural occurrence and presumed to be unchangeable. However, intersexuality, by definition, offers clear evidence to the contrary. It serves as an opportunity to disprove the concepts of what is "natural" and to disrupt the heteronormative systems of sex, gender, and sexuality. It presents the possibility of proving gender to be nothing more than something abstract and conceptual. Analyzing intersexuality therefore provides greater opportunities for individual liberty and social understanding.

Gender, as it stands, is currently defined by society in the simplest terms of female and male. However, gender only exists because our society, consciously or unconsciously, wills it to. What makes a woman is her specific social relation to a man, and what makes a man is his specific social relation to a woman. To refuse to be a woman, however, doesn't mean that one becomes a man. It only means that one refuses one's designated ideological, political, and economic characteristics as identiy and thus refuses gender.

Therefore, if the class of "man" were to disappear, if it were no longer used, then the same would occur with the class of "woman." Gender would no longer be able to leave anyone behind, condemning them as sick or mentally ill for not fitting our standards. (Transgender identity and expression are the psychiatric classification under the Diagnostic Codes 302.3, transvestic fetishism; and 302.85, gender identity disorder.) Identity could exist independently of gender. However, because we continue to use gender classifications, people who don't identify with such labels are left in a state of confusion, with no language to use in claiming their own identities.

Our society commonly uses the equation gender=sex. This is a naive and oversimplified statement. It further categorizes individuals by way of black-and-white, unrealistic standards. It is difficult for most people to understand that individuals exist who identify as men with vaginas and women with penises. Therefore gender and sex aren't interchangeable terms. The difference is as simple as that between the mind and the body. Where gender is a device used for identification of the mind and emotions, sex is about biology and comfort within one's own body.

Here the concept of gender as changeable and subjective raises questions about sex reassignment surgery (SRS). However, just as the assumption that gender is the same as sex is naive, so is the assumption that a change in gender requires a change in sex as well. An individual born biologically female who, gender-wise, only feels comfortable identifying as male, doesn't necessarily desire SRS in order to become physically male. The individual's body could feel completely comfortable and right despite a discomfort with gender. Therefore the gender that an individual identifies with doesn't always indicate any information regarding the sex of the individual's body. This realization provides an alternative way of seeing individuals independent of society's standards.

By the same token, gender doesn't always indicate any information about an individual's sexuality. The existence of transgendered individuals and transsexual individuals promotes confusion regarding sexuality. Any speculation about the sexual orientation of a trans-individual is as ignorant as the speculation of the sexual orientation of any individual. Just as any individual identifying as male might be attracted to males or females, an individual having had male-to-female SRS may be attracted to males or females. Identification of sexual orientation occurs independently of gender or sex identification, despite whether such identifications change from those assigned at birth. Thus, gender identity is about comfort or discomfort within the established gender roles of society. Sex identity is about comfort within the body. And identification of sexual orientation is more about experiences outside of the self and the body; it isn't about comfort so much as it is about individual desire and attraction.

Now that we've clarified the differences between gender, sex, and sexuality, it is obvious why these terms are inefficient for identifying people. They tell us nothing about a person because they are all noninclusive concepts created by humans out of convenience and discomfort. Personally, I've found that the less I use these terms to identify myself, the more comfortable with myself I become and the less I feel the need to identify at all. Thus, not really identifying with any current social role allows for a new liberation uninhibited by the standards of others. As the poet Eileen Myles said: "If we don't define who we are, we are everything. Once we define ourselves, we are nothing."

Whitney Mitchell of Nashville, Tennessee, is seventeen years old. This essay received honorable mention in the thirteen-to-seventeen-year-old age category of the 2001 Humanist Essay Contest for Young Women and Men of North America.
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Author:Mitchell, Whitney
Publication:The Humanist
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2002
Words:887
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