If you’re cisgender, then you’ve probably never had to question whether or not you were assigned the right sex at birth or if you more strongly identify with another gender, or if you don’t want to conform to one at all.
But there are people out there who have had to question this and many of them have to live in fear of what their family, friends and even strangers will say about their decision to embrace who they feel they really are.
But not all cultures are like this. The video above highlights that there are some places where you can choose who you want to be without fear.
When Europeans happened upon North America, they discovered that one of the beliefs the indigenous people had was that you can belong to one of five genders and some tribes believed in the concept of two spirits – when you’re internally both male and female regardless of outward appearance. The families of these people were said to be blessed with good fortune.
The Supreme Court in India recognises transgender people as being of a third gender according to HuffPost India.
But why exactly do we think about gender the way we do? We spoke to psychosexual educator and nurse therapist, Delene Van Dyke, about our concept of gender. “Gender is a social construct. Which means that it’s built. If you think about how things have changed in the building industry, that we don’t get the same houses like 50 years ago, it’s the same with gender. Gender is not something that is stuck”
“It’s not just a binary; binary being only two. That’s what we’ve been taught by society. Society feels comfortable with two binary genders. Thus although all these other countries that appear in the video have more spiritual values and they talk about masculine and feminine and souls, what is more important is that gender is not just an identity, a person identifying as a man or a woman or non-conforming, it’s also about how you express yourself,” says Delene.
“Gender is not the same as sex,” says Delene. She points out that sex assigned at birth is usually decided when a child is born and the doctor or nurse who was there when the child was born decides on a sex for the baby based on external genitalia. But assigning sex at birth is actually quite complex and there are four areas of the human body that need to be assessed before they can be seen as typically male or female, “but unfortunately people only look at the external genitalia.”
These four areas are external genitalia, chromosomes (XX for women and XY for men), then there’s internal reproductive organs and hormones. Delene says that if you take all of these markers into consideration, you cannot assess a new born baby by this criteria and intersex people for example can have any of these markers that are considered typically male or female. But you cannot assess someone’s gender by looking at them alone.
She points points out the bias external genitalia has when it comes to gender: “So society decides that if it’s a little baby born with a penis, then that baby must act, behave and express themselves in a specific way. If that baby is born with a vulva, society expects that baby to express themselves, to identify and to be in a certain way. And if those babies do not express themselves and identify as society has prescribed, then we have a problem. Then society resists that child.”
“The irony about gender is that no two people, not even two people identifying as women, expresses themselves the same,” says Delene.
“There’s this expectation of society that if you’re a man, you must act like a man. Things like big boys don’t cry. There’s this thing in society where girls and boys are raised differently, there’s different expectations. The expectation that a boy must be more dominant and a girl must be more submissive, but the irony is that that is not who the human being is inside of them, that’s not how they identify.,”says Delene.
Delene points out: “Also, there’s these certain expectations of women. Women should be quiet, women should be mothers, women should care and nurture. And that’s definitely not all woman who do identify with that. Some women shouldn’t even cook rice, if you get what I’m saying.”
So what happens when we assign certain roles to certain genders? Delene says: “On the other hand, this notion of big boys don’t cry or ‘ag he’s just a boy’ and all those expectations of men turns our society into toxic masculinity. Now, in essence, there’s nothing wrong with being masculine, or feminine for that matter, it is when society expects that masculine creature to act and behave in a certain way.
“And that is how rape culture was born. It comes from this patriarchal, deeply misogynistic notion that women are less than men. And these things are not often conscious. It’s deeply unconscious, it’s in our fibres.”
But what should we know at the end of the day about gender and its dynamics? “So, bottom line, no matter what culture says, no matter what culture we come from, being a woman or being a man as defined by society is not something that every single one feels comfortable with. And it’s also got nothing to do with our sexual orientation. When we talk about gender, it’s how we identify as a man or a woman or as non-binary or gender non-conforming; not identifying as a man or a woman. At the end of the day, we must be a balanced individual. Everybody must be nurturers. At least for themselves. Not just women. Every woman, especially women in South Africa should be able to stand up for herself. Which is quite a dominant trait.”
It doesn’t matter what parts you have or where you come from, but who you see yourself as and how you would like to identify.