The Binary Notion
Our waiter the other day was a cute guy, very busy and efficient. “Is he one of us?” The question just came out. We all understood the question to mean, “Is he gay?” “Too ambiguous to tell,” was one reply. But we found ourselves AGAIN not questioning the concept that he must be either gay or straight. Almost everybody assumes there is a fairly clear-cut line between gay and straight, just as there is between male and female. Isn’t that the way we are?
No, in fact it isn’t.
This difference between scientific fact and general assumption is causing a lot of trouble, and it is not really rational or necessary.
Physiologically human beings generally conform to a typical female or male developmental pattern with male or female genitalia and secondary sex characteristics. Exceptions are few, but variations are many. Psychologically, however, human beings are less consistent. Sex, simplistically speaking, is about the physical and gender is about the psychological aspects of being a person.
Shouldn’t the physical and the psychological be consistent? It certainly makes life simpler when boys are boys and girls are girls. But life is not always simple. In truth, there is no necessary connection between a person’s sexual appearance and their gender orientation. This inconvenient fact is often overlooked.
If there is no absolute link between how a person appears and how they are oriented, then what is all the fuss about when it comes to putting on sexually distinctive clothes? The basic argument is that these clothes make it clear who are male and who are female. They are necessary for social stability, apparently, except for heavy winter clothing, most hospital garments, the vast amount of young adult casual wear, military battle outfits, infant clothes, academic and religious costumes, clothing worn by culturally insensitive tourists coming from America and Europe to Asia, attire for almost all Olympic sports except swimming, and judges sitting on the bench.
Really, the difference in clothing for males and females has nothing to do with anything but mating, which is supposed to have to do with finding someone of the opposite sex and making society stable. Actually, the more mates are strongly bonded the less distinctive clothing helps. And on the other hand, the more sexy (sexually distinctive and explicit) a costume is the less it contributes to monogamist, un-fluid society. Nor is there a necessary link between finding someone of the opposite sex and finding a mate. WE know that.
If clear sexual distinctions are inconsistent with reality, if they are confusing and troublesome to those for whom they do not fit, if they are used most blatantly for anti-social ends, and if they are widely disregarded for the very purposes they are designed to serve, then why is the sexual binary so heavily defended?
There is one other possibility. Defending the male-female binary notion is about defending privilege. Ah, that rings a bell.
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Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.