On The Phrase ‘Gender Binary’

by Izaak

I wrote this entire post, and then I read On The Word ‘Queer’, which had a much better structure than my original post, so I deleted it and rewrote it like they did their post.

Unlike Ozy’s post, I don’t think that there is a huge debate in the SJW community as to who or what counts as being part of the gender binary, or who or what counts as being outside of it. But if there is an agreed upon definition, I have no idea what it is, and based on questions I’ve asked some of my friends, it isn’t quite as cut and dry as the lack of debate makes it seem.

The ‘Gender Binary’, in general and I think undisputably, refers to an archaic and outdated concept: that there are two genders; male and female. But where this definition exactly begins and ends is much more blurry than it seems. In the past, on this blog, I have only explicitly referred to people as being “outside the gender binary” if they are agender or a third gender. I have also only explicitly referred to people as being “inside the gender binary” if they are cisgendered.

So let’s go through some proposed definitions for this term and we’ll see what sticks.

Strictest Possible Definition: Historically, the only accepted sexualities were cisgendered people, cis men and cis women. Anyone who identifies as anything other than that defies historical convention, and we call the historical convention of gender and gender roles the ‘Gender Binary’.

Two Gender Definition: The ‘Gender Binary’ refers to people who identify as male or female, regardless of how they were assigned at birth. Although transgender people do defy historical gender norms, they still only identify as a single gender, and therefore are part of the ‘Gender Binary’. However, anyone who identifies as something that isn’t 100% male or 100% female is outside of the ‘Gender Binary’.

Really Weird Definition: This one is sorta contrived, but I’d believe it if someone said they thought this one was the right one. In this definition, someone is part of the ‘Gender Binary’ if they, at any given time, identify as either 100% male or 100% female. People who switch between the two cleanly are part of the ‘Gender Binary’, but people who slide between the two an experience degrees of maleness and degrees of femaleness are not part of it.

Loosest Possible Definition: Even people who identify as genderfluid between male and female, people who are transgendered, and people who identify as other in-between genders that are made of part male and female, or who identify only slightly with one or both of those genders (but not any third gender) are part of the ‘Gender Binary’. Only people who sometimes identify as a third gender, or people who identify as agender, are truly outside the ‘Gender Binary’.