What Science Really Tells Us About Gender

August 7 4 min read

Even before we’re born, gender is inscribed unto us. Imposed. We want to know what kinds of clothes to buy for the new human entering the world, how to paint the walls of their nursery or what name we should give them. We inscribe expectations upon their body and their future. We do this each time we see an ultrasound or go to a gender reveal party and we do it without even noticing. As a society, we are assigning gender to someone without their consent. We are defining their whole life based on how their genitals look. If it’s a penis, he will be a man and he will wear blue. If it’s a vulva, she will be a woman and she will wear pink. If it is something undefined, then it must be corrected.

But genitals themselves don’t tell you anything about the person. Neither sex nor gender is binary; it’s a spectrum, a social construct.

We often get confused when we talk about gender, so I like to make this distinction: there’s sex (which is assigned at birth and can be either female, male or intersex), gender identity and gender expression. There’s a difference between how you identify and how you present to others. I can identify as non-binary and express my gender as stereotypically masculine, and that doesn’t mean I am no longer non-binary; just as there are people who identify as male and express their gender as stereotypically feminine. The way you express yourself doesn’t have to align with how you understand your gender.

Biological sex is much more complex than we think. There are seven areas of biological sex that express themselves in different variations: genitalia, chromosomes (XX, XY, X, XYY, etc), gonads (testicles/ovaries), internal sex organs, hormone production, hormone response and sex characteristics (such as body hair or development of breasts).

With this in mind, we can see that sex and gender are more like fifty shades of grey rather than confining all 7.8 billion people on the planet to two boring boxes.

Medicine and science are not exempt from bias and, even if it hurts to admit it, science is loaded with subjectivity from whoever produces it;  it is far from objective. For this reason, among many violations that have happened in the name of science, medicine has pathologized intersex people. Intersex people represent the same percentage as redhead people in the world (around 2% of the population), regardless, medicine describes them as defective, as people who are sick and should be corrected. Science has failed to comprehend their existence in this world: it violates their bodies through surgeries that claim to be, “what is better for their health”, but are only designed to fit them into a norm we humans have built.

While this is happening around the world to intersex people, trans people are experiencing something similar: we are being violated in the name of science. While they are forced to undergo sex assignment surgeries and invasive treatments (many times without their informed consent), medicine denies us the right to decide about our bodies and denies us access to surgeries and HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy),  all of this suffering is excused based on the binary idea of biological sex.

An entire narrative has been built on “scientific evidence” about how our human bodies should be. But the reality is that the human experience is much more complex than the story we’ve been told. 

Yes, sex and gender seem to go hand in hand, but only because these stereotypes have been repeated throughout the years. The truth is,  no one experiences gender the same way: it is not the same to be a woman in Mexico as it is to be one in Germany, just like it is not the same to be a white man as it is to be a black man. Even in the same household, siblings experience gender very differently from one another. We can unlearn the things that have been taught. We can create other ways to comprehend our bodies and allow ourselves and others to explore it as we so desire.

The moment we understand that humans are biologically diverse, we will also understand that gender is. Forget 'the future is non-binary'; the fact is: humans never were.

Dante Ureta
« Dante is a 23 year old non binary trans masculine person. He started Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) one year ago and he has decided to live his transition publicly on social media to contribute to the lack of information about trans and non-binary people in Mexico. He’s a psychologist in training and he has worked with Impulso Trans A.C., a non-profit or political civil association based in Guadalajara, Jal., The objectives of the association are to advise, inform and accompany trans people in their transition processes." » All posts →