Many feminist anthropologists and activists fought against the notion of “gender binary” and in this fight, some of them proposed how sex is biological and gender, a social construct extracted from this biology. But most of them while explaining the complexity of gender determination and roles didn’t bother much to decipher the intricacy of the biology of ‘sex’.
Spectrum of Sex
In our mundane conversations, the terms like ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ are used interchangeably and these conversations are the reflection of our lacking sensitivity for human diversity. Remember the time when our biology teacher told us the simple trick for determination of sex and how we used to mug up the funda for good grades in the exams- X*X- Female & X*Y- Male.
Little did we know that this simple logic neglects the complex diversity of nature and is also discriminatory and despicable in every sense. Talking about the developments in science, anyone can have XXX, XXY, X, XXX or any other combination of chromosomes for that matter, and can lead to a variety of sex traits. In fact, there are some people having a combination of XX chromosomes who develop the male reproductive system, and some people with the combination of XY chromosomes who develop a female reproductive system. All these facts shatter our beliefs of discerning nature in terms of binary and categorizing people on the basis of the same.
The Unnatural Sex Determination Tests
In 2014, India’s famous athlete Dutee Chand was barred from competing against women citing that she had high levels of testosterone in her body and that makes the game unfair for other women. Not only Chand, South African Caster Semenya, Indian Santhi Soundarajan and many others are examples of those who failed these unnatural and bogus sex determination tests by Sports Authorities. But here are the questions: How many of us can actually pass this sex test? How many of us have got our testosterone levels checked? And who declared that high testosterone levels result in good physical strength? Nivedita Menon in her book Seeing like a Feminist put this point very aptly-
“All men do not run faster than all women; all men are not stronger than all women; all men do not jump higher than all women; and this is why it has often been suggested by feminists that athletes should be categorized on the basis of physical characteristics relevant to the sport, rather than on the basis of sex.”
The Existence of Intersex
For years, the Biology books vilified the existence of some people based on their variant biology considered as abnormal by calling them “Hermaphrodites”. It was only the struggle of years that made the existence of intersex people valid in society to some extent. Biologically speaking, intersex people are those whose genetic variants result in a reproductive system that is typically neither male nor female. Not being fit in the biological binary of ‘male’ and ‘female’, they have to face the worst kind of ostracization at the hands of the society as well as some medical luminaries who feel that this variant must be ‘corrected’. Some doctors still perform reconstructive surgeries to match the anatomy of the intersex child closely to any of the binaries. This conditioned nature of labeling a child and ‘correcting’ them can lead to severe physiological or psychological harms.
Nature has all kind of diversity and it’s also not mandatory to have a rationale for every kind of variation. What is a ‘norm’ and what is an ‘exception’ has a multi-layered explanation based on various social and historical power dynamics. And the narratives based on these power dynamics need to be challenged and the spectrum of sex must find its place in this highly dichotomous world because natural human diversity does not need fixation but some ill-informed minds surely do!
Aman Singh is a student pursuing BA Programme from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Shaireen Khan
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Jamia Review or its members.