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Beyond The Binary: Understanding Gender

As fashion houses introduce genderless lines and self-introductions include pronouns, the intersection between sex and gender is increasingly blurred.

By Angela Ledgerwood

Relationships

As fashion houses introduce genderless lines and self-introductions include pronouns, the intersection between sex and gender is increasingly blurred.

By Angela Ledgerwood

The conversation around gender has officially entered the mainstream. Whether it was Caitlyn Jenner speaking openly about her transition or the heated debates about gender-neutral bathrooms in US schools, we are in the midst of a gender revolution. In 2016, Spanish fashion retailer Zara unveiled its “Ungendered” line, while luxury brands – from Louis Vuitton to Gucci to Public School – are blurring notions of masculinity and femininity. Newer labels, such as cult favourite No Sesso, are unisex and made with transgender bodies in mind. But it’s not limited to private companies, with Canada dropping the male pronoun from its national anthem. But while the current environment has allowed many people to come out, explore their gender identities and create communities, it has also resulted in increased violence against transgender and non-binary people, particularly transgender women of colour. In 2017, 28 transgender people were killed in the US, the most on record, according to Human Rights Campaign. Eighty-four per cent were people of colour, and 80 per cent were women. Despite this increased awareness, the concept of gender is still misunderstood, and a minefield for insensitivity. But activists are still hopeful. “I’ve always thought that one of the most wonderful things about humans is that we always work on spectrums, from intelligence to hair colour, we have variety,” says Rillark Bolton, a PhD candidate in the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies at Sydney University. “This variety has served us well over time, why would sex, or gender be any different?”

Your sex is biological — based on chromosomes, hormones and reproductive organs — and, historically it was seen as binary. That is, our bodies were assigned as one of two sexes, “male” or “female” at birth, based on our external anatomy. This binary was long seen as “normal” and reinforced in society through Christianity and the standardising forces of colonisation and modernisation. But, in fact, there are a range of “intersex experiences” reflecting varying biological states. Some research suggests one in 1000 people are intersex, where a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit the typical definitions of male or female.

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