February 13, 2018 by Rua Lupa
This was originally published on Feb 10, 2015 on Patheos.
It is now being republished with some editing for clarification. Updated: Feliformia 25th / 12018 HE — February 13th / 2018 CE.
Life is fascinating. It comes in all shapes, sizes and expression. Most of life on earth reproduces asexually – meaning that they copy themselves as clones. The majority of animals on earth reproduce sexually – as you may have guessed means that they combine genetic material from two different organisms creating new unique organisms. The form this usually takes is in sexual divergences wherein one provides sperm and the other provides the egg. The first animals to do this have completed this reproduction via external egg that becomes incubated and then hatches, typically done by the one that provided the egg, but not always. Mammals had developed a different approach by incubating that egg internally in one of the parents until it is birthed out of the parent, again most typically by the one providing the egg, but not always.
We have named those that provide the sperm male, and those that provide the egg female, having no other meaning biologically speaking. In most species of animal this sexual dimorphism is emphasized in secondary sex characteristics wherein the outer physical appearance differs between males and females, mostly becoming expressed at sexual maturity. This can appear as a difference in body size, physical strength and morphology, ornamentation, behaviour and other bodily traits.
The amount of difference of gender dimorphism between male and female humans is as much different as male and female wolves, chimpanzees, and lemurs. That being that the secondary traits are relatively minor. Otherwise the main differences remain as a reflection of individual personality.
In sexual reproduction there are entire species and some individuals in many other species that have both egg and sperm producing organs called hermaphrodites.
In species that are not typically hermaphroditic it is termed intersex and usually one or both organs are inert, sometimes one reproductive organ being more visually apparent leaving the other going unnoticed until an autopsy is done. When sexual maturity is reached for these individuals one reproductive aspect usually develops in a more pronounced way than the other, or does not become activated at all, and can not be reliably predicted which it would be when the time comes.
Intersex humans are as common as redheads – that is 1 in 200 people (this number can vary depending on methodology and interpretation). Which means that more likely than not, you have met a number of intersex people already.
This state of being is commonly described as Androgynous or Transgender.
Human cultures have denied the existence of intersex individuals to the point that infants that express intersex characteristics are killed or mutilated – surgically altering them to look like the gender that looks more prominent at birth in order to conform to societal expectations. These children are raised believing they are one gender and upon sexual maturity often find themselves in strange circumstances where they develop differently from their peers.
Others, that do not have any external intersex characteristics, tend to find out when a medical issue arises and is found by doctors. This includes the biggest sexual organ – the brain, and commonly arises in the form of Gender dysphoria.
Some have found that getting sex reassignment surgery and/or hormone treatment to become aligned with the gender they most associate with helps them feel more like their true self; Removing the anxiety of facing social retaliation for not fitting into societal expectations and enabling them to move forward in a more self empowering way.
Understandably, those that find themselves in this circumstance become very distressed as there is no way of expressing this state of being without the social pressure to conform to the male/female dimorphic stereotypes in society. In addition to that is the personal question of sexual orientation and how to go about finding a significant other in life in a society that is still hetero-normative.
Humans, as a species, have had virtually every form of expression for all genders already in history, but gendered stereotyped clothing usually comes about in unforeseen ways.
Trousers (Pants in North America and Australia) were worn by the Celts for functionality by both men and women for warmth, outdoor work and to ride horses. Koreans might have worn trousers around the same time for the same purposes too. Meanwhile most cultures in surrounding regions wore wraps or tunics or the combination of the two and thought that wearing pants was uncivilized. It was around the time of Christianization that women wearing trousers became taboo. But now we see women everywhere adorning trousers / pants.
High heel shoes, for example, were invented by Persian horse archers for functionality, because they helped hold the rider’s foot in stirrups. European gentry had then taken a liking to them at court as a form of fashion. In the early 1600’s women had adopted the high heel footwear as well, which caused it to fall out of fashion as “men’s wear”.
I think you may start seeing the trend here – clothing begins purely for function and is not gender restrained, only becoming so after stereotypes become established.
Forms of dress and behaviour naturally arise in reflection of personality and activities. If you enjoy performance arts then you would be likely inclined toward flowing vibrant forms of clothing and manner. If you enjoy competitive team athletics then you would likely be inclined toward form fitting, free movement, protective clothing, and forward behaviour. If you enjoy woodworking, then your clothing would incline toward comfortable and protective, with a more focused and calm behaviour. And even then many would have multiple interests that may include many of these expressions and/or others, and not even necessarily being anything like I mentioned earlier. Which could be way off depending on personality and how an individual or group approaches any subject. We are inventive creatures after all, which is the primary trait of our species.
As a naturalist, gender is always used to describe biological sex of animals, so I find it really odd to see it attempted to be used differently when ascribed to humans. This then, comes across as another method to culturally perceive humans as separate from animals, and somehow separate from the rest of nature, when all the while we are animals. The reasoning behind this attempted separation is to label gender roles in cultures. But that perpetuates a problem,
We have been consistently finding that enforced gender roles are detrimental, to both the health of people and society. Be that hyper-masculinity / toxic masculinity, denying women bodily autonomy, and denying intersex people a place in society.
The reality is that there are no limits to what someone can wear and do. “Feminine” and “Masculine” are just arbitrary classifications that are believed and enforced by society. But in most every case these are lies about what it means to be male and female. More often than not being marketing schemes that play on our insecurities on wanting to fit in so you purchase their product (ever heard of “man card”?).
Therefore, a separate Gender category for social roles is itself detrimental and are better off without it.
Ultimately your gender and sex are not separate – your gender is the physical state of your reproductive genes and organs, your brain included, and that is all there is to it. As a woman, man, or intersex/transgender, being that gender means you get to define what that means, your gender does not define what you do.
That is something our society needs to understand, so long as we respect human rights and our shared environment, go out and dress and act however you like. The more people freely express themselves, the more society will come to accept humanity for what it is. Not all that different from one another, all the while being beautifully diverse.
If you want to know about what Nature has to say about sexual orientation beyond what was touched on here, Humon Comics: Anmial Lives is a great series that shows the many different ways relationships can happen.