Monday, April 11, 2016

Joe Omundson

bimodal distribution

Recently one of my friends shared a video on facebook which pointed out the way society thinks of gender as binary -- there is only Male, or Female, and everybody must fit into exactly one of those categories. Yet any reduction of the infinite variability of our world into two categories is always a flawed representation of reality. The video encouraged people to expand their thinking beyond dualisms and dichotomies, and instead learn to experience the complex textures of reality.

Someone replied with this comment: "This is ridiculous. You should be free to do what you want but denying the gender binary is foolish. Men and women are inherently different and this fact has served humanity well."

I think of it like this: there is indeed a reason why we perceive a male/female split rather than a smooth spectrum of gender/sexuality -- most people have either XX or XY chromosomes which usually lead to certain distinctive traits. Most people might fall close enough to "typical cis male" and "typical cis female" to identify as fully male or female. But, it's far from a black-and-white binary.

There are some people with different chromosomal arrangements like XXY, XYY, or XXX. All fetuses begin with the same proto-genitals, and they only develop into the "typical" male/female anatomy depending on which hormones are present. There are people who have XY chromosomes but whose cells are insensitive to male hormones, and their bodies appear completely "female". Perhaps more importantly, there are very many people who have a body that fits one archetype and a mind that fits another, or who do not feel that they fit into either the male or female category. There are many other kinds of possible variations.

Society conditions us to think of of gender like this:

I think the shape of the gender spectrum is better represented as a bimodal distribution:

Our brains like to find patterns in messy data. It's no surprise that we look at the above graph and say "two groups of people". This thinking has been reinforced for many years.

Of course, even this graph is overly simplistic, and it implies that gender distribution lies along a single axis; a mix of only 2 ingredients. You're either blue, pink, or a combination of those two. I think an accurate graph of sexuality and gender (if such a thing could be made) would be three dimensional and multicolored. You can be a different type of gender completely, or you can be none at all.

The video raises an important point. The whole world is a very complex place with a lot of things going on. There are always very many options and variations. Any time we try to shoehorn reality into a dichotomy, there's a lot of mental gymnastics that has to go on to convince ourselves that the binary is accurate. As part of that, some of us invalidate the personal experiences of other people who are actually living a transgender or gender variant life, because if we believe they're doing something wrong it makes it easier for us to believe that the system we live in is fair.

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November 23, 2017 at 1:15 AM delete

Found this via a search for bimodal distribution of gender: what you've presented reflects my thinking on the subject. I'd also like to see a more 3D or 4D or xD representation of gender and sexuality. I think it would open minds to see things as continuums rather than discrete groups.