There are Only Two Sexes*, but Gender does not Exist

So you identify as an attack helicopter. How does it feel to be the king of comedy?

Ultimately, I know that people who self-identify as “attack helicopters” are just making a ridiculously unfunny attempt at recreating some outdated Internet meme. But despite its tastelessness, I can’t help but wonder whether there is any ounce of merit behind the mockery. If people can characterize their gender as changing on an hourly basis, or identify with neopronouns like leaf/leafself, why can’t an individual, if in earnest, identify their gender with an inanimate object like a helicopter?

Technically, you can. If someone feels a particularly strong connection to helicopters, they can label their gender as that of a helicopter. But why does this feel more absurd than, for instance, a biological boy growing up playing with dolls and wearing dresses declaring themselves to be transgender? And where do we draw the line between regular forms of identity or expression, like having a particularly strong affinity for or connection with helicopters, and forms that pertain specifically to gender?

The answer very obviously lies in social norms and expectations that exist for either gender. Without these norms, all of these acts would be labeled forms of self-expression without being inextricably tied with the nebulous concept that is gender.

As they pertain to sex, there are only three kinds of brains: the male brain, the female brain, and the transgender brain (which is actually somewhat of a combination of various structures within the male and female brains, leading the body to look a different sex than it perceives itself to be, according to various studies conducted by Tel Aviv University). So, the genders of individuals who seem to identify outside of the binary are not dictated by their biology or neurology, but rather, the society surrounding them.

For instance, we’ve seen that as time has gone on, the concept of gender identity has grown farther and farther from the spectrum of male and female that initially defined it: first, expanding to include a nonbinary gender; then, to agender and pangender; and now, though less commonly, to objects and animals.

Given the stringent guidelines that exist to govern one’s sex-based identity within our society, it is inevitable that the more restrictive these impositions become, the more people will feel alienated by these structures.

Instead, imagine that we at Groton School were all born in a bubble separated from society, and all of us in this cave were born blind. Ultimately, there would be no way anyone could learn to group people into categories based on what pronouns they prefer to use or how closely they align with their biological sex. If society had no way of perceiving physical differences between individuals, gender likely wouldn’t be anything more than a set of guidelines that dictate what biological functions each individual is capable of performing.

In a society free of gender, there would be no such thing as nonbinary or transgender because there would be no way of imposing stringent impositions on how each individual may express themselves, and thus, no need to resist those impositions. Therefore, we must recognize that gender today doesn’t biologically exist, but rather, is an arbitrary label assigned to various forms of self-expression that deal with sex-based social norms.

In reality, definitions of gender are growing increasingly blurred. Mischaracterizing any form of self-identification as gender is dangerous (and confusing) because it perpetuates harmful stereotypes within our society that wouldn’t need to exist if people could just express themselves without relating that to gender. 

And stating that there are only two genders alienates those that feel they don’t identify with the binary system of gender and wish to express themselves in other means than the ones society allows the two genders to.

Both ways of characterizing an individual’s identity are problematic. There’s no need to police identity by trying to define gender as some confusing entity that serves only to divide.