Often in the so-called debate over same sex marriage, you will see the less sophisticated ‘no’ campaigners whine about how there are males and females, as if that is all there is to humanity. It is perhaps no coincidence that the most of the people who look at humanity this way are the religious where everything is either black or white, until of course, theologians tell them that, no, black is white or vice versa. Commonly, it is society that tells them that some of it is indeed grey. People used to believe slavery was perfectly acceptable, until some decided it wasn’t any more. They used to think that homosexuality was an abomination, until some told them it wasn’t. Now they think same-sex marriage is an abomination, and eventually society will make them realise it isn’t.
It is perhaps worth explaining what some of the terminology used herein means. Sexuality is a much misused term, especially by those arguing against same-sex marriage. It refers to the way people experience and express themselves as sexual beings. This involves physical and emotional feelings and behaviours. It also concerns a person’s sexual orientation, which determines to whom they are attracted1.
Gender refers to the range of characteristics concerned with the differences between masculinity and femininity and everything in between. This includes biological sex (the state of being male or female or in-between), sex based social roles, or gender identity2.
The propensity for those voting ‘no’ in the same-sex marriage ‘survey’ for shoe-horning people into either male or female biological sexes or gender roles, simply ignores reality, something at which they are very adept.
The reality with sexual orientation is that while most people are heterosexual (attracted to the other ‘end-member’ of the biological sex spectrum), some are homosexual (attracted to the same part of the spectrum), some are bisexual (attracted to both end members equally or unequally), while others are asexual (not interested in anyone)3. There is clearly a range of sexual orientations, and no amount of conversion therapy by misguided religious nutters will change this.
Humans are most often born with 46 chromosomes in 23 pairs. The X and Y chromosomes determine a person’s sex. Most women are 46XX and most men are 46XY. Research suggests, however, occasionally some individuals will be born with a single sex chromosome (45X or 45Y; sex monosomy) and some with three or more sex chromosomes (47XXX, 47XYY or 47XXY, etc.; sex polysomy). In addition, some males are born 46XX due to the translocation of a tiny section of the sex determining region of the Y chromosome onto an X chromosome. Similarly, some females are also born 46XY due to mutations in the Y chromosome. Clearly, there are not only females who are XX and males who are XY, but rather, there is a range of chromosome complements, hormone balances, and phenotypic variations that determine sex4. So, sex is not a simple binary system. The irony is most likely lost on those espousing the ludicrous ‘intelligent design’ ideology.
Developmental biology suggests that a strict belief in absolute sexual dimorphism is incorrect. Instead, it has been suggested that a much more realistic approximation is of two overlapping bell-shaped curves to represent sexual variations across populations5. Qualitative variation in chromosome complement, genital morphology and hormonal activity fall under the area of overlap. This challenges the need for medical intervention in cases of intersexuality, as well as trying to force gender identity determined by someone other than the person concerned.
Gender is also not ‘binary’ (i.e. not restricted to male or female). Among certain North American native communities, gender is seen more in terms of a continuum than categories, with special acknowledgement of ‘two-spirited’ people who encompass both masculine and feminine qualities and characteristics. It is apparent, then, that different cultures have taken different approaches to creating gender distinctions, with more or less recognition of fluidity and complexity of gender4. This challenges the ‘need’ to force gender identity as determined by someone other than the person concerned.
This is all part of societal norms and legalities attempting to cope with advances in biological science and psychology. Sciences such as these are a way of attempting to explain reality, and society takes a while to catch up with the explanations of science, and the churches seem to drag the chain most of all. That is in part because they are enamoured of a black and white world-view, just like the world-views of the little girls or boys they want everybody to be.
- Blackless, M., Charuvastra, A., Derryck, A., Fausto-Sterling, A., Lauzanne, K. & Lee, E., 2000. How sexually dimorphic are we? Review and synthesis. American Journal of Human Biology 12(2), 151–166.