Gender as accepted fact… gender as myth?

Gender neutral/diversity iconSociety has for the longest time held that people can universally be divided along the lines of their anatomical gender.  We can see this plainly in the design of toilet blocks and changing rooms that segregate gender.  This overly simplistic and religiously influenced view of gender as “binary”, that individuals may be unambiguously and universally separated into males and females, has always been challenged by the birth of intersex (hermaphroditic) individuals who are born with both male and female genitals.  Where both sets of secondary sexual characteristics are present and functional, surgeons in recent times have had the ability, and to avoid possible later medical complications felt the responsibility, to assign that person’s gender soon after birth.  Often such individuals grow up to identify with the gender other than that to which they were assigned.  This suggests that anatomy and gender identity are separate and independent.  This in turn raises the question, if gender identity is not rooted in anatomy, from where does it come from?

Anatomical gender is not congruent with their anatomical gender for many individuals born with a clear and unambiguous anatomical gender.  Nor is it fixed throughout the lifespan.  Some people identify as being “gender fluid” because they feel they move between genders, at times on a day by day basis, or exist quite happily without a gender identity at all.  “Trans” individuals feel that their gender identity is consistently at odds with their anatomical gender.  This is common not only among intersex individuals who have had an anatomical  gender surgically, and often arbitrarily, assigned to them but also those born with a distinct and single anatomical gender.

The frequency that gender identity and anatomical gender are mismatched has led some people, this author included*, to question the validity of gender as a concept.  Might gender be learned, rather than an innate property of people?  Roland Barthes commented on the artifice of gendered toys, pointing out that given a free choice, girls would as willingly play with traditional boys toys such as trucks and soldiers and boys with ‘girls toys’ such as dolls and tea sets as with toys intended for their own gender.  A closer examination of clothing, toys, behaviours, attitudes and more that are traditionally expected, rewarded and censured in children reveals that both gender and masculinity/femininity appear to be social norms ingrained in people as they grow from such an early age they are accepted as axiomatic, assumed truths that are not open to question.  As society relaxes its moral panic over sexual and gender diversity, we are discovering as a society just how diverse and individual gender really is.

*(my views are not necessarily the same as those of the University)


Further reading

Read more about sexual and gender diversity from:

Crowdfunding project – “X Marks The Spot”

If you are interested in supporting the expression of gender diverse creative writers, “X Marks The Spot” is seeking backers on Kickstarter to enable it to publish an anthology exploring life beyond binary gender.  A £5 backer offer will secure you a pdf copy of the work, assuming the project is successfully funded. (Kickstarter only charges backers when projects are fully funded and expected to go ahead.)


Assistant Librarian (Promotions) at the University Library. An enthusiastic advocate of libraries, diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice for all, inside and outside the workplace.

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