Looking Beyond The Binary

Looking Beyond The Binary

Like the overwhelming majority of people I was immersed from my earliest days in a world divided into two. It is so pervasive that it doesn’t seem at all strange; most people never have cause to even think about it.

In the blue corner we have everything male. Boys, men, anything electronic or mechanical, big or loud. Football. Beer.

And in the pink corner we have the supposed polar opposite, female. Soft, delicate, dainty, quiet. Embroidered cushions and flowers. Ballet. Prosecco.

Take a moment to think about how much of the world is seen in terms of masculine or feminine. It’s even ingrained in many languages such as Spanish, French, German, Russian.

Who do you see when you imagine people in various jobs? Flight attendant, nurse, engineer, bricklayer, plumber, mechanic, secretary, truck driver. Are the examples you think of primarily male or female?

How about when you see a person at the mall or in the street? Do you find yourself automatically thinking of them as she or he? Making an unconscious decision about their gender simply based on a quick glance, a fleeting impression?

It’s so deeply ingrained in our culture and society that it’s hard not to. And when somebody doesn’t seem to fit into either category we can find ourselves wondering, “Are they…?” Does that make you uncomfortable? How would you address them?

Good news: there’s a solution. It’s not easy because you have to make an effort and learn to see things differently. But you can teach yourself to look at people without the need to put them in a box labeled M or F.

Go on, try it. Watch the TV, scroll through Facebook, whatever, and deliberately keep an open mind about the gender of everyone you see there. Avoid “he” and “she” in your thoughts; use the neutral “they” by default.

After a while you find that it becomes easier, the conscious effort becomes an unconscious reflex. And you discover something unexpected: you still see aspects that suggest male or female, but your overall impression is a blend of the two. You see both simultaneously!

And it strikes you that the whole dyadic division is an illusion, a pernicious lie.

3 thoughts on “Looking Beyond The Binary

  1. I have Asperger’s, too. And for me, accurate labels are my primary form of quantifying my world and deciding how to proceed in any given situation. For my purposes, “male” and “female” always have been wholly inadequate, and are generally quite useless, unless we are referring to tools, cables, or other mechanical components. When referring to humans in particular, gender is simply too imprecise a label.

    Now that gender identity is a more fluid notion in our society, I am realizing just how lucky I am to have discarded these labels in my mind. I do still use labels for gender, but primarily as a means of catering to the comfiture of those I communicate with.

    For me, I rarely imagine the person in a particular job title. I tend to see in my mind the character traits, physical requirements, and specialized tools necessary to perform in that profession.

    It is the same when I meet a stranger. I see cleanliness, kindness, severity, grace of movement, attitude. I used to puzzle my friends who would say, “So and so is extremely hot!” when I replied, “I have never met them.” Most people do not understand what character has to do with physical attraction.

    I have digressed.

    You are right that many people will have to fight years of ingrained thinking. But I am pleased that my children will not have to fight it as strongly as I did.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I am glad you are pleased. I am in the States, 31yrs old, female. No one in my life knew that autistic kids could be hyper intelligent, and no one knew that girls could have Asperger’s. I identify very strongly with most of the things you write about.

        Also, I don’t know if it helps you, or your readers, but addressing a person when you don’t know their gender is simpler than you’d think.

        Instead of, “Thank you, sir” try “Thank you so much!”
        Instead of, “Excuse me, ma’am” try “I’m sorry to bother you, but…”
        Another solution is to learn a few phrases in another language. Muchas gracias. Perdone me. At least in the States, no one has ever said I was rude. Eccentric, weird, but unfailingly PC. Well, and I am also the extremely logical weirdo who has no qualms about asking, “How would you like me to address you?”

        Liked by 1 person

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