A series of events inspired me to write about a topic on which I am far from an expert, but which I feel is really important to talk about.  It started with a Japanese TV series about a junior high school special class.  Among its varied student dramas was the moving story of a boy in a girl’s body, who finally “came out” to his class.  The teacher and school nurse powerfully educate themselves, the school and the viewers.
At the same time as I was watching this series, I happened onto an Oprah Winfrey show on which she was interviewing transgenders and their families.

In addition, a close friend who is intersexed (formerly called hermaphrodite) gave me an article “Born Between Two Sexes” from the May 2003 issue of “Girlfriends” magazine.

Having found out around this same time that I was due to write an article for the July/August issue of HCJ, these gender issues began to gel in my mind into the topic that I am supposed to write about.

The teacher in the Japanese series, “Kinpachi Sensei,” talked about the fact that an important issue that we dedicated ourselves to in the 20th century was gender equality. He said that in the 21st century we must address “gender cooperation.”  He pointed out that a person’s sexual anatomy determines their gender by appearance only.  What happens when one’s sexual identity does not fit the societal stereotypes of their sexual appearance?  And what if one’s sexual appearance itself does not fit the “norm”?  Up until now anything that did not fit our definitions of what constitutes male or female, masculine or feminine, was treated as a “sickness,” something to be shamed, and either “fixed” or hidden.

The remainder of this article is an attempt to express what I have learned.  I hope it will serve to create greater awareness, discussion and compassion for our differences.  I also hope that, in time, our language will change and the edges between our labels will blur.  Some of these labels, as currently defined, are:

Sexual majority:

Heterosexual male
Heterosexual female

Sexual minority:

Intersex (Hermaphrodite)

What I learned from “Kinpachi Sensei” is that where we fit in the sexual spectrum has a large biological component that takes place between conception and birth.  A simple fertilized egg divides 60 trillion times before it is born as a human being.  (“If the world population is 6 billion, it would take 10,000 earths to make one human being!” to quote the school nurse on the show.)  Within the fertilized egg are 100,000 genetic codes from the parents.  With all these numbers and possible combinations, it seems hardly likely that there are only two possible gender outcomes, or even the seven mentioned above!

The sperm and egg cells provide chromosomes — Y (male) and X (female).  For a period of time, the fertilized egg is genderless.  The Y chromosome transmits the message to the body to create testicles, which is an instruction for the body to become male.  At this point, the brain is still genderless; apparently, it takes ten weeks before the brain takes on a gender.  During this time the brain is showered with hormones which determine its gender.  Most often, the brain receives enough of the same hormonal messages that the body received that the brain and body match.

Given the mathematical possibilities, however, it is not surprising that there are varying degrees of masculine/feminine biological results that are possible, both physically and mentally.  Furthermore, because the biological factors can continue to develop and change after birth, a human often fits into different aspects of the gender spectrum at different times of her/his life.

To the naked eye, most humans look either male or female based on their physical attributes.  Mostly, the brain messages appear to match the body as a person develops, and so society assumed two genders.  From this assumption, language and social ethics regarding gender came into being.

Interestingly, one or two children out of every 2,000 are born intersexed.  The medical profession has seen this as a “problem to be fixed.”  While one can make physical changes through surgery (often repeated surgeries), the hormonal messages in the brain and the body cannot be surgically changed.  So while a gender may be surgically chosen for an intersexed child, the hormonal messages may not match that choice, creating confusion, shame and grief for the individual and his/her family.

In the case of someone who is transgender, it is likely that the brain and the body do not match at birth.  The brain cannot make sense of the body or the societal rules which say that s/he must act like others with the same genital type.  Again, confusion, shame and despair.  People in this category are said to have “Gender Identity Disorder” (the word “Disorder” is one that I would like to see changed!).  It is now possible as adults to have “sex reassignment surgery,” so that the mind and the body are in accord with each other.  I have heard this surgery referred to as “discarding the costume.”

On the Oprah show, the families agreed that when the transgender was finally able to have their outsides match their insides, they were happier people and much easier to get along with.  Each of these families, including the transgender him/herself, had to go through intense psychological adjustments.  Most of this is based on old societal programming; whereas, if the transgender were identified and accepted early in life, they would not be forced to try to conform to this programming, thereby rendering unnecessary the painful psychological adjustments for all concerned.

An example of this drama is when a husband “comes out” as a woman.  If the couple were happy together, already best friends, they may not want to lose that connection.  But if the wife is attracted to men and not to women, she suffers a huge loss.  Also, the transgender has to sort out the matter of who they are attracted to, since gender orientation does not necessarily determine sexual orientation.

I have only discussed two examples of ways in which people can’t be defined by societal stereotypes.  It’s my experience that each human has unique combinations of “masculine” and “feminine” traits, as well as having their own place on the sexual orientation spectrum.  Given all the possible genetic combinations that make up a person, it seems improbable that humans can even be defined by the seven gender categories that I listed above.

In the 21st century of “gender cooperation,” these issues need to be openly and responsibly discussed.  We must acknowledge that the stereotypical definitions of male and female, masculine and feminine, are not serving us.  Instead they are causing confusion and despair.  It is time to form a society that honors individuality; a society that is not based on pink and blue, but embraces the various colors of the rainbow.  A society in which people learn about and accept each other, in which it is recognized that there are, indeed, as many genders as there are people.

Published in the Human Awareness Institute Community Journal July/August 2003


Return to articles page

Home Page
    Site Map