Editors' note: Monica Helms is the president of the Transgender American Veterans Association. This is the second part of her "Stuck in..." series.
Think of how dull the world would be if everything came in just twos. We would only have two different colors, two different smells, two different tastes and two different sounds. People would appear in just two different varieties for each sex, and only thinking in just two different ways. From our diverse perspective, it would be a boring existence, except that in that world, boredom would only come in two forms as well.
Being a science fiction fan and writer, I can easily imagine how a world of true binaries would look. I'm envisioning a novel coming from that right now. We should consider ourselves lucky that Mother Nature can think beyond binaries. Unfortunately, even with all the evidence in front of us, Human Nature cannot think beyond binaries.
I should clarify that last sentence. When it comes to all that exists around us, we easily bask in the beauty of a world that goes way beyond binaries. We see flowers of all colors and varieties. Our pets come in all shapes, sizes, species and temperament. One could take a decade sampling all the varieties of food the world has to offer. Yes, we don't live in a binary world, yet in some forms, binary thinking exists in people.
If Mother Nature can think beyond binaries in every form of creation, then it stands to reason that sex, gender and sexual orientation also go beyond binaries. Try telling that to most of humanity, including some gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and straight people. Yes, even some transgender people cannot think beyond binaries, which has caused some rather heated discussions on blogs and lists at times.
Noticed I didn't include intersex people on that list. Overall, I have found that because an intersex person can have so many different issues that would make them intersex, their life situations force them to think beyond binaries. I have learned a lot from my intersex friends, and they still have more to teach me.
So, where does a lot of this binary thinking come from? Easy. "The Bible says that God only created man and woman. The Bible says that men cannot lie with men and women cannot lie with women. The Bible says that men cannot wear the clothes of women and women cannot wear the clothes of men." How often have we heard these examples from the Bible used as weapons to beat us over the head with? Yet, we hear nothing about stoning our children if they disobey, nothing about not eating pork and shell fish, nothing about not divorcing and remarrying, and nothing about not wearing clothes made with different materials. Seems those get swept under the evangelistic rug for convenience sake. Welcome to the "pick and choose" religious world.
Because binary viewpoints on sex, gender and sexual orientation exists with a majority of humans, we get amendments to state constitutions that say men can only marry women, and visa versa. Yet, in all of those state constitutions, you will not see a definition for what constitutes a man and what constitutes a woman. If you try to pinpoint a definition for them, you will find many exceptions to whatever one you pick, leaving out some of those fine, upstanding evangelist citizens in the process.
Why? Because Mother Nature (God) never follows a binary model when creating humans. Scientists have even identified over 600 species of plants and animals that can change sex based on the needs of the species, further blurring the binary lines. If binaries don't exist in nature, then why have so many states based laws and amendments on vague and undefined terms such as "man" and "woman"? Who allowed them to get away with it?
Let's also look at God for a moment. If you were God and could create anything, anything, then that means you would have no limits. You are not stuck with binary thinking and can mix and match all sorts of features when creating humans. Yet, a misguided portion of society wants to put limits on God's abilities when it comes to the sex, gender and sexual orientation of people. How arrogant are those people? On top of that, if you don't choose the right one of the two - such as sexual orientation - then you're not following God's plan, as if they had absolute proof of how God thinks.
There are five known sexual orientations - heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, asexuality and pansexuality. For those who don't know, pansexuality, or omnisexuality is a sexual orientation characterized by the potential for aesthetic attraction, romantic love, or sexual desire for people, regardless of their gender identity or biological sex. Pansexuality has been described as a "means to skip the binaries and essentialism of bisexuality." I personally see an overlapping of the two.
When the Ex-Gay Movement comes up in conversation, people's binary views of sexual orientation frustrate me to no end. You have straight people saying they can cure a person from being gay and gay people saying that a person will always be gay. Neither side cares to even acknowledge the possibility that maybe, just maybe, the person isn't gay or straight, but somewhere in between.
The AMA recognizes twelve to fourteen various chromosome patterns to designate a person's sex. If XX designates female and XY designates male, then what sex are the others? The AMA, in order to bend to the pressures of the Religious Right, has designated some of the other patterns male and the others as female. But are they right? I refuse to believe they can be so positive on the person's sex if they do not have either XX or XY.
And, Mother Nature, in all of its non-binary wisdom, has even created male-bodied people with XX chromosomes and female-bodied people with XY chromosomes. I have a female-bodied friend who has XY chromosomes. This proves that using chromosomes to justify a binary model for sex just cannot be done.
Failing the medical determination, we can go with a person's gender, specifically their gender identity. What their mind says has to be the strongest deciding factor when medical evidence becomes too vague. Even there, no binary exist, otherwise Leslie Feinberg wouldn't have embraced gender-neutral pronouns. Some people feel they have a neutral, an undefined, or fluid gender, thus shattering binaries in gender as well.
Binaries for sex, gender and sexual orientation are nothing more than creations by people who will not accept a variety of possibilities, or want to make it easy to place people in neat little boxes. Nature has no concept of boxes. The lines between everything in nature become blurred and undefined when studying them carefully. Too bad some people ignore solid evidence in order to push their brand of intolerance, but that has been happening for thousands of years. The more we push aside binary thinking and embrace the wide diversity of nature, the harder it will be for the bigots to thrive. Don't expect that to happen anytime soon.