Subject: one, two, infinite
Date: Fri 25 Jun 1999 - 17:21:57 BST
Some people seem to want to say this: "If we are going to have other than
fixed, dimorphic gender, we need to acknowledge that sex is other than fixed
and dimorphic. We can do this by looking at the exceptional humans whose sex
is other than normative, no matter how small a population that is."
I have trouble using the exceptions to disprove the rules in this case, a
rule that when shows biologically that when things go right, humans (and
every other mammal) is sexually dimorphic.
Every human is as individual as a fingerprint in their genetic makeup and
their history (and even, if you believe in such, their soul.)
Every human is the same as all other humans in their genetic makeup. We even
share 98% of our DNA in common with chimps.
To me, that means humans are fundamentally the same, but essentially
different, made of the same stuff but each uniquely flavored, just like the
hundreds of ice cream flavors made by Baskin-Robbins, the same formula made
unique by adding different essences.
We can look at this information and come up with many conclusions depending
on how deep we focus, some of which include:
-- there is only one kind of human, a species.
-- there are two kinds of humans, separated by reproductive organs
-- there are an infinite number of different kinds of humans, each subtly
We can also cut by skin color, or by shape of face, or whatever to get other
These models are shown in gender thinking as well. Are we "all the same," is
"gender as easy to see as looking at someone's genitals," or are there
"millions of different genders?"
To me, of course, these separations are along the wild/tame primary duality
axis. Are we all tame and the same, all wild and different? The answer is
somewhere in the middle, of course: we are the same and we are unique at the
Identity politics, often rooted in feminism, handles this challenge with
tribalism, by cutting people up into nice groups by identity labels,
categorizing them simply. Of course there are limits to this -- where does
the Black Jewish Lesbian from England stand?
Queer comes to this by embracing the individual, saying we are each unique.
The flaw here, though, is that there haven't been any good models of queer
based effective social structures which deliver services to a wide group.
For me, I respect both the fundamental sameness, division by categories and
fundamental difference, respect of the individual.
The essential task of any mammalian group is to ensure the continuation of
the species. Reproduction and child-rearing are the second task of any
group, right after personal survival. This is why dividing populations by
reproductive roles, which is based in reproductive biology, is so important,
especially to cultures which have a strong need to reproduce, for species
survival or economic growth.
Identifying others by sex has been important for mammals for a long time,
particularly during reproductive years, from about 13-40 in humans. Tying
social roles to this reproductive status made sense, especially because we
found that females and males could be attributed generalized differences, in
body, attitude and such.
Like anything in a complex animal, though, those distinctions aren't crisp
and clear. Every study which compares males and females comes out with the
disclaimer that two members of the same sex classification may be more
different from the norms of the two sexes. Males may be "normally " 5' 9"
and females "normally" 5' 5", but some males are 4' 11 and some females 6'
3". Females may "normally" be maternal and males "normally" be adventurous,
but some females will not be maternal and some males will be.
Is this classification difference or individual difference? Do these
exceptions prove that the norms are wrong, or only that some things we have
to take on an individual basis? Do we say that a tall female proves that we
have miscategorized females in general, or that we have to allow for
individual deviance and diversity? Are measured norms fundamentally wrong or
I don't think we have to disassemble the social norms which say we can be
fundamentally separated, even by sex, to allow the essential truth that we
are all distinct and different.
We may very well have to destroy the machine age thinking that humans can be
seen as interchangeable cogs and move to information age thinking which says
that we are all packets of unique information, but that doesn't mean we
can't, in programming terms, be identified as classes.
Do we have to change the biological models which categorize humans to allow a
model which sees humans as individual and unique? Do we have to say "yes,
well, biologically we can be separated into two, but deeper down, we can only
be separated into an infinite number, so the gross separations are wrong and
I'm not sure we have to do that, because on a more simple level, humans have
always accepted same and different simultaneously. In the days before we
learned to serve the machine, humans were assigned to groups but also
respected as individuals, with individual gifts to give. We knew the sex
(and hair color and such) of another person, on a gross anatomical level, but
that was only a starting point to the role they played in the band/village,
the rest based on how they were unique.
Sexual dimorphism has come to us though tradition and the study of biology,
come to us as part of the heritage of our scientific based culture. It is a
gift which we use and continue to use to help understand and influence
biology, through medicine. I am willing to leave that in place.
But the roles associated with that biology, roles I call gender, have always
been shifting and shifty. It's these roles which both define our part in the
work of the culture, which includes raising children, and which respect the
broad differences between humans based on reproductive biology, which we can
see though anecdote and evidence.
My goal is to make sure that social roles allow room for individuals to
express and develop their own unique essence while still respecting
fundamental similarities. I think this is crucial in a culture where we need
brain power, innovation, not just more bodies.
I think we do that not by destroying biological classifications though making
them so microfocused all they do is look at tiny differences and not gross
similarities, but by creating respect for the "acorn" that lies in every
I believe we can have social roles which embrace diverse essence even while
we have biological models which show fundamental sameness. In fact, I think
having both of these is crucial to the dynamic tension which keeps human
societies growing, the tension of wild and tame, same and unique.
This archive was generated by hypermail 2a23 : Wed 21 Jul 1999 - 18:23:19 BST