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Sex and Gender Diversity is Natural

The "Unnatural" Myth

One of the most common accusations thrown at LGBTQIA+ people in order to invalidate and disappear us is that we are unnatural. Something we should consider is who gets to speak for nature? There is significant tradition in the medical industry to “fix” queer people, as if there was something wrong with us, to make us conform to heterosexuality and the gender binary. It must be understood that this tradition is not rooted in biological science, but in social prejudice. Gender and sexual diversity are the norm in nature, in both human and nonhuman spheres of life. We must acknowledge that Western science has long been dominated by white, straight, cisgender men, who have used the pretext of science to justify their attempts to hold onto their status as dominant in society over other people. But as women, queer people, and trans people have gained access to the scientific realm and begun to do their own research, they have found that much of the rhetoric of science used to discriminate against marginalized groups is not factually true. That diversity is not only natural in human and nonhuman species, but healthy and necessary for the survival of the species. 


Author Bio:

Edmund Green Langdell (they/them) is an ever becoming enby, whose work focuses on promoting human and environmental wellbeing through design and education. They work for Play Out Apparel as a Marketing Assistant. They strive to spread love and healing in the world through connection and education. They also design eco-friendly needle felted packers. They earned a BFA in Fashion Design from Parsons School of Design, where they worked as a Peer Health Advocate for four years, and created and led Gender Venting, a group for transgender students.


Author Bio:

Edmund Green Langdell (they/them) is an ever becoming enby, whose work focuses on promoting human and environmental wellbeing through design and education. They work for Play Out Apparel as a Marketing Assistant. They strive to spread love and healing in the world through connection and education. They also design eco-friendly needle felted packers. They earned a BFA in Fashion Design from Parsons School of Design, where they worked as a Peer Health Advocate for four years, and created and led Gender Venting, a group for transgender students.



So... What Are Neopronouns?

Neopronouns are any set of personal pronouns besides he, she, and they. They are usually gender neutral pronouns, although some have meanings that speak to the user’s gender or experience of the world, although they are still outside of the gender binary. Gender neutral pronouns, besides singular they, have existed in the English language for hundreds of years, although most of them have not gained widespread popularity. Since the 1300’s, English speakers have attempted to introduce more than 200 gender neutral pronouns into the language, and some of them have made it into dictionaries.


Sex Identifiers Are... Messy

Joan Roughgarden, an American ecologist and evolutionary biologist, wrote Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People. In this book, she details not only the sexual ambiguity of humans and nonhuman life, but also the history of ways that humans have attempted to control and diminish our own rainbow of diversity, as well as histories of various cultural identities that have formed to contextualize human sexual and gender diversity around the world and across time. 


In illustrating the diversity of sex and gender in nature, she points out that half of the animal kingdom, and the majority of plants are intersex. In some species the males carry the eggs until they hatch, and/or tend the nest. Some species have more than two genders, where individuals of the same sex appear in two or more forms and take on different roles in the animals social order. Female spotted hyenas have phalluses that are externally identical to that of males. There’s a type of fruit bat where the males have milk producing mammary glands. XY chromosomes belonging to males and XX chromosomes belonging to females are not universal among all life, in fact in birds the opposite is true. There are also species in which males and females have no difference in chromosomes. In many reptiles and some fish the sex is determined by the temperature at which the eggs were raised. Any category we construct in order to make sense of sex and gender in nature is shown to be inaccurate when we observe the true diversity of life.



Disease or Diversity? (Hint it's not Disease)

There is a long history of human diversity being misclassified as disease. Part of this stems from the vague definition of disease in medical science. Roughgarden writes, “Medical dictionaries feature definitions like this ‘Disease is an impairment of the normal state of the body that interrupts function, causes pain, and has identifiable characteristics.’ The problem with this definition lies in the concepts of normal and function, both of which refer to data beyond the individual patient” (280). Medicine doesn’t have definitions for normal or function, including how rare something has to be to be considered abnormal. This leaves space for healthy human diversity to be interpreted as disease when different human bodies function in a variety of ways. When medical professionals have a narrow understanding of what can be considered normal, and base their judgments of function on how well someone fits into that category, they classify natural human diversity as disease. 


In contrast to medical science, biology has a clear definition of what can be considered a genetic defect. “The trait must be extremely rare and the trait cannot be advantageous under any conditions” (281). The more defective a trait is, the more rare it is, because traits that are defective get eliminated through evolution. Traits that occur in 1 in 100 births have a 0.01% reduction in darwinian fitness, which is a tiny and undetectable loss of fitness. According to biology, traits that are fairly common, occurring in 1 in 1,000 people or more frequently, cannot be considered genetic defects. Roughgarden is of the opinion that “all behaviors and traits benefit organisms, and our task is to figure out how” (145).

Queerness Does Not Need a "Cure"

Ignoring the biological benefits of diversity, the medical industry endeavors to diminish the diversity of humanity by attempting to alter the human race to conform to heterosexuality and the gender binary. Gay, lesbian, and transgender people have been tortured with electroshock therapy and other techniques in an attempt by therapists to traumatize them into heterosexuality. These therapy sessions not only left queer people traumatized, but sometimes resulted in being physically burned, as well as inducing epileptic seizures, memory impairment, and depression that could last for years. 


Only in 2019 was “Gender Identity Disorder” removed from the World Health Organization’s list of mental illnesses and reclassified as “Gender Incongruence” in the sexual health chapter. 

Today, therapy for transgender folks involves diagnosing them as having gender incongruence or gender dysphoria, and prescribing hormones and surgery as a treatment to “cure” gender dysphoria. Therapists act as gatekeepers deciding who has access to gender affirming medical care. And in order to gain access to gender affirming medical treatment, transgender people must agree to be pathologized by receiving a diagnosis. Some therapists insist on a normative binary identity narrative before they will recommend gender affirming treatment. This prevents some nonbinary people from accessing affirming healthcare. But some therapists put together support groups, and cultivate empowering relationships with their trans clients, whom they help to accept themselves.


So why is this system still a problem? Because it denies the truth that there is nothing wrong with trans people. Being transgender is not a disorder, a disease, or unnatural. It is part of the healthy diversity of the human species. If this truth were acknowledged, then trans people would be able to access whatever affirming healthcare they wanted, rather than having to be pathologized and relive a lifetime of dysphoria in therapy before gaining access to healthcare. Cisgender people do not have to go through the same process of receiving a diagnosis to receive their gender affirming healthcare, such as breast augmentation. 

We Need Affirmation Not Correction. 

Although the medical industry has, for the most part, given up trying to make gay, lesbian, and transgender people turn into heterosexual cisgender people, the same cannot be said for intersex folks. It is still common practice for intersex newborns to be treated as if they were diseased and deformed. When an intersex baby is born it sets off a social panic in which the child’s natural diversity is considered a problem that must be fixed by “‘a specialized, multidisciplinary center where pediatrics surgeons, pediatric urologists, pediatric endocrinologists, pediatric radiologists, geneticists, neonatologists, and pediatric anesthesiologists can bring together their accumulated expertise.’” (299) 


Intersex babies are subjected to unnecessary cosmetic surgeries to make them conform to the gender binary. These often include several surgeries lasting from when they are infants through adolescence. These “treatments'' can cause serious health problems later in life. Often the children will not be told what these surgeries are for, and some intersex people have had to resort to legal measures to access their medical records as adults to find out. Some of the emphasis on “curing” intersex babies by maiming them to conform to the gender binary lies in parents not being able to speak the truth that their child is intersex, and wanting to be able to raise the child within the binary gender system. It also comes from doctors who put significant pressure on parents to “fix” their intersex babies, often pressuring parents into thinking that something is wrong with their child that must be cured, when in fact they have a perfectly natural, healthy baby. 


LGBTQIAP+ people do not need a cure because there is nothing wrong with us. We need compassion. We need a society that will allow us to live openly and freely as ourselves without pathologizing us. We need access to healthcare without having to prove that our identities are acceptably binary. We need self determination. 


Source:

Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People, by Joan Roughgarden

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