In case you were wondering
“There are more than two genders.” This, according to a teeshirt with which I happen to agree. In many languages there are in fact three genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. In some languages there are duals as well as plurals, too. One has to get used to this. There are, however, only two sexes.
It was announced, in a recent number of the British science weekly Nature (here), that sex is quite complicated. And this, also, is true, too true. Anatomically, hormonally, cellularly, and chromosomally, we might sometimes say there is a continuum in sexual characters, or even, that there are continua. It happens that from some angles we find ambiguities, or even the odd nice flipover. One thinks of … (no, don’t say it).
There are, to be sure, some anomalies to be found in nature (the thing, not the magazine), such as garden snails, parrotfish, and cockles. I try not to let this bother me, being enough diverted by my own sexual preferences. Hermaphroditism in the gonochorous species (human beings, for example) has not distressed me either, since the days when I was trying to construe passages in Ovid. One is surprised whenever a customary either/or turns up as a both/and. But I found, with teacher’s help, I could cope with it.
In my own case, the sex wasn’t clear until about five weeks into my gestation. I should think this was true of you, too, gentle reader. We did not all start out “female,” however, as the pop scientists like to say. Instead, we started impossible to read. It is a conceit of scientism that what we find impossible to read is their open season.
There were other things about me that might have been overlooked, during that formative period of my biological existence, beyond the fact that I was the possible cause in my mother of cramping, nausea, fatigue, and an unpleasant tenderness. Yet it was not until later that I began to wonder how she put up with me.
Now, I do not like to go into the subject of genitalia in this family anti-blog, but let me mention that it is not until puberty that our sexual differentiation becomes almost ridiculously complete. I am generally in favour of waiting for it, in the case of smaller children. But long before puberty I, personally, have little trouble telling them apart.
Which is to say, as little as I have among humans much older. Though while it seldom happens, there are times when one can’t be entirely sure. I notice this is especially so outdoors, in the middle of the Canadian winter.
There is also the phenomenon of cross-dressing. Notwithstanding, my claim to be a little teapot, short and stout, does not constitute a proof that I am ceramic.
Now, the distinction between sex and gender is worth stressing, for the substitution of the grammatical for the biological term has contributed to the diffusion of much nutjobbery. Only “gender” can be honestly described as a “human construct.” A word might be feminine in French but masculine in German. It does not follow that a French girl becomes a German boy, while crossing a fluid European frontier. But even if she did, it would not follow that there are more than two sexes.
And let me add, vive la différence.