The Binary World that We Live In

The world that we live in loves binaries. Black and White. Right and Wrong. Old and Young. Strong and Weak. Female and Male. Gay and Straight. The list is endless.

Perhaps, it can be argued, we need binaries to structure the world that we socialise in. It could be argued that it relates back to the fight or flight times, where split second decisions and knowing was a matter of life or death.

However, as someone who exists neither here nor there, neither gay nor straight, neither female nor male, always hovering between what I believe to be right and what society accepts as right, the binary system serves only as a reminder of my ‘transitory’ status in modern society.

Today I read two article.

The first, written by Sheila I. Velez-Martinez, is called Gender is more than Sex. Sheila writes about the difference between biological sex and the social constructs of gender, stating that, in order to protect human rights, “the formal binary articulation of gender rights … [is] incompatible with the complete protection of the rights of the gender nonconforming.”

The second article I read was written by Odhrán Allen, called Bi the way… sexuality isn’t just ‘straight or gay’. Odhrán writes that “A frequent misconception when someone comes out as bisexual is that they’ve only stepped ‘halfway out of closet’. This view ignores the fact that human sexuality exists on a continuum”

Both of these articles touch upon the same issue: that modern society requires binary definitions in cases where it is often not applicable. For those who don’t fit the binary, who exist in the grey area along the continuum, social situations can become fraught with tension and misunderstandings.

Take the basic toilet rule. Male. Female. What if you don’t fit society’s rigid rules for these spaces? Which do you use?

Then there’s the fact that modern European languages require the use of gender specific referents. He, she, his, hers, mr, mrs/ms/miss (don’t get me started on the reasoning behind one male vs three female titles!). So, here is when issues begin to arise. If a person is female bodied but identifies as male, ‘she’ as a referent often becomes problematic and can be upsetting. Then there’s the issue of identifying with neither gender fully. What referent should be used? There is of course ze/hir/they/it… But they don’t roll off the tongue quite as easily as he/she, and are used more often within the queer community but not without.

On the subject of sexuality, there is often pressure, from both the heterosexual and homosexual communities, for bisexuals to ‘pick’ one or the other. And then, of course, just to compound the issue, what if you do not believe that gender exists as the male/female binary? How then does one describe their sexuality? Queer is the term often used in such cases, but I wanted to draw attention to the binary aspect of gender and sexuality that are so bound up together that it seems almost impossible to step outside the binary to consider the continuum.

I understand the desire to fit in. But sometimes trying to fit someone into a gender binary is just as harmful to that person as it is for a trans person to be in the wrong body. And often trying to fit someone into a particular sexuality can be stressful and frustrating for that person. I find the need to fit people into binaries both unhelpful and damaging. Sometimes the box just doesn’t fit.

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One Response to The Binary World that We Live In

  1. I don’t know if we try to fit *everything* into binary cells. The acronym “LGBT” already suggests more than just gay / straight. Male / Female is a tougher one because there are indeed two representations of anatomy in nature, so it’s easy to squeeze that in the binary judgment. Otherwise, I do agree that humans rely heavily on labels in general, and that can be limiting to many people. Good read.


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