By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
Biological sex, gender, and sexuality are hot-button topics. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of people differentiating the meaning of each word, or believing that others’ opinions are unfounded. Now, U.S. passports have a third gender option.
The United States has begun issuing passports with a new gender option: “X”. Traditionally, gender options have been restricted to “M” for male or “F” for female. However, intersex people—who are born with both male and female anatomy—and others now have another choice. Being intersex is a biological matter, but gender identity is not.
Straightening it all out from an objective and scientific view can be a difficult task. In his video series Anthropology and the Study of Humanity, Dr. Scott M. Lacy, Associate Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Fairfield University in Connecticut, explained the difference.
Greek Mythology Explains Intersex
Greek mythology and art show that Hermes, the messenger god; and Aphrodite, the goddess of love, had a one-time love affair.
“As a result of the love affair between Aphrodite and Hermes, Aphrodite gave birth to a child, Hermaphroditus,” Dr. Lacy said. “You can see the combination of the parents’ names in Hermaphroditus, but more than that, you can also see the two principles they represent: Hermes, male; and Aphrodite; female. Both Greek mythology and Greek art portray Hermaphroditus as two-sexed—having a female figure with male genitals.
“That’s where our word hermaphrodite comes from.”
In anthropological terms, a hermaphrodite is part of a larger group of people who have both male and female sexual traits. This group is described by science as “intersex,” meaning someone whose biology—not their sexuality or gender identity—is neither exclusively male or female. Dr. Lacy said that some estimations show that 1.7% of the human population is born intersex.
The Delicate Subject of Gender
Building upon the foundation that biological sex is strictly anatomical, how does gender fit in?
“It’s our duty as anthropologists to understand biological sex in terms of the physical body, but when we start talking about sexuality and gender, that’s an entirely different story,” Dr. Lacy said. “Sexuality and gender are not strictly biological phenomena, and that’s why cultural anthropology can help us see the distinct qualities of biological sex as opposed to one’s sexuality or gender.”
According to Dr. Lacy, early anthropologists like Charles Darwin said that we’re all one race—Homo sapiens—but half of the human race wasn’t built for thinking or doing anything outside of the domestic sphere. They argued that women’s role in human reproduction was physically and mentally demanding that it would limit their abilities to be scholars, doctors, elected officials, and so on.
In other words, they said that the purpose of people who were biologically women was exclusively to bear and raise children and take care of the home. These societal roles that are expected of people who are anatomically male or female represent gender.
“Undeniably, Western gender traditions strongly separate men’s roles and women’s roles, thus developing a gender binary that is closely tied to the biological binary,” Dr. Lacy said.
And now, intersex people and other U.S. citizens who live at odds with gender norms no longer have to proclaim one of two binary choices on their passports.