Let’s Talk about Sex, Baby! And Bearded Ladies

When I was growing up, I liked animals, Power Rangers, and anything that wasn’t pink.  I used to run around pretending I was a wolf. A few times, I accidentally clawed my baby sister. I didn’t do it on purpose, I was just convinced it was my animal instinct at play.  Once I turned eight and realized I was not actually half-dog, a new, more human activity possessed me.  My best friend Katie had recently joined her brother’s  Boy Scout troop. She told me stories about camping and horseback riding and other supervised adventures.

So I asked my mother if I could be a scout too.  One week later, I had a vest and my first badge. As a Brownie Girl Scout.  I was pissed. I knew that within weeks, we’d be running around peddling cookies to senior citizens, advertising the new diabetes-friendly lemon biscuits.

Needless to say, I complained to my mother, asking why I was not signed up for the Boy Scouts. My mother’s answer was simple.“Because you’re a girl, and there aren’t any girls in the Boy Scouts.”

I seethed in angst as the weeks passed and my troop learned how to sew and read nutrition labels. Worst of all, we actually sat through a tupperware party.  My eight-year-old self nearly peed from all the gender-stereotyping boredom.

Nearly fifteen years later, I’ve moved on from this experience and now I laugh about it.  But my own experience with gender stereotyping, though frustrating, can’t hold a candle to those of many other people for whom the labels “boy” and “girl” just aren’t satisfying.

Bearded Lady | Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

The definition of gender is not often discussed, even in Western Culture. However, it is gradually getting the attention it deserves.  Jeffrey Eugenides, the author of The Virgin Suicides, brought the idea of being “gender queer” to mainstream American culture with his novel Middlesex.

Middlesex’s protagonist is “intersex”, the current, proper term that has replaced the term “hermaphrodite.”  Intersex means having an atypical manifestation of the distinguishing female and male characteristics, and Eugenides’ novel deals with just that. The compelling story has sparked a growing rejection of the gender binary since it gained national attention in 2002 when first published.

A simple definition for gender binary can be found on UrbanDictionary.com, which defines it as, “the social construction of gender in most societies in the world where gender is a dichotomy between male and female.”

Like most dictionaries, the web page clarifies the term by using it in a sentence.“The gender binary is crap and doesn’t allow for individual gender expression.” Sounds about right.  The gender binary simply does not exist, and is slowly getting replaced by more inclusive terminology for gender expression.

The currently accepted idea is that gender exists along a spectrum, not within a dichotomy.  This means that there are many ways to express or perform gender beyond male, female, or even trans-gender (which implies a transition between the two).

Intersex and gender queer are just two of the many labels with which an individual can choose to identify. The popular term “gender queer,” as defined by Wikipedia, refers to this practice of self-identification, putting individualism back into self expression. The uplifting thing is that individuals can also refuse a label completely.

The gender binary has been rejected not only because it is confining, but also because it is impractical and not based in logic. The term “sex”  refers to chromosomal and bodily identification in mammals.  “Gender” is an entirely social construct.  Even so, sex is not black and white.  Some babies are born with ambiguous genitals, and doctors decide their sex with a few post-natal nips and tucks.  If sex itself is so complicated, gender can’t possibly be one of two things.

Humanity is far too diverse for neat little labels.  You can say that men are from Mars, women are from Venus, but you how can you ignore the other planets?  There are six other worlds you’re neglecting, and that’s not counting Pluto.

Sitting at my desk, I’m comfortable in my work outfit and my Revlon lipstick.  But I’m even more comfortable knowing I live in a place where I have the freedom to perform gender however I damn well please. Moreover, I have the ability to sit here and destroy the idea that “boys” and “girls” could even exist.  When I identified as a “tomboy” at age seven, I had no idea what a powerful word it could be.

There are boys and there are girls. But gender is not an exclusive club, and what’s in our pants is not a membership badge.  With the idea of the “gender binary” well on its way out, our culture is becoming more aware of the various possibilities of human expression. In Boston, Massachusetts, the liberal attitude and rugged American individualism can go hand in hand to educate us about this concept.

For more information on the definition of gender, take a look at these resources:


Both of these websites offer online information and support for anyone and everyone interested.

On BU campus, the Women’s Resource Center (next to BU Central in the GSU) or SHS are readily available.

And for intellectual discourse on how we can continue to break gender and sexuality stereotypes, the Queer Activist Collective–fondly known as Q–is a new organization dedicated to intellectual and casual conversation, open to anyone interested and open-minded on BU’s Campus.   Check the Calendar at the WRC for weekly meeting times.

About Veronica Glab

Veronica Glab (CAS '11) is the Feministka writer for the Quad. "Feministka" means "feminist" in Veronica Glab's native language, Polish. There are few things Veronica loves more than eating pineapple, taking long walks on the beach, and thinking about Rasputin's beard.

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