A clear biological binary in the sexes (male vs. female) exists for nearly all people. The two genders (man vs. woman) are the stories and profiles of those two sexes throughout history, and how they have been manifested in multiple societies. These profiles have been formed over many millennia of lived experience and intuitive reflection.
Humankind is very complex and varied, thus any conception of the genders that is rigid or monolithic diverges from reality, and is going to be lacking in explanatory and predictive power. However, any conception of the genders that is not inextricably linked to sex misunderstands a useful tool for living in the world that has been handed to us by our ancestors. Therefore, we ought to enjoy the proper use of the genders.
Even so, it is a fallacy to believe that if a certain behavior fits within the natural behavior of a gender then it must be a good behavior. An analysis of history, of ourselves, and of Scripture shows us that the tendencies of the genders are not thoroughly good, but rather have a mixture of vice and virtue. Further, the concept of confirmation bias reveals that we should expect ourselves to misportray our own gender to ourselves, and slowly convince ourselves of an exaggerated or distorted view of the historical genders. Therefore, while we ought to enjoy the proper use of the genders, we ought to also be cautious that we are not falsely justifying our own actions through the improper use of the genders.
The experience of our ancestors is no longer valid, because we have shaped our environment into one that is wholly different than the one they encountered. This qualitative difference in environment causes a difference in expression of sex, and thus a difference in statistical behavior of male and female, which, by definition, is the same as saying a difference in the universal genders. That is, it is possible that the contemporary world is so fundamentally different than the pre-Industrial Revolution world that the natural way that sex is expressed has changed, and thus the genders have changed. Sandra Bem puts forward this theory in her essay, “Biological Essentialism.” A potential response to this is that though modern technology has had an impact on the translation of our genetics into our psychology, it is not enough to eradicate the usefulness of the genders.
I am assuming that the genders have been formed innocently and with consensus and consideration of the true data. There is significant reason to assume the opposite. For example, perhaps men subconsciously wanted to retain political power, and told themselves that it is not in women’s nature to be leaders, and thus felt justified in not giving them the vote. To this I say: does this argument outweigh the force of lived reality and popular experience of billions of thinking individuals, and does it prove that the notions of gender that have arrived at our doorstep are inherently and wholly oppressive? I would not be comfortable making this claim. Instead, I think they have a good amount of truthfulness, and some falsehood.
A person’s body has nothing to do with that person’s identity or essence. A person’s gender is part of their identity, therefore a person’s gender cannot be determined from their body. This is an existentialist objection, influenced by Simone de Beauvoir’s book, The Second Sex. In response to this, I say that a person’s body cannot simply be separated from that person. I think with Christian presuppositions, and Christianity does not seem to allow for this. Our bodies are inextricably linked with who we are. Materialistic presuppositions are even more clear, and say that our bodies are entirely who we are, and that gender differences originate in hormones that shape the brain. In addition, my understanding of the gender norms is that they are built from us and our history, not that we are built from them. For this reason we cannot but participate in them, though they are not a part of our essence in an existential sense.
What of the edge cases? How do I account for the 1. intersex 2. transsexual 3. transgender 4. gender fluid? 1. The genders are a summation of billions of male and female lives. The intersex are the rare instances that do not fit within the categories of male and female. Because of their comparable scarcity, they were not included in the historical thinking on gender. Therefore, they are irrelevant to a discussion of gender, as gender was not created to include them. Of course, they are valuable members of society. They simply have no bearing on a discussion of gender. It is like bringing up Mount Everest in a discussion of beaches. 2. A transsexual is merely a transgendered person who has gotten the surgery, who is undergoing hormone therapy, or is a combination of the two. Their biological sex does not change, so they do not challenge the assumptions of gender. 3. I do not believe that the transgender community can be treated with any type of broad analysis. The individuals within the community are too radically different from each other. For me to speak in generalities would be reductionist and ignorant to the point of uselessness. That would require a specialist who has done more thinking than me. 4. A person who is gender fluid essentially does not attach themselves to a particular gender. They either switch back forth, or do not identify as any gender at all. Speaking here probably has the same errors as speaking on the transgender community. In summary, I do not see that the edge cases challenge the main theory.
In Perelandra, C.S. Lewis puts forward a conception of the genders that is precisely the opposite of mine. To quote Mark Wilson, I say that the genders are the stories of the sexes, while Lewis says the sexes are the stories of the genders. The grand themes of Masculine and Feminine were created by God and embodied in myths such as Mars and Venus; these themes transcend the relatively small coincidence of the sex of our body. To demonstrate the force of this idea, Lewis describes sexless creatures who nonetheless embody Masculine and Feminine. These themes are realities more fundamental than ourselves. In this view, I do not see how one can say that we can determine our gender from our body, especially if the Fall is considered. Being transgender seems like a perfectly natural conclusion to this idea. One can imagine a sexless person in heaven who perfectly embodies Masculine, yet was female on earth. It does not matter if this happenstance seems to be tragic or perfectly ordinary, as that has no bearing to whether it is possible. To be honest, I do not know what to do with this theory. Lewis and my views on the topic are quite fundamentally different, and I find it difficult to either synthesize them or reject one of them. Thus, more thought is required.