Gender neutral option?

New Yorkers can choose gender neutral on birth certificates

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Gender is not a simple case of black and white

By Daniel J. McLaughlin

When it comes to the debate surrounding gender identity, there seems to be an obsession over what genitalia one possesses. And this misses the point entirely because biological sex and gender are two separate things: one's sex is about what one has in the downstairs area - which is, quite frankly, no one's business in the first place - and gender is the social and cultural differences pertaining to what it means to be a man or a woman, or none of the above.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines gender as "the socially constructed characteristics of women and men, such as norms, roles, and relationships of and between groups of women and men". It varies from society to society, and can be changed, they add.

This gender identity can be displayed through gender expression. This is "external manifestations of gender, expressed through one's name, pronouns, clothing, haircut, behaviour, voice, or body characteristics," according to GLAAD. Society identifies these cues as masculine or feminine - and what is considered to be these can change over time, and varies by culture.

Sex and gender are used interchangeably, Gender Spectrum notes, after the sex of a newborn baby tends to influence the presumption of their gender. For many, this is the case - and that is that. However, gender can change from the call made at birth, and the understanding about identity comes to most people fairly early in life, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, who note: “By age four, most children have a stable sense of their gender identity.”

While the sense of gender is strong from this early age, it is a complex subject, whether you are a toddler or a grown-up trying to grasp your identity. Gender is the "complex interrelationship between three dimensions": body (the physical realities), identity (what one feels) and expression (presenting the gender to the world). Delving further into the three dimensions of gender, there are further sub-categories and extensions.

This is not how gender is portrayed: it is seen as binary - a simple case of black and white. When faced with the perplexing terrain, it is easy to fall back to treating gender as a synonym for biological sex. "Woman" and "female" tend to be naturally and irrevocably paired with "men" and "male" - and this is what is known as an "essentially account", according to the New Statesman. Even when essentialism takes on a more sophisticated variant - for instance, Professor Simon Baron-Cohen's 'the essential difference' which depicts a man's brain as systematising and a woman's brain as empathising - it is still one or the other.

Gender is a complicated and sensitive issue that is often confused with a simple mistake: gender and sex are different, but the former can be vastly different with variety that cannot yet - or maybe ever - determined.

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