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The concept of two separate genders was established in the late 18th century Europe, before which women were seen as inferior models of men rather than a different type of human being. The gender binary dictated that those born with primarily female reproductive organs were women and those with primarily male reproductive organs were men, thus ignoring intersex individuals. Simultaneously, rigid gender roles for both women and men- femininity, which required women to be maternal and submissive and masculinity, which called for dominant and assertive individuals- were created. These roles were inflexible and led to an unhealthy balance of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ traits in people: men were ridiculed for showing emotion and women were punished for speaking out. Consequently, issues such as domestic abuse and sexual assault have not been curbed.  The idea that gender identity and biological sex were two different entities came much later, by which time the archetype of the two gender identities were deeply ingrained into the minds of the people.

Sexual attraction, if defined simply, refers to the type of people one is attracted to. Today, one’s sexual orientation is defined by the gender(s) they are attracted to, or if they feel attraction at all. To truly see the effect of the gender binary on sexual attraction, one must understand the effect on separate sexual identities: broadly on bisexual/pansexual and monosexual i.e gay, lesbian and straight people.

In conjunction with the gender binary, ideals of heteronormativity were incorporated into society. Thus, people were not only expected to conform to the perfect model of their assigned gender but were expected to be exclusively attracted to the ‘opposite sex’. This not only gave rise to the oppression of those who openly experienced same sex attraction, but to suppression of curiosity to experiment with the same gender, so most people identified as heterosexual because they never had any other options. Today, queer historians speculate as to whether these strict notions of gender and attraction have altered the demographic of the heterosexual population as heteronormativity continues to exist in most parts of the world today. Due to these constraints, an accurate picture of the number of LGBT people in the world cannot be formed.

Fortunately, as the belief that gender is a spectrum rather than a binary becomes increasingly popular, more freedom to explore and declare one’s sexual or gender identity is given to individuals who did not have this liberty before.

When it comes to bisexuality and the gender binary, the kinsey scale is often brought up, and bisexuals are placed smack in the middle of it. The kinsey scale, constructed by Alfred Kinsey in 1948 represents a spectrum of sexual attraction ranging from purely heterosexual to purely homosexual. Though this scale was helpful in validating bisexuality or the idea that an individual could be attracted to more than one gender, many believe that it was fundamentally flawed as it only depicted two genders. An entire population of people who identified as non-binary or genderqueer are disregarded. When one looks at gender identity as separate from biological sex, one realises that the concept is too abstract to try and classify, especially into two distinct types. This not only leads to a faulty perception of sexuality, but of the human psyche as well.

Human beings are multidimensional and varied, thus gender identity should be as well. The creation of the gender binary itself i.e the notion that gender identity and biological sex are linked was not harmful, but the ideals of gender roles heteronormativity that inevitably came along with it have had a lasting impact on societies throughout the world. Rigid gender roles gave rise to inequality between genders in the social, economic and political spheres, and heteronormative ideals have extinguished the individual’s freedom of expression of sexuality. If the binary ceased to exist and was replaced by a spectrum of different identities, would sexual orientation remain the same? Many studies have claimed that most individuals would do not identify as 100% heterosexual or homosexual, but see themselves as flexible to being attracted to other genders. In order to ensure the greatest caliber of freedom of expression to individuals, gender must be seen as a flexible framework rather than an obstinate system created to conveniently classify society into equal parts.

Jahnavi Rudra

Jahnavi Rudra is a fifteen year old student and aspiring activist