An interview with Monika Horna-Cieślak sparked a discussion on social media about the number of genders. Is there a simple answer to this question?
On 29 November, in an interview with Tomasz Terlikowski, the new Ombudsman for Children, Monika Horna-Cieślak, declared that she would be the voice of all children, including those belonging to the LGBTQ+ minority. She also affirmatively answered a question about whether, in her opinion, non-binarity exists.
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Are there more than two genders?
In the comments section under the RMF radio post, there was, of course, no shortage of outraged voices from the so-called "online experts". One of them wrote: "Unfortunately, people who think there are more genders are the people who should be in mental institutions." In her statement, Horna-Cieślak stressed that science is moving forward in understanding human sexuality.
However, research confirms that those who react negatively to the idea of more than two genders are the ones who lack understanding of reality. Humans have at least two genders, each of which encompasses many factors. The primary ones are biological and psychological gender, linked to socio-cultural gender.
This is not helped by the Polish language, which uses a single word, "płeć" to describe both these dimensions. In English, "sex" refers to the biological aspects of sexuality, while "gender" refers to psychological and socio-cultural identity.
Biological sex has many variations
Biological sex is not a zero-sum concept. It consists of, among other things, gonadal sex, which is the body's production of sperm or eggs. Genotypic sex is the combination of X and Y chromosomes. Finally, external sex refers to the presence of male or female genitalia.
It is important to note that legal sex is often assigned based solely on external genitalia, even though variations in biological sex indicators are more common than we realise.
In a statement to Scientific American, clinical geneticist Professor Paul James described the case of his 46-year-old patient, who came to him for chromosomal tests in connection with her third pregnancy. These showed that her body was made up of "two sets" of cells, most likely due to the absorption of one of the embryos in a twin pregnancy. Much of the woman's body was chromosomally male.
It is more common than we think to have cases of a different sex chromosome combination, other than the classic XX in women and XY in men. Inter-sexuality, which is characterised by discrepancies between chromosomal, gonadal, and external sexes, occurs in approximately one in every 100 newborns. This makes it difficult to assign a female or male sex to the newborn.
Intersex is a capacious term that can describe the most diverse combinations of chromosomes, as well as internal and external sex organs. Therefore, from a scientific point of view, talking about the existence of only two biological sexes is not justified.
Different dimensions of gender identity
Gender is a complex issue that involves both psychological and social aspects. Psychological gender refers to our gender identity, which is the gender we identify with. However, cultural and social gender also play a role in shaping our gender identity. For instance, people who identify with a gender that is different from the one assigned to them at birth are considered part of the transgender minority.
Socio-cultural gender is a set of community-generated beliefs and stereotypes about the characteristics and behaviours attributed to each gender. Interestingly, it is not bipolar in all cultures. Some Native Americans socially identify a third gender, which they call "two-spirit". Similar concepts exist in parts of Asian cultures, among others. In Western culture, people who do not identify with either the female or male gender are described as non-binary.
Does this mean that we can distinguish between three genders socio-culturally: female, male and non-binary? Not exactly, as each of them has its nuances. Both women, men and non-binary people identify with "their" gender to varying degrees. As civilisation evolves, so do the roles and expectations assigned to each cultural and social gender.
The concept of a fixed number of genders is not entirely accurate. Modern medical and psychological knowledge recognises that both biological and socio-cultural gender are vast dimensions. Moreover, if we consider the numerous combinations of biological and socio-cultural gender, the idea of a specific number of genders becomes even more invalid.