Talk About Sex: Answering the Gender Question

When a child is born, parents first wonder about the sex of their babies. From the first breath of life, a child’s sex is determined for them, based solely on the physical anatomy most obvious to the doctors performing the delivery. In this way, the most commonplace identifier society gives to each new individual is creating strict guidelines as to how that child is to live: either as a female or as a male. This system takes away the freedom of each individual to construct their own identity in terms of sex, and puts in place a societal barrier that impedes people from having the courage to openly go against the constructs given to them at birth.

This is not always the case, however. There are individuals who embrace their identities regardless of what society has told them to believe about themselves. One such individual, Kyle Griswold, happens to be a student right here at Colgate. Griswold identifies as FTM, or Female-to-Male. This means he was born with XX chromosomes and female anatomy, but identifies as a male. During my interview with Griswold, I had a chance to ask him how he believes the social constructs of male and female have contributed to the stigma surrounding identifying as transgender.

“With polarizing two things so severely, you have that empty space in between,” Griswold said.  “When people try to go into that no-person’s-land, they can get shot at from both sides.”

Having these constructs so widely accepted by society makes it much more difficult for an individual to stray from those norms. In effect, society has created the stigma surrounding being transgender by creating the concept of sex similar to a black and white distinction. Griswold explained to me that this black and white distinction doesn’t even make sense factually.

“They don’t tell you this, but there are cases of intersex people whose chromosomes don’t match the anatomy,” Griswold said.

He has been studying the subject during his time at Colgate. Intersex individuals may also be born with ambiguous genitalia that doctors then surgically alter after guessing which sex they believe the baby should be. There are multiple ways in which intersexuality can manifest, and the cookie-cutter gender constructs our society have long accepted without question completely disregard these individuals. Griswold was certainly correct when he claimed that no one had told me about cases of these individuals prior to my interview with him.

While talking with Griswold, I asked him in what ways the societal sex constructs have affected him personally when it comes to his performance of identity. In order to answer my question, he referred to the way clothing stores separate clothing styles based on the two sex constructs, and how this has probably affected his subconscious identity expression.

“Would I choose to present the same way if that presentation hadn’t been given to me as male?” Griswold rhetorically questioned aloud during our interview. He was referencing his T-shirt and Vans as this question was posed. It was interesting that the choices Griswold has made as he strays away from the sex he was assigned at birth are still defined by the constructs society has created.

There is no chance that the foreseeable future society will rid itself of constructs concerning one’s sex. Hopefully, however, society is beginning to reach the point where we can accept that those constructs are not the only answer to the gender question. The stigma surrounding identifying as transgender is only exacerbated by this black and white distinction, and until sex can be seen as more of a fluid concept, that stigma will live on. Let us at Colgate embrace this shift away from strict labels, and create a more accepting environment for those who refuse to be trapped by the societal constructs of sex.