Originally appeared in Transgender Tapestry #102, Summer 2003.

by Miqqi Alicia Gilbert

The richness and soul of a society is indicated by the way it cares for its differences, for those within it who don?t fit the general categories. In our western societies, we are more and more making room for those who are on the edges, who don?t fit in the mainstream categories and boxes. In many jurisdictions, for example, one can?t construct a new building without including facilities and access for the disabled. More and more elevators have Braille markings, more public transport has facilities for wheelchairs, and so on. This indicates that our society is beginning to take care of those who previously had to fend for themselves.
A similar phenomenon is occurring within the arena of sexual orientation. Certainly not everywhere, but in some areas, the assumption isn?t made that a man?s partner will be a woman or that a child may not have two mommies. The assumptions that everyone is heterosexual, that women have partners who are men, that a child has a mommy and a daddy, that love occurs only between people of the opposite sex, is eroding. It?s not disappearing, but it is easing its hold on the general consciousness. The idea that there are no exceptions to the rule that life and romantic relationships occur between opposite sexes even has a name: heterosexism.

Heterosexism is that belief or attitude that the world is a heterosexual place. It is evidenced in the media, in advertising, in assumptions made about relationships, parentage, and a myriad of other implicit and explicit undertakings of which we are barely conscious. It is the erosion of heterosexism that has been the hallmark of the advances made by the gay movement. This is evidenced in the unofficial venues which have put gay men and women in the media, moved the venerable New York Times to include same-sex commitment ceremonies in their social pages, and moved most of us to stop making assumptions about what sex someone?s partner will be. It is also evidenced in official arenas when protection against
discrimination is given on the basis of sexual orientation, or jurisdictions permit legal couple arrangements as a prelude to legal same-sex marriage, or hate crimes against gays and lesbians have more severe penalties than the same crime committed without a hateful motivation.

We of the transgender world often watch with envy as the gay and lesbian universe becomes safer, more secure, and more normalized. We fight for inclusion in human rights legislation, for reasonable portrayal in the media, for acceptance, and for the acknowledgement that we exist. This fight has made some progress; it has not all been to no avail, largely because we have many members of our
community who are willing to give their time, energy, and resources for the betterment of all. But the fight is an uphill one, because the idea that the world is neatly and cleanly divided into two sexes and two genders is deeply entrenched within our cultures. This entrenchment, this assumption that there are two and only two genders and that they match carefully with the only two sexes, I call bigenderism. It is bigenderism that dictates there will be only two boxes to tick off on a form: M and F. It is
bigenderism that makes it international news when an Australian intersex can have a passport using a third option. It is also bigenderism that makes the pervious sentence, lacking as it does the word ?man? or ?women? sound awkward to most people.

Bigenderism is a plague that specifically punishes gender-diverse people, but its negative effects go way beyond that. Bigenderism is a cross many children have to bear, and many don?t bear it easily. Living up to the expectations of bigenderist ideals requires a great deal of effort on the parts of young people who quake at the idea of being labeled sissy if a boy or being ostracized if a girl. Stress comes from parents who become alarmed at signs of deviation from bigender norms and rush their little
children into the arms of a medical establishment determined to support the bigenderist agenda. It is also this attitude which pushes young people, especially young boys, into the arms of homophobia as they fear being labeled fags or fairies. At the grade school age there is great confusion between gender role variation and sexual orientation. If a young boy does something ?girly? or feminine, it is his sexual orientation that is attacked because the assumption of bigenderism dictates that any feminine male must be attracted to males.

Bigenderism is also behind the enormous hurdles required to change one?s sex legally. It underlies the very idea that one needs a legal sex at all. Why? Do you need a legal religion? A legal sexual orientation? No. Just a legal sex. The purpose of legal sex is the organization of society along sexist, heterosexist, and, of course, bigenderist lines. The careful
distinguishing between males and females enables society to classify, control, and subjugate. But, just as cracks are being made in the monoliths of sexism and heterosexism, so they must also begin to appear in the bigenderist barricade.

We are, of course, working for this. The organizations we support, the conferences we attend, the marches and campaigns that increase public awareness, all serve to make people
think, to cause them to reflect on the idea that maybe there are people who don?t fall within the bigender model, and that those people deserve to have some space in the universe. Progress is being made in the media, and the existence of such films as ?La Vie en Rose? and ?Boys Don?t Cry? is a real advance over ?Tootsie? and ?To Wong Foo,? though they too served an important purpose. More municipalities
are slowly including gender diversity under the human rights umbrella, and many more personnel departments are equipped to deal with sex and gender change.

I doubt the world will soon close down the bigenderist apparatus, and certainly it won?t in my lifetime. But certain positive signs, such as the issuing of a passport without an M or F designation, is an early sign that education and activism do make a difference. I?ve written before about the phenomenon of desensitization, wherein when people actually know a transgender, the craziness of the idea quickly diminishes. And that means that when you go out, when you meet people, when you write a letter and acknowledge that we exist, you are making a tiny chip in the bigenderist barricade. When we all do that, when we all can say, hey, I?m gender diverse and I?m not a freak, just different; when that happens, the world will make room for us.

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