I put out a poll on social media to prove a point about implicit bias and gender identity. It asked: “When you think about Ancient Greek Hermaphrodite Statues what pronouns would you reflexively use to describe that person depicted?”
As you can see Most said she/her. Facebook did not offer me a third option, so I could not put in “they/them”. However, there were several people in the comment section that said they would have picked “they/them” if it had been offered.
To understand these results, of the majority picking she/her, let me first explain implicit bias. Implicit bias is a form of bias that occurs automatically and unintentionally, that affects judgment, decisions, and behaviors. Implicit bias is created by our culture, and how we are taught think about things. In this case, it is about how we interpret a person’s gender identity.
I would assume that those who did pause and give thought, are the ones who picked beyond our binary notions and suggested “they/them” as the new modern-day new go-to. However, even though it appears an improvement they/them as a third go-to is not without problems too.
As shown by this poll, I think this might be part of the answer to why the majority of intersex babies are assigned female and raised as girls. I think it truly has to do with this implicit bias that certain features have to be given only to girls and boys are not allowed to have them. Needless to say, Intersex boys exist too. I know, I am a boy and when I was born I was assigned a girl in error.
Is using the new default “they/them” a better solution?
It is a socially-learned impulse to impose a pronoun on anyone. Including imposing “they/them” or some other nonbinary pronoun on someone based on their androgyny or intersex status. However, some people assume that all intersex people would be “they/them” by default, this is not accurate at all and can be just as hurtful as being misgendered in any other way. With the new non-binary movement, many people are thinking this would be a more socially appropriate and safer answer when it truly is not.
For one, most people conflate sex with gender and assume all intersex people are “intergender” or “nonbinary” which is far from the truth. An intersex person can be a man/boy, woman, girl, both or neither. From what I have witnessed most intersex people, like most endosex people, have binary gender identities. Imposing non-binary pronouns on all intersex people, even if it is justified by a few intersex people who graciously use they/them, is still certainly going to upset the vast majority of intersex people. In other words, well-intentioned mispronouning is still mispronouning. It is important to always ask a person’s pronouns to be certain.
Ouch! Being called an “it”
Sad to say, when people do not have the default of “they/them” they often do the most hurtful solution and call the person in question an “it”. Worse, like what has happened to me, some have been called an “it” as a purposeful hurtful insult. This happening by not only bullies and prejudice bigots but also by family members and friends. The below poll shows that this is a real problem. The question below for this poll states: “If you are transgender, nonbinary, gender variant, or born with an intersex variation, have you ever been called an “it” as an insult?” As you can see below the vast majority said yes.
I am not the bearded woman, I was born an intersex boy.
Below is a picture of Pharoah Akhenaten. As you can see his body had many features that go against binary notions of what society says a modern-day man should look like. These features including pronounced breasts, androgynous features, and well-defined hips. He has baffled archeologist throughout the ages with his anatomical differences. Like me, some have guessed that he might have been born intersex.
However, throughout the history the pronouns he/him have always been used when referring to Pharaoh Akenaten. I show him today to make a point, about implicit bias and how it changes with time as culture shifts, and because I have much in common with his outward bodily features and go by he/him pronouns too.
A simple solution if you do not know a person’s pronouns:
Always ask the person politely, after offering your own pronouns first. If it is a person in history who can’t give voice to their pronouns, simply state that you don’t know their pronouns and that you are only guessing. It is this simple to be polite to the living and to the dead.
Also, come to the realization that pronouns tell nothing about a person’s genitals and reproductive system. Conflating sex with gender has to stop. It is simply not accurate and too many intersex babies, transgender people, and nonbinary people are being hurt by this false notion that sex should always match gender.
Today there are many beautiful transgender women who want to keep their penis, plus handsome transgender men who want to keep their vagina, and nonbinary people who simply just now want to exist in peace. Plus, as any trip to the beach will prove, there are countless men who have “man boobs” and many women who wish to go topless. Best of all, today there are some amazing intersex kids who are not being forced into nonconsensual genital corrective surgeries and being given the right to decide who they are!
When self-determination is given to people amazing things happen. The binary no longer exists and it becomes a binary myth!
Together let’s make this a safer more polite world for those of us born intersex, transgender, nonbinary, or gender variant in some way.