The Question of Gender

Gender has always been the most obvious feature of a newborn infant. In earlier times, doctors and family members would look at the baby’s anatomy and declare it to be a boy or girl. Later, ultrasound afforded a sneak preview of the child’s sex. But what appears to be clear anatomical evidence of gender is really based on a more fundamental distinction too obvious to be evident. A girl soon learns that is female because she is not male. And, similarly, a boy recognizes that he is male because he is not female. In short, we are defined by the other sex. If there were only females in the world, women would have no way or reason to identify themselves as women. And the same would be true of men. But because each sex has a defining alternative–persons called women and men, girls and boys–we conform to the expectation of our sex, or at least acknowledge it negatively by rebelling against its rules.
Once the child’s sex was determined, other features almost as definitive and defining followed: names befitting the child’s gender, family lineage, and society; clothing appropriate for a girl or boy, pink for girls, blue for boys; and toys and games suitable for the child’s sex. Also depending on the culture, its arrival might be accompanied by celebratory cigars, gifts, toasts, showers, christenings, and official documents attesting to the infant’s birth, parentage, and real existence.
But all that was yesterday’s world. Today the matter of gender is not so simple, but instead raises this primary question: shall we allow nature and chance to determine a person’s gender? Can’t it be a postnatal choice, or even a later, adult decision? Both apparently, because we hear of celebrated adult sex changes and infant surgeries to switch from the gender that nature chose to the one that parents or individuals prefer. And who has the right today to tell us that pink is the proper color for girls, or that blue is mandatory for boys. In recent times.
Behaviorists debate whether boys have an inborn compulsion to turn objects into make-believe weapons. Or does the culture teach them this tendency? Similarly, do girls acquire maternal tendencies by nature or imitation before they are physically and hormonally capable of motherhood?
Sigmund Freud and his followers reduced gender to sexuality, which cast suspicions on all relations between the sexes. As correctives to this crudeness, I recommend adding the terms sexuate, sexuateness, and derivatives to English. They would allow us to treat human gender with greater accuracy and finesse. Many people are not sexually active for long periods of life. Consider the infants discussed earlier, elderly survivors, and persons celibate by calling. These persons are no less gendered than those sexually active; they are sexuate but not sexual. This terminology could neatly distinguish between sexual liaisons and intersexuate friendships, which often prove to be our richest.

Harold Raley