On the Biological Binary

Photo by Joël de Vriend

As some of you may know, I began college in the STEM field. Before God called me to study arts and architecture, I was a biochemistry major for two years.

Even before realizing I was non-binary, I have always been fascinated by sexual dimorphism and variations upon it in a variety of species. For example, one of my pre-college early posts was titled The Plastic Trait: Hermaphroditism Under The Sea.

(Yes, the natural world has a lot of queer things going on!)

As I went through the biochemistry curriculum, I took my first summer class, which was focused on genetics. I remember it being immersive and interesting, and doing well as a result of these factors.

Apart from being blown away by the miracle of our bodies, I also remember reading one full chapter of the textbook, front to back, with mounting fascination. For the life of me, I can’t remember how I happened upon it, because I don’t remember it being on the actual syllabus.

That chapter was about the variables that determine biological sex.

Turns out, biological sex, as we know it, is more than just XX and XY. It’s a lot more complicated than the binary on which we assign meaning and identity.

  1. Reproductive Gamete Dimorphism
    – Egg and sperm
  2. Chromosomal Dimorphism
    – X and Y
  3. Chromosomal Karyotype
    – Number, shape, and size of X and Y chromosomes
    – XX, XY, XXY, XXX, XYY, X0…
  4. Physical Phenotype
    – Reproductive and non-reproductive traits

While the first two categories are binaries, the others exist on a spectrum. G.N. Ellis explains this quite well in an accessible piece of writing.

Just from a scientific perspective, gender essentialism falls apart.

If even what we consider to be biological sex is a spectrum, not a binary, when we throw gender constructs and social identities into the mix, we have a complex mix of variation.

We may even consider this mesh of color to be beautiful.

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