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The (un)Limits of Gender and Sexual Identities

Updated: Sep 12, 2021

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,

And what I assume you shall assume,

For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

– Walt Whitman


The society’s notions of gender and sexual identity have been evolving and expanding in the last 50 years. From the Stonewall riots of 1969, the LGBTQ+ Movement has come a long way. Central to this movement is the concept of identity. Identity is people’s concept and belief of their own selves and in who they are. Identity is how we want others to perceive, view, and recognize ourselves and how we associate in a broader sense with a community. We become, after all, what we believe in.

As people’s understanding of their own selves and the social construct of gender broadens, we are increasingly coming across plethora of LGBTQ+ associated terms which some people may identify with. One usually tends to dismiss them as ‘social constructs’ and ‘unnatural’. Such people may fail to realize that identity and gender including the concept of binary, all are social constructs. ‘Gender is not something we are born with, and not something we have, but something we do, something we perform’- it is said. Gender remains a socially constructed system of characteristics, roles, relationships based on biological sex. The idea of gender is so closely related to us in life. We put into consideration the gender of other person before we react and respond. The label assigned to a child as gender need not hold true. A new born human has no gender. It is only a human which may be categorized on their biological sex. They grow conscious and come to terms with their gender as a choice only at a later stage, perhaps adolescence or even adulthood. But before this realization could seep in, they adapt to the gender appropriate role they are ‘assigned’ on the basis of sex determination and only differentiate characteristics into feminine and masculine throughout their childhoods and teenage years. The child mirrors individuals of the same sex and label, as per the social learning theory. The rigid categories of male and female become the only ‘natural’ gender for apparent reasons. The words of the famous Simone de Beauvoir- “Women are not born, they are made.” too affirm the social construct of gender roles. But with the ever evolving perspective and humanity, the existence and experiences of non-binary people forces us to ponder over our conception of the binary. References to the third gender have been found in history numerous times. The Manusmriti or Laws of Manu mention the ‘third sex’ which does not belong to the binary. Other mentions include inter alia Mesopotamian mythologies, certain Greek literature, and the Vedic Culture. Ardhnarishwara – the representation of the Hindu lord Shiva as half male, half woman dating back to at least 375 CE. In Thailand, the third gender Kathoey, now legally recognized, has been in existence for long. 16th century travelogues mention two spirit native Americans who do not fit into the binaries.

Another idea associated with identity that seeks digression from social construct is homosexuality. One might be attracted, physically or emotionally, to another irrespective of their sex. It is a well accepted fact that homosexuality has been extant throughout human history. Greek scholar Plato mentions in Symposium-‘women who do not care for men, but have female attachments.’ Homosexuality and same sex relations have been recorded in ancient Greece, Rome, China, Japan, and Egypt. Perfume bottle found in a Roman province depicts two young men in bed. The Greek poets Cavafy and Sappho are believed by many to be homosexuals, due to their most wonderful and sensual works conveying desires for the same sex. Thai kings have had male and female lovers. Historian Allan A Tulchin argues for the existence of legal same sex marriages in Medieval France. The wealthy cities of Italy including Florence and Venice were known for same sex practices during Renaissance movement. Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep are two men who were found buried together in Ancient Egypt. The custom of married couples being buried together leaves space for speculation on their relationship.

Love has no limits, only people do. Thoughts and emotions naturally by themselves are fluid for they aren’t constrained in any sense. The human body’s aesthetics can be appealing in boundless ways regardless of the sex of the body. If your perception of the humanity is divided along the parochial lines of sex, you fail to cherish the very essence of the celebration that humanity is. The human being is about expression, about freedom, about communication, about fluidity. The human being is kaleidoscopic. And as Mark Twain remarked once, “Man is the only animal that blushes - or needs to."

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