Article Review: XX & XY Lie: Our Social Construction of a Gender Binary by Sara Connell

by Terra Anderson

Link to full article, including audio version:

About the Article’s Author: Sara Connell (She/Her/Hers)

Sara Connell is a nationally renown sex educator and erotic activist who centers queer and trans voices in her approach to sex education. In the decade that Sara has been working as a sex educator, her esteemed dedication to intersectional erotic justice demands representation for diverse bodies, genders, sexual orientations, and erotic affinities in breaking through societal barriers that stand in the way of sexual fulfillment for marginalized groups. Sara is the founder of Queer Sex Ed, an organization dedicated to achieving equity and inclusion for queer, trans, and other under-represented people in the accessibility of pleasure, sex education, and sexual health. With her partner, Jay Botsford (Ze/Zir/Zirs), Sara co-hosts an amazing podcast also entitled Queer Sex Ed, which is available wherever you get your podcasts. Sara and Jay also tour nationally offering educational and professional trainings and workshops on gender/sexuality diversity, social justice, ethical communication, and BDSM. Please see related articles on Sara’s Medium page.

If you value the work Sara is doing in the world, you can support her through Queer Sex Ed’s Patreon.

Article Review and Call to Action

My original thought for this web post was to grab a few excerpts from Sara Connell’s article entitled XX & XY Lie: Our Social Construction of a Gender Binary to give readers a quick taste of this important piece of literature and hook you all into reading the whole thing. Truthfully, as I went through the article pulling out important points, I realized that I was grieving each paragraph I left out. By the time I had gotten through the text, the quotes I had hand picked equaled well over half the article itself. I simply couldn’t ethically dismember this writing, because it is truly the beating heart of gender reconceptualization.

Backed up by world class science from peer reviewed academic journals, Connell contends that our society must account for the natural variation in human experience and biology when it comes to gender identity and sex characteristics. I revere this article as a foundational text in understanding how gender and sex categorizations appear, or rather disappear in the eyes of science. I imagine for a lot of people, this raises eyebrows, maybe makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up, or makes your throat drop into your stomach. Just bare with me. Swallow hard, take a deep breath, be gentle with yourself, and click this link to the full text by Sara Connell. Lean into the possibility that there is a deeper understanding of gender than we were taught in grade school, and that this deeper understanding is a gateway to a lighter, brighter, more connected experiences of ourselves and each other than we currently have.

I’ll leave you with one juicy excerpt from Connell’s article for your sampling pleasure. Then please read the rest.

Instead of thinking about physical sex as two distinct categories with no overlap, I think it makes more sense to think of our categories of “male” and “female” as two bell curves centered around cisgender men and women. [Cisgender refers to people who’s gender assigned at birth based on external anatomy is in agreement with how the person identifies]. The majority of people who are born with a penis will identify as men, express themselves as masculine, and create the norm we have now, and the same for people with a vulva being women and expressing themselves as feminine.

However, there is a small chance on the edges of the bell curve that someone will be different from how they are assigned and expected to grow up. They may be a transgender woman, agender, gender fluid, or many other potential identity terms we’ve created to describe experiences outside of being cisgender. That doesn’t make the transgender or the cisgender person more or less right, just because it’s more common to be cis, it just means they are two very different experiences of being human.

Instead of seeing this natural variation within the bell curve as equally valid outcomes of the randomness inherent in human genes, we have medicalized, stigmatized, and pathologized these differences to say that less common experiences of gender are also somehow less “right” or less “natural”. We’ve labeled these trans experiences as deviant, dangerous, and constructed them to be something wrong with the individual people, instead of an inherent flaw of our classification system.

If a so-called “scientific” classification system continues to systematically leave out millions and millions of people, we must ask ourselves: is the problem with those millions of people, or is the problem with our current classification system?”