I was exchanging messages with a non-binary friend I’d just met online, talking about our different takes on gender, when it occurred to me that I was lacking something in this whole conversation. A model of gender. A model that – when I finally get around to constructing it – ends up as an inverted pyramid, in three dimensions.
What? Well, gender is complex! I’m sure you could add more than three dimensions, but – let’s be honest – true “4D” (or beyond!) is difficult for any of us to visualize 😛
Well, I hope you’re good with spatial awareness – and a little bit of math. (This is where my own background in computer graphics comes in handy!) We’re going to visualize gender as a 3D inverted pyramid, with an X (left/right), Y (up/down), and Z (toward/away from you) axis. And it may feel like you’ve gone back to school for a day. But soldier on with me, and I’ll honor your effort to try to understand!
To start with, gender clearly isn’t an “either/or”. It isn’t just binary (two values, zero or one). At the very least it’s a spectrum, with “man” on one end, “woman” on the other, and a whole range in between:
So we have a line. Woman to man. This will be our X axis. But – what my new friend made me realize – there are other elements to it. Such as the strength of your feeling of gender.
Some people (like me) identify very strongly with their gender. Others less so. Those with the weakest feeling of gender effectively have no gender at all.
So let’s add a downward (Y-axis) dimension: the strength of your gender. On top, you have those like myself, who identify very strongly as a woman or man and can’t see ourselves as anything else. On the bottom, you have those who identify as genderless or “neutrois”. They have a very weak identity – or maybe even no identity – with any particular gender.
I visualize this as an upside-down triangle. The two “ends” of the traditional binary converge to “genderless”. They converge because the less you identify with your gender, the less it matters whether you view yourself as a woman or man.
Personally, I’m in the top corner, on the “woman” side. (I identify very strongly as a woman, and not at all as a man.) My friend is on the “woman” side too. (They live in a female body and were raised as a girl, and they don’t see themselves as a “guy”.) But they’d be very near the bottom on the triangle. In other words, they don’t identify as a man, but the strength of their gender identification is extraordinarily week; they’re almost agender.
Whew! Take a break, if you need. But we’re not done! My model lacks space for those who have a third gender – neither “woman” or “man”, but something else altogether – with which they do identify, either weakly or strongly.
Add yet another dimension. This extends along the axis stretching outward; the “Z” axis in computer graphics. (And I hope you’re spatially competent!)
Closest to us is the woman/man spectrum. Then, stretching away from us, we have the base of the pyramid. The third point I make – for simplicity – anything else: any gender other than the traditional two. Some people identify entirely as a third gender (entirely away from us, on the far point of the pyramid’s base). Others might identify as part man or part woman, and part something else entirely, and land somewhere in-between. We now have another triangle, stretching away from us, as the pyramid’s base!
Enter the third axis, which I’ve already defined: the strength of gender identity. On top, you have the full feeling of gender – or people like me. On the bottom you have agender, where everything converges because your gender identity doesn’t matter; you have no gender!
Hence an inverted pyramid with a triangle base:
Where am I on this pyramid? Top and front left, because 1) I strongly DO have a gender (why I’m at the top), and 2) my gender – as a binary person – is 100% “woman” (hence front left). Does this mean that I adhere 100% to the norms established for this gender – often by men in power? Not at all. For example, I have no qualms about writing an incredibly obscure article that’s very math-heavy and presents a confusing sociological model – something that’s, perhaps, very stereotypically “manly”. But I’m not a man. Gender is this: what really are you, taken away from society and all external factors. Locked alone in a room, unobserved, I feel like a woman and never anything else.
Other people are different. Some people identify as a third gender, neither woman or man, but do so strongly. They would be at the furthest-back point of the pyramid’s base, furthest up top. Others, like my new friend, have a weak identification with any gender, and would be close to the bottom, where everything converges. Some people are gender-fluid, and their position on the pyramid may drift around from day to day.
Is it a perfect model? Of course not. But it’s a lot better – I think – than the checkboxes of “male” or “female” (and occasionally, “other”) that most forms give. I think we need to stop seeing gender as something that can be selected from a list. Gender is a multi-dimensional thing – three dimensions, at least. Anything else is an oversimplification.
Okay, class, that’s the bell! The lesson is over. That was difficult, but thanks for staying with me. I hope that you followed me enough to have the image of the gender pyramid in your head. Where on it do you identify, personally?