We live in a society where although the fluidity of gender is finally understood, there is an increased rate of sex determination requested by new-age parents. Among those who construct their kids’ livelihoods around the sex they possess, there also exists the vast universe of Genderless Parenting.
For science, the binary sex model was adopted in the 18th or 19th century, prior to which, in the 16th century, existed the belief that males and females were two forms of the same sex.
This idea was rooted in the popular belief that the Universe had a temperament: hot & dry (masculine; depicted by the Sun) or a cold & moist (feminine; depicted by the Moon). People were believed to have the same sex organs, only differentiated by the temperature governing their development.
16th century illustration of genitalia
“Sex non-conformity was understood as having too much heat or having too much cold.”, Dr. Thomas Laquer in Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud.
Andreas Vesalius, the father of Anatomy, depicted the vagina as an interior penis, the womb as a scrotum and the ovaries, the testes. To exist as a male or a female is to hold a cultural post.
After Enlightenment, there was a drastic shift towards sexual differentiation.
By 1803, French physician, Jacques Louis Moreau, and several other male scientists, began linguistically distinguishing structures that shared a name (ovaries and testicles), and began targeting structures that were previously thought to be the same, the nervous system.
Vesaulius' illustration of corresponding genitalia
The creation of the Sex Binary wasn’t an advancement in science, it was politics. Both the unisex and the binary sex models were designed by men to position men as superior.
Amidst the French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution and Religious advancements, the development of the sex binary, provided grounds for justification for men to deny women equal rights, on the basis of “nature’s design”.
In fact, in the early 1900s, feminists advocating for women’s rights were termed as the Third Sex, Psychologically Abnormal and Evolutionary Throwbacks, as they possessed the “feelings and desires of a man”, Dr. Anne Fausto-Sterling in Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and Construction of Sexuality.
Today, people situate “sex” outside the clutches of politics and root it firmly in “nature”. It is often important to remember that white male scientists, who defined the criteria for “nature”, had used it as a means to naturalize inequality.
To this effect, the International Olympic Committee even began chromosomal tests on women athletes to confirm their “femaleness”, feeding their fears on beliefs that “women’s participation in sports threatened to turn them into manly creatures.”
1960-1999: The IOC certifying women athletes to confirm their "femaleness"
Our genocentric world believes that “genes are blueprints for development”. Sex, instead of a spectrum trait, involving a profusion of genetic and developmental factors, was compromised by the rise in rank of the X and the Y chromosomes.
Amidst the 1970s Women’s Suffragist movement, Dr. Richards did remark thar cultural pressure and not biological evidence, led to the endangered nature of chromosomes.
Chromosomes were used as an enamel coat by the presiding Patriarchy to political divide the society into a binary.
Biology on the other hand indicates that the human nervous system, endocrine system, the internal and external sex organs, secondary sexual characteristics, all interact with the environment, causing genetic variabilities.
Thus, it is unfair to adopt the Sex Binary Models to categorize humans, as there exists a Spectrum of traits determining Sex.
Sex as a spectrum of traits
Fausto-Sterling A. (2000). Sexing the body : gender politics and the construction of sexuality (1st ed.). Basic Books.
Laqueur T. W. (1990). Making sex : body and gender from the greeks to freud. Harvard University Press.
Pitch Interactive and Amanda Montañez; Source: Research by Amanda Hobbs; Expert review by Amy Wisniewski University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.
Richardson, Sarah S. Sex Itself: The Search for Male and Female in the Human Genome. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2013.