Em-URGE-ing Voices

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Biology is Not Binary: A History

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February 15, 2023

Trigger Warning: 

Illustrations of human reproductive system and referential use of outdated binary biological terminology 

“While Biology is not and will never be binary. It is inarguably refreshing, diverse and unbelievably more beautifully designed than we have ever been taught to imagine.”

– Ë11VËN

Human Biology, has never been binary. Although, unfortunately each time it is discussed it becomes lost in the vague dichotomy of Western terminology (i.e men, women, boy, girl, penis, vagina, motherhood, fatherhood etc.) otherwise obstructing our ability as a society to explore and understand ourselves beyond the violent narratives surrounding the study of human biology. Ultimately removing us entirely from the Indigenous history of human life before colonialism.

While complex, the basic fundamentals of biology actually begin quite simple. Biology in short  is ambiguously unique among species, both collectively and individually. There are several branches of biology: botany (plants), Zoology (animals) & microbiology (microorganisms). 

Incomparable amounts of research reveal that both plants and animals display an innate ability known as sexual plasticity, to manipulate their own anatomy in order to survive viscerally contradicting previous theories on biology. Some examples of sexual plasticity are known as environmental and behavioral sex determination. Interestingly enough, in human beings this phenomenon is scientifically observed as disorders of sex development.

“This phenomenon — that ability to live as one sex, then switch to the other — is known as sequential hermaphroditism.”

-Tara Yarlagadda

      Below is an illustration of several different forms of one type of internal human reproductive organ.

This reproductive organ can be found in any person regardless of perceived physical appearance, assumed chromosomes, external genitalia, or hormonal expression. You may find that is most commonly referred to as a uterus and that the surrounding language in this image imply that these are abnormal anomalies. The use of words like “normal” and “anomaly” are just examples of ableist, racist, bodyphobic ideologies that otherwise reinforce violent narratives on Repro Health.

The misconception that there are “only two kinds” of Human is often hyper fixated on the perversion of genitalia, hormonal activity and an assumed social responsibility to procreate. This is because the binary nuclear family complex in our society entangles our need to survive with a subscription to the social constructs of ‘Man and Woman.’ 

Despite an infinite array of expressions within human biology. Implicit bias in scientific theory alleges the discovery of biological variety to be synonymous with a default in dysfunction. Miserably failing to educate people on experiences such as 

➢ congenital adrenal hyperplasia (“excess” hormone production)

➢ adrenal insensitivity (“unresponsive” hormonal activity)

➢ Androgen androgyny ( undefined hormonal expression ) 

➢ polycystic syndrome (cystic development in ovaries) 

➢ trisomy (triple) or monosomy (singular) chromosome sets

Many of which are silenced under the weight of the white male gaze, ableist health constructs and sexual dimorphism.

Contrary to popular belief, people of all identified sexes and genders can possess any of the existing hormonal, gonadal, or chromosomal variations. Hormones in particular have countless functions throughout the human body beyond reproductive health. Like determining and maintaining bone density, production of blood cells, brain health and overall anatomic development. Hormone balance can be thrown off by a multitude of factors from food to chemicals found in cosmetic products, water, hygienic utilities, air and more. 

Today’s argument around biology would rather you believe that you are simply inherently dysfunctional, sick, broken, or genetically impaired if you do not fit into its binary illusions. Here’s where eugenics plays a major role in that. 

Much of the myth that biology is binary is derived from Darwin’s Natural selection theory -and his literary work The Origin of Species.  Along with countless events of inhumane experimentation conducted by the so-called “father of modern gynecologyJames Marion Sims. Whose work centralized torture and degradation of enslaved people; many of which who still remain unknown. With the exception of the recorded victims Lucy, Betsey, and Anarcha.

Sims, a southern born slaveholder infamous for performing over 30 invasive surgeries without consent, legal authorization, proper care, standard sanitation or anesthesia. Sims proved he only fathered acts of forced sterilization. He was only interested in furthering the work of so-called anthropologist Karl Christoph Vogt, author of the ignorant medical belief that Black people do not feel pain. 

When and if we should decide to take a closer look.  We’ll find that at the core much of what we understand to be “facts” about human biology are actually just monoliths of ableist behavioral archetypes born in the normalization of global genocide.

“dark-skinned people generally were depicted as possessing a limited capacity to truly feel, a biological “fact” that conveniently diminished any culpability amongst their so-called superiors for any acts of abuse inflicted on them.” 

-Joanna Burke

Stay turned for Part 2.

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