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Deborah Lambillotte
ILGA Panel at the 61st UNCHR

in BELGIUM, 28/04/2005

Gender diversity is a normal and potentially healthy variation of human expression

Gender diversity is a normal and potentially healthy variation of human expression. And nothing is inherently “mentally ill” within gender-variant people, rather it is they who try to adopt and cope with cultural rigidity.

The stigma of mental illness could not be associated with gender transgression(1) had gender expressions not been previously imposed on the individual. Since they are imposed, those who are gender-variant experience great pain developing an authentic and stable sense of self.

Gender diversity is a radical concept that examines the essential nature of biology and gender as well as the social construction of sexuality and culture. Poly-gender diversity, as normal human variations, challenge fundamental assumptions about sex and gender and shift the basic paradigm of the world as a place occupied by two sexes that are opposite to and different from each other to a fluid conception of sex and gender identities.

Transgenderism describes the meeting ground where social construction of gender intersects with the individual’s personal psychological experience of gender, and where biology is not the only determining factor of identity. Transgendered and intersex people struggle to define themselves and the parameters of their own lives outside of an illness model. It has to be assumed that gender variance is as natural as any other expression of gender and etiological theories and psycho-medical neologies serve only to further compound the isolation and social ostracism that is the inheritance of those who are labeled mentally ill.

Gender variation also includes feminine males and masculine females who might not necessary consider themselves “differently gendered.” It includes gay and lesbian people who are “gendertransgressors,” as “nelly” men or drag queens and butch lesbians or “he/shes,” who might acknowledge their gender difference but not feel aligned with the transgender movement. Transgressive gender behavior has been part of the human family as long as there has been human sexual and gender expression.

The “naturalness” of a dimorphic and binary system of sex and gender is a construct embedded into the very fabric of our Western Cultures. It is obvious that gender and its expressions have been experienced, described, defined and treated differently in different times. As the inheritors of this legacy of confusing and contradictory language, it is necessary to develop a contemporary and comprehensive modern terminology that respects the complexity of gender identity and the different ways that it manifests and is experienced.
Gender is a bio-psychological phenomena where by the component parts of self-biological, psychological and social construction of culture intersect and interact in complex ways.

There are four components of identity:

- Biological sex or natal sex,
Sex is the physiological make up of a human being, referred to as the biological or natural sex. Sex is a complex relationship of genetic, hormonal, morphological, chromosomical, gonadal, biochemical, and anatomical determinants that impact the physiology of the body and the sexual differentiation of the brain. Although every one is assigned a sex at birth, a part of the population is intersexed and do not easily fit into a dimorphic division of two sexes that are “opposites.”

- Gender Identity
Gender is a social construct that divides people into “natural” categories of men and women that are assumed to derive from their physiological male and female bodies. Most people believe their gender identity is congruent with their assigned sex, but many people experience their gender identity to be discordant with their natural sex. Gender identity is considered a core identity. A person’s self concept of his or her gender (regardless of their biological sex) is called his or her gender identity.

- Gender-role expression,
Gender role is the expression of masculinity and femininity and has often been refereed to as “sex role”. Gender roles are thought to be reflexions of one’s gender identity and are socially dictated and reinforced. It is through gender roles that gender is enacted or “performed” (consciously or unconsciously) and may or may not be related to gender identity or natural sex.

- Sexual orientation,
Sexual orientation is the self-perception of one’s sexual preference and emotional attraction. Sexual orientation can be directed toward members of the same sex (homosexual), the opposite sex (heterosexual), both sexes (bisexual), or neither sex (asexual). Sexuality is experienced through the person’s gender identity (regardless of his or her biology).

These four components of identity interact with one another in complex ways and develop and integrate various pattern. Despite the bipolar division of male /female, man/women, masculine/feminine and gay/straight, all aspects of human sexuality - physiology, gender identity, gender-role behavior and sexual identity – have multiple variables and expressions. All components of identity are actually on a continuum: sex, gender identity, gender-role expression, and sexual orientation are not mutually exclusive – moving in one direction, does not necessarily mean that one cannot also move in the other direction.

If these components are not binary then people have flexibility as to where they fit on the continuum and can exist in more than one place at the same time. This means that men and women do not have to choose between traditional and stereotypical genders but can be androgynous, exhibiting traits of both masculinity and femininity simultaneously. This means that options for gender variation exist beyond transsexualism as an act of crossing over from one sex to the other, allowing for a variety of transgendering presentations, including being bi-gendered.

Clearly there is fluidity in sexual orientation and gender identity. This fluidity should not be interpreted, however, to infer that outside social forces should attempt to manipulate the sexual or gender identities of people to minimize the oppression faced by people within certain social categories. The mutability of the component parts of sexual identity can however encourage society to broaden its acceptance of diverse experiences of gender and sexual expressions.

1. Gender transgression: everything or every fact that is in opposition to the “normative” concept that there are only two sexes in the world.

Thanks for the inspiration to B. Preciado, D.J. Haraway, J. Butler, A.I. Lev, K. Bornstein, M. Rothblatt



Deborah Lambillotte
Member of the board of ILGA-Europe
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