Notes on Binary Gender
1. “Binary describes a numbering scheme in which there are only two possible values for each digit: 0 and 1. The term also refers to any digital encoding/decoding system in which there are exactly two possible states.” i
1.a I hate math. I would rather smell my dog’s breath than help my son with his math homework. It took me three tries to pass Algebra in high school. Diagrams have been known to make me cry, like when I tried to assemble my son’s Big Wheel the night before his birthday.
1.b. I can’t fathom of only two possible states. Even nature laughed at classification when it birthed the platypus and the lesser-known but equally fascinating echidna.
1.1 “It is natural to consider nonbinary quantum codes. Beyond the simple fact that nonbinary error-correcting codes are interesting in the classical case, Rains  points out that there are indeed applications in which nonbinary quantum codes would be more appropriate than binary quantum codes.”ii
1.1.a I am happiest when wearing two differently colored socks. It is important, however, for the two socks to be of equal thickness and length. Today my left sock is tan with a wide ribbed texture. My right sock is burgundy with narrow wale.
1.1b. The older I get, the more drawn I am to the color grey. Not the light grey, but the charcoal mix that is only a few degrees away from darkness. It seems the tiniest addition of light refines it, makes the color more sophisticated and accurate, although perhaps my love for grey is only because as I age my coloring gets paler, by hair tinged in silver, and the pure black I used to revere is too severe now.
1.2. “A qubit is a two-state quantum-mechanical system, such as the polarization of a single photon: here the two states are vertical polarization and horizontal polarization. In a classical system, a bit would have to be in one state or the other. However quantum mechanics allows the qubit to be in a superposition of both states at the same time, a property which is fundamental to quantum computing.”iii
1.2.a I had a sleepover when I was fourteen. My two friends wore panties and big, boxy T-shirts. I wore a satin nightgown. I looked at them and knew I would never be as feminine as they were, no matter what I wore. I couldn’t say what made me different, but I knew I was an impostor. I was afraid if they looked too closely they would see that I was as much boy as I was girl.
1.2.b. The additive color wheel uses three translucent disks, or three beams of colored light, and the overlap creates the full spectrum. If numbers were colors everything would be easier to understand—how you can exist in two states at the same time and be prettier and brighter than in a single state. How the purple and orange do not clash at sunset, and where they meet is never muddied like if you mixed paints, but exist as some color I do not have a name for, but understand.
2. “Around 21 families of fish are natural hermaphrodites. These unique hermaphroditic vertebrates include snook, clown fish, wrasse, angelfish, grouper, goby, parrot fish, sea bass and anthias. Synchronous fish, hermaphrodites that are male and female the same time, are much less common than sequential hermaphrodites. Sea bass are one example of a synchronous hermaphrodite, though they cannot self-fertilize.”iv
2.a I am not a fish.
2.b I have always been fascinated by mermaids and their less-popular complements, the elusive mermen. Artists never draw their genitals, and Madison in Splash only could have sex, we presume, when she had legs. But what if the upper bodies of the mer people, that is, their human componentry, was matched by synchronous or hermaphroditic extremities? Is their allure, therefore, the blend and ambiguity, while still presenting as solidly one sex or another?
3. “The first appearance of the gonad is essentially the same in the two sexes, and consists in a thickening of the mesothelial layer of the peritoneum. The thick plate of epithelium extends deeply, pushing before it the mesoderm and forming a distinct projection. This is termed the gonadal ridge. The gonadal ridge, in turn, develops into a gonad. This is a testis in the male and an ovary in the female.”v
3.a The only way to tell my brother and me apart in our prepubescent photographs is by the absence (mine) or presence (his) of glasses. Our hair, clothing, and facial features were identical.
3.b My brother and I did a lot of the same things as children: we both picked our noses, climbed trees, and punched each other as hard as we could. We watched the same cartoons and read many of the same books, but I longed for long hair and barrettes adorned with flowers and ribbons.
3.1 “At about 12 weeks, each baby’s genitalia begin to differentiate into a penis or labia. So, in a sense, the clitoris and penis are the same materials put together in a different way. The clitoris has a glans, a foreskin (also known as the hood), erectile tissue and a teeny-tiny shaft.”vi
3.1a I have learned to urinate standing up. It’s not as hard as you’d think. Not that one pees with a clitoris. Only the penis has to do double duty.
3.1.b If genitalia differentiates after three months in utero, when does the soul differentiate? Are we born with our entire personality formed by the DNA soup that created us? My children were different from the moment of birth—one crying tiny, soft mewling cries, the other screaming at the top of his lungs. Their personalities did not develop as they aged, but were revealed, solidified. So perhaps there is nothing my mother could have done to make me more feminine: even if she curled my hair, even if she made me play nicely and stay out of the mud, even if she taught me to obey all the rules of female society that she scorned.
4. “Nonbinary gender is an umbrella term covering any gender identity or expression that does not fit within the gender binary. The label may also be used by individuals wishing to identify as falling outside of the gender binary without being any more specific about the nature of their gender.”vii
4.a I am rejecting the use of she/he him/her in favor of the generic they/their, which can complicate my sentence structure. They is used in the common vernacular to refer to a single person, but technically it is a plural pronoun. I am in favor of weirding language to subsume the notion of plurality.
4.b That which does not fit gets smashed into place, or, alternatively, is revered. I would say 75/25 because I am an optimist. The label optimist suits me even less satisfactorily than the labels of binary gender. If I refuse the umbrella, I better learn to dance in the rain. It is only the first drops that sting—once I am immersed in the deluge, cleansed of sweat and tears, soaked through to my underwear with my hair clinging to the sides of my face, then the rain doesn’t hurt anymore. Refusing the umbrella results in unforgettable experience, returns me to the earth as dirty water flows over the tops of my sandals.
4.1. “Transsexuals have a unique place in relation to the gender binary because in many cases their gender expression transitions from one side of the gender binary to the other but still conforms to the gender binary itself.” viii
4.1a I have no interest in conforming to either end of the gender binary.
4.2b I did, however, fall in love with my neighbor’s black Trans-Am when I was around seven. It had a orange and red firebird on the hood. It was definitely the coolest car I had ever seen. Although I mainly played with Barbies, my Trans-Am matchbox car was one of my most prized possessions, and I refused to let my brother play with it.
5. “Androgyny is the combination of masculine and feminine characteristics. Sexual ambiguity may be found in fashion, gender identity, sexual identity, or sexual lifestyle. It can also refer to biological intersex physicality, especially with regard to plant and human sexuality.” ix
5.a I’ve dated girls who look like boys and boys who look like girls. I am attracted to the beauty of women, but the nuts and bolts of sex with women does not work for me. Neither can I picture myself in a long-term relationship with a woman.
5.b The most beautiful people in my opinion blur the lines of gender—even heteronormative society praises men with full lips and long eyelashes, and women with strong cheekbones and boyish figures. I covered my teenaged bedroom with posters of long-haired boys, some in eyeshadow and lipstick, while dreaming of being a bikini-clad model sliding around the hood of a car.
6. “Ardhanarishvara is a composite androgynous form of the Hindu god Shiva and his consort Parvati (also known as Devi, Shakti and Uma in this icon). Ardhanarishvara is depicted as half male and half female, split down the middle. The right half is usually the male Shiva, illustrating his traditional attributes.”x
6.a I am left handed.
6.b When my children were babies, one at a time, I always held them with my right hand, so that I could write and eat with my left. As a result of one-armed carrying children of ever-increasing size, my right arm is now stronger than my left, and I can toss a football or pitch a baseball equally well with both arms.
6.1 “The female is often not equal in the Ardhanarishvara, the male god who is half female; she remains a dependent entity.”xi
6.1a I always wanted to be a princess, but I also wanted to ride a fine steed and brandish a sword.
6.1 b In truth, I have always preferred to be a dependent entity, even though I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself. I need my partner to be more successful than I am, but then again, I have not yet been highly successful. I can change a tire and perform minor home repair, but I can also bake the perfect cheese cake and am the master of the casserole. I get no pleasure from performing more traditionally masculine tasks, but I do feel a substantial amount of pride when I do so. I feel pleasure from cooking, and tasting from the stirring spoon as I go, but in the end I feel no sense of achievement.
7. “Elizabeth Semmelhack, curator for the Bata Shoe Museum, traces the high heel to male horse-riding warriors in the Middle East who used high heels for functionality, because they help hold the rider’s foot in stirrups.”xii
7.a When I lived in Anchorage I wore spike heels everyday. They allowed me to run on the ice without falling down.
7. b I live primarily in Birkenstocks, but I primarily buy ridiculously high heels. I want either all comfort or all sex appeal. Every time I have worn beautiful, impractical heels to a bar at least one man has confessed to me that he wished he could wear shoes such as mine. And there is a power in a high-heeled black leather boot that my mother will never understand.
7.1 “When the women’s liberation movement arrived in the mid-1960s, with its anti-feminine, anti-fashion message, the unisex look became the rage—but completely reversed from the time of young Franklin Roosevelt. Now young girls were dressing in masculine—or at least unfeminine—styles, devoid of gender hints.”xiii
7.1a There is no denying the comfort of skirts and long dresses in the summer. It is almost like wearing pajamas or nothing at all. A teenaged boy in a long flowing skirt is just as fetching as a girl. No one denies the sex appeal of a man in a kilt- except, perhaps, for those silly socks. And there is nothing feminine about a samurai’s hakama. I think unisex has gone the wrong direction. If we have to be unisex, why can’t we all be pretty?
7.1 b Tim Curry taught me, back when I went to Rocky Horror Picture Show with the church youth group in eighth grade, that a man in a corset is not necessarily submissive nor feminine. He achieved that measure of male dominance while wearing the highly-sexualized garments of a woman.
8. “However, in its most flattering form, androgyny is not only appearing to be male and female, but also appearing to be attractive as either gender. This concept, having two models for the price of one, is becoming widely popular in the fashion industry.”xiv
8.a I always wanted to be a drag queen. They get to wear fabulous gowns, too much makeup, and lip sync on stage. Drag queens don’t get naked and they don’t have to have any talent for singing. They also get to have sex with men. Once I was at a show, and the female impersonator climbed into the rafters above the stage, and I was able to see up their skirt to their g-string. The forbidden peak, the secret reveal of boy under girl clothes, made me shiver.
8.b And all the straight girls go crazy for Ruby Rose, that gender fluid soul, who ebbs and flows like waves all over the small imaginations of what is possible. We saw her naked in season three, they say, and all of a sudden, gender doesn’t seem so black and white.
Lara Lillibridge delights in singing off-beat and dancing off-key while pursuing her Master’s in Creative Nonfiction. She has had essays published in Vandalia, on the web at Huffington Post, The Good Men Project, The Feminist Wire, Airplane Reading, Thirteen Ways to Tell a Story, and Brain, Child magazine’s Brain, Mother blog. (website, twitter)
Fabio Sassi makes photos and acrylics using tiny objects and what is considered to have no worth by the mainstream. Fabio lives and works in Bologna, Italy. (website)