For many of us, completely accepting the notion that our gender, sexuality, and even sex are culturally constructed, is very challenging. Many of us have grown up in our sexed bodies feeling that the gendered roles, characteristics, and rules that mark masculine and feminine genders were natural. After all, we don’t often wish to think of ourselves as abnormal and the socio-cultural process that occurs during engenderment happens consistently and from such a young age that it seems to go unnoticed. Julia Serano, however, takes issue with the idea of complete cultural construction. Like many, Serano questions the existence of those with “exceptional gender expression.” If our genders are completely regulated by social construction, how do you explain the existence of highly masculine females, feminine males, people who change their social gender through performance, or those who opt for a complete sex change? If the forces of culture regulate our gender, how did these individuals come to be?

Disagreeing with both social constructivists and gender essentialists, Serano proposes a new model for understanding the array of gender and sexual expressions. Her model is based around the rather complicated notion of intrinsic inclinations. Serano describes intrinsic inclinations as:

“Any persistent desire, affinity, or urge that predisposes us toward particular gender and sexual expressions and experiences.”

These inclinations are not of a biological nature, but they are intrinsic in that they are seeded deep in our subconscious.

According to Serano, we have separate, multifactorial intrinsic inclinations contributing to our gender and sexuality expression, which work independently of one another.  She also suggests that these inclinations are so strong, they may persist through social pressures placed on an individual by society. Lastly, she explains that these inclinations are loosely associated with sex.

This model of understanding gender and sexual difference is very agreeable in that it allows every individual recognition and legitimization for who they feel they are. It is a positive step forward in a greater goal of social acceptance of variety and difference. If this model was accepted on a large scale and social pressures to conform to certain gender and sexual roles subsided, the resulting variations in human gender embodiment and sexuality would be rather amazing.

Thinking towards a future that would tolerate such deviations from the current heteronormative culture of the west, it is interesting to think about current cultural changes in favor of a more diverse future. This current article about two lesbian mothers who decided to give their transgendered child hormone blockers to ward off the onset of puberty narrows in on a crux of the issue of gender and demonstrates the large cultural backlash to challenging such norms:


Jennifer Peper