06/25/2013 01:02 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Sex, Gender and the Greater Truth Forgotten in the Marriage Equality Debate

My name is (regrettably) Larry and, barefoot, I stand at just over 6-foot-4. I have long been home to a 5-o'clock shadow that emerges each day at 10 a.m. sharp. (I sometimes catch myself using my chin to scratch.) Though I don't want to oversell it, I like to think of my penis as reasonably conspicuous. My sperm count is a surprisingly high 77 million per cubic centimeter, and their motility rate is around 68 percent.

From all of this, you have probably gathered that I am male. I wholeheartedly agree with this conclusion, as does my birth certificate. This doesn't make me any more or less valuable as a human being, but legally it grants me certain rights, most notably the right to marry someone similarly agreed to be female without literally making a Supreme Court case of it.

Still, there are many beautiful women in this world who are around my height or even much taller. Women spend billions each year removing unwanted facial hair, as it has been generally agreed that their sex does not, in fact, grow any. The presence of a penis does not itself indicate that one also lacks, for example, a uterus. Were I discovered incapable of fathering a child, nobody would argue that I should be denied legal rights because of it. Nor would anyone suggest that a woman is no longer a woman because she has gone through menopause.

I cannot stress this enough: There is no single defining characteristic that makes me biologically male. This isn't some new age nonsense or reductionist rhetoric. It's reality. There is, in fact, no reliable test to definitively determine whether a human being is what we call male or female. There is no one trait, organ, chromosome or gene that lifts the skirt for science (except, of course, whatever appendage scientists use when lifting actual skirts). Time and again researchers and sport organizers have thought they'd found what makes one male or female (the Y chromosome being the most obvious example), and, time and again, the tests have proved unreliable. Still, they persist. And here we sit, deciding the future of same-sex couples -- as if we can even really pin down what that means.

We do all of this because humans are obsessed with building walls on nature's behalf. For science, it is an important and usually advantageous habit. Organized observation requires taxonomy. It would be counterproductive to classify every other human as our own subsex, after all. Just imagine that cutaway on your doctor's wall.

Religion, perhaps even more than science, seeks meaning in these distinctions. This can be considerably more problematic. When your chosen cosmology requires that people fit into one of two boxes, you can end up saying ridiculous things like, "God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve." In addition to blindly conflating sex and sexual orientation, this begs the question: Where do these people think Steve came from?

Steve isn't the only one left off the list. God and nature didn't just make Adam, Eve and that sexy homo home wrecker. He (or She, or neither) also made the 1.7 percent of the human population that is born somewhere on the intersex spectrum.

Yes, even with our rather murky definitions of male and female, 1.7 percent of the population is born with characteristics of neither or both. Who are they allowed to marry? That depends on what their doctor put on their birth certificate, which itself might depend on whether parents decide to surgically alter a child to appear more male or female. So adults regularly cut into babies in order to improve the child's ability to blend in sexually. You probably won't be shocked to discover that, when these children reach puberty, they don't always agree with those decisions (though I'm sure they're right at least half the time).

Humans don't just have biological sexes, after all. We also have gender identities. Even among people born without intersex characteristics, brain structures don't always agree with genitalia when it comes to one's gender. You see me as male because of observable physical markers. I see myself as male because of a strong, deep-seated sense of gender identity, which for you might be male, female, neither or both. That sense of being somehow male doesn't just come from my dick; it comes from my brain, as well (though I will admit that the former occasionally assumes the duties of the latter). We rarely talk about this because, frankly, we're afraid to admit it.

To put it bluntly: Transgender and genderqueer people freak a lot of people the fuck out. If I had to venture a guess as to why, I would say that it's that we tend to view the world in contrast and correspondence. Acknowledging that someone else is not by some standard "all man" or "all woman" means acknowledging that we might not be, either. (I'm certainly no expert on this, though; if you know of any good research on the subject of transphobia, I'd love to see it in the comments.) So fools constantly proclaim that they have defined sex for science. I'm sure that they feel much more comfortable in their own skin for having done so, but so far the rest of humanity is none the better for their efforts.

What we do seem to know is that we are born with biological sexes that may or may not be male or female, gender identities that may or may not align with them and sexual orientations that are (understandably, all things considered) all over the damned place. How have we come this far in the "same-sex marriage" debate without asking how such suspect delineations could possibly matter when it comes to doling out human rights and privileges? After all, how can we define same-sex marriage when we can't even verify a person's sex?

The discussion we have so successfully avoided is really quite important. In spite of overwhelming public disapproval, it is still legal in 29 states to fire someone for being gay, lesbian or bisexual. Why? Because some lawmakers are unwilling to admit that transgender men and women deserve the same legal protection as gay and lesbian ones -- and they don't even want to talk about the people these terms leave out.

It is nothing short of shameful that, even after marriage equality becomes a reality, the United States will continue to dole out rights and privileges based on a person's ability to assume one of the two most common gender identities. On our way to this moment, we have skipped any meaningful, broad discussion of sex, gender or the greater truth that these things do not set our value as human beings.

After all, doesn't it seem rather ludicrous that we have spent so many years and millions arguing about whether or not two people who share biological traits we can't even reliably verify should be allowed to get married? Isn't it long past time that we stopped trying to assert control over others' identities and accepted that we're all just... human?

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