Is it time to update simplistic notions of 'male' and 'female' gender?

Traditional thinking about sexuality being turned on its head as people increasingly question what it is to be a man or a woman

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 May, 2013, 8:18am

Does playing with toy cars and robots mean you're a boy? Does wearing a dress and make-up make you a girl?

Traditional concepts of gender are increasingly being challenged around the world by people who feel a full expression of their identity cannot be summed up by the term "man" or "woman".

Some feel they fall into both categories, sometimes leaning more to one side, depending on where they are at in their lives. And progressive governments in certain western countries are responding, agreeing that the all-or-nothing approach is repressive. Terms such as "gender queer" or "gender fluid" are popping up in discussions about transgender issues, with studies on how people value gender stereotypes.

For most people, the body we are born with is inextricably linked to how we define ourselves. But for some, those biological features do not reflect their thoughts. People who feel that way are often diagnosed with gender dysphoria or gender identity disorder.

The gender debate also raises the issue of transsexuals who decide not to have a sex change operation. There are many cases where a man or a woman rejects their biological sex and lives life as their "acquired" gender by dressing in clothes and adopting mannerisms associated with the opposite sex. They opt to not have surgery, which is often invasive and irreversible. But does that mean they are less committed than those who do go under the knife?

Under Britain's Gender Recognition Act, which was introduced in 2004, a person can change the sex on their birth certificate without a sex change operation. The change can be made with an assessment from a psychiatrist and proof that the person has been living full-time as their "acquired" gender for at least two years, but this is not the case in Hong Kong.

Another issue is whether or not there's a sliding scale for gender? Is it possible to identify as both?

For Richard O'Brien, one of the creators of the seminal gender-bending musical, the Rocky Horror Picture Show, gender is a fluid concept. In a recent radio interview, O'Brien said he identified as 70 per cent male and 30 per cent female.

In 2003, the Australian government added a third category for citizens to choose when stating their sex field as it will appear on their passports: male, female or X.

The change came after Alex MacFarlane, born with a form of androgyny, claimed that as an "inter-sex" person, ticking either male or female would be lying, as Alex did not identify as either man or woman.