Gender is a social construct. The world is always changing, but human beings haven’t changed nearly as much as some people think. There is ample evidence to indicate that societies have had huge changes in things such as morality and community.
Recently, there’s been a huge push against the Victorian era morality that managed to take firm root in European culture and spread across the ocean to the United States. Specifically, there’s been an increasing desire to have so-called “alternative” sexualities and identities. This has led to many people insisting that there are only two genders, male and female.
But is that really true?
The Difference Between Gender And Sex
The first thing to understand is that many people use “gender” when what they mean is “sex”. That is, “male” and “female” are genders, whereas “penis and testes” and “vagina and ovaries” are sex.
What this means in practical terms is that gender is not the same thing as sex. Gender is nothing more than a set of cultural expectations placed upon a person due to some factor. Currently, many people feel the deciding factor is whether a person has a penis or a vagina, and thus insist that only two genders exist.
However, this is quite clearly circular logic. The argument can be summarized as “because there are two genders, there are two genders”. This argument also fails to comment on intersex people (those born with both “male” and “female” genitalia) and androgynous people (those born without fully-formed primary and secondary sexual characteristics).
Given the fact that there are clearly physical sexual characteristics not covered by “male” or “female”, the idea that there are only two genders can be easily proven wrong.
How Many Genders Exist?
The question here of how many genders there really are is that it depends on how many genders a culture wants.
The Navajo culture, as an example, refers to “two-spirit” people. That is people who are not male or female, but contain the spirit of both.
Meanwhile, the Lakota tribe have the “winkte”, people who are born male but assume the traditional roles of the women of the tribe and thus are considered to be no longer men.
There are even signs of transgender people in ancient Egypt, though only by implication. While many archeologists will simply claim that the burial priests accidentally used male burial rituals for females, many others point out that death and burial were so important to ancient Egyptian culture that claiming they would have made such a mistake is ridiculous.
So at the end of the day, the answer is “how many genders does a culture want to have?” There simply isn’t a set number of genders, even though there are only certain combinations of primary and secondary sexual characteristics that appear.