Exploring the truth of our embodied experience in relation to gender, sexuality and relationship is a potent gateway to inner-led change.
A potted history of gender
We can’t think about gender properly without placing ourselves in space and time and acknowledging that whatever we might think about gender from where we currently stand, there will be a counter example in history and/or in the world today.
In other words, there are no “right” or “normal” ways of doing gender. But patriarchal history’s impact - and its interconnections with other systems of oppression - would have us believe otherwise. The division of humans into binary genders of man and woman is not a “simple consequence” of biology but rather of a combination of attempts by certain people throughout history to control and categorise the human body, activity, status and identity in their own favour against an inferior “other”.
This resulted in the scientific movement of the 19th Century firmly classifying white, middle-class, heterosexual, non-disabled men as the “norm” from which all other human realities are measured.
Disentangling gender, sexuality and relationship
As a consequence of this othering project, gender, sexuality and relationships came to be inextricably linked in history and classified as either “normal” or “abnormal” i.e. a “normal” gender has a “normal” sexuality and a “normal” relationship expression.
Simply put, the scientific movement coupled with the capitalist economic system meant the relationship norm became one of monogamous marriage between “opposite” gendered, heterosexual people in a nuclear family, and most people carry the conditioning of this within themselves. But, our gender (and indeed sex) is in fact biopsychosocial - it is influenced by our personal, social and cultural experience and refers to multiple, overlapping aspects: gender is a spectrum, not a simple binary.
As such, the normative rules and the gender binary do not apply to all, though they can apply for many. Similarly, sexuality involves multiple, overlapping aspects that do not map onto an easy, simple binary based on the norm of heterosexuality, though sometimes they can and that’s ok, too!
So, gender (and sex) and sexuality (and relationships) are expansive aspects of human being such that automatically knowing someone’s sexuality based on their gender is never possible, just as guessing someone’s gender based on their sexual behaviour, identity or attraction is also not possible - something that is only now becoming more possible to acknowledge beyond the margins.
Gender and sexuality are certainly interrelated, but their parts are fluid and moving and tend to shift and change over time. Getting to know about this can take us from confusion to awareness, from shame to liberation, no matter our identities and behaviours or how they fit the normative expectations. One place where gender and sexuality do meet precisely, though, is in the often challenging lesson of never assuming you know a person based on appearances and the social norms alone.
Listening, learning and relating are key. It’s likely to all feel a bit vulnerable if this is new to you - and luckily vulnerability is the key to intimacy and healthy relationships.
We hope you will feel called to dive into the resources we have collated and that they will help you set about exploring gender, sexuality and relationship more deeply and broadly, no matter what your starting point.
See our diversity and anti-oppression resources for more reading and resources around gender, sexuality and relationship.
We are grateful to Hele Oakley for drafting this page - which draws largely from information in the book, Gender: A Graphic Guide, by Meg-John Barker and Jules Scheele.