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New study finds that gender is not just biological

Genitals and chromosomes are not the only ways to determine gender.

By Evan Bleier
New study finds that gender is not just biological
A bathroom sign (CC/Ben Ostrowsky)

(UPI) -- Despite what you might think, the results of a new study show that gender is no longer determined by biological factors.

The study, conducted by University of Chicago sociology professor Kristen Schilt and Grand Valley State sociology professor Laurel Westbrook, found that factors that used to determine gender, like genitals and chromosomes, are not being relied upon as much as they used to be.

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Their paper, Doing Gender, Determining Gender: Transgender People, Gender Panics, and the Maintenance of the Sex/Gender/Sexuality System, was published in Gender & Society.

“We explore the criteria for determining who is a ‘man’ and who is a ‘woman’ in sex-segregated spaces,” said Westbrook. “We are at an interesting point in the history of gender, where people are torn between valuing self-identity and believing that biology determines gender. Our study explores that change in the gender system.”

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The study is especially topical because of the growing presence of transgender people in the news recently.

“Transgender equality has never been more visible as a key issue than it is today, and with the development of every new trans-supportive law or policy, there typically follows an outbreak of criticism,” Westbrook said.

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Such outbreaks, termed ‘gender panics', are "the result of a clash between two competing cultural ideas about gender identity: a belief that gender is determined by biology versus a belief that a person’s self-identity in terms of gender should be validated."

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“In the controversies we examined, it is access to bathrooms, locker rooms, and sports teams at the center of gender panics,” Westbrook said.

“Moreover, not all sex-segregated spaces are policed equally. Because of beliefs that women are inherently vulnerable, particularly to unwanted heterosexual advances, it is women’s spaces at the center of these debates. Thus, with these controversies, much of the discussion is about a fear of ‘male’ bodies in ‘women’s’ spaces.”

Because of that, the authors determined that "gender panics frequently result in a reshaping of the language of such policies so that they require extensive bodily changes before transgender individuals have access to particular rights."

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