Spectrums: Not just for Prisms.

If you ever thought that everyone in the world is either a boy or a girl, when you start to hear about gender that is non-binary or the concept that gender is a spectrum, it can be a bit confusing. Wait, that person isn’t pink or blue- what does that mean?

Now, to get this concept of a spectrum, I’m going to ask you to put your statistics hat on. No, you don’t need to ever have actually taken a statistics course to nail this concept, but a few examples about how variables are looked at might help you visualize what a spectrum is and why the distinction is important. When you are given some data, there are two types of data possible: discrete and continuous. Discrete data is data that you can count in whole numbers– like this flower has 1, 2, 3 petals. There are no 1.2 petals. Continuous data is data that has an infinite amount of possible values– like this leaf is 1.8, 3.545, 18.713949 cm long. Any value is possible on the scale, and there’s no either/or option. Pulling you back out of the garden and back into gender, when gender is referred to as a spectrum, that means that there are infinite “values” or possibilities for someone’s gender. In the gender binary system, you are either 1 (boy) or 2 (girl)- there’s no 1.37. In a spectrum system, gender isn’t 1 or 2 it’s 1.8, 3.545, 18.713949 on a scale.

What the “scale” is remains contentious. Some people argue that putting “male” on one end and “female” on the other is only a slight improvement, still limiting people on a horizontal axis and implying that in order to be more feminine it is necessary to be less masculine (and vice versa). Some people prefer to think of the spectrum like a rainbow of colours- all different, varied, and no colour better than the other. This, while representative, may have difficulties because every label added will inherently narrow the categories. Perhaps the most important lesson from the “scale” is to understand that the concept of non-binary gender is an evolving conversation that is always working on becoming more inclusive and accessible to everyone. The end point has not been reached.

Gender is complex. There are many facets, it sure ain’t static, and as we continue to explore those facets on this blog, we hope that this concept of gender spectrum is kept in mind. If you have any critiques of our take on what a spectrum means, let us know and we will keep this updated accordingly. In the meantime, this is a video that explores multiple spectrums in a pretty comprehensive manner, and gives some food for thought about where these spectrums may also apply.

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