More Than Zeroes and Ones

If you look up the word binary on the internet, you’ll get variations of the little excerpt Binary quoteshown here (screenshot from Google). Binary describes a numbering scheme in which there are only two possible values for each digit: 0 and 1. Modern computers and digital devices operate in binary, storing data and performing calculations using only zeroes and ones.

That’s all fine and dandy when we’re talking about mathematics and computer systems. However, it’s a different story when we’re talking about people. Every human is unique and there are endless variations in people’s traits, characteristics, and identities. Isn’t that what makes the world such an interesting and fascinating place? Yet when it comes to gender, modern Western culture views it as a binary concept – a system in which there are only two fixed options, male or female, based purely on a person’s physical characteristics. Most of us have been conditioned to accept this gender binary as truth, and it never even occurs to us to question it.

But you know what? People are not computers and don’t fit into simple binary categories. Gender cannot be neatly defined as two types – there’s a whole spectrum of possibilities.

. . . beyond anatomy, there are multiple domains defining gender. . . . Instead of the static, binary model produced through a solely physical understanding of gender, a far richer tapestry of biology, gender expression, and gender identity intersect in a multidimensional array of possibilities. Quite simply, the gender spectrum represents a more nuanced, and ultimately truly authentic model of human gender.

For a good introduction discussing the gender spectrum, including the difference between physical sex and gender, different facets of gender, and some terminology, check out the Understanding Gender page at Gender Spectrum’s website. I’m not an expert or educator regarding gender identity and would do be performing a disservice if I tried to describe concepts that are more clearly explained elsewhere.

Another good introduction is this video of a TEDx talk by Sam Killermann called Understanding the Complexity of Gender.  You may have more questions than answers after watching it, but it serves to help us look outside the gender “binary” and to start to understand that gender is much more than strictly male and female – more than zeroes and ones.


Our society very much likes to tell people who they are or who they should be, how they are supposed to act and what they are supposed to value. It’s tough to be outside the norm and to be true to oneself when that means going against what society tells you you should be. It’s difficult enough to be transgender within the binary system: male-to-female or female-to-male. But it’s even tougher if one identifies as non-binary (neither male nor female) and the world says you don’t – or shouldn’t – exist.

There is an important movement for gender identity awareness and equality called We Exist. A documentary movie is in the works which follows the life of Lauren, a person who identifies as gender neutral, as well as the life of others who exist outside the binary gender structure of female and male.  Here’s a link to a video of Lauren talking about their life and about the documentary.

So, why am I discussing all this gender stuff? Because my child Ari is a transgender non-binary teen. Thus, gender identity and transgender issues have a big impact in my family’s day-to-day life.

It has been quite a journey to get us to where we are today, and I anticipate sharing stories and reflections from it in later posts. It hasn’t always been easy – heck, it has rarely been easy – but through it all we have grown and learned, shared laughter and tears, argued and bonded together, and ultimately faced the challenges both as individuals and as a family. I love Ari and am extremely proud of them for so many reasons. Our journey continues and I’m looking forward to seeing where it leads us.

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