Do I need to state the obvious again? Biologists keep telling everyone that sex and gender are a lot more complex and diverse than the binary bill of goods the ideologues try to sell you. Now let’s add another scientific discipline shouting the truth at the public, with Archaeologists for Trans Liberation.
Human biology extends beyond and between “Male” and “Female”
The erasure of the complexity of sex and gender beyond simple binaries is a function of contemporary transphobic ideologies within archaeological analyses and not a reflection of past peoples’ lives. Moreover, this erasure risks providing fodder for accounts of the past that are used to further marginalize trans and gender fluid people.
Identifying and understanding past people’s conceptions and experiences of gender is not straightforward. The further back one goes, the fewer and more fragmented the traces of people’s lives become and the more complicated it is to interpret and understand them. We work from scraps to construct narratives that are messy, ragged and rarely twine together.
It’s a very thorough article, and well referenced. I especially appreciate the bits we mere biologists don’t know as much about.
Our current social organization, based around strict lines delineating gender, primary sex characteristics, and sexuality, is a relatively recent phenomenon. It emerged as part of European hegemonic colonialism and serves to enforce and maintain capitalist norms in the home and wider society (Monaghan 2015). An imposed and rigid gender binary regulates reproduction (a concern of nationalist states), breaks down Indigenous and non-European kin connections and families (perpetuating genocide), and positions the household as a site of capitalist surplus accumulation (through regulated social roles and relations of (re)production) (Morgensen 2010, 2012).
Indigenous studies and settler colonial studies critics such as Deborah Miranda (2010) and Scott Lauria Morgensen (2011) have documented the ways in which colonial governments engaged in violent projects of gender normalization targeting Indigenous individuals and communities. Daniel Justice (2010) draws on archaeological materials as resources for inspiring queer Cherokee worldviews, politics, and modes of belonging. Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate scholar Kim TallBear, in her academic writing (2018) and public scholarship (Wilber, Small-Rodriguez and Keene 2019), explores the way binary structures colonised bodies and beds, breaking and distorting traditional kin relations.
Such practices seem to have been a regular or even necessary force in sustaining European colonial violence across the globe. Religious strictures against ‘sodomy’ (which often glossed a range of non-heteronormative sex practices) were frequently used by European colonial and religious authorities to punish gender nonconforming individuals in Africa and South America. Epprecht notes that the British South African Company was particularly enthusiastic in prosecuting “homosexual crimes” during its first year of occupation of Zimbabwe, suggesting the commonplace nature of non-heteronormative relationships prior to Colonization, and “[indicating] a reflexive defense of patriarchal, heterosexual masculinity by the homophobic representatives of the colonial state” (Epprecht 1998: 217). British colonial sodomy laws, despite no longer being in place in the U.K., remain on the books in many colonised countries, and continue to drive state violence and acts of bigotry against queer and gender diverse people (Sanders 2009; Semugoma 2012).
That does explain why so many of the status quo warriors are vehement in their denial of the science.