The Genderbread Person: On The Use of Infographics to Explain Gender Identity

I always thought it would be cool if there was a cute graph or chart to helpfully indicate the differences between (and the different spectrums of) sex, sexuality and gender. The problem was I never liked any of them. At best, they were limited in their usefulness or oversimplified, at worst they reproduced incorrect or harmful ideas. I’ve come to accept that there’s never going to be a handy little chart that illustrates exactly how all of these things work and the ways in which they are or are not interconnected, this shit is just way too complicated for a cute little infographic. Breaking down the binary and deconstructing sexual dyadism* are way too messy and complex for tidy labels and tidy infographics, in fact its our addiction to symplifying complex and nuanced concepts that gets us stuck with these rigid, inaccurate systems of classification like the gender binary and sexual dyadism.

My first and most salient reason for taking issue with infographics like the genderbread person is that they always fail to illustrate that the dyadism of biological sex is a social construct. Granted, its not really the kind of thing you can explain with a graph or a chart, but that’s kind of my reasoning for not using them.

Also, genderqueer is frequently represented as the only non-binary identity and it is always illustrated as being between or consisting of a combination of male and female. I understand that a lot of people use genderqueer as an umbrella term, but a lot of people also use it as a singular gender identity, but my real issue here is that there is more than one non-binary identity and most of them are not made up of male and female or anywhere in between them, a concept these infographics consistently fail to illustrate correctly.

Another thing I take issue with is the representation of sexuality in these infographics. Every graph or chart I’ve seen so far uses attraction to men and attraction to women as opposite poles or as two “independant unidirectional linear continua” in the case of the updated genderbread person. What about people who are primarily attracted to non-binary gendered people? Which, contrary to what the infographics would have you believe, is not just a mash up of masculinity and femininity.

The spectrum-style charts also create a problem when they line up all of the woman/female/feminine poles on one end and all of the man/male/masculine poles on the other, implying that default alignment for an intersex person (or whatever identity is used to mark the middle of the first spectrum) would be something like “intersex/genderqueer/androgynous/bisexual”, which is ridiculous. The conflation of “neutral” and “androgynous” by using them interchangeably to mark the middle of a spectrum on which the two poles are male/female or man/woman is incorrect as well; neutral means “of no distinctive quality, characteristics, or type”, androgynous means “having both masculine and feminine characteristics” these are clearly not the same thing. Having a neutral gender or gender expression is not the same as having an androgynous one. “Androgynous” belongs between “masculine” and “feminine”, a truly neutral gender or gender expression is independent of all three and belongs on an independent axis.

In the end, if you really have to use one, the genderbread person v2.0 is the best one out there, as for me I’m content to continue hashing out the nitty gritty  details and intricacies the old fashioned way, with my words.

updated genderbread person

updated genderbread person

*see the Glossary page if you don’t know what this term means.

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3 thoughts on “The Genderbread Person: On The Use of Infographics to Explain Gender Identity

  1. I think the Genderbread 2.0 does a good enough job of dissecting the different dimensions. We have a long ways to go, true, but at the moment I don’t know of better terms to describe gendered aspects other than masculine/feminine (especially when it comes to explaining this to an unfamiliar audience). A similar issue arises with the term “non-binary” which itself is based on a binary (is it binary or not), yet I honestly haven’t found a word that spans the same meaning while encompassing the same breadth.

    Once more, this shows that part of the non-binary experience means finding something that is good enough, but never perfect 😦

    Reply
    • I guess my thing is that I’d rather give a complicated explanation of gender and sexuality, even and maybe especially to an unfamiliar audience, rather than an over-simplified one. I feel like if you start out editing and over-simplifying this stuff for people who’ve never heard about it before you’re giving them a poor foundation to start from, a foundation that they are going to use to inform their understanding and perspective about people like us. And people who have over-simplified ideas about queer and trans* people are usually really well meaning, but a lot of the time they make shitty assumptions about us and then operate based on those assumptions when interacting with us. I’d rather people have a solid foundation of information to start from so that they don’t have to unlearn or re-learn things that they think they know about trans* people and queer people later on.

      And I don’t feel like binaries in and of themselves are inherently wrong or bad. Some things are actually binary, gender and sexuality just aren’t two of those things. I’m not against the use of binaries as a means of categorizing things, I just don’t believe it to be an appropriate way to categorize gender. Also I don’t feel like the use of the term “non-binary” represents the existence of a binary between “binary/non-binary” because when we talk about gender both of those words are being used as umbrella terms, neither is treated as or assumed to be a singular, monolithic opposite to the other.

      Reply

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