The priests whose views come to us in Genesis 1 believed that God had made humans male and female. This belief laid the foundation for a binary understanding of human sex. Now we have people who claim other genders and orientations. We have people who explicitly say that they are non-binary.
Underlying this non-binary view is the notion that masculinity and femininity are socially constructed. Anatomy and hormones are less important than social conditioning.
There is something to this idea. I have often found myself in the waiting room while my wife has undergone some medical procedure. My job is to watch her stuff. This includes her purse. If I need to leave the waiting room for any reason I have to take her purse with me. I have an aversion to doing this. I cover my embarrassment by making a joke about how I know it doesn’t match my outfit.
Now there is no biological reason for either the male aversion to purses or the female propensity to accessorize. These are indeed socially constructed.
Also modern life does not require the same kind of division of labor that once made sense. The male advantage in upper body strength is unimportant for tasks like driving a car or typing on a keyboard. Infant formula means it has not been true, even for my father’s generation, that men can’t feed the baby. Family planning means that women’s lives no longer have to be so consumed by child rearing. Moreover, men can sometimes lighten up on the provider role.
Still there is one huge binary factor. Men cannot bear children. Men who want a family absolutely need women. I read somewhere that the word man–in Old French or something like that–has links to the word barren. I haven’t been able to confirm that. But men are, in fact, barren. We have no ability to give life by ourselves. This is not socially constructed. That comes out in this hilarious scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian.
I once lived in a town where a major industry was chicken hatcheries. A highly prized skill in that business was the ability to rapidly sort chicks into future roosters and future hens. It is not easy to tell with chicks. People who had this skill were called chicken sexers. I always laughed at the idea that if someone asked you what you did for a living, you would proudly say, “I am a chicken sexer.”
As binary as that was, it served an important practical purpose. And, as long as reproduction and child rearing remain a key part of human life, the sexual binary for us will also still have an important practical purpose. This does not mean we cannot have empathy for people who do not find masculinity and femininity so clear cut.