The Future of Sex and Gender in Psychology: Five Challenges to the Gender Binary

Published in: American Psychologist. July 19, 2018. Authors: Janet Shibley Hyde, Rebecca S. Bigler, Daphna Joel, Charlotte Chucky Tate, and Sari M. van Anders.

“Over the past two decades, however, a confluence of forces has challenged psychology’s assumption of the gender binary. These forces range from the transgender activist movement… and the intersex activist movement… to research in neuroscience and psychological science. This article synthesizes research that challenges the gender binary from multiple perspectives, focusing especially on neuroscience, behavioral neuroendocrinology, research on gender similarities and differences, research on the experiences of transgender individuals, and the developmental psychology underlying the psychological process of categorizing by gender.”

“For centuries, the treatment of individuals seeking assistance for mental health problems has been shaped by physicians’ and therapists’ belief in the gender binary (Brabender & Mihura, 2016). Treatment practices that are rooted in the gender binary persist, but they are under increasing scrutiny…”

“In 2015, the APA issued guidelines for psychological practice with transgender and gender-nonconforming people (APA, 2015). The overarching goal is practices that are affirming for transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming individuals... For example, one of the guidelines asserts that gender is a nonbinary construct and another recognizes fluidity in gender identity over development.”

“The gender binary may have especially serious consequences for the diagnosis and treatment of individuals who seek assistance for mental health issues related to gender/sex. Belief in the gender binary dictates that children should be encouraged to develop identities that fall into one of the two gender/sex categories: male or female. The matter is a highly contentious one in the United States; the last 10 years have seen divisive, protracted debates over diagnoses such as gender identity disorder and gender dysphoria, and their treatment…”

“Following from the expansive view of gender/sex, everyone, including children, should be able to express their felt gender identity. Furthermore, this approach should apply to individuals, including children, whose identities and behavior combine elements traditionally associated with masculinity and femininity as well as those who completely reject gender/sex as an organizing self-construct. For this to occur, it is important to view all individuals as belonging to a common human group that varies in quantitative ways along various gender-related dimensions (rather than as dichotomous groups that vary qualitatively from each other) and to advocate for societal changes aimed at expanding our views of gender/sex, to make space for all identities, expressions, and behaviors.”