In the beginning, there was gender. We all were born into a world in which to be human is to be divided by gender, assigned roles based on gender, and taught to understand ourselves and our relationships with others in terms of gender. We inherited this world from our parents, who inherited it from their parents, and on and on, back to the dawn of humanness, when hominids began extrapolating the physical difference between male and female bodies into systems of meaning that go far beyond genitals, secondary sex characteristics, or reproductive functions.

Though the specifics of gender roles and expression vary widely, there is no culture that does not divide and define individuals, family relationships, and social roles in terms of gender. And though some cultures provide for what are often called “third genders,” even there, the vast majority of people are...

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