|“||[W]e’re going to tackle [gender]. No, we're going to tackle the balls out of it.||”|
The genderbread person as a concept in and of itself is unavoidably a normative conception of gender and thus is inherently problematic. This is because creating norms for gender brings about gender policing, cisnormativity, and other baggage. The text often found accompanying the genderbread person, as well as the images themselves, one way or another uphold the gender binary, neurosexism, heteronormativity, cisnormativity and even normative male hypersexuality.
The version(s) of this gender infographic predominantly discussed here are drawn and promulgated by a cishet white able-bodied man and self-professed social justice ally: Sam Killermann. Despite the fact he is not the original creator of this concept he has been the one who made it popular on social media, and vice versa. Due to this, Killermann has been accused of plagiarism.
- 1 History
- 2 Version 1.0
- 3 Version 2.0
- 4 Version 3.x
- 5 Plagiarism
- 6 Counter-criticism
- 7 Radical feminism
- 8 See also
- 9 External links
- 10 References
The core argument
The idea of dissociating between so-called gender and so-called sex is an old one. This sort of rhetoric has been around in some form or another as long as the gender binary itself. This is because it stems from the normative categorisation of humans into two (or more) genders: cisnormativity. In other words, from the moment a norm exists that says "all men have penises" and "all women have vaginas" exceptions will inevitably arise, not least because genitals (i.e., human biology) does not conform to such simplistic dyadism. This in turn causes those who subscribe to binarism and cissexism to spiral into cognitive dissonance trying to categorise people who fall outside their notion of what gender a person must be, making them think: "Look, we understand that X has [genitals] but they must be [binary gender]-like because they look like a [binary gender], but X can't be a [binary gender] because they have [genitals], but they have [genitals] and they look like a [binary gender], so maybe they are a [binary gender], but they have [genitals], etc." (where [genitals] and [binary gender] can be any genital configuration and any binary gender-aligned gender presentation).
To break free from the cycle of attempting to reconcile the flawed gender binary: with the many spectra of human gender identity and gender presentation; and with the many spectra of human genitals; the idea of an equally misplaced dissociation between "gender" of genitals (i.e., male versus female) and gender identity is created. This is highly problematic for two reasons:
- Gender is something a person has or is; it is a self-concept. Inanimate objects and body parts do not have gender. In the same way an ear or a knee do not have gender, genitals do not have gender. Gendering (i.e., describing using gender-related words) things that are not individuals is (cis)sexist. So labeling genitals as "male" or "female", often using the phrase "biological sex", is applying gender to things that are unable to have a gender, as well as erasing the existence of intersex people completely.
- Gendering genitals as male/female erases people's body and identity autonomy. So in addition to the fact that genitals cannot posses self-concepts, defining them as essentially gendered is also problematic. For example, accepting "penis is male" means that if a trans woman or trans feminine person has a penis it will labelled as essentially male. But this is impossible because the person in question is not a man. Their penis cannot have an identity they themselves do not possess.
In short, genderbread person-style arguments correctly explain that the type of a genitals a person has cannot tell us what gender they are. But such rhetoric completely fails at explaining the reverse, i.e., that cisnormativity cannot be used to label genitals as male or female. There is no such thing as male and female genitals. If gender must be used to describe bodies and genitals, the only sensible way of doing so is to use the gender of the owner, e.g., a genderqueer person's genitals are genderqueer, a woman's genitals are female, an agender person's genitals are agender, a bigender person's genitals are bigender, and so on.
The image of the genderbread person, which is firmly grounded on the argument explained above, has been around since at least 2005. It is in part because these types of infographics have existed before Sam Killermann's version that he has been accused of plagiarism.
Many versions not by Killermann exist and many are misguided. Some are more useful than others, although all form normative and static descriptions of one's identity. In other words, such diagrams form a should not an is, and inevitably allow for policing and pressure to be put on individuals to conform to certain categorisations.
The first version appeared in 2011 in a post titled Breaking through the binary: Gender explained using continuums. On it's own it might stand as a historical depiction of the way some people, including trans people, described gender in 2011. However, that would be unfair to the many concerned and sceptical voices which spoke out against this reductionist conception of gender. So even in 2011 criticism of the genderbread person existed within third wave/trans feminist and queer communities.
Issues with the first version of the infographic:
- The trans symbol is on the crotch.
- The trans symbol is labelled sex.
- The brain has a "gender identity".
- Every gender-related aspect of identity exists as a function of the gender binary. This further reifies its perceived usefulness.
- Bisexuality, a type of polysexuality, is conceptualised as between heterosexual and homosexual orientations. This is inherently heteronormative and erases polysexual people's orientations, e.g., pansexual people, delegating to them to just "somewhere between straight and gay", completely ignoring how monosexual privilege manifests.
- The body shape of the genderbread person is inline with Western cultural depictions of men, resulting in androcentricism. The genderbread person does not look particularly inclusive when viewed through the lense of male-centric depictions of the human form. It in fact looks almost identical, albeit in a slightly different posture, to the male symbol used on gendered bathrooms.
- Gender expression is presented as a clothing choice devoid of context and psychological value and without mention of behaviour and or body-language.
- "Biological sex" and "gender identity" are dissociated. This directly implies that a trans woman who has a penis will be described using degendering language. Thus creating a space where phrases such as "her sex is male" and/or "vagina is female" are permissible.
- Romantic orientation and the greysexual spectrum are missing, as well as other components of a person's gender and orientation.
"Breaking Through the Binary"
Despite the title of his article that accompanies the first version of the genderbread person, Killermann doesn't actually break through the binary at all, unless it is redefined to mean "use it as much as possible to further your points about men, women, and gender". The main issues with the text accompanying the first genderbread person will be touched on in this section:
|It has been accepted that we form our gender identities around the age of three, and after that age it is incredibly difficult to change them.|
This is very a troubling assertion. Apart from the fact that no reference is provided, the fact that many people's lived experiences contradict this should give one pause for thought. Many people's (understanding of their) gender is constantly being formed and reformed, along with their identity in general, as part of their life and their experiences. Even cisgender people's gender are not constant, let alone those who might be gender fluid or bigender. Simply put, gender is not constant, identity is not constant, and nobody is obliged to lead a life where their character, personality, and mannerisms remain unchanged. This does not mean that trans children do not exist, of course they do, but it is too simplistic, and close to gatekeeping (like done by truscum/Harry Benjamin syndrome supporters) to assume that all trans people identify with a constant fixed gender by a certain age. Some people's gender is always in flux.
|You wake up and you’re wearing baggy grey sweatpants and a tshirt. As you walk into your kitchen to prepare breakfast, you’re expressing an adrogynous[sic]-to-slightly-masculine gender. However, you see your partner in the kitchen and you prowl in like Halle Berry from Catwoman, then you are expressing much more femininely, so now you’re back on the left half of the continuum. You pour a bowl of cereal, wrap your fist around a spoon like a viking, and start shoveling Fruit Loops into your face, and all-of-a-sudden you’re sliding back onto the right side of the continuum. After breakfast, you skip back into your bedroom and playfully place varying outfits in front of you, pleading your partner help you decide what to wear. You’re feminine again.|
In the extract above KIllermann codes "baggy grey sweatpants and a tshirt" as inherently masculine and "pleading your partner help you decide what to wear" as inherently feminine. This indicates that he sees gender only as a social construct and pays no respect to the fact that a person can act, talk, and dress any way they like and nonetheless take umbrage at being described as, e.g., "masculine" if they are in fact a non-binary trans woman, or an agender person, and so on.
|Being female means having a vagina, ovaries, two X chromosomes, predominant estrogen, and you can grow a baby in your stomach area.|
No. Trans women are female. Women with X0 chromosomes are female. Women with androgen insensitivity disorder, i.e., with XY chromosomes, are female. Not just cis women. All women are female. If female is used to describe a vagina, uterus, and so on, KIllermann is essentially allowing all trans people who have been assigned female at birth to have a part of their body degendered.
|Being male means having testes, a penis, an XY chromosome configuration, predominant testosterone, and you can put a baby in a female’s stomach area.|
No. Again this enforces the view that penis is inherently male. Also KIllermann seems to be under the impression that people with penises put babies in stomachs. While perhaps amusing to entertain as an idea, homunculi have been debunked centuries ago. Sperm is not "babies".
|most of us are a little bi-|
This is a classic example of bisexual erasure.
Perhaps most disappointingly of all, Killermann defines cisgender as:
|when your biological sex aligns with how you identify|
This is not what cis means. Cis means one identifies with the gender they were assigned and coerced into. It is a direct result of cisnormativity, patriarchy, and kyriarchy more broadly, but it has nothing to do with "biological sex organs" per se. A trans person might have a vagina and still identify with being a woman, i.e., they are a non-binary woman, or they have had gender reassignment surgery. Assigning gender at birth is the reason cis and trans people exist, a system of designating people's genders at birth and policing their identity throughout their lives is at fault, not genitals.
Sam Killermann finishes explaining the genderbread person by stating that "this [is a] super-complex, super-hard-to-swallow subject". While we do not necessarily disagree, gender itself is actually simple: it is a self-identity and a social construct. It is an identity a person both decides for themselves and has decided for them by society. It is this negotiation between individual-level identity and social-level construct that is difficult and not the concept of gender in and of itself.
In Killermann's Everyday Feminism article he claims:
|Gender is a tough subject to tackle. There are a lot of facets to consider, a lot of pressures at play, and we have all been conditioned in such a way that our first instinct is almost unanimously wrong.|
This 2.0 version of the genderbread person makes some not-so-fundamental changes to how it depicts gender (which it continues to split into gender identity and biological sex), gender expression, and sexual orientation. It introduces the option in all four of it's axes of a person's identity of not having a certain property. For example, it allows attraction to neither "Men/Males/Masculinity" nor to "Women/Females/Femininity", which is calls "Nobody"; it allows a "Biological Sex" that is neither "Female-ness" nor "Male-ness", which it classes as "Asex"; a "Gender Expression" that in neither "Masculine" nor "Feminine", which it labels "Agender"; and a "Gender Identity" that is neither "Woman-ness" nor "Man-ness", but "Nongendered". The main problem with these labels is that they are completely at odds with how people who are, e.g., gynephilic or agender or androgynous or asexual and so on, describe themselves. This is an extremely important point.
Like a bad ally, KIllermann, decided to take the matter of describing oppressed people, in this case marginalized orientations, genders and intersex (MOGAI), away from them. MOGAI people already have words for describing themselves. This did not seem important to KIllermann; he speaks over them, indirectly silencing and erasing their voices and disregarding their self-determination.
In must also be noted that KIllermann does not understand sexual orientation enough to depict it using his genderbread person version 2.0 infographic. This is evident from the inclusion of "gay" and "straight" settings on the so-called "independent unidirectional linear continua model". Homosexuality and heterosexuality are not independent from gender. A heterosexual person is a person who is on one end of the gender binary, e.g., a woman, and is attracted to people on the other end, e.g., a man. Gender and homo/heterosexuality is inherently interdependant as they are defined. This is exactly why the terms gynephilia and androphilia were created. Unfortunately, Killermann did not include these more useful terms in his work.
Because of the lack of major changes to the infographic itself, roughly the same criticisms apply to the second version as they do to the first genderbread person:
- The trans symbol is still on the crotch.
- The trans symbol is still labelled sex.
- The brain still has a "gender identity".
- Every gender-related aspect of identity still exists as a function of the gender binary, despite the fact that he thinks he has addresssed this by creating two spectra.
- Bisexuality and pansexuality are conceptualised as a setting on the two "Attracted to" spectra, remaining a function of monosexuality.
- The body shape of the genderbread person is still inline with Western cultural depictions of men, resulting in androcentricism. The genderbread person does not look particularly inclusive when viewed through the lense of male-centric depictions of the human form. It in fact looks almost identical, albeit in a slightly different posture, to the male symbol used on gendered bathrooms.
- Gender expression is still presented as a clothing choice devoid of context and psychological value and without mention of behaviour and or body-language.
- "Biological sex" and "gender identity" remain dissociated. This directly implies that a trans woman who has a penis will be described using degendering language. Here he even directly implies degendering trans people is permissible by using the phrases "female self ID" and "male self ID". "Female self ID" is usually what precedes "but male sex". This is the type of "penis = male" argument that characterises transmisogyny.
- Romantic orientation and the greysexual spectrum are still missing, as well as other components of a person's gender and orientation.
"Breaking through the binary [AGAIN!]"
The 2.0 version of Killermann's inforgraphic as it appears in his Everyday Feminism article, comes with text very similar (identical in places) to the text included with the previous version of the genderbread person. Because of this the criticism is the same as above.
Newer and updated versions of the genderbread person exist both online and in the book The Social Justice Advocate's Handbook: A Guide to Gender by Killermann. These are still almost identical to the old ones and heavily normative.
|The book is not just about the trans* or transgender understanding of gender, though that is certainly a component. It's about gender itself, all-encompassingly, from a socially just and non-binary slant. The book is broken up into four sections: Basic Training (introduction to core social justice concepts), Breaking Through the Binary (an in-depth exploration of gender diversity), Feminism & Gender Equity (a reconciliation of the main gender equity movement and the teachings of the book), and Social Justice Competence for Working Toward Gender Equity (practical, concrete how-to-type chapters surrounding gender issues and social justice interventions).|
A very strange aspect of the newer versions is that they were not easily accessible on his website. Killermann had for a while only publicly shared them on his Twitter and Facebook accounts; Version 3.0, 3.1, 3.3, and possibly 3.4 can be found on his social media profiles after some digging.
Killerman has since uploaded two 3.x versions onto his website, namely version 3.2 and 3.3.. On Killerman's website post for version 3, he says:
|Separating romantic and sexual attraction is a more accurate way of describing some of the ways we all experience attraction (or don’t), and it’s also an effort to make the graphic more inclusive of asexual folks.|
Presumably he forgot to mention aromantic people too. He also adds:
|Labels have always been one of the toughest parts of of the genderbread person, because in my versions I’m trying to simultaneously reinforce folks current understandings (or former, or problematic) of gender, while expanding and building upon their understanding, enhancing it, and making it a more honest depiction of the ways we all actually experience gender. Using the language that reinforces problematic and limiting understandings of gender as a means to expand understanding feels a lot like using the master’s tools to deconstruct the master’s house, and in this version I’m trying to get away from as much language as possible.|
This seems to imply that reinforcing current problematic understanding of gender is compatible with "more honest depiction". In addirion, it is a classic example of condesplaining as well as gatekeeping since he is presenting gender as something he knows the "truth" about while everybody else is ignorant.
Either way, his genderbread person is still misgendering trans people; for example, just as before trans women will be labelled as having so-called "male-ness" in terms of their biological sex. In short, the newest version of this graphical depiction of gender continues to be highly: condesplaining, normative, erasive, essentialist, and ultimately confusing. None of the issues of previous versions can ever be addressed by redrawing or adding new spectra because pictorially depicting a self-identity by pointing at body parts is not possible.
|It’s still totally uncopyrighted and yours to use however you’d like. No need to ask for permission.
It’s still based on the deconstruction of gender into identity, expression, and sex, building on my second and first versions of the genderbread person, which are my spin on the model that’s been around for a couple decades, which was based on the work of feminists from the past century.
The most appropriate thing here would have been for him to include references to these feminists' work, or at least name them clearly and respectfully.
|“||[Killermann] has thrown a bunch of intellectual property stamps on [the genderbread person], and has even included it in a book he made. (Though you can get the book for free. But he has still made money off of all this.)||”|
The genderbread person, as presented on Killermann's website: It's Pronounced Metrosexual, has been plagiarised. Killermann has passed off (perhaps inadvertently) another's work as his own, given how he has marketed the genderbread person on his website. This means that regardless of the license of the original work, Killermann has nonetheless appropriated (if not outright stolen) ideas from Cristina González, Vanessa Prell, Jack Rivas, Jarrod Schwartz, and others.
The backstory provided by Killermann, only after being called out, is:
|I was first introduced to the Genderbread Person through Tumblr, a fun, and sometimes informative, microblogging platform. Then I saw another version (pictured right) somewhere else on the web. There are also a few other versions floating around, but they all have their issues. I wanted to create a new and improved Genderbread Person, so I did.|
While the passing off of a whole community's way of describing itself as predominantly his work and something he has improved is undebatably a form of appropriation, he also asks for money from his readers. He mentions donations often and in a jocular way throughout his writing, e.g.:
|By the end of this post it’ll all make sense or you can have your money back. And if you never gave me money, give me money.|
He does claim to be failing to make a profit, even though he collected donations of around $8,000, from this as well as now claiming all his work is now released into the public domain. Nonetheless, this is a story of appropriation. Regardless of his intentions, he has used the collective work of the trans, feminist, and queer communities over the past few years to further his own career. Intent is not relevant to the ultimate outcome of erasure and appropriation, a concept he seems to understand in the abstract. 
But aren't there spectra within identities?
Yes. There are. Our objection is that presenting gender as the set of the genderbread person spectra is inherently normative. Of course there are many ways of measuring and describing gender, as opposed to normatively constraining gender. Think of the many ways one can measure contentedness in a person, e.g., asking them to self-report levels of happiness, measuring their hormones, looking at their stress levels, measuring how long or how often they laugh in a given time frame, and so on. None of the ways given to measure contentedness are contentedness, but a part of measuring it nonetheless. None of the ways given to describe contentedness prescribe contentedness. For gender, orientation, and sexuality, we can also quantify aspects of it using linguistic labels but these labels are by no means all there is to these parts of people's characters.
Some variables that are appropriate to discussing gender, sexuality, and orientation are:
- Polysexual/monosexual/asexual, ternary,[wp] i.e., one can be attracted to a single gender or more than one or none.
- Transgender/cisgender binary, i.e., one can identify with the gender assigned to one at birth or not.
- Non-binary/binary gender binary, i.e., one can identify with a binary gender or not.
- Asexual/sexual spectra aka greysexuality and demisexuality, i.e., one can express sexual attraction to various degrees or not.
- Aromantic/romantic spectra aka greyromanticism and demiromanticism, i.e., one can experience romantic attraction to various or not.
- Gender presentation spectrum/spectra, i.e., one can dress any way one likes, but society might try to describe one or one's clothing, behaviour and mannerisms using gendered language or with reference to the gender binary, e.g., femme.
Why are you attacking an ally?
Firstly, this is not an attack on an ally, ad hominem or otherwise. It is an attack on an idea; an ideology that is the vestiges of the gender binary within transgender rhetoric, within gender understanding, and within activist communities in general. The idea that gender can be divided into three essentialist parts, gendered presentation, gendered brain, and gendered genitals, to form a "gendered whole" is toxic. It is quintessentially cisnormativity. It is exactly what a trans activist must fight against to remove the barriers for individuals to identify with any gender or no gender and to cease the practise of assigning gender to humans, their body parts, and inanimate objects.
Secondly, allies are sadly renowned for making extremely misplaced privileged-based statements that harm in some way intersectionally marginalised and oppressed people. Killermann makes extremely problematic and disappointing statements for an ally, e.g., cancer jokes and whitesplaining:
|Do you think happening to be born White and man makes someone exclusively capable of effective big time decision-making, inventing important stuff, running this country and the Western world, and all around telling everyone else what to do? Well, I don’t. There’s a really good chance I’m going to develop cancer someday (everyone’s doing it — it’s the latest rage). I want everyone working on fixing that. Now. Before it pops up on my MRI scan and I find myself regretting sleeping with my cell phone on my chest so the alarm is sure to wake me up in the morning. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying White men are inept, I’m just saying I want to improve my odds as much as I can. That’s why I’m a social justice advocate.|
There is a certain ideological similarity to the radical feminist/trans-exclusionary radical feminist and truscum descriptions of gender within these images. This has been picked up on by subscribers to these ideologies:
|Gendertrenders make little genderbread men that explain sex =/= gender.
You literally are denying your own politics because someone you dislike agrees with you.
- The Genderbread Plagiarist, by cisnormativity
- The Genderbread Person Redux – When Activism Gets Problematic, by Stacey Goguen
- It’s Time For People to Stop Using the Social Construct of “Biological Sex” to Defend Their Transmisogyny, by Mey
- Breaking Through the Binary: Gender Explained Using Continuums, by Sam Killermann
- "Always ask yourself . . . ‘Will this configuration create a gendered space?'", by Ann Althouse
- Yet another reason not to give money to Sam Killermann, by Deconstructing Transphobia on Tumblr
- The Genderbread Plagiarist, by cisnormativity
- The Genderbread Person Redux – When Activism Gets Problematic, by Stacey Goguen
- Stop gendering genitals!, by Sophie Labelle
- Sex, Gender, and How the Heck I Fit into it All!, by Tobi-Dawne]
- The genderbread person: a history, by whatdoesenbymean on Tumblr
- Gingerbread Person, on Tumblr
- Genderbread person, by Mitchell Lazear
- Does anyone know who created the Genderbread Person?, on Tumblr
- Human Sexuality is Complicated..., by vlogbrothers on YouTube
- the genderbread person a history, on Tumblr
- Trans Student Educational Resources
- A Theory of Sexual Attraction: Part 1, by Chris Damian
- Breaking through the binary: Gender explained using continuums, by Sam Killermann
- It’s Time For People to Stop Using the Social Construct of “Biological Sex” to Defend Their Transmisogyny, by Mey
- http://itspronouncedmetrosexual.com/2012/03/the-genderbread-person-v2-0/ The Genderbread Person v2.0], by Sam Killermann
- The Social Justice Advocate's Handbook: A Guide to Gender, by Sam Killermann
- Version 3.0
- Version 3.1
- Version 3.3, on Facebook
- Tweets between SJWiki and Killermann on the current version of the inforgraphic
- The Genderbread Person v3, by Sam Killerman
- Social Justice Advocate's Handbook: A Guide to Gender, On Indiegogo
- Why your intentions don’t really matter, but outcomes do, by Sam KIllermann
- Alien Contact - A Comic on Gender Roles
- Tweet by Killermann explaining white privilege
- My Reasons for being an Ally (AKA Social Justice Advocate), by Sam Killermann
- Rad&Broke, on Tumblr