Opening Paragraph Criteria
This paper is directed to a non-academic audience who might come across the essay in a magazine or web site. This audience is most likely to actually read the essay if the opening paragraph grabs their attention and promises an interesting and enlightening discussion of a potentially confusing topic. An opener that sounds too academic or that makes them feel guilty for not already understanding gender issues will not likely invite them to read further. The opening paragraph of the essay does not necessarily need to present the thesis. That may come several paragraphs later, after the writer has eased readers into the topic. (In other words, the introduction as a whole may span multiple paragraphs.)
Sample Opening Paragraphs
(1) Picture yourself walking down the street and you see someone with short hair, a men’s business suit, large shoulders, but also has breasts. What would your reaction be? You would probably think, “what is it, a male or a female?’ Of course you would also stare, think about all the individuals’ characteristics, and try to pick a gender. You would do and think these things about that person because they do not fit into the gender binary. You also would not even realize that you were doing this. These actions are done almost unconsciously by everyone, because we have all been socialized by the gender binary.
(2) An out of body experience. I have had a couple of these in my life where I have felt disconnected from a situation, like I was a spectator to my own life. These instances, however odd, were always brief. But how would you like to have that experience your entire life, like there is a separation between the person you feel you are and the reflection in the mirror? With intersexual individuals, many of them deal with this problem for their entire life.
(3) Often times when talking about politics we look to the outside world. We listen to the opinions of pundits and view mass-produced images of bodies that communicate to us a message of how things should be. In this message is a clear dividing line between what it means to be female and what it means to be male. The female and male characters we know, both in our personal lives and those told through media, are familiar, iconic social roles. For the majority of us, we can relate to one of these two roles; we wake up in the morning with an unconscious certainty of what gender we know ourselves to be. However, not everyone wakes up with an undisputed certainty of their gender. Gender is an expression, it is something we do; but the expressions of gender available to us are limited and confined into two boxes—a binary. Binaries are curious relationships. They create an either/or understanding of the world: either you’re a man or you’re a woman. Those that fit the box in the ways that count meet little resistance from the outside world and in their own gender self-identifications. The ability to self-identify, for those that don’t fit into either box, is impeded by the images and language that control the gender binary.
(4) There are cats, and there are dogs. They are very similar, and yet at the same time they are very different. We can see a cat and say that is a cat, just as easily as we can see a dog and say this is a dog. There are no cat-dogs nor are there dog-cats, and in this way they are kept separate within our minds, the way we like for them to be. However, as far as behavior is concerned, there are cattish dogs and there most certainly are doggish cats. My sister’s cat for example laps from the toilet, and her dog enjoys the convenience of the litter box. These out of character acts have resulted in a toilet seat lock and a litter box lid to keep these undogly and uncatly behaviors at bay. However, this paper is not about house pets. It is about the way we classify the creatures, and individuals, around us and expect them to follow a certain code of behaviors society has allotted to them based on what they physically appear to be. It is about how we enforce their following of those behaviors even when they wish to act outside of them. This paper is about the gender binary.
(5) The most basic identity our society assigns individuals is sex. A person can either be male or female. This assignment is done at birth and through a strict “scientific” procedure. At birth, if the genital is less than 3/8 of an inch you’re a girl. If your genital is longer than an inch, then you’re a boy (Wilchins 80). There is no in between, you must be claimed male or female. For those children that fall in between the scientific guidelines for male or female (intersex), they are put through genital mutilation surgery and hormone treatment to conform to one of the two categories. This can have traumatic affects on children that are born in between or intersex. The gender binary excludes them from the moment they are born and tells them that they are unacceptable to be as they are; they are an anomaly that must be corrected. This exclusion, along with the forced and often inaccurate conformity can make that individual insecure in their identity, lose the chance to orgasm, and face endless discrimination in life.
(6) You probably know a hermaphrodite. Is this surprising? The average person meets well over two thousand people in their lifetime, and is familiar with at least fifty, through work, family, and other friends. Out of these two-thousand-some friends and acquaintances, chances are at least one is, biologically, somewhere between male and female. This person may be your next-door neighbor, a friendly co-worker, or maybe even a relative, and their sex does not make them a freak, but is simply one of the many shades of grey between male and female.
(7) At 21, Cheryl Chase decided to find out why her clitoris was removed when she was young without her knowledge or consent. While researching the hospitalization that occurred when she was 18 months, Cheryl came upon the truth. Printed on the hospital record was: “Diagnosis: true hermaphrodite. Operation: clitorectomy” (Chase 204). Cheryl’s realization of her past shakes her to her very core and leads her to seek out others with the same condition. It may be surprising to learn that 1 in 2,000 infants are born with anatomy that does not agree with our understanding of the female or male sex (Chase 208). In many cases, these infants undergo a surgery known as Intersex Genital Mutilation, or IGM. This surgery is meant to make their genitals appear more like a female or male organ. Well-intentioned doctors who perform IGM believe that it is the “solution“ to the “problem“ of intersexed genitalia and that the child will lead a more normal life. As Cheryl’s story demonstrates, often trying to “help“ intersex infants be more “normal“ actually causes them greater harm.
(8) When a woman is pregnant much of the anticipation revolves around the question “boy or girl?” People want to know what color to paint the room, clothes and toys to buy, and what names the parents are thinking about. But what if the baby is neither male nor female? Although hermaphrodism is “humanly possible” our society has constructed it as something “socially unthinkable” and unacceptable (Chase 207). A hermaphrodite is “the archaic medical term” for intersex and it means that a person is born with “unexpected genitals” (Wilchins 72). Intersexuality is thus a topic that has been swept under the rug and “fixed” through “reconstructive” surgery called infant genital mutilation (IGM. Medical professionals view this surgery as necessary for infants born with ambiguous genitals so that they can comfortably fit in one of two genders and grow up with a “normal” body image. Cheryl Chase’s story shows how IGM can eventually be more harmful to a person because of the implications it has on identity.
(9) Imagine your first child being born soon, you and your partner are so happy to have your own Jack or Jill. Because you love the element of surprise, you chose not to know the baby’s gender. You painted the nursery yellow, and the gifts you received for the baby are deemed as “unisex”. Once you or your partner goes into labor, you are so excited that in a few long hours, Jack or Jill will be in your life. You have told your partner many times before that you don’t care what the gender is as long as you have a happy and healthy baby with ten fingers and ten toes. The delivery is rough, but you hear an ear-piercing scream and you know your baby is born. All the pain that was just endured is relieved knowing that your new member of your family is in your life. But wait, there is something missing. The doctor does not exclaim, “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl” like how the movies portray. You ask yourself, if you have a little baby boy Jack or your sweet little girl, Jill. They clean off the baby and then the doctor lets you know that your child is intersex. You do not understand how it could be your child and you’re in disbelief. You have heard this term before, but do not know exactly what this means. The yellow color of the nursery and the “unisex” toys are now ironically appropriate.
(10) Our society is separated into an infinite amount of groups characterized by our identities, from our ethnicities to our gender. Unlike most identifying characteristics, like ethnicity, gender is culturally constructed based on our definitions of what is masculine and feminine. In “It’s Your Gender, Stupid,” Riki Wilchins says that gender is created through a set of meanings, and it is a role that we play on a daily basis as we create an identity for ourselves (Wilchins 23). From the way that an individual walks, argues or eats, their gender identity can be assumed and either be rendered acceptable or not. In this sense, gender can be thought of as a mode of behavior, as Wilchins writes that “gender refers not to something we are but to something we do, through extended repetition” (Wilchins 24). These normative gender roles have a tendency to be reinforced by our conduct and expectations of others, which prove to create a mostly exclusionary definition of what constitutes as masculine or feminine. The dissonance lies between what gender(s) you identify with and how you define your own identity within those contexts.