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Deconstructing Binary Race and Sex Categories: A Comparison of the Multiracial and Transgendered Experience

27 Pages Posted: 18 Dec 2003  

Julie A. Greenberg

Thomas Jefferson School of Law


Millions of people are multiracial and cannot be classified as being of one distinct race. Similarly, millions of people are transgendered and cannot easily be categorized as either male or female. Racial classification systems have existed for centuries and have been the subject of extensive commentary and critique for decades. Sex and gender classification systems, on the other hand, just started to become the subject of litigation in the last half of the twentieth century and it is only during the last decade that sex classification systems have become the topic of extensive scholarly discussion.

Race and sex classification systems originally were based upon two assumptions: (1) race and sex are binary; and (2) race and sex can be biologically determined. Racial categorization has moved away from these two simplistic assumptions. Most scholars and legal institutions now agree that race cannot be defined by biological factors and that race has been socially constructed. Sex classification systems, on the other hand, are still primarily based on the assumptions that sex is binary, unambiguous, and can be biologically determined, despite scientific research that indicates that none of these assumptions is completely accurate.

An understanding of the issues that have arisen under a binary racial classification system may assist legal institutions and gender scholars and activists as they seek to understand and modify the current sex classification system. This article explores whether some of the major issues being discussed by race scholars engaged in the "multiracial" category debate should be considered by legal institutions and scholars as they analyze the effect of binary sex/gender classification systems on sexual minorities.

Keywords: transgender, intersexual, multiracial, binary, sexual minorities, sexual orientation, sex discrimination, race discrimination

Suggested Citation

Greenberg, Julie A., Deconstructing Binary Race and Sex Categories: A Comparison of the Multiracial and Transgendered Experience. San Diego Law Review, Vol. 39, p. 917, 2002. Available at SSRN: or

Julie A. Greenberg (Contact Author)

Thomas Jefferson School of Law ( email )

1155 Island Ave
San Diego, CA 92101
United States
619-961-4245 (Phone)

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