Before I offend everyone let me clarify that I mean no harm, I'm just ignorant. I never figured out what gender identity is since mostly only rainbow people talk about it and I always identified as myself and not as a gender. The first time I ever heard the concept of gender identity was back in 2017 and never managed to figure it out, too complex for my reptilian brain. I'm 23 and I only know about gender identity from YouTube, people in real life, at least in all the countries I lived so far (Italy, Greece, Romania and Hungary) they never mention things like gender identity.

So maybe the premise of this entire question is completely wrong due to my ignorance but googling around and doing some researching... I just get more confused than before.

So, in a world where males and females can do whatever the hell they want in society regardless of gender.

Gender is not a role but just a sex, gender means only what kind of junk you got in your pants not your role in society and how you are supposed to act, talk and think.

In this world people can identify each other easily from smell, you don't need to do anything to make your gender public, everyone will know just from smelling you at a distance.

So would people with gender identities still exist in such a world? Or would they instead develop a smell identity maybe even to the point of having transhodorous people masking their scent with perfumes?


As far as I understand it gender roles where adopted for different things but one of them is that even if the bone structures of men and women can differ, at the end they look really similar. Specifically when you have many populations of people without beards, teens, juvenile adults... And males with physical feminine features as well as females with masculine features.

What I'm referring too is more like a gender etiquette... Like boys cut their hair and girls wear skirts, side things society use so males who are not particularly masculine and females which don't look particularly feminine do not have to scream and announce their gender every time they meet someone new, everyone can guess everyone else's gender just by their mannerism and clothing.

Now, removing any gender role and gender ediquette, every time you see a woman who's not so curvy and looks like a feminine boy, you don't have to ask her gender, you just feel the scent.

Missgendering people can easily happen during mass gatherings where a lot of unknown people gather for festivities, rituals and political things.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Jun 6, 2021 at 5:39

3 Answers 3


Yes, broadly. If for no other reason than it is necessary to know one's biological sex in order to reproduce and keep the species going. The dwarves in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series are a good example. While dwarves are a monomorphic species and men and women have identical gender roles (a major subplot is about younger dwarfs rebelling against their parents' norms and experimenting with human-style gender roles), it is still well-known that males and females are not the same thing and that this matters with regards to the one area in which the two sexes are not identical: the game of dating.

As Pratchett states, dwarf dating mostly consists of very tactfully asking the other what they have under their skirt. Because in the case of the dwarfs genitals do matter when it comes to sexual orientation (most organisms tend towards heterosexuality due to natural selection and hormonal stimuli, if a species mostly wasn't driven to pair up with members of the opposite biological sex [excluding hermaphrodites like sea slugs] they wouldn't reproduce enough to survive), and they need to pair up with a member of the opposite biological sex in order to make offspring. This despite the fact that the closest any dwarf has ever gotten to differences in gender roles is rebellious female dwarfs using rhinestone-encrusted axes and grooming her beard differently.

A quote from the author himself on the topic...

“It wasn't that dwarfs weren't interested in sex. They saw the vital need for fresh dwarfs to leave their goods to and continue the mining work after they had gone. It was simply that they also saw no point in distinguishing between the sexes anywhere but in private. There was no such thing as a Dwarfish female pronoun or, once the children were on solids, any such thing as women's work.”

― Terry Pratchett, The Fifth Elephant

  • $\begingroup$ Example in the answer, is a good illystration of why the question is story based, and how to handwave things in ones stories. Terry is the best, lol. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Commented Jun 5, 2021 at 21:11
  • $\begingroup$ @Tortliena traditions do not exists on their own, they are result of (a list of a lot of a things), they are not given by deities, they are a result of a development, of a history of events. Here story based premise is a statement that dwarfes look the same, it part of a joke but at the same time it input data defined in story by author. Due history it could have been developed in many things, depending on actual details, but author does not have them and does need them and he ties all knots in a desired outcome, but it is okay because there is a set of details which leads to it naturally. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Commented Jun 5, 2021 at 21:22
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @MolbOrg I mean from a certain point of view everything in a story is story based. Worldbuilding is done to convey certain ideas and carry the plot, and there are many, many cases in which authors invent reasons to force species to evolve a certain way or societies to do things they normally wouldn't for the sake of a story. Tatooine isn't a desolate desert world because it has two suns or no ocean, it's a desolate desert world because George Lucas wanted his protagonist to come from humble beginnings in the middle of nowhere. Ultimately it's a question of Doylist versus Watsonian perspectives $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 5, 2021 at 21:59
  • $\begingroup$ In a sense yes, everything is a story. WB goal, in my understanding, is to help authors to build sciencific bridges between elements of a story(fantasy in roleplaying or scify.se, writing.se). It can be said that OP's premise, the butt sniffing society, is a starting point, and from it a bridge can be built, yes it can, but gap is big, and usually it called broad q's. Just to mention OP does not know which direction to build the bridge, he asks which direction it can be built, answer is in any. U say us in which direction u need it, and we will make it(no, because it too broad, but in theory). $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Commented Jun 5, 2021 at 23:07
  • $\begingroup$ @MolbOrg Worldbuilding or story-building is a matter of approach, IMO. Take for example character's choices. Most people here will tell you that it is definitely the story-building and 'whatever you want'. However, a well-constructed world does not tolerate 'whatever you want' and always imposes certain limitations. A character, who is a young master of a prominent clan in an ancient China setting, cannot suddenly abandon their family or refuse an arranged marriage. The world does not permit these choices. If the author needs this character to refuse such a marriage they have to have [cont] $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Commented Jun 6, 2021 at 5:28

One thing to realize is gender comes well before there's enough brain to waste it on things like "culture" or even "language".

In our biological world gender and gender roles are very common in almost all branches of the taxonomical tree.

The same holds true for individual deviation from the overall "mean behavior".

These "deviations" are much more frequent in "higher" branches, where we see a more widely used neural system and thus behavior is more and more determined by individual experiences and less "fixed" by "wired instincts".

Deviations too far from the "mean" tend to impair reproductive power and thus are "discouraged" by Natural Evolution; the more so in species threatened with extinction.

OTOH difference in specifics of gender roles are of infinite variety, also for species near the top (as we see it, insects would have different a view of the matter).

One quirk of "intelligent" species is they tend to culturally freeze some behaviors and thus equate "different" with "bad" (here is the seed of some of the problems with "gender", but not only, of course).

If you want to build a plausible world you need to keep into account the whole reproductive cycle, not just how different sexes recognize each other.

Fact we recognize women by certain sex attributes instead of scent is relatively unimportant; fact a mammal female takes a long time to make a child, she is "less fit" in that period, newborns are in need of parental care and similar factors have a much deeper impact and "culture" is shaped in a way that maximizes survival in a certain environment.

If you really want to build a culture with little or no "gender" differences you can have several possibilities:

  • have hermaphrodites.
  • invent some sex change mechanism (e.g.: born female, but switch sex on childbirth and then revert after some time).
  • shorten drastically childbearing (to the limit: just lay eggs) and have both parents to take care of newborn.
  • go the technological way: i.e.: have enough "social help" that there is no real difference between parents (to the limit: use "artificial womb" and "robotic nurseries" to cancel sex-specific tasks).
  • have long lived race where childbirtt is extremely rare and thus, while an "event", it does not really impact everyday life.
  • $\begingroup$ "shorten drastically childbearing and have both parents to take care of newborn" A lot of birds do this and yet have massive differences between sexes. Case in point many songbirds such as tanagers or red-winged blackbirds. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 5, 2021 at 22:03
  • $\begingroup$ @user2352714: true, but I was pointing to ways to make behavior non gender-oriented possible I never thought any of those would make gender-oriented behavior impossible; i.e.: these are conditions "necessary, but not sufficient". Given enough cultural push you can have gender-like behavior even with perfect hermaphrodites: they can chose what role to "play" and stick to it for life. $\endgroup$
    – ZioByte
    Commented Jun 5, 2021 at 22:19
  • $\begingroup$ You are confusing sex roles and gender roles. They are not the same. As far as we know, only humans have gender roles. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Commented Jun 6, 2021 at 5:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Otkin: it depends heavily on your definition of "gender roles"; I was using it in the broad definition of "behavior normally linked to a specific sex", regardless of "reasons" behind it; homosexual behavior (and also complete sex switch, in certain species) is well documented and much more frequent in crowded environments (does that ring any bell? ;) $\endgroup$
    – ZioByte
    Commented Jun 7, 2021 at 7:06
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    $\begingroup$ Gender and gender roles are by definition socially determined. This is precisely why scientists use different terms for gender and sex. Your view on gender roles is also inconsistent with the facts that cultures with non-binary gender systems existed throughout human history and that people with non-binary gender identities and biologically intersex (have atypical sex characteristics due to biological reasons) people do not necessarily overlap. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Commented Jun 7, 2021 at 19:09

Like many things it really comes down to only the author can really say what makes sense for their world's cultures. However, gender identity, for some people, is about more than just gender role - It can also be about the physical aspects of gender/sex, which in the example you provided, could definitely include scent, as well as any other physical differences that might exist between the genders.

So yes, it can exist. Whether or not it does or should exist is really a question only you can answer - What makes the most sense to your image of this world and culture?