mein deutschkurs hat gestern begann. die erste abend war nicht schwer, ich wußte schon alles. "ich heiße helen und ich komme aus neuseeland. woher kommen sie?" we spent the evening introducing ourselves to each other, & then introducing each other to the group. at this point, die lehrerin began to hammer home the importance of gender in deutsch. not only der, die, das but also sie und er; if a student used the wrong personal pronoun in introducing their partner, die lehrerin laughed gaily (she did a lot of gay laughing) & exclaimed, "aber sie ist ein frau!" oder "er ist ein mann!". of course in english we also specify "he" or "she", but if we don't know someone's gender we can say "they". it seems that in deutsch there is no similar word - gender is binary & that's it. if you don't know the gender then you use "er" - he. male is the default. bit of a bummer if you're a transitioning transgendered person or of ambiguous gender.
however, i have accepted that i must simply learn der, die, das for all the nouns. it would be easier if i was learning serbian, zum beispiel, where they don't worry about the article at all. "das bier" is simply "pivo". but i'm learning deutsch & must embrace all of it!
Yes, you're right. Gernder in formal German is binary, plus a neutral form, which is not neutral, but is used for things (like das Schiff), except if the things do have a gender themself (like der Hammer or die Nadel). The concept of fuzzy gender is unknown to most Germans, especially teachers. For them everything has to be exact and there has to be a law about it. You could see this most clearly, when German teachers changed the way there students had to write from one day to another, when the "Rechtschreibreform" was put into action a few years ago.