Let’s Talk Gender!
If you ask most people what they know about gender identity, they would likely tell you a whole bunch of different things, but usually, it involves the idea that a person of one identified sex is really the opposite sex. Although that isn’t too far off, gender is far more fluid and beautiful. And because I am a gender therapist and I love all of you out there in cyberspace, I am going to take the time to break down gender identity and the terms that accompany them. Because when we know better, we do better, right?
The Break Down
Gender is broken down into three categories: biological sex, gender identity, and gender expression. As I am sure you could’ve guessed, biological sex is determined by your genitalia at birth (stay tuned for an article on Intersex!), i.e. whether you were born with a vulva or penis. Pretty straightforward so far, right? When it comes to gender identity, this refers to the person you ARE regardless of whether it aligns with the genitalia you were given at birth. This is where people usually state that they’ve never felt like a man or woman and are uncomfortable in their own skin/body. Lastly, gender expression is the ways in which we express our gender (duh!). This is usually the way in which we express our masculinity and/or femininity with our outward appearance and/or behaviors. See! That wasn’t too difficult to understand! However, if you’ve like to learn more, head on over to The Safe Zone Project.
Gender Fluidity—What Does It Mean?
Gender fluidity is often where people become confused, as it isn’t as black and white as gender binaries (binary means that something consists of two parts, in this case, man or woman). When someone identifies as gender fluid it means that their gender is changing, i.e. they may not solely identify as either a man or a woman. Some days they may feel more connected to their man-ness and other days they may feel more connected to their woman-ness. Sometimes, their gender expression will align with that change, or maybe not. They make the rules. In regards to pronouns, someone who is gender fluid will likely use the pronouns they/them/there, which can be confusing to people who are not gender fluid or have never known someone who is. Using said pronouns could definitely take some getting used to. I mean, they go against the grammar rules we have been taught since elementary school. I would say, what matters most, is that you are trying and you are correcting yourself when* you make a mistake (because you will). I always say, if you can use the appropriate pronouns/gender for a pet, you can do it for a person!
The Pain of Misgendering
We all make mistakes. No one is perfect. But do me a solid and take a moment to imagine that almost everywhere you go someone refers to you using the pronouns of the wrong gender. Then add on top of that (if you can take a moment to empathize) all of the bigotry and hate that a non-binary or binary trans person experiences outside of misgendering. I think we can agree that it would feel frustrating, for some, and absolutely devastating for others. THIS is why it is so important to use correct pronouns. For me, if I am unsure as to which pronouns to use, I always use neutral ones (they/them/there). Why risk it?
There’s No Wrong Way to Gender:
At the end of the day, we are the captains of our own gender ship! WE know who we are and how we want to express ourselves. But because the human brain operates in a way that immediately puts incoming information into neat and tidy categories, it can feel confusing and uncomfortable to think outside of the boxes. I am here to tell you, however, that life isn’t neat and comfortable (sorry!). The majority of the things we will encounter in life are gray, not black or white. So when someone opens up and expresses who they really are—listen, believe it, and DON’T challenge it. This isn’t about rules; it’s about messy, beautiful human beings. In the world of gender, anything goes!