Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Labels and Dichotomies

Our society, mostly in the Western world, is split when it comes to gender. Many things are split into male and female; clothing, beauty products, bathrooms, health classes about puberty, etc. We have been surrounded and raised in a place and society that implies that the only choices are 'woman' and 'man' - and we are also assumed to act in a certain way based on how we are assigned at birth (again, as 'female' or 'male'). To name a few assumptions: men shouldn't wear makeup and women should, women should look a certain way regarding choice of clothing and body shape, men should be the main breadwinner in the home (yes, this is still a thing), women don't spit, men can catcall women on the street, women should cross their legs when they sit, and too many more to name. While I will not go into all of these examples, I will specifically address the idea that 'man' and 'woman' are not the only choices, and humans can do whatever the hell we want in regards to our expression and presentation.

First let's do a quick review on gender identity and presentation. In the most simple terms that I can think of, gender identity is how someone feels inside. They can gravitate toward male, female, somewhere in-between, or neither. Gender expression is the way in which someone presents themselves either using clothing, hairstyle, gait, and body language. Again, this is a spectrum with the farthest ends being masculine and feminine, and different folks would place themselves in all different places along this spectral line. That being said, this spectrum is based on gender norms that have been constructed by society. Such as the idea that women wear skirts and men do not. Slowly, we are redefining (or ideally deconstructing) these ideas of what men and women should wear or not wear, do or not do, etc.

Okay, before I start ranting too much, let's move onto the definitions that I wanted to go over in the first place!

Now one question that people usually have at this point (among many) is usually something along the lines of "What do you mean 'neither'? How can you be neither gender?" It's simple, I promise. Let's discuss a bit and hopefully you'll start to makes sense of it all.

With the assumption that gender in our society is binary (male or female), there are those who feel that they don't fit into either male or female. There are multiple ways to identify as outside of the binary, but we will only be discussing a few.

Agender: people who commonly do not have a gender and/or have a gender that they describe as neutral. Many agender people are trans. As a new and quickly-evolving term, it is best you ask how someone defines agender for themselves. (source) Can also be defined as a lack of gender.

Gender neutral: can be described as not feeling a pull towards any particular gender. Can either be used as a term to describe something like language (terms like firefighter and flight attendant), or in gender expression/presentation such as wearing clothing that does not societally fit into items that men or women specifically wear.

Androgyny is the combination of masculine and feminine characteristics. Usually used to describe characters or persons who have no specific gender, gender ambiguity may also be found in fashion, gender identity, sexual identity, or sexual lifestyle. In the case of gender identity, terms such as genderqueer, or gender neutral are more commonly used. (source - I don't usually like to use wiki but it works for keeping it general)

Nonbinary (Also Non-Binary): Preferred umbrella term for all genders other than female/male or woman/man, used as an adjective (e.g. Jesse is a nonbinary person). Not all nonbinary people identify as trans and not all trans people identify as nonbinary. Sometimes (and increasingly), nonbinary can be used to describe the aesthetic/presentation/expression of a cisgender or transgender person. (source)

Genderqueer: An identity commonly used by people who do not identify or express their gender within the gender binary. Those who identify as genderqueer may identify as neither male nor female, may see themselves as outside of or in between the binary gender boxes, or may simply feel restricted by gender labels. Many genderqueer people are cisgender and identify with it as an aesthetic. Not everyone who identifies as genderqueer identifies as trans or nonbinary. (source)

Gender Non-Conforming (GNC): Describes anyone whose appearance and behaviour does not reflect the gender roles expected of them. Many transgender people, especially those who identify as non-binary and/or genderqueer, are seen as gender non-conforming. However, this term can also be applied to those with a cisgender gender identity who do not fit societal stereotypes of that gender. (source)

Fun Fact! According to a new study out of UCLA, 27 Percent of California Teens Are Gender Nonconforming. Here is a great article discussing the study.

I hope you're not too overwhelmed at this point! Feel free to read over these a few times, and pay close attention to the different uses of the words 'identity' and 'expression'. These words are used specifically and intentionally.

I want to end on the note that we should be fighting the idea of gender stereotypes at any chance we can. At the end of the day, trying to define what someone should be like based on what they were assigned at birth, is harmful and limiting. People are people, and we all just want to be loved and accepted.

Thanks for checking in, everyone - until next time!