Have you ever stopped and wondered: why do I identify as a ‘boy’ or a ‘girl’? What do these two words even mean? To what extent does our environment define what being a boy or a girl means? Celebrities like Demi Lovato have recently come out as gender-fluid, which has shone alight on how antiquated our perception of sex and gender is. Most of us have heard heated debates about respecting people’s preferred pronouns; however, in order to enter into that discussion, one must understand what is gender identity, what is gender expression, and how society’s understanding of them has developed.
Since the beginning of time, we considered there to be only 2 genders: boy or girl. Nothing else. However, the truth is that there are more than 2 “options”, hence, gender fluidity. Gender fluidity is the occurrence of a change over time in a person’s gender identity (what gender they identify), and/or with their gender expression. Cisgender, on the other hand, would be someone who identifies with the sex they were designated on their birth certificate. People continue to argue that one’s genital organ (i.e. your sex) defines one’s gender, but the truth is, like most things in life, gender is a social construct. Who decided that women have to have long hair, wear makeup, wear dresses, and high heels, while men traditionally have shorter hair and wear pants and t-shirts? The roles and displays that we assign to being feminine and masculine come from centuries of societal constructions which oftentimes trap people into boxes, which in some cases they don’t identify with. It might not be one’s choice whether they’re born with a penis or a vagina, but it definitely is their choice to decide how they’re going to express their identity, and to decide what that identity is. Why does being born with one or the other has to mean that we should behave a certain way? In other words, if gender is a social construct, we can reconstruct it to allow people to be free and not have to be labeled into categories with which they don’t identify with.
It is pretty much impossible to talk about gender and not address the issue of pronouns. They’re a part of gender expression, and although much of our language is gendered into ‘he’s’ and ‘she’s’, many people realize that they’d rather be addressed as ‘they’ so as not to be trapped into the binary boxes of man or woman.
Considering that gender is a spectrum, there are also people who identify with a different gender than what they were assigned at birth – trans people. This is especially where some people claim to be “confused”, because they’re asked to call someone a “he” when that person looks like what our previous social construct would think of as a “she”, for example. Now, the most important issue to address is that being ‘confused’ is no reason to disrespect another human being; the fact that you might not understand someone’s identity doesn’t give you the right to go against their wishes and life choices. Additionally, changes in languages are common; we’re all used to hearing new slang and newly adopted words every couple of months and adding them to our diction. Therefore, it’s not that hard to start using “they” as a singular pronoun, or to simply switch from “he” to “she” when asked to. It’s a minor effort for those using the words, yet it has a far-reaching impact on the recipient, the impact of feeling accepted and respected as a valuable individual in the community. Most importantly, the easiest solution to being ‘confused’ is getting informed. If you don’t quite understand gender fluidity and all its intricacies, research about it, read the literature on it, and talk to non-binary people. Rejecting something because it seems strange or complicated is the first step towards prejudice.
For every aspect of life, the newest generation has been realizing that reality is not black and white, and thus labeling people benefits no one. Gender fluidity has been around for as long as the construct of gender has existed. The difference is that we now acknowledge that this binary construct we’ve created is not inclusive. Thus, we must adapt our definitions and develop our understanding to ensure that people feel safe in their own skin, regardless of who they identify as.
There is a long tradition of third gender and non-binary-ness in indigenous communities around the world!!