All right. Gender identity. Let’s rap.
So, there seems to be a lot of confusion out there about sex, gender, gender identity, etc., so I figured I would offer a quick primer for anyone in need of clarification. I’ll start out by saying that there’s a certain fluidity to all of this, and one person’s experience does not encompass all people’s experiences, and a general rule of thumb is just to take people at their word when they say they are this or that.
“I’m trans.” “Oh, okay, cool.”
“I’m non-binary.” “Oh, okay, cool.”
“My pronouns are “they/them.” “Oh, okay, cool.”
“I am a giraffe.” “I mean, you don’t look much like one, but you would probably know better than me, so okay, cool.”
See? Super easy.
But let’s get a little more in-depth here.
So, at some point in our illustrious history, it was decided that when it came to humans, there were only two boxes that could be checked. One was “male” and one was “female.” Which box you ticked depended solely on what body parts you had, and this was further expanded with the idea that said body parts also determined your interests, personality, mannerisms, and what kind of body wash scents you were allowed to enjoy.
-You are sTrOnG! You can do things like move furniture and open pickle jars.
-You like blue. You do not like pink. Pink is an insult to everything you stand for and should be spat upon on sight, unless it’s being worn by a woman, in which case you should probably not spit on her. (But if you do, it’s actually probably fine, because treating women terribly makes them love you! So yeah, go ahead and spit on her. Do it twice, maybe, just to be sure she gets the message.)
-You enjoy sports, unless it’s a bunch of women playing literally the same game with the same (or higher) level of skill, and then you think it’s stupid.
-You enjoy scents like “ALPINE PUNCH” and “WOLF’S BREATH” and “PINE TREE WITH GUNS.”
-You sit with your legs spread as far apart as possible, because it’s important that everyone see that the sheer enormity of your manly parts requires you to give them an expansive stretch of real estate in which to exist.
-You are soft, gentle, warm, motherly, sisterly, wifely, womanly.
-You enjoy pink and lace and flowers and cooking and babies and pretty, pretty things.
-You love to go shopping and wear makeup and giggle with other women about men and cooking and babies and those pretty, pretty, PRETTY, pretty things you like so much.
-The purpose of your life is to have babies and take care of men.
-PRETTY PRETTY PRETTY PRETTY PRETTY
Fortunately, we’re in the process these days of dismantling these ideas, but they’re pretty deeply rooted in both our minds and our culture. People want to be able to make that snap categorization of people they meet, and when you don’t fit into one category of the other, it makes some people deeply uncomfortable. It’s why so many people protested the idea of no longer separating “boy toys” and “girl toys” in toy stores (or at Target, I suppose, since toy stores are slowly going the way of Blockbuster and the dinosaurs), because then how would they know what to buy? They might have to actually get to know the child in question and find out their individual likes and dislikes instead of heading for the “pink” or “non-pink” aisle based solely on the gender of the child in question.
So. We have now established what the binary is – men are THIS, women are THAT – so now let’s talk about some of the people who fall outside of it. (For a more expansive look at gender identity, check out this great page at teentalk.ca.)
The first group we’ll talk about are trans people. Trans people find that their identity does not match the body parts they were born with. Some trans people choose to have surgery so their bodies more closely match the person they feel like inside, while some do not. Either way, trans men are men and trans women are women. If you’re not sure what pronoun to use, just ask.
Person A: Hey, what pronouns do you use?
Person B: He/Him.
Person A: Cool.
The second group of people we’ll talk about are non-binary people, people who exist outside of the gender binary. Being non-binary can mean a lot of different things, but essentially it means that the person you feel like inside doesn’t align with either of the two rigid categories of “male” or “female.” Or maybe you’re more gender-fluid, and sometimes you identify as a man while other times you identify as a woman.
Now, onto pronouns.
Non-binary people sometimes choose to use “they/them” as their pronouns, which goes against everything our long-suffering high school English teachers tried to teach us, but just go with it. Until our language evolves to keep up with our discoveries about the wide spectrum of gender identity, this is what we have to work with.
Other non-binary people use “he/him” or “she/her,” and others, like myself, have no idea what to use. Yes, confusion is indeed possible! Personally, I would be happy to be called “he/him” just because that part of myself is never formally acknowledged, but “she/her” is perfectly fine, as well. I’ve never really identified with “they/them” as a pronoun for myself personally, but many people do, and that’s completely fine and awesome.
So, yes, if you take nothing else away from this entry, take this:
Listen to what people tell you about their gender identity. You don’t have to understand it in order to respect it. Celebrities ask us to call them bizarre things all the time, and we do it.
Celebrity: I have decided that I would now like everyone to call me XYZ Corncob Aloysius Spaghettiface the Third.
Trans Person: Yeah, so could you call me “Susan” instead of “Michael”?
Everyone: WHAT THAT IS CRAZY
Now, I would also like to say that if you exist strictly within the gender binary, that is also completely fine. If you’re a woman who likes pretty things, great! If you’re a dude who just loves to smell like pine trees (hey, I do, too), awesome! But saying that everyone has to exist in that very limited sphere, that your body parts determine everything about who you are and what it’s appropriate for you to like… Well, that’s just silly.
Don’t be silly. Be cool.
Stay in school, kids.