The other day overhearing a group of people expressing their exasperation with gender fluidity and its ever-evolving titles/definitions of gender I heard one person in particular state “how am I supposed to know? I don’t want to be rude but I also just can’t keep track” I completely understood their lamentation because I have thought the very same thing. My gender identity is binary and while I don't assume that everyone that looks like to me as identifying as he/she is I also struggle with knowing exactly how to navigate gender identity and avoid stumbling over incorrect pronouns and apologies.
Gender Identity is becoming a hot topic of conversation and with more and more people making a point of identifying as non-binary its brought up a lot of questions about what gender is? How it developed and what role society plays in forcing roles and genders into only a binary format. But the format is changing, people and corporations are questioning the ways that products and clothing are marketed to children and their parents for example debates over using blue for boys pink for girls or having separate aisles which are seen as limiting children to only choose to identify between two options. I’m also seeing more clothing companies that are marketing towards non-binary individuals and making traditionally male clothes to better fit a female build and vice versa.
We are on the cusp of a new gender reality and to better understand this new and expanding frontier its nice to know what is gender exactly. According to genderspectrum.org gender is made up of these three aspects. Body, Identity and Expression. Your body is your physical self it includes the way you and others interact with your physical body, identity is your deep inner sense of self- how you feel inside separate from your physical body, and your expression is the way that you present your gender to the world so your clothes, your hair, your personality traits, etc. All of these things are part of what makes up the way that we gender identify.
The term Gender Queer also known as non-binary is an umbrella term for all gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine. Genders that are outside of the gender binary (He, She). If you identify as Gender queer you might have any combination of masculine and feminine traits, seen through your dress, behavior, or appearance otherwise knows as your gender expression. Gender identity and Gender Expression are completely separate from your Sexual identity and orientation.
Initially, I made the mistake of assuming that there were only 3 genders, girls, boys, and they or non-binary. That’s what I had been introduced to so far but on doing additional research I came to find that there are more than 50 genders currently existing in the world today! I found a great list online that describes these different genders (link below) it also seems that the list will continue to grow as more gender identities are added. If you are interested in learning more about these different types of genders check out this list ...
When reading the above list I was AMAZED at how many genders there were and the idea that the list was growing was a little bit overwhelming. I picked out three that I found fascinating and had never heard of.
Astergender: a gender that feels bright and celestial
Blurgender: the feeling of having more than one gender that is somehow blurred together to the point of not being able to distinguish or identify individual genders; synonymous with genderfuzz
Vapogender: a gender that sort of feels like smoke; can be seen on a shallow level but once you go deeper, it disappears and you are left with no gender and only tiny wisps of what you thought it was
Clearly, gender is a bigger conversation then he/she or they/them. So how many people in the US do we think these types of questions affect? How many of us out there are identifying as non-binary? According to Genderspectrum.org
- A 2015 Fusion Millennial poll of adults ages 18-34 in the USA found that the majority see gender as a spectrum, rather than a man/woman binary.
- A 2017 Harris Poll of millennials found that 12% identify as Transgender or gender non-conforming.
- Research by J. Walter Thompson Intelligence (the research arm of the global marketing communications company) found that 56% of those aged 13-20 know someone who identifies as non-binary.
Clearly, this is not an issue affecting the few. So how do we navigate these changing waters? Some people have chosen to always refer to someone, especially someone they don't know with the pronouns they/them to avoid accidental mislabeling I myself have tried to adopt this but change is hard! The habit of immediately categorizing people as either a girl or boy is hard to shake. I think the most important of all is to be aware and to do our best to make room for non-binary people. Everyone is searching for their Gender Congruence which only means finding the feeling of harmony and peace in our gender, experiencing comfort in our body as it relates to our gender, naming of our gender that reflects how we feel internally about the sense of who we are, being able to express ourselves freely, and being seen by others as we see ourselves. Everyone has the right to find this balance and peace and those of us that do identify as binary have an easier road. Because of this, it is our responsibility to listen to those that are struggling to find their gender congruence and make space for them. It is easy to dismiss or brush off this coming change to the way society approaches gender but it is important to remember that we don't have to completely understand their experience - lets be honest as a binary person in a binary society I will never understand how a non-binary person feels as they move through the world and i don't have to I just need to listen and make room.