It’s 2019 and society is finally recognizing the gender spectrum! However, many people are still learning about the range of gender identities; here is a brief introduction of what you need to know to be knowledgeable and respectful of genders beyond the binary.
Firstly, let’s talk about the gender spectrum and binary. Traditionally, gender is seen as the same as a person’s anatomy: someone with female genitals would be thought of as a woman; someone with male genitals would be thought of as a man. Individuals whose gender matches their anatomy are cis-gender. The understanding of gender has broadened over time, separating from a person’s anatomy (which is commonly referred to as “sex,” and is either female, male, or intersex). Genders other than man and woman have begun to receive more acknowledgement, breaking the norm that genders had to be binary (woman or man). Sadly, individuals are still struggling to find acceptance and love because of the stigma surrounding gender identity.
Transgender is a broad term describing all individuals who are not cis-gender. This includes being non-binary, gender fluid, agender, and many, many more. Transgender is also a term to describe individuals whose gender is traditionally opposite from their anatomy; a male who is a woman or a female who is a man. Declan Nolan, a teenager from Massachusetts, describes his transition from girl to boy in an article in the New York Times. “I used to think that I was broken. It wasn’t until I was a freshman in high school that I found the word to describe the piece that was missing. I knew I was transgender, but for the first few months I had no idea how to accept myself as a boy.”
Non-binary, like any other gender, can mean many different things to many different people but typically has a common definition associated with it. Non-binary individuals typically describe it as being neither woman nor man. Non-binary individuals have many different ways of presenting themselves, some keep their appearance the same, others find new forms of self-expression. The gender non-binary community faces a lack of understanding from many people due to confusion over the gender spectrum; without understanding that genders do not have to be woman or man, genders beyond the binary are often thought of as imaginary. Kate Bornstein writes of the struggles for non-binary individuals in Gender Outlaw: “I know I’m not a man … and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m probably not a woman … The trouble is, we’re living in a world that insists we be one or the other … All my life, my nontraditional gender identity had been my biggest secret, my deepest shame.”
Genders do not have to be static either; many individuals identify as gender fluid. Those who are gender fluid may identify as different genders at different times. Rowan Little, in an article in Time Magazine explained “Some days I feel like my gender could be like what I was assigned at birth, but there are some days where I feel the opposite way.” There is a lack of understanding and acceptance that gender is not a fixed part of a person’s personality, but can change over time. Gender fluidity is different for each individual; one person’s gender could vary from man to woman, and others’ could vary from different points of non-binary.
Some individuals do not have a gender at all, instead identifying as agender. Like how binary genders may not be a part of gender fluid or gender non-binary individuals’ identities, the gender spectrum may not fit agender individuals’ identity. Tyler Ford describes their experience as agender as “having the freedom to exist as a person without being confined by the limits of the western gender binary.”
Of course, with each of these genders comes different pronouns that individuals feel comfortable using. The most common pronouns are she/her/hers, he/him/his, and they/them/theirs. They/them is typically used by individuals who identify as a gender outside of the spectrum, but can also be used to refer to a single individual who you don’t know for sure their preferred pronouns. Some other pronouns individuals may use include ze/hir/hirs (or alternatively ze/zir/zirs), ey/em(or eir)/eirs, and ve/ver/vers(or vis). These pronouns look very different from what we’re used to, but thankfully, there are many videos on Youtube that help you know how they’re pronounced.
By Ashley Nelson and Amira Pierotti