By Becky Lowe
As I come back up to the surface from an hour of double-tapping #genderqueer Instagram posts, I take a moment to re-calibrate my brain. I reset it to navigate the small British city that I call home. One in which a pandemic is the “new normal”, bills still don’t pay themselves, and “there are only two genders”.
You may not agree with that last statement, but trust me, much of the world still does.
Let’s unpack that.
I’ll preface this piece with two “disclaimers”. Firstly, I only started identifying as genderqueer myself a few months ago, but I have been negotiating my gender identity for almost a decade.
Secondly, I am no expert in gender identity and can only shed light from my experiences and my understanding of the experiences of others.
Okay. Buckle up…
(Art from @liberaljane)
You may believe there are only two genders.
I get it. History writes it that way. And the Patriarchy likes it that way (uh-oh, there I go with the “P-word”!)
So we must begin with differentiating biological sex from gender. Biological sex is defined by your genitalia (which for the most part are distinguished as male genitalia or female genitalia). Gender is how you define yourself – your identity – and that of others, based on biological sex.
It is widely understood now that gender is a social construct, socially created, if you will. When you are asked to imagine a man or woman going about their business, you produce a mental picture of what they look like, and that socially influenced image forms their gender identity.
Gender dysphoria, then, is a condition stemming from a feeling of “mismatch” between gender identity and biological sex. So, you may believe the goal for a transgender individual is to be MTF (male to female) or FTM (female to male).
Well, there’s more to gender than that now. (Hold onto your butts).
A lot of people experience a type of gender dysphoria that doesn’t end at the polar opposite gender in the binary. Put very simply, if a biologically male human does not “feel like a man”, this does not necessarily mean they “feel like a woman” either.
Nowadays it is quite possible to have an innate sense of all gender characteristics, or no relationship to gender whatsoever. A leaning towards some of one set of gender characteristics and less of the other, perhaps. Individuals may have an aversion to gender as a social construct altogether and a resistance to conforming to the characteristics set out by society. They may even experience a shift from one set of characteristics to another over the course of their lives.
For people who struggle to identify with an Either/Or paradigm, to the extent that it negatively impacts their mental health, it is not healthy to be lumped into a binary where they can’t simply “fit in”. So a reaction to this has been to seek social groups that include like-minded individuals.
Combining this need for inclusion with the ever-expanding, formless world of cyberspace, such individuals – like myself – have sought sanctuary on social media and found that we are, crucially, not alone at all.
The digital realm, therefore, has allowed for “gender-diverse” groups to bloom. Though, whether “cyber-sanctuaries” brought about a shift in gender identities or vice versa remains to be seen.
The result? Our society has been introduced to an explosion of gender identities that thrive beyond the binary.
Starting with the umbrella identities, we have the terms “genderqueer” and “nonbinary”. They are both broadly defined as identities that fall outside the gender binary model, but “genderqueer” has more political roots, challenging the negative connotations of the Q-word. Some people identify with one of the two, others with both.
Others have created more specific identities that better affirm their authenticity, including but not limited to:
· Gender Fluid
· Gender Nonconforming
· Gender Questioning
· Gender Variant
It is almost impossible to try and feature every form of gender identity and their definitions within an article without it becoming instantaneously dated. Because these gender identities are defiantly boundless and open to interpretation.
So how do you safely navigate the ever-changing world of gender diversity?
Well, I have some easy tips.
To understand what these identities mean, search via their hashtag on Instagram. You will find an assortment of expressions, each identity subtly distinct from one another, each interpretation of gender nuanced and unique to the individual.
During interactions, I would advise that you allow space for the individual to share their experience with you when they are ready, and then, simply accept it as the truth.
And to those of us who identify outside of the binary, I implore us to be forgiving of any misunderstandings during this interim period. Because, whatever your stance, we are all dealing with real and valid lived experiences here.
Yeah. Respect is a given.
Further, I would like to suggest to those out there uncomfortable with this topic that, rather than question or criticise the rationale of the individuals who embody these new gender identities, try questioning the context (the Patriarchy, sorry not sorry) from which these gender identities came.
I am genderqueer because I do not identify with the Either/Or paradigm. But does that make me the problem? I’m not so sure. We can be quick to assume that the creation of multiple gender identities is a sign of weakness on the individuals’ part, when in actuality such creation weakens the foundations of an ego-driven, binary culture. To my mind, that’s a power move.
When all’s said and done - like it or not - gender identity is expanding in scope. Whether “gender” means everything, or nothing at all, this societal red giant of a reaction is at once making history and breaking it, and we are all participants. Whether you decide to dance the great dance or dig your heels in, the great identity shift is happening, baby. And we are in this shift together.