The Gender Identity Debate: What’s that all about?

Let’s talk about gender identity!

“BLEURGH” I hear you cry, “not ANOTHER lecture about gender identity!”

Well… sorry (not sorry).

Regardless of whether you believe there are two “and only two” genders, or you believe we should smash the socially constructed binary, or you are on the fence, or hopping between sides, or wherever… it’s a worthwhile discussion to have if you want to ascertain where our future generations are heading.

There are fascinating books on the subject of gender identity (check out authors like Judith Butler, Kate Bornstein, Judith Halberstam, Juno Dawson) and there are some interesting debates that are free to view on our old friend YouTube (see the differing views of ContraPoints and Blaire White for example). So this post is going to be a piece based on what I’ve read and viewed, which I would hope will spur readers to do some investigating themselves.

OK but what are we talking about here?

Some of you are probably reading this and thinking: “Wait, why are we even discussing this? There are two genders, man and woman, and transgender people transition from one to the other… how is this so hard to understand?”

Well, let me attempt to fill you in.

But wait! I feel a disclaimer coming on…

I should stress that I have picked up this discussion from a myriad of sources varying in credibility, from heated debates on YouTube, to entire books on the matter. This means I am NOT an expert or trying to place a particular view on anyone. This post is merely meant to raise awareness of a growing discussion and provoke thought.

K I’m done.

Firstly, lets try and differentiate 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. HOWEVER, one term need not dictate the other, or so the more contemporary theories suggest.

It is understood that gender is a social construct, meaning that the gender you are assigned at birth is informed by social expectations of what it means characteristically to be male or female. Society as we know it perceives it as such: male = man, female = woman. Transitioning from one to the other is *supposedly* based on these equations. The end game, so people might assume, is to identify as transgender MTF (male to female) or FTM (female to male), trans man or trans woman, OR identify as just man or woman, should you choose to leave the status of ‘transitioned’ behind once the transition is complete. All totally and (thankfully) widely acceptable variations on transgender identity.

Still with me?

Good. Because there’s MORE.

Buckle up, folks…

Image result for dale cooper gif the return

As a fan of Twin Peaks, this somehow felt like the right GIF for this moment.

The new school of thought suggests that gender identity is actually on a spectrum… or a matrix… or a sphere… or even a UNIVERSE.

…I mean, does that not sound so much more exciting?!

A small – but arguably growing – percentage of people experience a form of gender dysphoria (a gender identity that does not align with biological sex) that does not end at transitioning to the polar opposite gender in the binary that is male-female/man-woman. Put very simply, if a genetically male human does not feel like a “man”, this does not necessarily mean they (neutral pron.) feel like a “woman” either (“feel like” meaning identifying with what is socially or culturally understood to be a man or woman). But where does this leave them? In limbo? Alone?

Well, no… not if this new concept is anything to go by.

*PAUSE FOR EFFECT*

…Let us continue.

Consider that it is quite possible to have a deep sense of both sets of gender characteristics, or no relationship to gender whatsoever, or a leaning towards some of one set of gender characteristics and less of the other, OR an aversion to gender as a social construct altogether and a resistance to conforming to the characteristics set out by said society, or even a shift from one set of characteristics to another, OR… OK, there are a plethora of other variations and I’m worried I’ll miss one out. The possibilities are endless. Hence UNIVERSE (so much more exciting!)

For people who associate themselves with these more complex distinctions and struggle with the notion of identifying with an ‘either/or’ paradigm, to the extent that it affects their mentality and overall wellbeing, it is not necessarily helpful to lump them under a binary where they can’t simply ‘fit in’. Some could argue that this is deliberately limiting to behaviour and expressions, acting as a means to protect the Patriarchy (stupid Patriarchy)…

Hmm. OK, in all honesty, I’m on board with that.

(My language in this post is getting nerdier by the second… brace yourselves)

Because of the culture we (a Western ‘we’) live in – one that puts identity and Ego (in every sense of the word) at the fore – it is important for individuals to feel safe in their unconventionality. One way to do this is to form a categorisation that draws on the individual’s similarities to fellow humans in such a way that celebrates the characteristics that previously alienated them. So individuals have coined new gender identities that are defined by the abovementioned gender nuances. Here are a handful:

  • Agender
  • Androgyne
  • Androgynous
  • Bigender
  • Gender Fluid
  • Gender Nonconforming
  • Gender Questioning
  • Gender Variant
  • Genderqueer
  • Neutrois
  • Non-binary
  • Pangender
  • Transfeminine
  • Transmasculine

By employing these identities, society can be perceived as being more inclusive. Those who fall under one of the above categories can articulate their identities more succinctly and thus feel more comfortable in their skin. They can relate to and communicate with other people within the LGBTQ+ community and simultaneously raise awareness of LGBTQ+ inclusion and equality. They can shift in their sense of identity without a crisis. These are some of the pros.

Image result for gender identity non binary

Source: The Identity Project

But some of you may ask: “where does it end? Can I identify as a banana?” or something to that effect (just scroll to the comments section under a non-binary-supporting YouTube video and you’ll see many, many viewers asking the same thing).

Side note: it would be unfairly sweeping of anyone to suggest that people who ask this are old fashioned or ignorant. No, that isn’t always so. This whole thing is very new and and even more confusing. BUT it is really important to be as objective and empathetic as possible, because self-esteem is very much at stake here for all camps engaged in the debate. Just try not to be offensive.

OK, I’ll get off my pedestal now.

It’s a good question though. What if you don’t identify with the above? Is there a section of individuals we’re neglecting? Do we need more categories? And if so, is that not more isolating?

Well, to be fair… the above categories are defiantly ambiguous, using words like ‘nonconforming’, ‘variant’, ‘fluid’, and the prefix ‘non’, as in ‘non-defined’, thus allowing for ample flexibility.

But sceptics worry that this could turn into a bit of a free-for-all. ‘Kids’ could be so overwhelmed by the number of identities that it creates yet another unnecessary identity crisis.

“Christ, you millennials love an identity crisis!”

Surely, some will argue, it’s actually more comforting to those just starting out in life to identify with one of just maybe two or three options, don’t you think?

(I’m currently engaging myself in a debate – I am lonely.)

And what does this mean for the concepts that have found their power in the binary, such as feminism and transgenderism? Some believe that this free-form approach to gender negates the hard, historical work that has gone into those movements. No one wants that, right?

Well, this is where I want to end this post. Because the debate goes on, out there in society and that crazy ol’ cyberspace. There is no clear-cut conclusion other than… that there is no clear-cut conclusion…

I’ll give you my current opinion. I think we humans should have a right to identify in any which way we want, provided we show kindness and empathy to all other identities in the process… but I also wonder if we shouldn’t get too hung up on the semantics, especially if our self-esteem is rocky.

But what do you think? Are we liberating ourselves from the restraints of Patriarchy? Is it attention-seeking? Are traditional views damaging to our wellbeing? Are we making things more confusing (“think of the children!“)? Are we just getting more self-absorbed for no good reason? Shouldn’t the inclusion of individuality be something we celebrate?

Would love to know your thoughts on the subject! In the meantime I’m gonna go grab a coffee and nurse a hangover.

Peace, love and happy finding yourselves. x

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