My daughter started college last week, and on the first day her professor, I mean ‘they’ professor, asked the students how they preferred to be identified:
She, He or They?
(“They” was recently anointed the singular gender neutral pronoun.)
Obviously, they professor chose ‘they’.
The above sounds totally awkward and grammatically incorrect. But after researching gender, gender fluidity and gender-queer topics all weekend, already that usage doesn’t feel as awkward as it did when my daughter first described the scene at school.
My reaction was not discriminatory. It was not judgmental.
I was just flabbergasted.
This is probably a testament to how things make it into the mainstream: what seemed ludicrous on Friday, after a bit of research started to make sense, or at least feel more comfortable, by Sunday.
In trying to wrap my brain around the matter of gender fluidity, I kept equating the subject to how homosexuality must have sounded to heterosexuals when it first entered the mainstream.
People are scared of what they don’t know and sometimes their resistance and reactions can be hurtful and unfair; but mostly, I think, in matters that are beyond one’s experience and knowledge, people simply don’t understand.
I’d read an article in the New York Times about gender and the use of ‘new’ pronouns months ago but really didn’t comprehend the gist of the piece. It did not fit into my schema of things, or anything I could relate to.
We’re adding new pronouns, changing language, to refer to gender?
We can’t use he or she anymore; and if we do, we risk offending someone?
“They” is now singular?
Some people don’t want to be labeled a specific gender?
None of this made sense.
So I did what I believe to be right and fair. I looked into the subject. This is some of what I found out…
“Genderqueer people are those who identify their gender somewhere between male and female, reject traditional notions of gender, or reject the concept of gender altogether.” -Huffington Post
“Genderqueer, along with the somewhat newer and less politicized term non-binary, are umbrella terms intended to encompass individuals who feel that terms like man and woman or male and female are insufficient to describe the way they feel about their gender and/or the way they outwardly present it.” -Slate
“Genderqueer is about acknowledging that gender expression and identity is not binary, that there are more than just two genders,” explained Jordan Miller, a grad student in Atlanta who described zirself as genderqueer, transmasculine, transgender, and femme.” -Slate
I’ve written about how it is impossible to know the experience of another (Why Should We Watch Movies Like Still Alice?) but how it is essential that we try to empathize— that is the essence of our humanity.
We might not get it right, we can never wholly know what another feels or needs, but it is our responsibility to educate ourselves.
There are some who think we need to stop this “madness”, this foreign concept of gender fluidity; but there was a time lefties were forced to use their right hand and homosexuals underwent electroshock treatment.
I hope we are past discriminating in such cruel and insensitive ways.
There are new terms on the horizon that are being used to identify individuals and you might as well get used to them.
AAB (assigned at birth).
AFAB (assigned female at birth.)
GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender.)
Gender binary – the idea that there are two distinct genders, one male and one female, with nothing in between.
Nonbinary – having no gender or moving between genders.
So yes this subject had me feeling like I was lost in a foreign land, unable to speak the native language, without a map; but if that were ever the case, if I were ever in that situation, it would be on me to find my way out.
I don’t believe we can shun others, pretend they don’t exist or act as if their needs don’t matter.
This past winter I watched Transparent, a television series created by Jill Soloway, based on her transgender father.
In my opinion, the show is fascinating and well done. It is informative and entertaining. Through the main character we learn to find our sameness—our shared humanity- how our families matter, how we want to belong and be accepted, how we apsire to find our true identity.
There is much to learn. For example, being transgender is not the same as being gender fluid. Transgender means you are born as one gender but feel more comfortable as the other.
Gender Fluidity or All-Gender means you feel like you are both, that gender is flexible. It’s not about who you chose to be with sexually, it’s about how you identify yourself.
In 1900 women couldn’t vote.
In 1950 black people used separate bathrooms than white people.
And in 2000 homosexuals couldn’t get married.
It has taken conversation, television, books and art to enlighten and educate (whether you agree or not) the masses.
But for now, it’s a complicated matter, and it’s going to take time for the issue of gender fluidity to unfold.
My daughter walks down a flight of stairs in order to go to the women’s bathroom at school because she is not yet comfortable with the gender neutral one close to her classroom.
A couple of years back, I’m embarrassed to say, I told my daughter who wanted to add an app to my phone that I don’t use apps, which of course I did.
At my age, sometimes it’s difficult to keep up.
But I want to be up to date. So I try.
There might be a learning curve, but this past weekend, I clicked on the Safari app on my phone and read about Gender Fluidity.