In recent years, there seems to have been an outpouring of new labels to describe oneself. Terms from asexual to lumbersexual are being used to describe one’s gender, sexuality, sexual orientation, even fashion sense, as well as preferred community. This new collection of identifiers seems to be the most generally comprehensive way for people to express themselves as the complex individuals they are. By having these terms available, an individual is able to find those that they truly relate to and find a community of people who they can connect with in a new way. These terms can also be helpful for cisgender people to understand that they are not ‘the norm’ but an individual along side everyone else.
The ever growing list of identifiers appears to be a backlash to the outdated notion of the binary gender and sexuality system, which implies that there are two genders (male and female) and anyone who does not identify as one or the other, or whose gender identity and biological sex do not ‘align’, are ‘other’ or outliers. Let alone the belief that those who are not attracted to the opposite gender and only the opposite gender are “unnatural”. The incorporation of these terms in modern language is the first step towards humanity’s understanding that each person is complex and different from the next. As well as the understanding that these personal attributes play no role in who they are as a person nor in their worth. The list of identifiers will continue to grow and to include more and more “types” until there exists a separate set of identifiers for each person and we realize that all we need is the person’s name.
Unfortunately at this stage in the game there are still many flaws that need to be overcome to achieve that final product. Not the least of which, is that many people have never heard of many of these terms, let alone understand them. There is also the issue that, though some seem to have the same meaning, for example bigender and genderfluid, most people will prefer a specific term because of each terms history, connotation, and the connection the user has with their chosen identifier. There is also the problem of discrimination between various LGBTQ+ communities that take us farther away from this hypothetical Utopia.
To get an inside opinion on this system and what it’s like to find a place outside of people’s expectations, I spoke with my close friend Alex who recently came-out as genderfluid. When asked what genderfluid means to him, he said that it is “[a] gender expression, where you identify with different genders and you fluctuate depending on the day, the week, or even the year throughout the rest of your life.” He also made it clear that it is not a question of laziness or not liking makeup or dresses; “when I see myself as a guy, and then when I look in the mirror it doesn’t fit how I see myself in my head. Like I see myself as taller and skinnier with broader shoulders. I look different but I don’t quite fit it. Whereas when I’m as a girl it kind of fits how I look in the mirror. It’s how I actually see myself and how my brain sees it.” For those of you wondering why I’m not using gender neutral pronouns, as part of his coming out Alex expressly said that he prefers male pronouns and has started introducing himself as male. This change, he says, was surprisingly well received. Most of his friends immediately used male pronouns and apologized whenever they slipped up. Even his mother who did her best to try and steer him away from his childhood Tomboy attitude, tried to understand as best she could and was open about his decision.
He decided to come out as genderfluid last summer after reading multiple articles of the subject. Even as a child Alex was already rejecting the idea of the gender binary, when adults and other children started talking about the supposed line between boys and girls Alex started to “unintentionally [fight] back” by insisting on playing with hot wheels and teenage mutant ninja turtles as well as dolls. “I never really understood why there was a difference, I always figured that boys would want to be princesses as well as super heroes and vice versa.” That idea of equality and individual preference was eventually taken apart by our culture and replaced with the “understanding that girls were weaker than boys”. “There was that underlying thing in the back of my mind, so I started being very against feminine stuff.”He started resenting the fact that he was born a girl, as many women do at one point or another.
Most women eventually have that revelatory moment when they decide to live with the hand they’ve been dealt and move on as stronger people. Alex was no exception; “as I got older I kind of got more in touch with my feminine side”. He grew to understand that although society told him otherwise, women were not inferior and that there isn’t such a rigid difference between men and women. He became aware that these rules were not set in stone, nor were they accurate. So he began to understand that “some people can take from both ‘sides’, can be both feminine and masculine and it’s not a bad thing.” All the same, puberty had been difficult “I was a really early bloomer, I was the first one to get a training bra. Other kids would stare and go ‘Ouh, what’s that’ and make fun of me for it. I really never liked having breasts. It felt like it was a body part that shouldn’t be there”. Even when other kids started going through puberty and he started hearing about the idea that “bigger is better” when it comes to breast size and penis size. “At first I thought ‘Oh okay, it’s apparently a good thing. I’ll get used to it’ and I just never did. [They were] another sign that I was not fitting the way I wanted to be presented.”
He stumbled across the term genderfluid on Tumblr and was immediately drawn towards it. “I searched literally every site that had the word [genderfluid] in it.” He also started going through the Instagram accounts of people who identified as genderfluid; “I was like ‘Oh, my god, what is this? It sounds like the right word for me.’ ” He felt relief and excitement after the discovery “I was mentally screaming and was jumping up and down, to know that others felt the same.”
Of course, even when you find the right place for you there are always obstacles. “I was going to say that the most stressful thing is people [being ignorant] and not understanding but I feel like it also has to do with yourself.” He expressed that explaining genderfluidity is very difficult since gender identity is already a complex concept even for cisgender people. Unfortunately the hardest part is “dealing with self hatred or self consciousness.” We live in a society that encourages ranking oneself against every person we come across and this can be even more problematic for someone who is already told they are ‘lesser’ or ‘wrong’. “When I see cisgender women in really nice dresses with their makeup all done, on one hand I admire them but on the other I feel envious. And for a while I was asking myself ‘Well, why do I feel envious?’ I mean, I can’t imagine they don’t have their own insecurities but you can tell that their comfortable in their own skin and with their gender identity and I’m here struggling and trying to figure out mine. And sometimes I think about how easy it would be to wear a dress and wear makeup and fit with my biological body but I can’t, I don’t fit that. It’s not how I like to express myself most of the time.” Alex says he does wear makeup and dresses sometimes because he believes that they are gender neutral things that are associated with women when they shouldn’t be.
These feelings of envy also occur towards other men “I’ll see cisgender guys and they’re comfortable with how they present themselves and I’m here struggling in the middle. They’re automatically male in most people’s eyes and I have to work harder to be taken seriously. So I’m always stuck in this middle of trying to be the thing that society thinks I shouldn’t be and in the process I get erased.” Because of this harmful binary system, even when someone seems to ‘escape’ it, there are still strong pressures to meet society’s expectations. “You grow up thinking that there’s something wrong with you but there really isn’t.”
The ‘Binary vs Other’ idea is so strongly embedded into our culture that if a transgender person wants surgery or hormones they have to prove to a therapist that they have gender identity disorder, which Alex states is a “double edged sword because on one hand you need to show that you’re different but what happens is it enforces [the idea] that people who are transgender or [who] have a different gender identity have a problem and they’re seen as people with mental disabilities.” Calling it a disorder is what leads to the media portraying them as “crazy and evil and that they’ll end up being violent”. On the other hand, there is also the idea of the ‘perfect transgender person’ which according to Alex leads to thoughts like; “ ‘Oh, but am I really transgender, am I really genderfluid, am I just faking it?’ ” Which is also just as harmful. “That’s the problem with labels, you want to jump out of the labels that society has enforced on you like male and female but then when you get something that’s not [one of] those two you end up being stuffed into another box anyway.”
Unfortunately, the LGBTQ+ community doesn’t seem to be much more forgiving than the general public; “you’d think that with a whole bunch of people that have been harassed and bullied and hated for who they are, that it would be a very open space, and it can be for a lot of people but there’s still a lot of inter-conflicts between people.” It seems that some members in the various communities refuse to give the same respect they are fighting to receive themselves. “You’ll still get a lot of people who are gay who will say to a transgender man ‘You’re just a butch lesbian, get over it. Or sometimes trans people will say to a gay person “You’re really just trans, stop hiding it” and there’s a lot of that.”
Despite these difficulties Alex says that it’s all worth it “I have so much support from my friends” and when asked how his life has been improved by the change he said “I feel less anxious and I don’t have to hide a part of myself and I can just be myself”. And when it comes to the hypothetical Utopia, Alex is hopeful that “people will let others express themselves however they want to without questioning their identity and that parents won’t force their children into rigid gender roles within the binary. Also that gender will be taught and widely understood so people are better informed and educated on the subject.”
Authors note: The opinions and experiences expressed in this article are those of the individuals who worked on it. They are by no means representative of the experiences of other genderfluid individuals or of the opinions of the genderfluid community. Nor should they be treated as such.