But first, lets get this out of the way –
Gender (noun): The behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex.
“Sex assigned at birth”: The sex that the person was identified as having at birth.
Cisgender (adjective): Of, relating to, or being a person whose gender identity corresponds with the sex the person was identified as having at birth.
Transgender (adjective): Of, relating to, or being a person whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from the sex the person was assigned at birth. Also may be referred to as Trans or Trans*.
Genderqueer (adjective): One of many labels used by trans people whose gender identity does not fit into either of the more widely recognized categories of man or woman.
Gender fluid (adjective): People (not necessarily transgender) whose gender identity varies over time, and may at any time identify as male, female, genderqueer or anything between those.
Second, let’s get this out of the way –
Gender identity and sexuality are NOT the same things. Gender is about how you see yourself, sexuality is about the kind of people you are attracted to. Those two things do not necessarily inform each other, although there’s a lot of cis-het (cisgender heterosexual) people out there who would like you to think that they do.
Thanks for hanging in there. Now for the easy stuff.
OH MY GOD I’M SO KIDDING GENDER IS THE MOST COMPLEX SHIT EVER!
You’re like…pink or blue, right? And if you don’t feel pink, then you must be blue and vice versa, right?
Naw. Gender isn’t a set of salt and pepper shakers, y’all, it’s an effing rainbow. The idea that gender is binary is so 1981. I promise you it’s not binary. There are other cultures out there that acknowledge more that two genders (two-spirit people and such), but most of the modern world is stuck on the idea of there only being two. And if you’re not one, then you must be the other.
I’m not going to pretend that there aren’t differences between males and females. Hormones, obviously, cause some very real physiological and psychological differences. (Some other time, I’ll tell y’all all about what testosterone is doing to my brain) but there is no one-or-the-other way to be male or female and we do ourselves a real disservice by promoting that.
Relax, it’s not all our fault.
It’s society. Yes, gender is partially a creation of society.
Buuuuuuut…society didn’t create men and women, Jesse, don’t be stupid. Evolution/God/Flying Spaghetti Monster created men and women, it’s just biology!
WRONG! Evolution/God/Flying Spaghetti Monster created males and females, and while, as I mentioned above, testosterone/estrogen do create differences, those differences are a part of what sex you are.
Sex. Is. Not. The. Same. As. Gender.
Gender might be partially informed by sex, but they are not the same thing. What we are taught that it means to be a “man” or a “woman” are very much a creation of our culture. The clothes we put on our bodies, the way we interact with other people, the roles we act out in our daily lives, it’s all pretty arbitrary. I can point to a number of different cultures that have different ideas about gender than our own. In some cultures, it’s acceptable for men to hold hands as a sign of friendship. In some cultures (sadly not enough) women are the heads of their households. In some cultures it’s normal for men to dress and act flamboyantly. Even at different time periods in our society, the social expectations for men and women were different than they are now. All of these people are legitimate men and women, even though the gender norms of their culture differ.
Unfortunately, some societies have stricter rules about what it means to be a man or a woman. Ahem, ‘Murika. The problem is that so few people actually live up to those rules. Think about everyone you know. If we consider blue to be masculine and pink to be feminine, do those people fit entirely into the blue category or the pink category? Or are they more of a mixture?
This is what I’m saying about gender being a rainbow. A gradient, if you prefer, between blue and pink, masculine and feminine. Humans LOVE to categorize things. From an evolutionary standpoint, it’s one of the things that made us so successful as a species, but that doesn’t mean that it’s helpful in all instances, and in this instance, if we limit ourselves to just two categories (pinkest pink vs bluest blue) then we completely deny the complexity and versatility that is the human mind.
Remember here that in addition to gender and sex being different things, gender and sexuality are also two entirely different things. A woman with more masculine traits isn’t necessarily a lesbian. A man with more feminine traits isn’t necessarily gay. They may be, or they may not. Masculinity and femininity have nothing to do with sexuality. I can’t say that loud enough.
Jesse, where the fuck are you going with this diatribe?
Would you believe that I don’t actually identify as a man?
We’ve halfway had this discussion before, but I’ll put it out there again. I’m a unicorn. That’s the best word I can give you for something that is so hard to put words to. I fall in that middle, purple part of the gradient between pinkest pink and bluest blue. I’m more blue than I am pink though. I’m bluey-purple.
I am male. I am not a man.
WAT? Jesse, that doesn’t even make sense.
I know! I fucking know it, guys. It’s so weird, it’s so hard to describe. I learnt gender same as y’all, that binary bullshit. I’m more-or-less okay with the terms “guy” and “dude”, those feel more gender neutral to me (I don’t know about y’all, but I use the terms “guy” and “dude” for all genders, even things that have no gender.) but saying that I’m “a man” feels way too weird. I might not always feel this way, but that’s how I feel right now, and that’s okay. It took me a really long time to come to terms with, and was something that made acknowledging that I was transgender difficult. It was always “I can’t be transgender because I’m not [blank] enough.” And the [blank] was usually something having to do with masculinity, translating roughly into “I’m not man enough to be trans.”
Welp folks, I’m sitting here in front of my computer right now to tell you that that idea is complete gahbage.
I’m not saying this is the way all trans people feel about themselves, I’m not setting out rules here, but I am saying that there’s no such thing as being “man” enough to be a transman or a transmasculine person, or “woman” enough to be a transwoman or a transfeminine person. Some people do fall at either end of the gradient, the bluest-blues and pinkest-pinks, and that’s totally cool. And some people fall at other places along the gradient, and that’s totally cool too.
I actually feel like “transmasculine” is a better descriptor for me. “Transmasculine” and “transfeminine”, in my mind, are a little different than “transman” or “transwoman”. I feel like “transman” describes someone who is closer to the blue side of the gradient than I am, but “transmasculine” feels closer to the center. I’m a transmasculine unicorn.
But: This is just how I feel, and it doesn’t mean that these are necessarily the correct definitions of the words, or that other transpeople should feel this way. Don’t assume that all transpeople feel like this. We are all unique in how we present and identify ourselves.
And cispeople: you also fall at various places along that gradient, and that’s also totally cool. I think a lot of cispeople know this in their hearts, but when you start talking about the gender identities of transpeople, some cispeople will bust out that cute little set of gender salt and pepper shakers and say things like “Well, [he or she] doesn’t [look or act] enough like a [man or woman] to really be transgender” or “You’ve never acted like a [man or woman], how can you possibly be transgender?” Transpeople do not have to prove their gender to anyone, they don’t need qualify it or defend it. Not to cispeople and not to other transpeople. End of story.
I’m telling you this to save you the trouble of figuring it out, because it took me a while. I’ll be honest, I feel like a paradox and that’s been hard to come to terms with. I’m plenty secure in my masculinity and I also totally identify with and feel empowered by strong women. According to the laws that our culture has created for gender, these things are at odds, but the reality is that they both exist side by side in my brain and I embrace them equally. One doesn’t cancel the other out.
A quick (and relevant) anecdote for ya
This may sound surprising to some people who know me only from this iteration of my life, but there was a point in my life, before and right after I came out, that I wore makeup to work every day. I wasn’t super amazing at it, I definitely felt pressured into doing it, but I learned how to do a few things reasonably well.
After I realized that I actually felt way more comfortable with a more masculine haircut and style of dress, I stopped wearing makeup because it had always felt like a costume. However, I didn’t get rid of the makeup, because HALLOWEEN! I didn’t necessarily anticipate a desire to dress femme on Halloween, but kept the makeup anyway because who the fuck knows.
This past Halloween, my partner Melissa (who also doesn’t wear makeup) was trying to put together a costume and found my stash of supplies. She knew I’d used it in a previous life and asked for tips. I had a hard time describing what to do, so I just put it on myself while she watched.
You know what? I had fun.
It definitely still felt like a costume, it’s not something that I have any desire to do on the regs. It was sort of a moment of “Hey that looks nice, that was a fun little exercise and also not at all how I think of myself or want to present.” And I got a great laugh out of Melissa saying that she was going to tell people that her trans boyfriend showed her how to put on makeup.
I suppose the point of the story is that even though I have zero desire to wear makeup on a daily basis, I still like having the skill, and this skill can exist in concert with my masculinity and neither one is diminished by the other.
I’ve had to embrace paradox lest I feel forever at war with myself. It hasn’t been easy to do, because like many of y’all, I was taught that you were one or the other because people think that sex and gender are one in the same. I tried so hard to figure out how to leave some of my feminine traits or activities behind that it was causing me a lot of anxiety and frustration. Finally I realized that those things are concrete parts of me, and my transition, if nothing else, is about outwardly becoming the person that I’ve always been inside my head. Those feminine things are part of me, I can’t throw them away or squash them down without serious consequences. Remember how I got into this whole mess by squashing things into a tiny box?
I’ve spent too long bent at the Altar of Binary Gender to go back to it again after just breaking free.
I’m not trying to push my gender identity on anyone.
Everyone identifies how they identify, it’s none of my business. I’m not trying to shame people for where they fall in the gradient. That is really what I’m trying to push – be who you want to be, but also let everyone else around you be who they want to be too. Tolerance, yo.