This week I attended Madison Equality’s Out on Campus Panel (If you’d like to know more about it, check out FlyAwayWithMe’s article about it). While I was there, something really stood out to me: gender fluidity and the gender spectrum. Before I continue, I would like to note that the words gender and sex are NOT synonymous. Sex is what we are told we are at birth based on genitalia, while gender is how we personally identify based on our internal sense of self. AKA gender identity is what our brain says we are. Now, gender identity and gender expression are two different things all together- but we’ll save that for a different post. When most people think of gender, the automatic thought is Boy vs. Girl. You’re one or the other and express yourself accordingly. However that couldn’t be more wrong. Gender has been completely constructed by societal norms and expectations. We can’t look at gender in a completely black and white way; we need to see the shades of grey in between. And there are more than fifty.
So let’s start with talking about the well-known boy and girl genders. I, personally, am a cisgender female. That means that I was born with the body parts and reproductive organs of a female, and I also completely feel like and identify as a female. Cisgender males were born with the body parts and reproductive organs of a male while also feeling a male sense of self. So cis = your sex and gender identity match. Cool? Alright, moving on.
Many people may recognize the ‘T’ in the LBGTQ+ acronym and know that it stands for transgender. Transgender means that your sex and gender do not align. Meaning, one can be born with male genitalia while simultaneously identifying as female, or vice versa, one can be born with female genitalia while identifying as a male.
Probably the most underrepresented people in the gender spectrum are people who identify as gender fluid. Identifying as gender fluid is essentially identifying as anything in between being cisgender or transgender. Someone who is gender fluid could, perhaps, wake up one day feeling more feminine but could also feel more masculine at anytime. They do not typically follow societal norms and expectations for how a female or male “should” express themselves.
NOTE: This is just the beginning of the basics of the gender spectrum and is meant to be a good starter for your understanding of it. I am not trying to outline every single detail, because that would be impossible. But the topic is important, and needs to be discussed. Consider this a starting point.
Speaking from a cisgender perspective, I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult it is for someone who identifies as trans* or gender fluid to live in today’s world where gender is typically viewed as a binary construct. From birth, almost everything that we are surrounded by is assigned a gender. Clothing, toys, cars, food, colors… literally everything. We need to step up as allies to the trans* and gender fluid community and make sure that they feel comfortable being who they are. Despite JMU’s lack of gender-neutral bathrooms, there’s more that we can do as individuals to make JMU friendlier to people who are gender non-conforming or trans*. One great point that was brought up at the Out on Campus Panel was to simply ask people when you meet them what their pronouns are. For example, me being a cisgender woman, my pronouns are she, her, hers. Even if you think the answer may be obvious, you never know. And if the pronouns are what you assumed and the other person seemed confused as to why you asked, this creates a great beginning to a conversation on the topic.
So let’s start the discussion. How do you feel about gender fluidity? What questions do you have?
Also: if you are questioning your own gender identity, know your gender identity and need a support system, or just have questions about the topic in general- Madison Equality (ME) is a great resource on campus for you to seek out. ME is located in The Well on the first floor of the Student Success Center and their email is firstname.lastname@example.org.