Rethinking Gender

Thinking outside of the binary for our definition of women
By TL Jordan, MSc (They/Them)

Working as a barista means that I am constantly interacting with people, whether that is taking coffee orders, recommending my favorite spots around town or listening to customers talk about their days.  That also means that I spend a lot of time correcting my pronouns (I use “they/them” and am often assumed to use “she/her”) and explaining that I do not go by “Miss” because I am not a woman, but nonbinary. Over the past few years you may have noticed people putting pronouns in their email signatures, or perhaps you have had a family member or co-worker come out as transgender. The concept of gender is being talked about, and it’s important that we take time to learn what “gender” means, not only to better understand ourselves, but to understand the people we interact with.  

CRASH COURSE IN GENDER IDENTITY

Gender is a societally formed concept of how an individual sees themselves. This could be explained as a color wheel, where some people are red, some are blue and some like to try out different colors to express their gender. Most people are familiar with the male/female binary, but there are also nonbinary identities (a gender outside the male/female binary), and some people who don’t identify with a gender at all.

THREE CONSIDERATIONS

Gender is different than sex assigned at birth, which is what the doctor proclaims after looking at our genitals. Gender is an identity that we hold, and gender expression is the physical representation of that gender, like our clothing, our hair, how we do everyday tasks and the way we interact with the world. Altogether, our sex assigned at birth, our gender and our gender expression do not have to match and are not binary. Instead they express themselves on a spectrum. They are separate ways that we look to categorize ourselves and give ourselves context within society.

Another way that we express our gender is through the use of pronouns—words that replace proper nouns. Some pronouns (like “he” or “she”) are inherently gendered, whereas other pronouns (like “they”) can be gender neutral. In the same way that gender expression doesn’t have to match gender, pronouns do not have to match. You may see someone on the street dressed in a way that makes you think they might use “she/her” pronouns, but that assumption may be wrong. That is why it’s important to ask for pronouns, rather than assume based on how someone looks. Just as a name is important, a pronoun helps a person feel harmony with their identity.

WHAT DOES GENDER MEAN TO YOU?

People who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth may not think about gender as much as someone who is transgender, but gender is something that everyone does. While you may identify as a woman, the way that you express your gender or identify with your gender may change over time. Your red on the color wheel might become more pink over time, or maybe switch between an orange-red and purple-red. What it means to be a woman is different for everyone because women experience and express their gender differently.

That is why it’s important to make sure that we have all types of women being represented, not only in the media that we see visually, but within the stories and articles that we read. In the same way that we want to be inclusive of race, let’s aim to raise the voices of nonbinary people. While you may have one way of being a woman, another person’s definition of a woman may be completely different. That is the beauty of gender.

We don’t define a person as a woman by the fact that they wear dresses, heels and other things classified as feminine. Even the most feminine people often enjoy having a day where they can wear sweatpants and a sports jersey—that doesn’t make them less of a woman. In the same way, there might be a woman who uses “he” or “they” pronouns, and that doesn’t make them less of a woman. Our gender identity is tied to many of the things we do and how we move through life. But that doesn’t mean we have to make it one-size-fits-all.

GENDER TO UNDERSTAND OTHERS

If you have never heard or understood the term “transgender” before, or if you are unfamiliar with the pronouns “they/them,” I would encourage you to look further. Odds are, you are going to meet people who use these terms and will appreciate your understanding. The kindness that we give to other people by learning about things that are outside of our experience goes a long way, and all it takes is a moment to read an article or ask someone what their pronouns are before you make assumptions. Rather than remain in the dark on how other people experience their lives, let’s grow and celebrate with them.

It’s time to honor every person who identifies as a woman and to lift each other up so everyone can be heard and given their fullest opportunities. Women are women, no matter their age, race, sexuality, genitalia, size, religion or differences. Women are women because they say they are and identify with being women.

Definitions:

Binary: Relating to, composed of or involving two things.

Nonbinary: A spectrum of genders or gender expressions that are not exclusively masculine or feminine. 

Cisgender: People whose gender align with their sex assigned at birth. 

Transgender: People whose gender does not match the sex assigned at birth.