When a baby is born, there’s usually a doctor present to assign it as a boy or a girl. Often times, that assignment is made even before the baby’s birth using an ultrasound. From that point on, the baby’s life is curated and tailored to the male/female dichotomy. An infinite amount of potential reduced to gender roles and stereotypes.
We have really limited our thinking when it comes to gender and sex. We’ve restricted ourselves to a binary and relied on it to give us a foundation for how we expect others to act: you’re either a he or a she; ergo, you only like this or that. In relying on this binary — these limitations — we completely disregard an entire spectrum of genders and sexes, and subsequently disrespect and threaten anyone who doesn’t meet these expectations. For gender-normative people this rigid binary makes sense as we are privileged, and these concepts go unexamined when we express ourselves, shop for clothes, or even enter a restroom. But for gender-expansive people, this poses many social and personal problems, such as anxiety and risk of verbal and physical harassment.
The dangerous and hostile environments gender-expansive people live in are not a by-product of their status, it’s a product of gender-normative cultural behavior. Fortunately, new behavior can be taught and culture can change. Here are a few ways to destroy the binary and embrace the spectrum, creating a welcoming, respectful, and most of all, safe environment.
Pronouns are used in every single interaction. Most people usually decide on which to use based on the looks of a person, however, assuming pronouns affect gender-expansive people in a very damaging way. This is called misgendering. It’s always a good idea to ask people what their preferred pronouns are if you don’t already know them. It can be difficult to grasp at first, but it makes the encounter far more positive for both parties.
Another good idea is to adopt a gender neutral lexicon; instead of using the binary pronouns he/him and she/her, use the neutral and inclusive pronouns they/them when referring to strangers. Gender neutral language even applies to objects like toys, clothing and drinks. Refer to them as what they are — nerf gun, dress, martini on the rocks — instead of generalized gendered items such as “boy toys,” “girl clothes,” “a woman’s drink.”
Our mental process mostly goes unnoticed in day-to-day life. Experiences, like social interaction, flow so naturally we almost never really question the related thoughts and emotions we’re having. Unfortunately, because we’re not often critical of our thoughts, they are plagued with stereotypes and bias, and that has a strong effect on our behavior. Be aware and conscious of your actions and thoughts. Ask yourself: “Would I want to be asked this or that?” or “Is this a joke, or is this a stereotype reinforced by my comment?”
Always assume that a person knows which restroom they’re in. It may seem silly, but, in this situation simply not saying anything could remove their concern for their safety and alleviate that stress. We all go in to do the same things, but restrooms can be a dangerous place for gender-expansive people. They could be subject to verbal and physical assault or even arrested for trying to go pee.
We, as gender-normative people, don’t live with the daily risks of violence by simply being ourselves, but our gender-expansive friends and family do. Stand up against gender-expansive harassment. Correct people if they’ve misgendered someone else. Say something if someone is being hassled in a restroom, or on the street, or wherever. It’s important to show those who don’t care that you do care, because as more and more people ally themselves with those who are gender-expansive, the world becomes less and less dangerous.
Arundel, R. (2015, Feb 25) “Why is Gender Identity so Important?”
Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IFBU7h7fqLc&spfreload=10
Yee Won Chong
Chong, Y. W. (2012, Dec 13) “Beyond the Gender Binary”
Ramsey, F. (2014, Nov 22) “5 Tips For Being An Ally”
Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_dg86g-QlM0&spfreload=10
Trans Awareness Project
Marciano, O. “What’s the difference between transgender and transexual?”
Williams, C. “Insidious: Extreme Pressures Faced by Trans People” (2013, Jan 27)
Kat Blaque “Why Pronouns are important” (2015, Mar 28)
Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WXWmv1-4xFg&spfreload=10
Photo Credit (Top to Bottom)
“Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life” – 1983 by Monty Python
Person and restrooms, n.d. digital medium, viewed on 17 Mar 2015
Man on segway, n.d. photography, viewed on 17 Mar 2015