What a divine experience it is to be a child of this Earth. Sharing the world with a variety of people, all coming from different walks of life. Appreciating the vast array of wonders that come along with experiencing the joys of being human. When we are children, the world around us is often framed in simple terms to help us understand the perplexities that accompany being a human with thoughts and feelings. This is done so in an effort to assist our young minds in understanding abstract ideas that are foreign to us when we are children. Every bit of stimulus is a new experience we use to understand what is happening around us. This includes what adults teach us about how the world operates. Childhood is such a formative time in our lives because so many of our experiences lay the groundwork for the paths we may choose later in life. Often times we are taught these binary ways of thinking to assist the adults in our lives how to understand the world, rather than helping children. The issue we face as we grow older is that we often find great distress when we learn that the world does not operate in these binaries. Not everything is either or. Not everything exists on a sliding scale going in two directions. There is an ever-evolving duality to the world around us.
One of the most common examples of this binary thinking is in mainstream cultures’ understanding of gender. Many of us were raised to believe gender was a simple either-or assignment for expression. This is an easy way of thinking that the youngest members of our society can understand. But that doesn’t mean that it is the most accurate way of understanding people and the complexities within us all.
One way people share how they identify themselves is through pronouns: she/her, him/his, they/them, or any other preferred way to reference a person. Asking and sharing pronouns with others is a way to support an environment of inclusiveness, recognizing other people’s experiences and perspectives.
The concept of gender-neutral (and gender non-conforming/gender fluid) beings dates back thousands of years in various cultures across the globe. One of the most well-known being within Christianity, that being the Holy Spirit. For the majority of Christian denominations, the Holy Spirit, or Holy Ghost, is the third person of the Trinity. A genderless being beyond the physical realm. Functioning as an agent of God, representing God as spiritually active in the world. Since the Holy Spirit has no gender, we have no predetermined expectations. The Holy Spirit exists purely as an entity for good. For many people, removing these predetermined expectations is vital for them to live a free and affirmed life.
If religious terms don’t resonate, turn to nature. The Kobadai fish, when younger is a female, at 10 years old, it transforms into a male. The New Mexico whiptail, sometimes called the “lesbian lizard,” has only one biological sex — female. They reproduce asexually, using a process called parthenogenesis, where eggs develop without the need for fertilization. However, they still engage in courting and mating behaviors with each other, despite not needing to do so for reproduction. Some frog species have been observed changing their sex organs from female to male. Not only do the female seahorses have a unique organ that superficially looks like a penis, but the males carry children and give birth as well. The male seahorse then fertilizes them internally and becomes pregnant, later giving birth much like humans do, sometimes to as many as 1,500 babies.
There is a massive amount of sexual variance in plants. In terms of reproduction, there are two main types of plants. The first are gymnosperms, who have exposed seeds, often in cones or nuts: some need pollinators, such as bees or hummingbirds, while others pollinate by the wind. This category also includes plants & fungi, including many species of ferns and mushrooms that reproduce via spores. The second are angiosperms, flowering plants that develop a fruit to enclose their seedlings. Like gymnosperms, the generally pollinate by animals or by wind. Also, there are some angiosperms that reproduce asexually by splitting parts off from themselves (these are the kinds of plants you can sprout clippings from).
Humans are no different from nature. We ARE nature.
So, what can be done to support our peers as well as support a more open understanding of gender?
1. Normalize it. Breaking stigmas allows free form thinking to flow naturally. This results in a more deep and loving understanding allowing us to truly embrace those around us.
2. Stop stigmatizing and placing our own narratives on expression— we can focus purely on the person and our connection to them.
3. Add pronouns to social media profiles such as she/her, him/his, they/their
4. Use the pronouns people would prefer to be referred to and practice them!
5. Use gender neutral language in exchange for gendered language. A few examples of ways we can swap out gendered language is: husband/wife can be exchanged with spouse/partner, brother/sister can be exchanged with sibling, and using them/they as your default gender when referring to people.
6. If you have a hard time remembering people’s pronouns in most cases, you can exchange pronouns with a person’s name. Instead of saying “she’s over there” you could say the name of the person: “Brittany is over there”
7. If someone hasn’t told you their pronouns, use they/them. Full stop.
8. If you ever misgender a person the best way to reconcile your mistake is to apologize, correct yourself and continue. Everyone is learning and growing. Mistakes will happen it is your job to handle them with compassion and try again.
9. If you are unsure of how to address someone, lead with openness and share your own pronouns while you introduce yourself, this creates safety, inclusivity, and is an expression your affirming allyship.
Support the transgender nonconforming community with funding. There are so many stigmas and prejudices gender nonconforming people face within their communities. These stigmas result in an overall lack of funding towards addressing these issues. We would like to share a nonprofit organization here in Eugene, OR: Transponder. Transponder is a grassroots, completely transgender founded and led nonprofit based in Eugene, Oregon that provides support, resources, and education for the trans/gender diverse community and its allies. Backing resources such as these supports a community of inclusivity. We are not functioning at our highest potential as a society if we are not listening to the concerns of the most vulnerable people within our society. Or, if you’d like to support an individual, you can help someone directly by going to this link and learning more about Jaime’s story.
“I started this fundraiser not just for raising money for my Reassignment surgeries but so I can afford to pay for basic needs like having my name Jaime being recognized legally, being recognized as a woman by the state. I see a trans therapist for affirmation and mental health support that is also very costly.” – Jaime
It is so common in our culture to assume a person’s gender based off of their appearance. But this understanding has left many people feeling misunderstood and feeling as though they are not living their most authentic lives. It ignores a piece of the human experience, leaving someone not feeling affirmed as a person in this world. We are here on this Earth to experience life as deeply as we can! Each person offers new perspective and understanding to the world around us. When we break down boundaries it allows us the heart space to love others more deeply. So, while we are here let’s do everything within our power to make life more enjoyable for others. In the process of relinquishing expectations of others, we can focus our energy on our own desires. Let’s embrace things we don’t fully understand as opportunities to more deeply connect to this world and those around us.
Here are some definitions you may refer to:
Agender: not identifying with any gender
Aromantic: experiencing little or no romantic interest in others (this is a spectrum).
Asexual: Experiencing little or no sexual attraction to others, or low or absent desire for sexual activity. Not all asexual people are aromantic (one is sexuality, one is romantic attraction). Asexuality is different from celibacy! Celibacy is an intentional choice to abstain from sex; asexuality is not.
Assigned sex: The sex assigned to an individual at birth, which usually corresponds to the gender identity a person was raised with. It may or may not align with a person’s gender identity.
Binary Thinking: Complex concepts, ideas, and problems are overly simplified into being one side or another
Biological sex: The physical characteristics of reproductive organs, secondary sexual characteristics, chromosomes, and hormones. This is not binary; some scientists argue that it is a continuum.
Bisexual: Attracted to both men and women; also sometimes defined as attraction to more than one gender, or attraction to the same gender and other genders.
Butch: Usually refers to someone born female who mentally, emotionally, and/or physically identify as masculine of center (MoC), which means dressing, and/or having mannerisms that are more traditionally masculine.
Cisgender: Someone whose gender identity and sex assigned at birth are the same.
Drag queen/king: A man who dresses in women’s clothes, or a woman who dresses in men’s clothes, usually for entertainment. Being a drag queen/king does not indicate someone’s sexual orientation, though it is usually associated with queer/gay communities.
Duality: The quality or condition of being dual
Femme: Someone who mentally, emotionally, and/or physically identifies as feminine. Often applies to queer women.
Gender: The characteristics of people that are socially constructed, while sex refers to those that are biologically determined
Gender binary: The idea that there are only two genders: male and female
Gender dysphoria: The feeling that one’s body and one’s gender identity are misaligned.
Gender expression: How one displays their gender through dress, social behavior, and/or demeanor.
Gender fluid: Someone whose gender varies on the spectrum and is expressed dynamically.
Gender identity: The internal feeling of one’s gender. This can be different from gender expression and sex assigned at birth. Some common identities are: woman, man, transgender, genderqueer, agender.
Gender Non-Conforming: a person who doesn’t constrain within the binary.
Genderqueer: Someone who does not identify with the gender binary. This term is often used as an umbrella that includes gender fluid, agender, gender non-conforming, etc.
Heteronormativity: Though this term originally described the assumption that all people are heterosexual, the definition has expanded to encompass assumptions about gender. Heteronormativity manifests institutionally (not including gender-neutral options on forms, or gendered bathrooms) and socially (asking a male presenting person, “Do you have a girlfriend?”).
Heterosexual: Someone who is attracted physically and emotionally to people with a different gender from their own within the gender binary/heteronormativity.
Homosexual: Someone who is attracted physically and emotionally to people of the same sex. Note: This word is not used much anymore, as queer, gay, and LGBTQ+ are generally accepted into the vernacular now.
Intersex (formerly hermaphrodite): “A general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.” – Intersex Society of North America
Non-Binary: An individual who’s gender identity exists outside the western gender binary.
Pronouns: The pronouns people identify themselves with (she/her, he/him, they/them, ze/zir). It is not optional to call someone by their preferred pronoun – it is a required act of respect.
Queer: An umbrella term that encompasses all non heterosexual and/or non-cisgender identities.
Sex assigned at birth: when referring to ‘sex’.
Transgender: Someone who identifies with a gender other that their sex assigned at birth.
Two-spirit: Umbrella term used by First Nations people to recognize people who are a third gender (which is a blend of masculine and feminine energy), have multiple genders, or have identities that operate outside of the western dichotomy of sex orientation and gender.
Glossary terms from the book – Seeing Gender: An Illustrated Guide to Identity and Expression by Iris Gottlieb
How does this conversation make you feel? Is there anything else you would like to add here? Reply below!