Breaking out of the binary 

gender sign

Source: Unsplash

Over the years, I’ve done a lot of what you could call “finding myself.” After serving as an ally member on the board of my college Gay Straight Alliance, I only realized I was bisexual in my early twenties. Even when my sister came out as bisexual and went to prom with a same sex date, I never questioned my own default straightness until I found myself surprisingly attracted to a woman. Rather than an “Aha!” moment, revealing my queerness was a series of “Huh” moments. 

And I guess I should not have been surprised when the same thing happened with my gender. It started with allyship and with friendship. One friend posted to “think outside the binary” and it changed my whole paradigm in an instant. I noticed when people said things like “I’m really nervous about my boyfriend not responding to me, I know I’m being such a girl!” and responded “That’s not a girl thing, that’s an anybody thing.” The more I tried to “think outside the binary” the more I saw how things are ascribed to gender that make no sense. 

As I made more trans and non-binary friends, I began sharing more posts and information about gender inclusivity as I learned from them.

I started using gender inclusive language. Spouse and partner instead of husband or girlfriend. Pregnant people instead of pregnant women. Parents instead of moms. Chestfeeding and nursing instead of breastfeeding. Menstrual products instead of feminine products. Reproductive healthcare instead of women’s healthcare. “Hello, friends!” instead of “Hello, ladies!” in Facebook groups. 

A side effect of using gender neutral language is that you start undoing a lot of bias in your own head about highly charged gender assumptions in society. Should your spouse do an equal share of housework? When you stop saying, “Oh men are just like that, women have to pick up after them!” and swap it for “Spouses are just like that, the other spouse has to pick up after them!” you see really glaring holes in logic. Operating a broom or dishwasher is not a gendered task. 

I started learning that trans people don’t owe the world “passing.” It’s not any person’s job to look like what you expect their gender to look like. Men can wear dresses and makeup, women can have facial hair, and non-binary people aren’t androgynous mixes of feminine and masculine features that leave you wondering what type of ethereal fae forest they crawled out of. (The answer is that they probably would actually tell you they crawled out of an ethereal fae forest). Two trans friends independently told me their gender was “angry bees” in a 48 hour period. 

I learned that saying “Male to Female” is outdated and harmful language. A trans woman has always been a woman, she was just labeled incorrectly at birth because we assign gender to genitals instead of allowing people to self identify. (Note: If she uses this term for herself, it’s okay, but she’s the only authority on what phrases and labels should be used to describe her). 

I learned that dysphoria isn’t necessary to be transgender. You don’t have to hate your body or feel like it’s wrong to be trans. 

Once you start realizing that gender is a collection of societal expectations and that genitals don’t have anything to do with it and hobbies, interests, voices, career goals, leg hair, etc. don’t have anything to do with it, you’re left questioning what the point of gender even is. 

I gave myself a mental prompt and discussed it with a few friends: What if we were all raised as “they/them” in gender neutral ways, with no leaning toward dolls or trucks, dirt or cooking, dresses or pants? What if literally every option was available to every child and they just got to pick the things they like without redirection to an “appropriate” interest? What if we supported every crying child the same? If we were all raised the same and there was no difference between genders except the fact that each person decided on their own, how many would just stay neutral because it doesn’t matter?

The more I circled down this thought experiment around why the gender binary is a thing… the more I realized I didn’t like participating in it. My gender has nothing to do with my interests or my career or my wardrobe. I love femininity and my presentation is very femme. But does that necessarily make me a woman? 

People have already decided for me what it means to be a woman. It’s supposed to mean a hairless body and performative diet culture and being humble so that men can be the source of my confidence and validation. It means being talked over in meetings at work and apologizing for having an opinion. But I’ve already stopped doing all of those things. So if I’m not performing womanhood the way society wants anyway, what’s the point of “being a woman”? 

And this slow unraveling of the yarn-ball of gender expectations is how I decided the gender binary was not something I wanted to participate in, so I’m starting to explore neutral pronouns and a non-binary approach to life. 

Huh. 

 

Read more from me

Curious about gender issues? There’s a full glossary of gender-related terms and important information we should all know about what it means to be transgender in America in 2019 in my book, The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation. I’d love for you to let me know what you think of the book, so please give it a read and leave a review on Amazon. If you’re morally opposed to Amazon, I have some other links here.

You can also follow me on Medium and clap for this story to support me for the low low cost of your Medium membership.

I also have a Patreon page which will get sneak peeks of upcoming topics, an opportunity for you to suggest topics, and additional Patron-only bonus content. Check it out, Patron levels start at just $1 per month to help support my writing.

 

 

 

3 thoughts on “Breaking out of the binary 

  1. Lindsay says:

    Thank you for sharing this! There’s a lot of thought provoking concepts in here that made me think twice about how I relate to others and improve my language!

    Question- why do you switch breast feeding to chest feeding? All people have breasts, regardless of gender identification. The amount of breast tissue is what makes some larger than others. Anyone can get breast cancer (I’ve even had an uncle die from it). So I’m curious why breast feeding is a term that is associated with gender when every person regardless of their sex has breasts? I’d love your thoughts!

    Thanks again for sharing this thought provoking post.

    • Caitlin says:

      Good question. From what I’ve come to understand, chestfeeding is a term preferred by trans men who are parents, at least in my circles of friends. Since I was educated to use the term I now use it as a gender neutral term. While everyone does of course have breast tissue, the term “breasts” is primarily used as a feminine term. We don’t really refer to men’s breasts. We call it their chest.

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