UPDATE March 20 2017: Since learning more about feminism over the past year, I’ve learned that “spectrum” isn’t the right term. It implies that there is still “male” and “female” at either end, and all people fit somewhere between. But in fact, this is isn’t true. So instead of a spectrum, there is a myriad of genders. Knowing this, I’m not going to remove this post because the purpose of this blog is to share what I learn as I learn, and to maintain honesty and authenticity I’d like you to be able to see exactly what I learned. But please keep this update in mind as you read!
There tends to be some confusion about what the gender spectrum is and why it matters.
So today, I am going to try to help clarify what it’s all about.
The gender spectrum exists because not everyone identifies with the biological sex they were born into.
For me, my birth sex is female and I identify as female, so my gender identity matches. This means that I am cisgender, since my biological sex and gender identity match. I fit into society’s binary of male and female.
But many people don’t.
Those people aren’t cisgender because their birth sex doesn’t match their gender identity, and they don’t fit into the binary that society has normalized. And often, this starts to happen when people are young children.
I’d like to add here that as a cisgender person myself, I don’t mean to speak for those who aren’t in this post. I do think it’s really important to talk about these things though, and I’m doing my best with what I’ve learned.
Okay, back to the good stuff.
The gender spectrum is a way to understand all genders beyond the rigid categories of male and female.
Sex refers to our physical organs, and gender refers to how we identify ourselves and express ourselves in relation to our sex, usually through clothes we wear. Since not everyone identifies as male or female, and instead something in between, it makes sense to say that there are more than two genders.
So gender is not actually binary, and society has been normalizing something that is entirely untrue.
Instead, as I understand it, gender is a spectrum and everyone fits somewhere along the spectrum. Some are at either end, and identify as male or female, and others fit in between.
This includes people who are gender fluid, or genderqueer.
And it means that the actual English language doesn’t work — because “he” and “she” are the only pronouns we have. Only in my university classes did I hear about pronouns like “ze,” and “hir,” which by the way, autocorrect tried to change when I typed.
But wait — let’s back up a bit.
What does gender fluid and genderqueer mean?
Someone who identifies as gender fluid or genderqueer typically identifies neither as male or female. They might feel differently on any given day, sometimes male and sometimes female, so that they don’t really identify as either a guy” or girl. They are the perfect example of why the gender spectrum exists, and why the gender binary doesn’t work.
Some people argue that people outside of the binary are weird and just don’t meet society’s expectations.
But if we think that way, we’ll never grow and adapt as a society.
Not too long ago, people of color were considered the other, the weird ones who didn’t deserve anything. Now, things are changing.
And we should do the same with any other we see.
That’s why the gender spectrum matters.
People exist between male and female, and just because you and I might fit into the binary doesn’t mean everyone should have to.
The gender spectrum may be a relatively new concept, but so is feminism and women’s rights.
Everyone deserves to feel they belong in society and that they are worthy and deserving of good treatment.
Those of us who do fit the binary must be understanding of the gender spectrum and those who especially need it.
So if you are cisgender, make the small effort to be inclusive.
Much as is the case when it comes to sexuality, you simply never know when someone in your life needs to know that support is out there. So do what you can — it doesn’t take much effort.
Say “all genders,” instead of “men and women” or “males and females” to show that you recognize gender is a spectrum.
Use gender neutral language like “partner” and using names instead of pronouns to show that you understand not everyone fits into one gender. If you aren’t sure, ask what pronoun to use — it’s better than making a mistake, and shows that you respect different gender identities.
Listen when someone talks to you about gender confusion or even just the idea of non-binary genders, instead of shutting them down.
It’ll make an amazing difference, even if you don’t realize it.
How do you understand the gender spectrum? Is there something you’d like to add or correct, or that you’re still confused about? Let me know in the comments below!
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