Youth have grown increasingly accepting of a gender spectrum, which includes genders like agender, intergender, and androgynous, instead of a binary system which only encompasses two genders: male and female. Nevertheless, there is still a lot of confusion in popular culture around what it means to be gender fluid. Even at South, the all-gender bathroom was only added last school year. While it seems like this addition may have been a long time coming for some students, it shows that South is also a unique place in terms of its accepting nature.
“All of the reactions I’ve experienced coming out have been positive. Something [specific to South] that comes to mind is the Day of Respect. The fact that there’s a day for encouraging diversity and all identities to be comfortable generates a great culture of respect,” senior Sol Gutierrez, a nonbinary member of South’s Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA), said.
However, while South is accepting compared to other schools, students still struggle with the idea of gender fluidity.
“Usually the biggest reaction [to me coming out] is like, ‘Oh, that’s so confusing. Why would you do that?’ Like it’s a choice. People also always victimize themselves when they mess up on my pronouns, and they just assume that gender [fluidity] is a new thing from Tumblr, even though it’s always been around. It’s pretty sucky,” an anonymous junior from GSA said.
These students have also had many experiences with other students and even teachers misgendering them.
“I get misgendered fairly commonly as a person who identifies more masculine because I obviously have a chest and my hair is long. I was actually in the girls’ bathroom yesterday and then I was like, ‘Why do I have to be here when I’m not a girl?’ I realized that I feel like I have to be this feminine person sometimes because it’s not socially accepted to be myself all the time,” the anonymous junior said.
Clearly, despite the welcoming atmosphere South is known for, there is some work to do to ensure that, as a school, we promote inclusivity and respect for people who do not identify as cisgender, meaning they do not consider themselves as solely male or female.
When I think about the problems with embracing and understanding gender fluidity even at a generally accepting place like South, I question why people are becoming open to understanding the spectrum of sexualities and supporting people to like whoever they like, but are still struggling with the concept of gender being on a spectrum in the same way. An example of this can be seen in the top definition of gender on Urban Dictionary, a website where the uncensored opinions of people usually come out to ruin everyone’s day. Even though I do not view Urban Dictionary as the best source for revealing the mass opinions of teenagers, it does seem a little strange that the top definition for “gay” is relatively inoffensive, but the top definition for “gender” is extremely problematic, including the statement that any gender besides female or male is “something you made up one day to feel speshul. E.g. ‘semiqueer-bi-spirit-shemale.’ May use made-up pronouns such as ‘xe,’ ‘ze.’ ‘schlee,’ ‘nflgsufgshuihousu,’ etc.”
So what causes this lack of sensitivity and concern for gender fluidity as a subject? There are many factors that play into it, but I think that one of the largest problems is portrayal in media. Media is well-known for the misrepresentation of basically everyone but white, cisgender, straight men and, in general, this distorted view of different groups of people reveals many harmful stereotypes that are still widely accepted, despite their inaccuracy. While misrepresentation in media is widespread, it has been especially common for transgender and nonbinary people.
Fortunately, many new television shows are trying to reverse the trend, but gender-fluid people have still been subject to misrepresentation and a lack of representation in mass media.
“I think it’s horrible that there isn’t good representation. When it’s there, it’s usually stereotypical, and they’re also usually white, which bothers me as a Latinx person,” Gutierrez said. Latinx is the gender neutral term used instead of Latino or Latina.
“In T.V. at least, cartoons have been pushing for LGBTQ+ content, but the networks usually push back because of conservative viewers.”
Sure, there are characters and shows that have been unabashedly LGBTQ+ friendly, like the cartoon Steven Universe, which features the character Stevonnie using gender neutral pronouns. But there are also characters like the androgynous supermodel All from Zoolander 2, whom many people found to be extremely offensive to gender-fluid people. In fact, when there are so few gender-fluid people represented in media, characters like All make a much more substantial, negative impact on the way gender-fluid or nonbinary people are viewed by the public.
While misrepresentation in media is widespread, it has been especially common for transgender and nonbinary people.
I guess I am not asking for everyone reading this to immediately and abruptly stop talking to anyone who enjoys a television show, movie, and Y.A. novel that has misrepresentation, or no representation, of people who do not use the pronouns she or he. I am not urging you to fall at the feet of anyone you have ever misgendered and beg them for forgiveness. However, I am asking for everyone to become more aware of gender fluidity as something legitimate, not something to laugh about in an offensive movie or T.V. show. Even if you do not currently understand genders outside of the gender binary, I think that people who identify as gender fluid, nonbinary, androgynous, agender, or any other gender identity deserve to be better represented and, consequently, better understood.
For anyone who is questioning their gender, the gender fluid people in South’s GSA have helpfully offered their advice.
“I’ve gone through a lot of different identities trying to figure out who I am. You can always change your view of yourself as you learn more. Exploring your identity and even Googling helps,” the anonymous junior said.