Bi-Gender: A Lesson In Gender Identity
Today, I published a short, animated film, and more or less came out to my friends and peers. The film, entitled 'Bi-Gender: A Lesson In Gender Identity', discusses gender identity, what it means to exist outside of the gender binary, and ways in which friends and families of genderqueer people can respect the individuals in their lives. What are the differences between gender and sex, what is bi-gender, and how does one go about coming out as a gender-nonconforming person? What is the importance of pronouns? All of these things are discussed in the film, which can be viewed on YouTube. Otherwise, here's an overview:
Gender Identity––what is it? First off, let's talk about the differences between gender and sex.
Your sex is determined by the organs you are born with. Male, female, and intersex.
Gender, on the other hand, is a person's sense of being male or female. Your gender identity is your private understanding of your gender.
Most people feel that their gender matches their sex and neatly fall into respective male and female identities. We call this classification of sex and gender as two distinct options the binary, which you can think of as a sort of box. A societal concept, the gender box calls for only two gender identities--male and female. And these identities must, according to the binary, match your sex.
Thankfully, there is no box! In reality, gender is a spectrum, a continuum of identities. You may find that your gender doesn't match your sex, that you fall on more than one place in the spectrum, or that you don't identify with any part of it at all, as agender people do.
WHAT IS BI-GENDER?
To me, bi-gender means that on some days I feel like a boy, and on others I feel like a girl. Unlike genderfluid people, who may move anywhere across the spectrum, bi-gender people exist exclusively and simultaneously at two distinct points. Two genders in one body. We may move between these points daily, monthly, or even yearly.
Bi-gender is one of many non-binary gender identities. Other identities include, but are not limited to, androgynous, transgender, genderfluid, and agender. To be androgynous means to exist in the middle of the gender spectrum, to identify as neither man or woman. Transgender is an umbrella term used to describe anyone and everyone whose gender does not match their biological, assigned sex.
Families and friends of gender-nonconforming people often wonder how best to respect and acknowledge the individuals in their lives.
Here are some things to keep in mind.
(And why they're important)
He & him, she & her, and they & them are all examples of pronouns. 'They' is neutral, and so is generally the preferred pronoun for many non-binary identities. Having said that, if you're confused about someone's gender identity, it's usually best to just go ahead and ask them! More often than not, people want to tell you what they go by, so long as you keep the conversation polite and respectful. Asking someone which pronouns they prefer is a good way of doing it. Demanding to know whether someone is a 'boy' or a 'girl' is not.
Keep in mind that a person's preferred pronouns may also vary depending on context. For instance, on days when I'm presenting as male, I'd love for you to call me "he"! It's best to talk to people about it. That way you won't misgender anyone accidentally. If you want to play it safe, though, 'they' will always acceptable and neutral.
Pronouns are important for several reasons. They help validate our identity in the company of others, and they keep us feeling confident, safe, and comfortable. If you're having trouble understanding the importance of pronouns, imagine you're a cis-gendered, or gender-conforming man showing off your masculinity. Or a young woman off on a night out with the girls. How would you feel if someone misgendered you?
And, while I've brought up gender stereotypes, never limit someone to who you think they are or should be. As a part-time heterosexual dude with a face full of makeup, and a feminine presenting lesbian, I've been shoved into that binary box and have had assumptions made about me again and again.
Also: remember that gender identity has nothing to do with a person's sexual orientation, and that presentation doesn't, either.
(is hard to do)
For the genderqueer* person, coming out is often not only scary, but a difficult thing to explain to others. How does one go about saying that they're both a man and a woman, neither, or a combination of the two? If coming out is important to you, I've found that educating the people in your life prior to the big announcement helps. Try teaching them about the gender spectrum, the binary, and the reality that there are in fact many genders, not just two. That's what I tried to do with this film, which was made prior to my coming out.
Remember that coming out is often a life-long process, much like discovering your identity is. It is not simply one event, or one statement. It is likely that you will lose people along the way, and that you will often find yourself having to come out over and over again in different situations. No matter the outcome, remember that another person's anger, disappointment, or expectations are never your fault, and that you don't ever have to apologise for being you.
*Genderqueer: a person who identities with neither, both or a combination of male and female genders