Your crash course in gender begins in an unusual place: gingerbread. Or that is to say, genderbread. (You might want to grab a snack for this one!) Created in 2011, the genderbread person educational page has been used in classrooms across the country to talk about gender, sexuality, gender expression and so much more. Today we will be using it to form our base of gender education and clarify some terminology.
There are three main pieces of the genderbread person that I want to talk about today. The first being gender identity. Our genderbread person (who I will name Franklyn) shows gender identity as being housed in the brain. This is a concept most anyone can relate to. You may identify yourself as a plumber, but when I look at you I might not be able to tell you are a plumber. I may even think that you're a teacher instead. But that doesn't change the fact that you identify as a plumber. You may even be retired but a piece of you still holds that identity and history as a plumber, regardless of what I think. This is the same for gender identity. You may assume one gender when looking at someone, but just as you are not a teacher, they are not a man. As seen in our Franklyn genderbread picture, gender identity is on a spectrum, allowing for non-binary identities, gender neutral pronouns, and identities that even ignore gender altogether.
Anatomical sex is what category your biology places you in, XY or XX chromosomes, traditionally considered male or female. Generally, doctors and parents see the biology of their child and decide a gender identity for them in relation to what is socially acceptable. For people who's anatomical sex is ambiguous, such as intersex individuals, their sex is often chosen for them as babies through surgery. When an intersex child is born they may have a mix of genitals, like ovaries with testicles or more testosterone than estrogen and a uterus that menstruates. These children are often required to fit into the gender-biology binary that people claim is unchangeable, even when their existance as intersex refutes such a claim. Other times parents allow intersex people to engage with life as they are, unchanged, and let them make their own choices around sex and gender. I bring this up because people often look to science to give concrete answers, but even science supports the fluidity of identity and sex.
This binary I keep mentioning between male and female is one that people view as an either/or. But it isn't. As we see in Franklyn, it’s a spectrum, it's a both/and. There is femininity and masculinity and a whole lot of space in between to express yourself however you wish, leading us to our next term, gender expression. This is the clothes you wear or the hair cut you have; things that communicate to people around you what you want to express yourself as. This expression does not always equal someone's anatomical sex, or gender identity or even sexuality. People are free to express themselves however they want, and you may have noticed that some younger genderqueer* folks enjoy expressing themselves quite a lot! Fashion within queer communities is quite different than the mainstream, much in thanks to our history, culture and longstanding knowledge of gender identity vs. gender expression vs. anatomical sex. This break from societal expectations and the gender binary is incredibly freeing and the more people that know about the differences between expression, gender identity and anatomical sex the easier it is for people to feel safe expressing themselves.
To help explain why knowing about identity and sex is so important to queer people, I want to share a bit of my experience. I personally love to wear dresses and skirts with lots of different colored eyeliner. My favorite thing to do is find weird flowy dresses at thrift stores and pair them with sweaters and men's dress shoes and paint my lids with turquois and lavender. But, while I may look feminine, that doesn't mean I am a woman. When I bind my chest to make it look flat and wear suits or traditionally masculine athletic wear I am not a man. I am simply expressing my fluidity and love of fashion. Anatomically I am female, I see a gynecologist regularly, when I go to see the school nurse they ask me when my last period was, I have been told by barbers that they don't cut women's hair. But I use they/them and occasionally he/him pronouns. I am not a woman. But in dresses people assume I am. And to add to these assumptions, I also have a very feminine name, Elisabeth. You would assume I want to change it one day, but I truely love my name. I fought for it and fell in love with it over and over again as I began unravelling my gender identity, not in spite of people labelling me as a "woman" when they see it, but rather because of it. I am gender fluid, meaning I express myself and identify my gender all across the binary. My name being feminine is a piece of that. When people see a feminine version of me and also see my pronouns and gender identity, it problematizes the idea of gender and sex. I am a living example of how these terms intersect in a way beyond imagination.
In spaces where people use pronouns that they assume for someone, instead of asking my pronouns, these intricate pieces of who I am are erased. I am not a trans-masculine** gender queer person. I am a cisgender*** female who likes funny eyeliner colors. I am Elisabeth but also not Elisabeth. I had a professor last year tell me that she wanted to create a safe space for me in her classroom so I can be Elisabeth, apart from my queerness. She thought that queer people put too much emphasis on their queerness. That we make our sexuality and gender identity our entire identity, omitting opportunities for us to be whole. But if you remove my gender identity you have to then remove my favorite clothes, my future passions for life, even my name. What am I then but a shell of a gingerbread cookie, dressed like society expects a "woman" to dress, making people in the room more comfortable with my unconfusing presence, never my whole and complicated self.
So you see, we may have started with three basic concepts, but one blog post in and you are better equipped to accept and care for all of me than you were before. I am excited to continue on in this series with care and vulnerability. Feel free to comment any questions you might want me to answer in the coming weeks and follow the Social Justice Langley Facebook page for updates on when a new post comes out.
*Gender queer: An umbrella term for people who do not fall into the expected experience of gender and sex. This includes transgender people, those who use gender neutral pronouns, or anyone who has a non-normative experience with gender.
**Trans-masculine: Someone who has been assigned female at birth but identifies with a masculine gender identity more than a female gender identity.
***Cisgender: Refers to someone who's gender identity aligns with their anatomical sex assigned at birth.
Franklyn the Genderbread person: https://www.genderbread.org/