Riley J. Dennis has a smart analogy that’ll show you the beautiful range of gender beyond the binary.
The Editors at Everyday Feminism
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How many genders are there? A lot of people probably say 2. I mean, I would have said 2 a few years ago, but the reality is that gender is more like a spectrum than a binary, so there’s an infinite amount of possibilities.
It’s like asking how many colors are there? You could make the argument there’s just a set number of colors. There’s red, blue, green, and yellow, for instance. Then, you could make the argument that everything under that is just a shade. Like, orange is a shade of red, and purple is a shade of blue, etc., but you’d be lumping a lot of colors together that are distinctly different.
Like, bluish green is very much different from yellowish green, but you’d be calling both of them green. There’s actually an infinite amount of colors, because every little bit that you move on the spectrum becomes a different color, and that’s kind of how gender works.
A lot of people think of gender as a binary. There’s men, and there’s women. For humans, it makes things a lot easier for us. We like to categorize things, and we like to put things in the boxes, so that we can have preconceived ideas about them, but in reality things are rarely so black and white. In fact, people can identify with being both a man and a woman, or only one of those, or neither of them.
To wrap our heads around this, we need to ask ourselves what we mean when we say gender? Are we talking about genitals? Do men have penis’ and woman have vagina’s? The answer is no. This idea is fed to us since the moment we’re born with it’s a boy, and it’s a girl signs, but your genitals and your chromosomes, whether you’re XX or XY have to do with your biological sex, and not your gender.
It’s worth noting, though, that even biological sex isn’t a clear binary. There’s a term intersex for people who aren’t biologically male or female, but that’s a subject for another video.
What is gender then, if not our biological sex? Well, it’s a social construction. It’s something that human societies have created with social and cultural meaning, and assigned to people based on their sex. Some cultures have completely different perceptions of gender than we do, and a lot of cultures have a third gender.
Think of it using the colors pink and blue. We assign pink to cisgender girls, and blue to cisgender boys, but can you realize how arbitrary that is? Pink is not inherently female, and blue is not inherently male. In fact, those color associations used to be reversed, like 100 years ago.
Since gender is a made up human concept that has no physical basis in your biological sex, each person should be able to identify with whatever gender they feel most comfortable with, and most identify with, regardless of how they were assigned at birth.
This concept is called gender identity. It’s how you feel, and how you identify with yourself on the inside. Some people don’t strongly identify with being a man, or a woman, and those people might choose labels like gender nonconforming, gender non-binary, or genderqueer to describe themselves.
Gender expression, on the other hand, is how people choose to express their gender. Someone who wants to appear more feminine might wear makeup, and someone who wants to appear more masculine might cut their hair short, but obviously these meanings are socially constructed, as well.
Makeup isn’t inherently feminine, and cutting your hair short isn’t inherently masculine. These are just associations that our culture has arbitrarily applied to them. Other labels exist, too, and you can think of them as even more shades of color. Like agender, and bi-gender, and gender fluid.
Agender is someone who identifies with no gender. They’re not even on the spectrum. Bi-gender is someone who identifies with 2 genders, and gender fluid is someone who moves between and across genders.
The exploration and study of gender is constantly changing, and evolving, too, so some words that we’re using right now might fall out of use 5 years from now, and some words that we used to use aren’t relevant anymore.
It’s important to remember that language is constantly changing, and not to use language as an excuse to deny someone’s gender identity. Even though our language has historic people into he and she categories, other categories do exist. In fact, using they as a singular pronoun is already perfectly acceptable, and common in usage.
Like saying hey, my friend is coming over, and I’m asking oh, when will they be here. Because you don’t know the gender of the person, you can use a singular they, and it’s all right. Some people are going to choose to use the they pronoun all the time, and that’s okay.
Also, it’s important to remember not to confuse any of this with sexual orientation. Your sexual orientation, gay, straight, bi, whatever, is the type of people that you are attracted to, that you’re sexually attracted to. That has nothing to do with your gender identity, which is how you feel inside.
A lot of people conflate these 2, because they’re often confused in our media, but you can definitely be a feminine man and like woman, or be a masculine woman and like men, or any other combination of that.
If you’re currently questioning your gender, I want you to know that you’re not alone. I questioned my gender for a long, long time, and I only recently came out as non-binary. Your gender identity is real and valid, and there are people who will love you, and accept you.
Likewise, if you know someone who has come out as some form of gender non-binary, I hope this has been helpful for you in understanding that, and I also put some resources down in the description that you can check out to learn more.
This video is a part of a series I’m doing for Everyday Feminism, a Website dedicated to helping you stand up to, and break down everyday oppression. I’ll put some links down in the description, so you can go learn more about them. I make videos every Sunday, so subscribe if you want to see some of those, and I hope you have a wonderful day. I love you all, and I’ll see you next time. Bye.
To learn more about this topic, check out:
- Too Queer for Your Binary: Everything You Need to Know and More About Non-Binary Identities
- 10 Myths About Non-Binary People It’s Time to Unlearn
Riley J. Dennis is a Contributing Vlogger for Everyday Feminism. She’s a polyamorous, atheist, gender non-binary trans woman with a passion for fiction writing, feminism, and technology. She got her BA from Whittier College in 2015 doing a self-designed major called Writing Worlds, a mixture of creative writing and anthropology, focused on realistic fictional world building. Find her on her YouTube channel, Twitter @RileyJayDennis, or her website RileyJayDennis.com.