Tuesday, January 17, 2017


I am not quite through the January issue of National Geographic, but it is already one of the most remarkable issues I have ever read.  The issue is called Gender Revolution, and the cover picture is of a young girl (under 10 years old) who was born a boy but has identified as a girl for most of her life. Under her picture is a quote.  As part of the issue, Nat Geo asked 80 nine year old kids from countries all over the world, questions about gender identity, one of which was, what is the best thing about being a _____, where the blank is filled in by the gender of the young person being asked.  In the case of the girl on the cover, her answer is "The best thing about being a girl is, now I don't have to pretend to be a boy".  Awesome!!

As is many of the other quotes, most from cisgender children, that is children whose gender identity matched the biological sex they were assigned at birth.  Their candor, their truthfulness, their perceptions, which sometimes take exception, sometimes concur with societal norms, are a bright, clear window into how we treat our children, how they perceive the labels that adults love to use, and how different cultures and environments shape gender identity.

For most of us, gender is male or female.  One or the other.  I think it safe to say that the generations before the baby boomer generation, traditional gender identities and the corresponding traits, not to mention careers, of those identities were the perceived norm.  Anyone outside those strict definitions were treated poorly, if not outright cruelly.  But during the baby boomer generation (my generation), norms began to expand.  While men and women were still identified in the traditional sense, masculine and feminine traits were accepted as part of each person.  Men were permitted to become more in touch with their feelings, women were permitted to be aggressive, ambitious, physical. While it was clearly still not easy to be a homosexual man, at least men were allowed to cry, seek therapy for their mental difficulties, and become more involved with parenting, while women were encouraged to seek professional careers, join the military, and learn to make a cabinet or fix the plumbing.

Now, there are no less than 15 gender identities that are actively used by young people to describe themselves.  The definitions of each of them is found in the Nat Geo issue, along with pictures of young people who identify themselves as such.  It is an incredible array of feelings and perceptions.
For me, a gender conforming male, it allows me the latitude to accept a feeling or perception that perhaps I had been suppressing for fear of straying outside the boundaries of my conforming gender identity, while also accepting the myriad range of perceptions that other people might feel, without judging them based on the societal norms that can be so restrictive and damaging.

To be honest, I still find myself wondering if this explosion of gender identities is part and parcel to a normal pendulum swing, in that, as we finally come to view men and women as more than just male and female, we overreach to try to account for every little variation, and then label it.  Whether the pendulum is still on the upswing, and we see 15 more gender identities in the near future, or whether the pendulum has reached its apex and the list begins to shrink as gender identities are combined, I am still elated that the process is well underway because like all societal shifts in reference to what is normal (accepted), and what is not (rejected), the more inclusive our definitions, the more accepting we can be of each others' differences will result in a population, especially among our young people, that can worry less about how they fit in, and more about being the best human they can be.

Of course, the troubling side of this discussion, is the reaction it will generate by those with a more   fundamental outlook on gender, especially as to how it defines sexual orientation.  Particularly, the reaction by those with strong religious viewpoints.  While I would ask that they "judge not, lest ye be judged", I know that many who perceive themselves as holding strong religious views, quote other words from their holy books to justify their condemnation, both in this life and the next, of those they believe that God has condemned.  

While I would ask them to look at the science of gender, I know that many of them deny science when it contradicts with their religious views.  Evolution being the prime example.  Yet this science has proof that some people are born with the physical attributes of one gender and the sex organs of a different one, or who never get the testosterone burst to "make" them fully male despite having the genitals of a male.
While I would ask them to look at the existence of cultures that have existed for multiple generations with different perceptions of male and female, I know that many might consider them barbarians, and pray that they might be converted to a more Christian viewpoint.

While I would ask them to look at nature, and the fact that there are all kinds of plants and animals that are androgynous, that demonstrate the ability to change genders when necessary, that have existed for thousands of years with nontraditional gender roles for the male and female of their species, I know that while many might acknowledge the diversity of God's creation, they would still consider them abnormal.

While I would ask them to read and understand the article which includes information about the life of a person named Ioelu who is an anatomical female but lives as a man, and is called a fa'afafine in his culture which has consistently included a small percentage of fa'afafines despite the fact that these "men" cannot have children, a person who has found his love, another man as is the usual for fa'afafine men, I would then ask them to think about the last phrase of that article in which, after Ioelu tells the author that he hopes to someday marry his boyfriend and live in Canada, the author realizes that just by crossing a border, Ioelu's gender classification would change from fa'afafine to gay man.
Unfortunately, I know that many who have already made their judgement on the LGBT community would ignore the plight of this fellow human and all those who cannot just move to a place that is more accepting of their differences.

So, I guess what is left is to wish that all who adamantly judge the gender identities and sexual orientation of others, have a child who stretches the boundary of what is considered normal.  Perhaps then, those who are so quick to condemn will find that their parental love overcomes the fear and hatred that previously colored their judgment.  And, perhaps someday, we all will be able to empathize with those who live outside what is considered normal, without having to experience it first.    

No comments:

Post a Comment