Yesterday, Chris Haigh, founder and lead consultant for True Change Associates, LLC, an organization committed to helping individuals and institutions create lasting change around equity and inclusion, presented an important webinar discussing gender beyond the binary.
Our current discourse on gender has evolved significantly in recent years, particularly as we’ve seen more transgender celebrities such as Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner share their experiences. However, as Chris deftly explained in their webinar, in these cases, we’re still focusing on the binary – female and male – gender system. However, times are changing. We’re seeing a new shift in the conversation focusing on gender fluidity. In fact, 60% of people between the ages of 14 and 34 think gender is fluid or blurred. Given these shifts in thinking, Chris asked, is this social construction even necessary? And how do we create truly gender inclusive spaces?
Before we dive in, I’m reminded of a moment about three years ago while I was out having dinner with some friends and their (at the time) 14-year old daughter. We started discussing gender and she casually mentioned that many of her friends don’t identify as one gender or another. As a 43 year old with little exposure to the queer community, this blew my mind. When thinking about gender when I was 14, I was just out of the “Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret” phase and barely knew what boys were, let alone wondering about my own gender identity. I realize now that those thoughts were coming from a place of privilege. I didn’t have to worry about how I identified because I simply did. I was (and am) the norm – cisgender, heterosexual.
Chris first dove into definitions, since in order for us to start to understand the landscape of gender beyond the binary, it’s critical that we have a foundation of knowledge that helps us talk about gender correctly. They shared this incredible short video that encapsulates a variety of key terms on gender fluidity, some historical context, and current thinking. One nugget of knowledge this video dropped explains gender expression, which is different from gender identity. Men wore heels first, and we’ve seen plenty of heterosexual male rock stars wear makeup (remember the 80’s?). But many people are still uncomfortable seeing men in dresses and women in ties because their clothing choices challenge current societal norms. The point is that fashion is a form of gender expression and has nothing to do with anything other than what society/culture dictates to us from a very young age.
Another knowledge nugget is the concept of genderqueer. Identifying as genderqueer means that you don’t subscribe to traditional male or female identities, but you may subscribe to different aspects of either or none of it at all.
Relatedly, I love this graphic that does a fantastic job explaining the breadth of gender beyond the binary. Credit unknown (I tried to find it but no joy, so if you know who created it, please tell me!).
Chris then dove into some research. Very little has been done on transgender people, and even less on those who identify outside of the binary. What has been shown is that discrimination is very real. There have been disturbing patterns of mistreatment and discrimination, and significant disparities between transgender people and cisgender people. It’s harder for transgender people to find a place to live, access medical care, find a job, and have family support. 39% of respondents to a recent US transgender study experience serious psychological distress, compared with 5% of the US population and 40% have attempted suicide, compared to 4.6% of the US population.
However, times are changing for the better, largely due to increased visibility in media (social and otherwise). Facebook now has 59 gender options, including “fill in the blank” and OKCupid has 21 gender options. TV and movie characters such as Taylor Mason (played by Asia Kate Dillon) on Billions identify as gender nonbinary and use they/them/their pronouns and even as recently as this week, we saw celebrities challenging gender norms in the most fashion-forward event of the year, the Met Gala. Tons of news pieces about what it means to be nonbinary are appearing in mainstream news outlets and laws are changing to be more inclusive.
If you’re asking yourself what you can do to create a more inclusive work environment for those that don’t identify as cisgender, Chris has some thoughts:
- First work on having a ”fluid brain”. Be open to the idea that the person you’re speaking with isn’t necessarily a ‘man’ or ‘woman’.
- Hold others’ truth if they tell you it is their truth. If they tell you they’re nonbinary, queer, or identify in any other space beyond the binary, listen without judgment and respect their requests to use the pronouns they prefer to use.
- Notice how gender is always at play. We can easily default to gender norms, but try and challenge them. For example, if you’re in a toy store and see a row of pink toys for girls and a row of army, trucks, and gun toys for boys, question why that is.
- Choose language with intentionality. Not only is it important to be careful with your use of pronouns, but since there are so many different ways to parse gender fluidity, it’s equally important to understand the different terminology that people may use to describe themselves (see above graphic!).
Special thanks to Chris for sharing their knowledge with us! We hope that you stay up to date on the latest and greatest diversity, equity, and inclusion news by signing up for our newsletter. We also have more webinars coming up, so sign up today!
Top photo credit: iStock Photo