Assumptions about Gender
Updated: Oct 20, 2019
How many of you have had to worry if someone would use the proper pronouns for you?
Growing up as a straight girl with a Christian background, gender was always assumed. Using he/him/his pronouns for someone with masculine features and she/her/hers for a person with a feminine profile was common knowledge. Never once did we stutter with our assumptions about gender.
On top of that, religious teachings were more strict about the realm of sexual orientation. I remember being taught that homosexuality was a sin and getting pamphlets about conversion therapy in my religion classes (I went to Catholic school). I was definitely scared of even the possibility that I might be gay--more so from the social pressures that surrounded me, but also because I would need to reevaluate my identity and values. So I purposely never allowed myself to reflect on my sexuality. I operated under assumptions.
When I began my freshman year at a public state university, I was immersed into an entirely different realm of cultures, mindsets, and values. I had culture shock. No longer was it taboo to discuss gender and sexual orientation or be openly gay when meeting people for the first time. During this period, I also began to post my poems on Tumblr, a platform that gave me more exposure to the LGBT community.
It was a time of curiosity and learning for me. I felt a little bit nervous exploring topics that had been forbidden for so long. It felt like I was breaking the rules, and some people might even argue that. There was also a lot of discourse that claimed the mere discussion of LGBT issues meant you were gay yourself.
After feeling scared about the topic of sexuality for so long, these questions prompted my reflection. Instead of thinking, "I definitely cannot be gay, and that doesn't matter because I'm not," I had to ask myself:
"What really is my sexual orientation? And what would it mean if I were gay?"
To help me understand myself, I began to follow many LGBT YouTubers who posted Coming Out videos or discussed their experiences. After much research, I finally established that I leaned more to the heterosexual end of the Kinsey scale. The real catharsis, however, was in accepting that if I were gay, I would be 100% happy with that reality.
In the past, when people would make jokes that were offensive to LGBT individuals, I never had the courage to openly stop it. Since I came to terms with my own sexual orientation and deeply empathize with the LGBT community on their experiences and the discrimination they face, I feel compelled to speak up. The harm that I caused back then was being complicit as a bystander instead of standing up and turning a moment of hatred into an opportunity for education.
As a culture, we've made some significant strides in recent years. More people are now open to the possibility that not everyone is straight, and that it is wrong to assume sexual orientation. However, the current issue that not everyone is aware of / agrees on is the harmful effects of assuming gender.
To whittle down this expansive issue into a simplistic version, I will use the example of pronouns. In my lifetime, I never doubted that any person would fail to use she / her / hers pronouns for me. People have assumed correctly that I identify as female.
Just because they are right about me--one individual out of billions--doesn't mean that assumptions are the gold standard. It's important to dissolve the expectations of assuming and to encourage the asking of how people identify. Normalize people explicitly stating their pronouns, but not to the point where every non-binary or transgender person has to give you a crash course about "their people" and their experiences. It's all a balance, my friends.
So to summarize, here are some tips:
1. Ask people how they identify, and don't assume the binary "Male or Female" option. People can identify in a number of different ways. Here's a link to some gender identity terms: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/transgender-gender-identity-terms-glossary/
2. There is nothing that inherently makes you a "man" or "woman." (Again, going back to the binary gender options.) The only reason we use blue for baby boys and pink for baby girls is because of formerly established gender roles. There are certain things that can be defined as "masculine" or "feminine" but don't assume gender from that. Here's a link to why we should think of gender on scales, which is an interesting read: https://www.itspronouncedmetrosexual.com/2019/02/gender-scales-or-spectrums/
3. If someone scoffs at you for asking their gender (because they feel like you should know just by looking at them, their name, their voice, etc.), use that as an opportunity for education! When I was working as a nurse, I once asked a patient her gender. She replied, "I just told you I am a mother. What do you think?" I let her know that many people identify as different genders besides male or female, and as a courtesy to everyone, I like to ask instead of wrongfully assume. She nodded her head, but other people may just roll their eyes at you anyway. At least you tried!
4. Even if you fit into the traditional norm, e.g. a person who appears feminine uses she/her/hers pronouns, it is good practice to still explicitly state your gender and pronouns. It breaks down the barrier of how common it is for people to assume. For example, in my email signature, I put she/her/hers right under my name:
5. And as for most things, continue educating yourself. We are all continually learning!
If you liked this topic or have suggestions for future topics, links and resources specific for LGBT issues, or any other thoughts I didn't mention in this article, please let me know!