Sexism is bad. Any reasonable person should be upset at hearing discriminatory opinions. But what about hearing people being proud or excited about their own gender?
“As a woman, I need someone to nurture.”
“I really like learning martial arts with other women.”
“My men’s discussion group helped me understand how my masculinity could be positive.”
If these kind of gender stereotypes make you furious, have you considered if you are nonbinary or trans?
Let me back up several steps. When the average acquaintance says something about their own (cis)gender identity, they are usually assuming you are a cisgender person, either a man or a woman. Bringing gender into the conversation reminds you that they are applying gendered assumptions not only to themself, but to you, and those assumptions may clash with your internal understanding of yourself.
In my personal experience, this clash started to get more and more uncomfortable for me as I became more and more confused about whether I am a woman. Hearing about other people’s gender triggered feelings of dysphoria and disorientation. I eventually accepted that I am nonbinary, and researched enough to place myself within a frame of reference. Hearing other people speak about their gender became much less painful. I understood my own identity and could reassure myself, mentally, that the way I felt was valid.
Most of us live our entire lives surrounded by reminders of binary gender. For nonbinary people, these are reminders that most of the world incorrectly views us as one of two genders. People may mean well when trying to relate to us as a woman, or as a man, but that’s misgendering. It’s not a form of connection to remind someone of the incorrect way you see them.
It’s not just friends trying to connect in misgendering ways, it’s coworkers, family, community members, store employees, waiters, customer service agents, doctors, bank tellers, mechanics, and the list goes on. If you shop in a clothing store divided into men’s and women’s sections, and an employee informs you the jeans you picked out are women’s pants, that judgment can make it uncomfortable to pick the clothes that feel good to you. If you’re forced to select “Women’s Health Exam” as your appointment type because you need a pap smear and a birth control prescription, that reinforces that you will be misgendered on top of having an uncomfortable medical experience. (“Reproductive Health” is a better rephrasing.)
So maybe you’re used to this level of misgendering from everyone you encounter out in the world. Maybe you’re so used to it you assume you’re cisgender. But then a friend leans in, and says, “As women, you know, we are looking for a man who will take care of us.”
You don’t say anything. You don’t know what to say. You wish your friend would read Queer: A Graphic History by Meg-John Barker and then stop making such cishet judgements about you.
If you find yourself making sweeping, angry, judgements about your gender assigned at birth, have you considered that forcing yourself into that gender identity might not be right for you? If you have always been “one of the guys” or think girls and women have it better or wish everyone would just use gender-neutral language for everyone, maybe you’re trans, nonbinary, or agender. Only you can know that for sure. But the secret is that not everyone wants to be a guy or a girl or gender-neutral or agender. You might want that. But most people want something different.
It’s okay to not know what your gender identity is. It’s okay to be angry, even if you don’t know why. Anger can be useful to help self-diagnose what’s wrong within yourself, your community, your family. You can tell your body, it’s okay to be angry. People in the world are frustrating, discriminatory, sexist, and racist and that is worth being angry about.
Gender stereotypes may be uncomfortable whether they are applicable to your gender or not. Incorrect assumptions about your gender may make you hurt, angry, or dysphoric. Hearing supportive statements affirming who you are can make you feel understood, cherished, and at home in your body. Self-understanding and self-affirmation is crucial.
I hope you can be kind to yourself when experiencing these moments of rage at gender stereotypes. We all can feel trapped within a system that assumes everyone has a binary gender, and all the cultural assumptions that follow along. Whether you’re cis or trans or questioning, cultivating awareness of the flawed system may help you understand your own gender identity.
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