Gender for many exists in the binary format of male and female, masculinity and femininity. There’s an inseparable link between gender and sex built and upheld by our society. But even within this binary there are degrees of gender expression and an almost competition on who is more of their assigned gender. Men need to become more manly in an effort to legitimize themselves, and women must maintain a delicate and pink persona. More conservative minded people may have issues with men being too feminine or “girly”, near bullying them to step up to their assigned gender roles.
Gender is very flexible, and it is noticeable even in the context of the gender binary. No two men or women are exactly the same in expression. Some women will be too manly or not feminine enough, and some guys will act passive and more delicate; roles seen as expressed by women alone.
If there is a policing of gender expression within this binary, especially by more conservative minded people on the topic of gender, then the experiences of transgender or non conforming individuals are a whole new world.
It’s a multi faced war, getting attacks from all sides for not being manly or being too manly, being too feminine or not feminine enough. It’s a heart tearing experience. Transgender individuals want to live a life that makes them feel themselves, accepted by society, and content with who they are. However, the standards set in place on expression and appearance places so much stress on the transgender community.
The very recent story on Leelah Alcorn is one of the (sadly) numerous examples of society’s expectations on gender gone horribly wrong. Leelah had faced abuse from her family for not conforming to what they defined as male, regardless of how Leelah felt. And the conversion centers set up to negate her feelings, as well as many others in the transgender community, reinforces the idea of gatekeepers in the medical field. It’s a minefield for those wishing to transition, and for many it deters them from ever seeking medical advise.
It’s not only the idea that the two genders (or sexes as seen by some) are required to follow strict gender roles, it’s also the fact that not many are aware that gender is very fluid. There are numerous of identities across time and cultures, some even have taken high positions in society in the past.
The Hijra community, for example, is a group in South Asia that held high regard in the earlier periods of India’s civilizations. They protected women, served as messengers between men and women, and were seen as religiously powerful. Though the community still thrives in some fashion today, the Hijra legacy has been heavily tampered as a sub group of non conformists. And especially those unfamiliar with Indian history, or any history hosting multi genders, can be intolerant to the idea that there is more than one gender.
Third genders and non conforming individuals here are seen as attention seeking or confused. “There is no such thing as agender”, “that’s not a real pronoun”, or “why can’t you pick male or female” are a few of the many questions bombarded against this segment of the transgender community. It is a bit of intolerance, but it appears to be a lack of knowledge, or a myth that gender is only male or female.
For the safety of transgender individuals and the community, it is imperative that the standards of gender identity, expression, and appearance be heavily modified to allow acceptance and tolerance. Misconceptions from misgendering to brutal attacks have effectively ostracized many transgender individuals. It’s created an environment where they feel it unsafe to seek help or ask for guidance out of fear of attacks or being killed.
The list of issues goes on from lack of health care, to high risks of infections and disease, to homelessness, violence, lack of education, unemployment, and a slew of issues.
There needs to be effective change, a big overhaul on the concept of gender and protecting individuals. Though it seems like a task to be taken on by large groups, NGOs, and the government, it can start at home. It starts by recognizing and respecting gender identities and expressions.
Photo Credit: Wikipedia