Updated: Jun 14, 2020
Misconceptions Surrounding Gender and Sexuality We're Leaving in 2019
Now that we are entering into a new decade, it is time we finally clear up some misconceptions surrounding gender and sexuality and the way those two constructs... construct our lives. Throughout this piece I'm going to be providing facts regarding gender, sex, and sexuality that are not up for the "well that's just my opinion" type of nonsense, as well as providing links you can click on, at any point while reading, to learn more. This piece is not one to pass judgement, but rather offer insight you may not have known, or were always curious about, but you did not know who or how to ask. With this post, I'm aiming to educate people about common misconceptions surrounding a community who unfortunately endures the consequences of cis-straight people's ignorance; however, as a person who is not a part of the LGBT+ community, I want to use a voice of reference who can communicate the facts about the LGBT+ community better than I can. I absolutely do not want to presume to know everything 1. because I do not and 2. I do not want to come across as disingenuous. I've noticed a pattern of ignorance among the cis-straight demographic, whether that be myself, others around me, or conversations I've browsed through on social media platforms, where that ignorance disregards millions of people's existence and chalks it up to opinion. That does not sit right with me. To all the cis-straight readers, check your ego at the door. This information is important for everyone to ensure we continue to think progressively and treat people with the respect they deserve, regardless of gender identification or sexual preference.
I am using the book Gender Outlaw by Kate Bornstein, who is a non-binary transgender writer, as my frame of reference for this post.
I want this information to be accessible, so below I'm going to provide definitions, along with my commentary, so it is easier for everyone to follow along.
Cis-Gender-Identifying with the gender you were given at birth.
Trans-Gender- Someone who adopts a different gender than the one they were given at birth. Within this community there are a people who fall into a few categories.
Postoperative- Those who have undergone genital surgery.
Preoperative- Those who plan on undergoing genital surgery.
Nonoperative-Those identifying with a gender opposite of the one they were given at birth who have little to no intention on undergoing genital and/or top surgery.
Trans-Sexual- Bornstein states this term is most often used by "people who define their transition in medical terms of surgery and hormones."
A-Gender/Gender Non-Conforming- A person who doesn't identify with any specific gender.
Gender Fluid- A person who is fluid with their gender identity, adopting whatever gender identity that makes them feel like their best selves on whichever day.
The most common misconception surrounding gender, is the confusion of gender to be interrelated with biological gender (or sex). Bornstein states, sex identifies "body types, chromosomes, hormones, genitals, reproductive organs, or some other corporal or chemical essence." Whereas gender relates to class, and that class system identifies you as a man or a woman. Patriarchy defines the gender hierarchy as binary, meaning one or the other, placing men at the top and women at the lower tier of the gender class. This placement in society does not reflect anything related to our biological state of being. This placement reflects power.
Gender identity is a social identity. Gender Identity is putting a defining (but not necessarily binding) name to our gender expression. Gender expression, according Bornstein, "is how we put our gender identity into play out in the world." For example, gender identity would be labeling yourself man, woman, non-binary etc., and gender expression would be expressing yourself in a way you felt best represented your gender identity. I also want to note, that one's gender identity and gender expression are subject to change at any time.
On the other hand, there are gender roles. Gender roles provide a guide book of which role you play in society and offer direction on how you are supposed to play your role, so as not to disrupt the gender class system established in a patriarchal society.
Patriarchy, in this context, is a society or system of government ruled by men. As previously stated, patriarchy preserves the binary hierarchy of gender class that places men at the top and women at the bottom. Anyone who lies in between, or outside of, man or woman does not have a solidified position anywhere in the hierarchy. A patriarchal society creates inevitable consequences for everyone because it is oppressive in its rules regarding gender, gender identity, and gender expression. However, patriarchy continues to be perpetuated because many people don't want to give up the privilege that comes with their position in the gender hierarchy. Bornstein states,
"It became clear that the reason the binary gender system continues to exist, and is actively and tenaciously held in place, is that the binary gender system is primarily a venue for the playing out of a power game. It's an arena in which roughly half the people in the world can have power over the other half."
This brings up the conversation of male privilege, "the glue that holds the system together" according to Bornstein. Male privilege is the advantage for men to occupy space politically, economically, and socially over others because of their class/placement in the gender hierarchy. It should be noted not all men benefit from this privilege. Men whose gender identity, expression, or sexuality challenge the rules of masculinity, may be subject to exclusion and ridicule.
Heterosexual- Attraction to opposite gender.
Homosexual- Attraction to same gender.
Bisexual- Attraction to two genders.
Asexual- Without sexual feelings. There are asexual people who have romantic desires, but some can also be a-romantic.
Pan-sexual- Attraction to people, regardless of their gender identification or expression.
Contrary to popular belief, gender and sexuality are on a spectrum that work in relation with each other. Sometimes, we also restrict sexuality to being binary; however, the reason people are able to identify as pan-sexual, for example, is because there are not only two choices between gender and the same goes for sexuality. Bornstein states "sexual orientation/preference is based in this culture solely on the gender of one's partner of choice-thus we make sex, sexuality, and gender all tangled up by their dependence upon one another." What I have found is we must deconstruct our preconceived ideas about gender and sexuality and start from scratch. There are no rules. I provided some basic definitions above of labels, defining sexual preferences, as sometimes labels can be helpful, but they're also not meant to oppress. A person can experiment with one or more labels, or preferences, without being confined to checking that box forever.
Many of our bias surrounding gender stems from European colonization, which also means acknowledging the role institutionalized religion has played in the oppression of gender and sexuality. Many Indigenous American and African societies used to view gender and sexuality as a flexible spectrum. It wasn't until European contact, which forced Native people into "civilized" assimilation, that began the erasure of the diverse Indigenous forms of gender and sexuality. In Genesis, the bible introduces Adam and Eve, one man and one woman, created by God, to begin populating the world, perpetuating the binary of gender. I find this information important to include because it reinforces the fact that gender and sexuality work on a spectrum and are NOT binary. For thousands of years, before European influence, many in Native tribes existed authentically in various forms of gender identification and expression. Learning about important aspects of our history gives valuable insight into the current construction of our society. If we know where our preconceived ideas comes from, we can take ownership in our decisions to continue thinking a way or deciding we need to change it.
***Author's note: I'm definitely going to write a part two in relation to this piece because there was a lot of information and commentary I had to exclude, otherwise this post would have been way too long. Anyways #thankyou for reading and see you next week!
Links of Organizations that help the LGBT+ Community. Click to donate or just to learn more!:
The Center: https://gaycenter.org/
National Center for Transgender Equality: https://transequality.org/
Gill Foundation: https://gillfoundation.org/