I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: gender is so confusing. Once people open their minds and realize that gender isn’t just “male” and “female,” things get complicated. The phrase “gender is a spectrum” can be heard everywhere; it’s a social construct. Gender exists as a form of identification and separation in society; people have made up rules to follow accordingly, even if said rules are outdated or harmful.
Society has an obsession with gender; we know this. Birth reveal parties, “boy” toys and “girl” toys, colors being gendered, clothes being gendered; even deodorant is gendered. That’s why it’s so widely accepted that there are only two genders. That’s all we see populated in every little aspect of our lives.
Based on taking one look at someone, our brains are trained to think either, “Oh, that’s a guy,” or “Oh, that’s a girl.” Until you learn to unthink that, you’re actively playing into society’s harsh gender roles and in the process, harming transgender people.
Let me get into that a little more.
Trangender people can present however they want to. It’s up to them to decide how they’re comfortable presenting themselves, and how they present is not always indicative of what their gender is. A trans man can present as femininely as he wants and still be a guy. A trans woman can present as masculine as she wants and still be a woman. Non-binary people can dress in non-androgenous styles and still be non-binary. Gender presentation and gender identity are two separate things.
When you clock someone as a girl or a boy from your first impression, you can never be sure if you’re right, even if that’s what you think initially. That’s why, if both parties are comfortable, it’s good practice to ask people what their gender and pronouns are. You really can’t tell just by looking, no matter how confident you are.
Another layer to this is the performative activism there’s been with cisgender people, specifically cis men “breaking gender norms” for attention. If bad nail polish, crunchy looking skirts, and maid dresses ring a bell, then you’d know what I’m talking about. People going against gender norms for popularity or solely for the purpose of looking attractive is just as harmful to breaking gender norms as enforcing them. Society is perfectly fine seeing cis guys with long hair and cis guys wearing ugly skirts but as soon as a trans guy does it he’s not valid? All for breaking gender norms until trans people do it.
“But trans people play into gender roles all the time!” Yeah, because society is obsessed with them. Sometimes that’s the only way to feel affirmed. Cisgender people have NO idea what dysphoria is like. No idea. They are allowed no words whatsoever on how trans people cope with dysphoria. It’s the same as how it’s preached that people who can’t get abortions can’t have a say on abortions. It doesn’t concern you. Stay out of it. You can support transgender people by LISTENING to them, not by speaking over them.
I’ve written about this before. I’m non-binary, and I use he/they pronouns. I also identify as transgender. Transmasc, even, to be specific. My own gender is a spectrum in and of itself. Even if you don’t know what all of that means, I am more than qualified to write about this. Although I don’t use she/her pronouns, people use them for me everyday, regardless of if they know that I’m trans or not. They look at me, and decide based on something that I am a girl to them, even if I explicitly say otherwise. That’s the effect these intense gender roles have on people.
Am I angry about this? YES. I am. It’s a part of my everyday life to get misgendered, to deal with constant dysphoria, and fight for my right to just exist as myself. So I’m going to be angry about it. I should be allowed to live presenting how I am most happy with myself and be respected regardless. Until that happens, I’ll continue to advocate for breaking these gender roles for everyone; not just for attractive cis guys, not just for a little clout, not just for attractive people period. Everyone deserves basic respect for their identity.
The next time you look at someone random, instead of immediately gendering them, catch yourself. Tell yourself really quickly, “Actually, I have no idea how they identify as.” Retraining your thinking is such a small, but extremely supportive way to help everyone out.