Of all the ways that one can live outside the default options in life, it seems that gender and sexuality tend to cause some of the most visceral reactions in people. I find it really interesting that some people are so invested in a rigid, binary, gender essentialist view.
In case you’re not familiar with the term gender essentialism, it’s the idea that men are one way and women are a different way, and that’s just how it is. You see it in everything from religion to self-help books like Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.
Personally, I reject gender essentialism (gasps of shock, I know). I’ve seen just as much variety within a traditional gender as I have between genders, and I’m not even talking about queer, trans, nonbinary, or intersex people. But the gender essentialist view not only invalidates the experiences of those groups of people, but it also implies that there’s an ideal way to “do” masculinity or femininity, and I don’t think there is.
It’s also worth noting that ideas of what is considered feminine or masculine vary across cultures and time periods. It used to be common in several for cultures for men to wear high heels. So the idea that gender is this fixed, universal ideal simply doesn’t hold up.
It also turns out there have been people who have challenged the gender norms they encountered throughout history. Some people might have you believe that these less common identities are a 20th-century invention, but they aren’t. It’s just in the last few decades, such people can live more openly than was previously the case.
However, the battle isn’t over. Several states, unfortunately including my own, have passed or tried to pass “bathroom bills” forcing people to use the bathrooms of the gender they were assigned at birth. Proponents of such legislation say that it’s meant to protect women and children, but there’s no evidence that trans people are harassing women and children in restrooms in the first place.
A recent episode of the podcast What a Hell of a Way to Die discussed President Trump’s unsuccessful attempt to prohibit trans people from serving in the military. The hosts made an interesting point: people who don’t actually know any trans people have a warped perception of what trans people are like. They think it’s John Cleese in a dress being creepy and weird.
Of course, that’s not reality. I recently had the privilege of sharing drinks and conversation with several trans people, and they want the same things in life that everyone else does. Some want to disappear into the opposite gender of the one they were assigned at birth. Others like to live in a more fluid way along a spectrum. Neither approach hurts anybody, and your spouses and children are completely safe around them.
The perception that trans people are immoral deviants is used to justify discrimination and even violence against them. Even if your religion enforces strict gender binary rules, I’m guessing there’s nothing in there about the death penalty for people who transgress those rules. So if you see someone in a restroom whose presentation seems unconventional to you, the best course of action is probably to mind your own business.
Can you think of a time when meeting a person from a group changed how you thought about that group? Share your stories in the comments!