As kids, we learn many things about the world we live in, stuff like the fact that there are 24 hours in the day, 26 letters in the alphabet, and two types of people - boys and girls. At school, boys and girls use different toilets and changing rooms, play different sports during PE, and line up separately to enter and leave the classroom. We're taught that boys have XY chromosomes, higher levels of testosterone, and a penis, whereas girls have XX chromosomes, higher levels of estrogen, and a vagina. These assumptions about sex and gender are drilled into us from such an early age that we unthinkingly accept them as true. But they're not.
A significant minority of people are born intersex, which means that their sex characteristics (such as their chromosomes, hormones or genitals) don't match up in the way that we would expect given our binary way of understanding sex. In terms of gender, we are becoming increasingly aware, and slowly more accepting, of transgender men and women: people who were assumed to be female at birth (based on a doctor's assessment of what was between their legs) but who identify as men, and vice versa. However, we must also recognise that a growing number of people identify outside the gender binary. I'm one of them.
After years of trying (and failing miserably!) to fit in with other women, over the past few years I have developed the confidence to embrace my non-binary gender identity, in spite of other peoples' views. I began by chucking out all of the skirts and dresses that I wore on special occasions - things I hated wearing but felt I had to. Next, I got my hair cut short, and last month I had top surgery to remove my breasts. I feel so much happier now that I am able to express my gender freely. However, my new look has been causing me some problems.
Recently, I was walking through the park with my boyfriend when a group of teenagers shouted at me "you look like a boy!" These teens had read me as a woman, and felt it necessary to let me know (as if I hadn't noticed!) that I was breaking gender norms by dressing in a masculine way. A couple of weeks later, I overheard a young child ask their friend "is that supposed to be a boy or a girl?" Having been socialised into thinking that there are only two genders, this kid was confused when faced with a person who didn't fit their expectations. I like that kids are brutally honest, upfront and frank. When you know where you stand you can engage with somebody about their views.
Because I am read as a woman, I get misgendered on a daily basis. If a child bumps into me, their parent might tell them to "apologise to the young woman", or at the pub with my friends the bar staff might ask "what can I get you ladies?" Being read as a woman gets exhausting. My gender identity is important to me, and so it hurts when people don't see me for who I am. However, I often choose not to correct other peoples' incorrect assumptions about me - I don't want to get into a conversation about my gender every time a stranger calls me a woman, and I'm sure they don't either!
However, I do want to draw attention to the harm caused to non-binary and transgender people by routine experiences like this. So last week I set up a twitter page dedicated to documenting everyday examples of cissexism - language and behaviors that reinforce the gender binary and gender essentialism.
It's a space where a non-binary person can share their frustration at having to hear "good morning ladies and gentlemen" on their daily commute to work, the irritation they feel when forced to choose between "male" and "female" on a form, or the anxiety they experience when having to decide between the men's or women's toilets. It's a space where a trans man can find solidarity amongst others who understand that it's not only women who have periods. It's somewhere that a trans woman can express the pain she feels after someone tells her she can't be a woman as long as she has a penis. Most of all, it's a place where non-binary, transgender and cisgender people can come together to support each other, and to discuss how we can create positive change. I hope that you will be a part of this movement.
"Follow Everyday Cissexism on Twitter here: @CissexismDaily".
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