Understanding Gender Neutrality: Thoughts from people around the globe.

This year I was fortunate enough to get 3 months off work, during which time I traveled solo around Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and Peru. Whilst my trip had been on the agenda for a good year prior to my leaving, it ended up coming at the perfect time in relation to Dylan’s transition. It gave me time completely to myself to contemplate my position in this and how to move forward through some changes that I was uncomfortable with. It was actually during this trip that I wrote all of the blog posts I have done so far, including this one.

Whilst I was travelling I met many amazing people, and I shared mine and Dylan’s story with them. I was met with some fantastic insights, as well as some very big holes in knowledge, and with that in mind I decided to start doing very brief interviews with a variety of people from all over the world that I met during my trip. Most of the people that I interviewed did not know my relationship to the questions I was asking them prior to the interview, and thus were candid and not worried about offending me.

Asking the following questions of random people was for the large part a very inspiring experience for me as it helped to distill a deep seated fear of rejection that I held as I heard many different people respond with gentle curiosity, warmth and insight. It also highlighted the fact that a number of people are uncertain about what gender neutral means and made my blog seem even more worthwhile than I had assumed, which was a good feeling also.

Whilst reading this, imagine people responding from the top of a snow capped mountain, in campsites under the bright milky way, in cramped minivans, at hostels, in beautiful valleys surrounded by rainbow mountains, in restaurants and in grand central plazas. And from this, know that the world over people are now considering gender neutrality.

Question 1-What does it mean if someone identifies as gender neutral?

‘To me gender neutral is something that doesn’t hold a stereotype. It offers equality and doesn’t portray a strength in either side in terms of offering women or men power based on their gender. It’s equality across everyone.’ (Heather, Canada, 34)

‘That they don’t identify with the social norms of male and female- to me anyway. And, that they don’t feel comfortable in conforming to what is meant to be male/female’. (Cat, UK,22)

‘I think it means that they don’t feel male or female and they’re more comfortable not assuming a label or title. I think it may be difficult since the world is built around a binary model but I think it’s admirable if they want to go their own way.’ (Mark, Ireland, 27)

‘Gender neutral.. Hmm. I think it means that you don’t feel yourself as clearly male or female, so you don’t want to put yourself in that box because you feel more fluid about it. Often it’s hard to say whether these people are gay or straight because you have to know which gender you are for each of these, so I guess it’s hard. I’ve known a gender neutral person and that’s what I understood anyway.’ (Nora, Austria, 25)

‘I don’t know. Of course you can imagine though. I think it means that they are not discriminating between genders’ (Anonymous, Belgium, 36)

‘Gender neutral. Like, I don’t know. That they don’t believe in genders? That they are uncomfortable with their gender or don’t have an understanding?’ (Jacob, Australia, 23)

‘I don’t think it’s really… It’s someone who has doubts? It’s not bisexual since we are talking about gender here… Just not sure about their gender?’ (Jetze, Holland, 24)

‘Without a gender. I guess that they don’t identify with either gender.’ (Julie, 25,NZ)

‘Wow. What does it mean…? I guess that it means that the person defines themself as neither a male nor a female. I mean, I think this is the general definition but in truth I don’t know what it means in terms of their day to day life.’ (Côme, 24, France)

Question 2- Do you know anyone that identifies as gender neutral? 

‘I would say myself in a way. I like to play the boy sports and hang out with boys and do boy things- things that typically girls don’t like to do. But, I still have a feminine side where I like to bake, clean and take care of people and that’s something that’s more feminine. But I don’t relate to the girls who need super straight hair etc! I think a few friends are possibly gender neutral too. They wouldn’t really identify that way though.’ (Heather)

‘No.’ (Cat)

‘Hmm no. I don’t personally know anyone. I have gay and straight friends but not much variety in terms of gender.’ (Mark)

‘Yes I do.’ (Nora)

‘No!’ (Annonymous)

‘I’ve met people. A few but just in passing.’ (Jacob)

‘I personally don’t. I’ve met a few people that just didn’t really know, they weren’t sure about their gender.’ (Jetze)

‘I know someone that said they were but then I was confused by their sexuality… I’m not sure. No one close, no.’ (Julie)

‘No.’ (Côme)

Question 3- Do you think it’s ‘weird’?

‘No! Absolutely not. I think that it’s a powerful thing! To not have to take on the role of ‘the weak female’ or the equivalent male role. It’s a unique way of thinking of yourself.’ (Heather)

‘I would say that in the last few years my eyes have been opened up to it a lot. I genuinely think that the media has opened it up quite a lot, like with Louis Theroux and Orange is the New Black etc, it’s really brought it to light. More stuff about transgender people than gender neutral though- I think gender neutral still hasn’t been quite put under the magnifying glass, but people are becoming definitely more aware that it’s an identity. It’s not weird.’ (Cat)

‘No, I don’t think it’s weird. I definitely think it’s something that’s less well known than say being gay. For  me it doesn’t strike me as being weird, but for some people it could for sure. Especially in the US, some people may find it weird with pronouns and bathrooms for example.’ (Mark)

‘Umm.. Not weird, I just think it’s complicated for the person because it’s already difficult to find your identity and know who you are and I think if you’re not sure about something as substantial as your own gender it makes it way more complicated. I don’t find it weird per se.’ (Nora)

‘Yes, I would think it’s strange. Why… Hmm. Well, I could understand that everyone has some masculine and feminine sides but in the end you are either man or woman, so to say you are neither of them is a bit strange.’ (Anonymous)

‘No! The weirdness is all about exposure, the more you know the more accustomed you are and it’s not weird at all. What you don’t understand is always a bit weird, until you understand it.’ (Jacob)

‘Yes and no. It is weird if you look from one perspective, but if the person feels that way then it’s normal for them. I can’t imagine it for me myself, so it would be weird for me.’ (Jetze)

‘No. I think that Gender is a spectrum and you can fit anywhere in it.’ (Julie)

‘Umm well, not really. But also, it’s weird to answer this because, I mean, when I come down to the definition of being ‘weird’ it means out of the norm and since there’s not a lot of people like this then it’s technically ‘weird’ but then, I don’t know why it would be weird right?!’ (Côme)

Question 4- Have you ever questioned your gender?

‘Of course! Growing up I never wanted to be a boy, but there were times when I thought it would have been easier because of what my interests were. I didn’t feel like I fit into the girl world, even today! I just don’t want to relate to girl things sometimes, it doesn’t interest me, so you end up being the unique one, a little different from the rest. I definitely questioned it.’ (Heather)

‘No’ (Cat)

‘No. I’ve always felt male. I think it’s an easier life to feel comfortable in your gender so I feel pretty lucky in that respect. I don’t think I’d freak out if I was to question my own gender or if my friends were to do so.’ (Mark)

‘Not really questioned but I think that every woman has male parts in her. Like I’ve looked at other girls and thought they are way more girly than me. It’s not that I’ve questioned it but I recognise that there are some parts of me that are usually associated with men.’ (Nora)
‘No! Not at all! Like, this is another thing, but if sometimes you imagine that if you were the opposite gender life would be easier, but I’ve never questioned it as such.’ (Anonymous)

‘Uh, yeh. It’s been a recent thing so I’m not too sure about it.’ (Jacob)

‘No I haven’t questioned, but I’ve wondered about gender. I’ve never questioned my gender but I’ve wanted to know more about myself and my gender and other genders so that I know more about other people and can understand them better.’ (Jetze)

‘No.’ (Julie)

‘Questioned my own gender? No. I don’t know if it’s linked to my education but I’ve always been raised to accept me as I am, right from the beginning. I remember when I was a kid, and my mum used to do this with all of my brothers and sisters too, if I went home and said ‘a kid said I’m ugly’ my mum would just tell me ‘you are you’. She wouldn’t say ‘you are beautiful’, just told me to accept me as I am. Maybe this had an impact on me? I know that when I was a kid I used to hang out with a lot of girls, cause in elementary school all of the boys played soccer but I wasn’t very good, so I would Hang out with all of the girls. Then, when I was in junior high school I hung out with everyone. But when you’re a kid, you usually just hang out with just boys or just girls, your own sex. Some of my friends thought I was gay because I hung out with the girls. I’ve always been interested in girls though, because they are different and interesting. I like to do things with them too, but I never questioned my own gender because of it.’ (Côme)

Question 5- Do you think that one day wider society will genuinely recognise a third gender?

‘No. Just because if we go back to the roots of humanity there are specific roles. I think it would take a long, long time for the roles of society to be completely neutralised.’ (Heather)

‘I think there’s a long way to go but I think we can start by recognising it in institutions like schools – normalising it through education. I think it’s a while off if I’m being honest, just because people are only just becoming aware of it now. Still a long way to go, but I would say in this generation- my friends are all very accepting of it. It’s just old attitudes.’ (Cat)

‘Yes. I think progress is being made in terms of orientation and so I think it will happen for gender also. Even in my country (Ireland) you can change your gender without a doctors certificate or anything. I think it will arrive at a point where orientation and gender and all the variations will just be different variations as opposed to something with a stigma!’ (Mark)

‘I think so, yeah. I think we are already way advance when you compare to 100 years back, so I think in the future it will be more socially acceptable to have a fluid gender or not identify as a singular gender- at least in some parts of the world.’ (Nora)

‘Probably not.’ (Anonymous)

‘That would be quite dramatic, but there are friends that I know that like to be called ‘them’ and I think in a sense that is headed in the right direction. We would need to get some infrastructure surrounding it. I think it’s a long way away.’ (Jacob)

‘I think it’s going to be really difficult. I wonder why it’s necessary at times to label it as something entirely different. For society to understand that mindset it will take a long time.’ (Jetze)

‘I hope so. Yes, I do.’ (Julie)

‘I think so, yeah. I hope so. I think it would be better if we did. I don’t know if this is really linked to that, but I’ve never understood why there are separate toilets for men and for women. I mean, if intimacy is OK between the same sex and then you’re using the same bathroom as them.. It’s not really the same,  but I just think neutral toilets would be a good thing! I don’t know much about it though.’ (Côme)

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