A crash course in navigating the gender spectrum
Hi. My name is Brendon, and I am genderfluid.
What does that mean? Well, first, let's talk about gender in general, and we'll get back to that.
A lot of people believe gender is a binary: that there are two boxes, male and female, and every human fits into one of those boxes. However, that isn't entirely true. Gender really acts as a spectrum, going from male on one end to female at the other. Most people don't sit at one end or the other - a lot of people sit close to one end or the other, but not exactly all the way at one end.
Now, the other thing we need to get clear is that gender and biological sex are not the same thing. And before you say, "But what about chromosomes?" - that's a fair question! But they don't really influence gender either. To assume so would be to erase the 1.7% of the population that is intersex (about the same percentage of people with red hair), for a start; that, and there are more to chromosomes than simply XX and XY. I'm not a biologist, just for the record - if you really want to dig deep into the science of chromosomes, I'll have to leave that research up to you. But for the sake of this post, chromosomes =/= gender, and neither does your anatomy. Gender is a social construct first and foremost, designed out of the human need to categorise: it isn't tied in any way to your biology. It is personal, and something only an individual - not anyone else around them - knows for certain about themselves.
All clear? Cool! Let's move on.
Remember how I said earlier that gender is a spectrum? Many people - more than you'd think, probably, myself included - exist at neither end, and the umbrella term for us is 'non-binary' - i.e. those who do not fit a binary gender.
Now, not all of us identify as transgender, but some of us do - transgender denotes any gender that isn't the one you are assigned at birth, so it can absolutely apply to non-binary people. Some of us may pursue transition, but not everyone. Those decisions are personal to each individual non-binary person, and there are a whole variety of labels under the non-binary umbrella, including genderfluid - there's a list here of the other labels for those curious - but, while each has its own definition and meaning, the thing we all have in common is that 'male' and 'female' don't fit us.
So, back to the initial question: what does 'genderfluid' mean?
Google's definition is "denoting or relating to a person who does not identify themselves as having a fixed gender" - so, on that spectrum I've been talking about, my gender doesn't stay at one fixed point. It floats quite happily from male to female to none to both to everything in between. It's pretty cool, to be honest. Personally, my gender does tend to float around the male end of that spectrum for the most part - I go by male pronouns as well as 'they/them' - but it also strays back towards female occasionally, and sometimes it sits neatly in the middle, and sometimes I feel like all of them at once.
I've had people ask why I need to make a big deal out of labelling myself as such, and it's a valid point to make. Labels aren't for everyone - there are many non-binary people happy to just stick with non-binary and not define it any further than that, and that's perfectly fine. But discovering the word "genderfluid" back when I was 19 (I'm now 22) flipped a switch in my head. I'd been struggling with my gender for a while, not always feeling male enough to call myself a man but not feeling female enough to identify fully with my assigned gender. Finding out about genderfluidity felt like trying on a perfectly fitting outfit after only wearing things that were too big or too small: it gave me a word to use that made me feel comfortable in my skin, a community to reach out to, and the knowledge that I wasn't alone. It was a bottle of water and a map in the desert: it was still up to me to work out how to find my way, but at least now I had help.
And I think that's why I am so vocal about it, because maybe it will reach someone else who is going through that same struggle. If I hadn't stumbled across it, I would still be trapped in a cycle of self-loathing and insecurity. Knowing myself in this way has lifted such a huge weight off my shoulders - and if this post reaches even one person who needs it, I'll be happy.
Far too often, I hear non-binary people dismissed as 'attention-seeking' or using 'Tumblr' labels and other such patronising nonsense. Being non-binary and being genderfluid is nothing new: people have been pushing gender boundaries since ancient civilisations. Western society pummelled it out of those cultures, but they couldn't stop it entirely - as long as social constructs like gender exist, there will be people who don't fit them. And that's awesome.
If this post has sparked an interest in you in any way, I would encourage you to research it further. I'm just one person, and the non-binary experience - even the genderfluid experience - is far too vast for one person alone to summarise. To start, there are some excellent TED talks about gender here, here and here; there is also a Tumblr blog of non-binary resources here.