A popular belief in today’s progressive society is that gender is a construct. That is to say, one’s own gender expression is merely a product of societal labels and does not necessarily originate at birth. While sex is biological and determined by chromosomes, gender is psychological and dependent on social and cultural surroundings.
We are all just people, right? Aren’t we all just born androgynous? Let’s simply eliminate gender if all it does is create constricting categories where girls must like pink bows and boys, monster trucks.
As a 14-year-old female to male, or FTM, transgender teen, gender has taken on a necessary role in my everyday self-expression and identity. I have clear memories, even before I had been exposed to society’s ideas of gender and sex, of having strong male tendencies and expressions. I had no awareness of society’s idea of what shorts and a t-shirt had in relation to a dress, and yet, I was immediately attracted to a more masculine wardrobe. My gender was already there in my head and had not yet been influenced by the outside world.
Look no further than Forbes magazine for research that shows gender identity is as strong in transgender kids as it is in cisgender kids.
As soon as I had the willpower to form my own identity despite the declaration of my parents and society, the gender inside my head — a boy — took charge of my emerging expression and automatically dictated that I follow the common standards for what a boy should look like and act.
For me, gender is real. It doesn’t have to be real for everyone, but the queer community shouldn’t treat me differently because I have chosen the binary, because I might be straight. Maybe I don’t need same-sex marriage legislation, but that does not mean I don’t need protection.
I legally changed my name, gender marker and pronouns on my birth certificate. It has been five years since I transitioned from my assigned gender at birth, female, to my true gender identity, male. I was so relieved to be recognized by my family and have my support system encouraging me to pursue my most real self. I was launched into the LGBTQ+ community where the promise of being accepted as one’s true self was encouraged and championed.
As a trans child, I expected that I would find the warm embrace of others like me, who exist on the periphery of what is considered normal in our society — a place that, like its members, would be anti-authoritarian and fully accepting. But, I was met with a hard reality.
I realized that not everyone would understand the many identities that fall under transgender. Instead, what I discovered, with shock and awe, is how daunting this community can be with its self-proclaimed edicts and barriers to membership.
Included under the LGBTQ+ umbrella, but somehow still marginalized, transgender individuals often suffer at the expense of other members of the community. For years, we have not been represented in queer legislation such as in the Employment Nondiscrimination Act of 2007 — where discrimination toward homosexual citizens is outlawed, trans protection is nowhere to be found.
We protested at Stonewall. We fought and sacrificed our safety. Yet, we are often overlooked by the very community that stood beside us, but not with us.
LGBTQ+ activist Dean Spade suggests we exist in a society where solidarity is scarce. Across all communities, when we call each other out for our differences and perceived frailties it is like calling the police on each other.
When people tell us who they are, let’s believe them — independent of our varied experiences. Let’s accept the transgender people of color, transgender people who have not had gender affirmation surgery and transgender people who cannot express themselves for their own safety.
We cannot continue to allow the group to define what is an acceptable or unacceptable expression of one’s identity, for if we do, we are merely repeating the same hierarchical group dynamic of the dominating majority. There is a legitimate place for each one of us, in Berkeley and beyond the chimes of the campanile.
So back to the original question — is gender a construct? To that, I say, why even ask the question if it only serves to divide, conquer and categorize? Fluidity does not mean we must erase the very thing that makes up our identity as one, multiple, or even no gender at all. It is what makes us who we are, and if people are simply too rigid to allow fluidity of gender and to accept each other’s differences, there is no reason to rid ourselves of gender. It is a reason to rid ourselves of people’s strict and secluding expectations for gender.
It is my wish that one day you will find a new world modeled on a reimagined LGBTQ+ community, one that is built on support and inclusion. Transgender children and adults will experience the same community that cisgender, queer individuals do.
Don’t forget about us. Don’t forget that we too protested at Stonewall, that Sylvia Rivera, a transgender woman, risked her life for all of us. We can no longer be numb to our members’ pain by discounting who they say they are.
This op-ed was written by a transgender teen tackling gender, representation and acceptance.