A reflection by Lindsey
In many conversations about faith and sexuality, people frequently emphasize one’s sexual orientation over one’s gender identity. Those attempting to talk about LGBT issues often overlook the last letter of the acronym. Questions about gender and gender identity get shifted into the background, pushed behind the stage, and were rarely welcomed into the conversation in the first place. Sometimes, concerns for fundamental equality between men and women can obscure why gender identity might matter.
I’ll be the first to admit that I feel out of my league when I try to speak of gender. I grew up thinking that gender was little more than a biological tag that indicated what restroom you used in public areas. I never had my gender flouted in front of my face to tell me that I couldn’t do x, y, or z. In many ways, I consider myself fortunate that I never encountered gender as an obstacle that blocked opportunities or prevented me from deciding how I wanted to express myself.
That doesn’t mean gender is easy.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to see how gender saturates the world around us. I’ve been lucky enough because I have never been able to be bothered with the “right” way of expressing myself. If you look at photos of me beginning at the age of 5 and continuing to present day, you’ll see that my self-presentation has been more or less constant for 25 years. Sure, there was a blip on the radar in 7th grade when I was experimenting with what it might look like to have long hair, but we all know that junior high students try on a range of self-presentations. In many ways, I feel safer because 5-year-old me knew how to be Lindsey no matter what other people might think. That’s one part of my 5-year-old self that I’m glad to still be holding onto to this day.
Yet, I wonder if we’re starting to see a shift in how we talk about gender. I’ve become increasingly aware that it’s possible to label another person’s self-presentation as “gender non-conforming.” In some ways, I wonder if conversations around gender identity are starting to diversify in a way akin to the many different conversations about sexual orientation. When people began discussing sexual orientation, the dominant word used to describe the minority sexual orientation was “gay.” For a good bit now, the dominant word used to describe the minority gender identity was “transgender.” I find myself welcoming the broadening of the discussions as people with degrees of gender variation begin to experiment with ideas like genderqueer, bigender, and agender even as these terms have exceptionally fluid definitions.
For my part, I’ll admit to being somewhat lost in the shuffle about what all of these terms mean. None of these terms seem especially comfortable for describing my own situation, but I’ve been on this journey long enough to know it’s okay that I’m not ready to go out and buy assorted buttons to broadcast my preferred vocabulary to the universe. I’m profoundly grateful that so many people over the years have related to me simply as Lindsey without asserting the various rules of gender identity, performance, and expression to control my activity. Since having my own awakening as to how gender manifests itself in our world, I’ve experienced some rather jarring discomfort when I notice people actively enforcing gendered boundaries. I joke that there’s sort of a gender scale that stretches from 1 (gender is not noticeably present in any constraining way) to 10 (gender organizes just about every expectation and interaction), where I’m particularly apt to label my experiences of profound discomfort as Gender 11 moments. I’ve also noticed that when I have my choice of where to be, I’d rather be in environments much lower on the gender scale.
Talking about this topic is hard, partly because I think we’ve gotten so used to the conversation being about sexual orientation that we overlook how people navigate questions about gender. I didn’t even realize that gender might be an important part of how I experience these conversations until just a few years ago. But I wanted to take some time today to open a conversation about gender here on the blog. The door is open, the kettle is on, and I’d love to talk with you more in the comments.
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