The Gender Revolution Is Here

How challenging gender constructs liberates us all.

Posted Feb 25, 2017

In January 2015, a general population survey of 1,000 people age 18-34 was conducted by Fusion media. In it, they found that 50 percent of the respondents said that “gender is a spectrum, and some people fall outside conventional categories.”

Last year, three people in the United States had their gender legally recognized as “non-binary,” and last month a California legislator introduced Senate Bill 179, which would make the state the first to recognize “non-binary” as a legal gender.

At its surface, this appears revolutionary and even threatening for many Americans. There is something deeply comforting for some people about knowing what it means to be “male” or “female” and having everyone fit into those categories. Especially for those who benefit from it.

But for many (and perhaps most) people in the U.S. and around the world, a simple binary male-female gender system doesn’t come close to fitting into their actual experience. In her 1993 essay, “The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female Are Not Enough," biologist Ann Fausto Sterling wrote:

     "If the state and the legal system have an interest in maintaining a two-party sexual system, they are in defiance of nature. For, biologically speaking, there are many gradations running from female to male."

Worse, this binary system has served as a tool for oppression. Feminists and LGBTQQI activists have posited that gender is a social construct and the duality of gender is not a fundamental truth, but a perspective. This perspective (or construct) is oppressive to us all. Children are ridiculed and/or bullied for even the smallest deviation from “acceptable” gendered behavior — especially boys who appear or act in some way “feminine,” reinforcing the idea that feminine (or female) is “less than” masculine (or male). Girls tend to be given more leeway for being “tomboys” until they hit puberty, when they are expected to conform to a more submissive and “feminine” role.

Not only does this process reinforce an imaginary construct, but it takes us all prisoner — children with the sex characteristics of boys grow up to be men who can’t remember how to be vulnerable, feel deeply, and love other men. Children with the sex characteristics of girls grow up to be women who are afraid to be in their power or fully embodied and strong.

It is unclear why people are so uncomfortable with transgender, gender-fluid, non-binary, and gender nonconforming folks. My guess is that, as with any type of change that involves psychological and emotional growth and expansion, the unfamiliar feels scary and strange. Fixed ideas about people are comfortable.

But this revolution among mostly young people to challenge and dismantle gender constructs is hugely powerful and important. It may be uncomfortable for some, but at it’s core it’s necessary. It is a take-down of black-and-white thinking about what it means to be a human being and liberates us all, regardless of our sex characteristics, giving us the space to be the deeply complex and multifaceted people we truly are.

Helpful Definitions

Sex characteristics: Body structures directly concerned with reproduction (physical attributes that have traditionally been used as a proxy for gender)

Gender: The behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex.

Gender identity: A person's perception of having a particular gender, which may or may not correspond with their birth sex.

Gender expression: The way in which a person expresses their gender identity, typically through their appearance, dress, and behavior.

Gender variance or gender nonconformity: Behavior or gender expression by an individual that does not match masculine and feminine gender norms.

Genderqueer (GQ), also termed non-binary: A catch-all category for gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine‍ —‌ identities which are thus outside of the gender binary and cisnormativity.