Today, Esther covers the importance of language in our experience of gender.
From the debate around bathrooms to transgender celebrities on magazine covers, gender has become the new frontier for self-expression and self-determination. The sexual revolution is far from over, but the gender revolution has arrived. An entirely new vocabulary is emerging for people to understand the differences between body, sex (i.e. anatomy prescribed at birth) and gender.
So how do we begin to talk about gender? How do we understand gender beyond the simple binaries of, boy and girl, man and woman that we have been raised with?
Similarly to sexuality, it comes down to linguistics. When we have the language it helps us identify who we are, but more importantly, it helps us understand the other. When we only have two categories and think in shades of blue and pink, we end up stigmatizing and rejecting those who don’t fit these boxes.
We need a glossary of terms to navigate the colorful spectrum of possibilities. With that in mind, National Geographic released a stimulating issue on gender at the beginning of 2017, in which they redefined gender in a glossary of 21 terms (although there are many more that could be added).
Having a vocabulary is crucial. Language shapes our experience, it gives us access, understanding, emotional resonance, and meaning. So let’s begin with a few terms from Nat Geo as we expand our understanding and join this cultural revolution:
Genderqueer: Someone whose gender identity is neither man nor woman, is between or beyond genders, or is some combination of genders.
Cisgender (pronounced sis-gender): A term to describe a person whose gender identity matches the biological sex they were assigned at birth. (It is sometimes abbreviated as “cis.”)
Intersex: An umbrella term that describes a person with a genetic, genital, reproductive, or hormonal configuration that does not fit typical binary notions of a male or female body. Intersex is frequently confused with transgender, but the two are completely distinct. A more familiar term, hermaphrodite, is considered outdated and offensive.
Check out the entire piece to begin to understand the gender revolution. And look out for next week’s blog post in which we’ll talk about why gender is so important and the deep-seated roots of our old gender binary system.
How do you define your gender? How has the gender revolution opened your mind or challenged you?