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Understanding the Evolving World of Gender Identity

Updated: Jun 10

As someone who identifies as a cis gender gay male that grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, I possess a unique perspective on the evolving views of gender identity. Back then gender norms were fairly simple. While there were always transgender people, not much information was readily available.

I’m someone who has benefited personally by having been amongst the trans community in the way that I did back then, although, recently it’s becoming more commonplace amongst young people. If you Google “transgender” on Youtube you might be surprised how many folks are questioning their gender identity. While we have made great strides, we also recognize the work that still needs to be done.

In earlier times, the 70’s or 80’s, for example, anyone grappling with gender confusion had very few resources to assist them. Other than the highly publicized gender transition of Christine Jorgensen in the 1950s, little was known about gender and all the many different forms we are familiar with today. Christine made headlines as a former GI who had undergone sex reassignment surgery. Her face and story were the headline of every newspaper and media outlet at that time.

Back then, we didn’t have the same level of knowledge or understanding of the experience of transgender people that we do today. Certainly there were transgender people, but we used different terms to describe them. Many of those terms are considered politically incorrect or offensive to use today. If you were a gay male and presented a more masculine identity you might be considered a “butch queen.” If you were lesbian with masculine tendencies you might be seen as a “dyke” or “butch.”

Some of these terms have been reclaimed over the years. The one that comes to mind most readily is “queer.” In another time in our history it was a hurtful and vile anti gay slur. It still makes some people uncomfortable today, but I see how it is now being used for empowerment not punishment. Today we have an entire new vocabulary of acceptable language and ways to describe someone's gender expression.

Gender Expression

When I first heard the term “gender spectrum” my immediate reaction was that it made me think of it as something clinical, for example the autism spectrum. In fact, the term “gender spectrum” has nothing to do with a clinical diagnosis. In modern times we now know there are many different versions of gender presentations and expressions. I can mark the progress and understanding around the topic of gender identity by the appearance of actor, Laverne Cox on the cover of Time Magazine in June 2014 and Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair interview the following year in July 2015.

While much progress had been made up to that point, these circumstances were entirely different. Prior to this cultural event, much was known about gender but not known or addressed in such a hugely public way. In this case, for the first time, there was a higher level of visibility for the transgender experience. With the advent of social media, information on these subjects was easily accessible It was an enormous and extraordinary jolt to our social consciousness. Yet these two examples are still only the beginning of the conversation around the broad expression of gender identity.

Where do I fit in?

Most people — including many transgender people — identify as either male or female. But some people don't fit neatly into the categories of "man" or "woman," or “male” or “female.” For example, some people have a gender that combines elements of being both feminine and masculine, or a gender that is different from either male or female. Some people don't identify with any gender. Some people's gender changes over time.

People whose gender is not male or female use many different terms to describe themselves, with non-binary being one of the most common. In fact, a recent survey on Facebook found over fifty terms related to expression of gender. Facebook will now allow users to select between three pronouns: "him," "her" or “their." Although none of these terms are similar in meaning, all of them do possess the common denominator that their experience of gender is not female or male.

Here’s a list of all the terms that encompass the broad and wondrous expressions of gender identity with which you can familiarize yourself. How many do you recognize or identify with?

Agenda, Androgyn, Androgynous, Bigender, Cis, Cisgender, Cis Female, Cis Male,

Cis Man, Cis Woman, Cisgender Female, Cisgender Male, Cisgender Man, Cisgender Woman, Female to Male, FTM, Gender Fluid, Gender Nonconforming, Gender Questioning, Gender Variant, Genderqueer, Intersex, Male to Female, MTF, Neither, Neutrois, Non-binary, Other, Pangender, Trans, Trans Female, Trans Male, Trans Man, Trans Person, Trans, Trans Woman, Transfeminine, Transgender, Transgender Female, Transgender Male, Transgender Man, Transgender Person, Transgender Woman, Transmasculine, Transsexual, Transsexual Female, Transsexual Male, Transsexual Man, Transsexual Person, Transsexual Woman, Two Spirit.

Embracing and Affirming

You might ask how we navigate what can, at first, seem like a confusing task?

First and foremost, when in doubt about someone's gender presentation, it’s always best practice to ask, “Which pronouns do you prefer to use?” rather than guessing or risk making the person you are interacting with uncomfortable. Whether it is working with clients in my current profession or meeting individuals socially, I remain mindful that it’s respectful to not assume until you know for sure. For example, in a therapy session I always declare my pronouns. Even in other traditional work settings now it has become common practice to introduce your preferred pronouns, including in electronic communications, emails, texts, and other social media. In doing so, it invites the other person to introduce how they would like to be addressed.

For those of us who are not concerned about our gender it ay not seem like a big deal, but for those folks who are, it matters immensely. For gender non conforming folks, trans folks, queer folks, etc., there has been much progress. But as with any marginalized group who attains a level of visibility, there is bound to be a backlash from people who use fear and hatred as a weapon against them. I’m of an age now where I’ve lived through numerous landmark historic events and witnessed the changes in the gay community, so I remain optimistic we will continue to grow in our awareness and acceptance of others. While we have come so far in LGBTQ+ rights, there is still a long, long way to go.

The way forward for me has always been through love and acceptance. Whatever we prefer to call ourselves or wherever we fall in our gender expression, it’s important to remember we are all having a human experience. What a better world it would be if we can start from there. By continually educating ourselves and broadening our understanding, we can assist others in making their lives that much better.

If you or someone in your life would like to talk or find out more about gender expression or any aspect of LGBTQ+ affirming therapy, please reach out to us at Gooding Wellness Group.

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