Are You a Girl or a Boy… or Something Else?

Do you ever wonder if the gender label you are wearing really suits you? Maybe you wanted to join boy sports in school. Or you resented having to babysit your little brother while your older brother never had to—just because you are a girl. If so, you are part of the broader movement acknowledging the effects of gender roles and the gender spectrum.

Simone de Beauvoir first conceptualized women as “the other sex,” in a frustration at how women were at the sidelines and never considered in debates about humankind. In fact, the prevalence of “he” in examples in text-books or news stories has a male-washing effect on women where we find it hard to relate to “he.”

The sexuality liberation movement has flipped the concept of a “family” on its head, and it can no longer be said that the roles in a heterosexual family are anything to do with biological sex (besides producing a zygote) or binary genders. This also liberates us from restrictive binary gender labels.

There are many words available to define all sorts of positions on and off the spectrum. Most solidly define male, female and non-binary (neither strictly male nor female). But let’s look at the other terms available. It’s also important to remember that, as Shakespeare put it, “a rose by any other name doth smell as sweet.” In other words, finding the term that resonates with you is useful but remember that you are a beautiful and complex being, regardless of the term you choose or that others choose to use for you.

Smorgasbord of Gender Terms

A smorgasbord sample of the many terms includes:

  • Gender fluid (moving across the spectrum throughout life),
  • Cis-gender (the same gender as biological sex at birth),
  • Trans-gender (a different gender to the biological sex at birth),
  • Agender (not considering gender a valid concept),
  • Bigender (encompassing characteristics of both genders),
  • Androgyny (a gender that has features of both male and female such that the gender cannot be determined),
  • Boi (a person with boyish characteristics),
  • Butch (a person with masculine characteristics)
  • Femme (a person with feminine characteristics),
  • multi-gender (having many genders in combination, e.g. bigender, trigender, pangender, polygender),
  • Maverique (having an internal sense of gender with no known label),
  • Genderqueer (having a sense of gender with no known label),
  • Pan-gender (presenting in every gender spot on the spectrum to some extent).

As an exercise, how would you define yourself from the above terms as you read this? But also consider other moments in time, as gender can be an experience or it can be dependent on the cultural situation or simply change over time.

Adaptation of English Language

It is fascinating to read about the use of gendered pronouns and regular nouns in other languages. In French, for example, every noun has a gender and even plurals of people are gendered. While in Dutch, no words are gendered. And while a gender neutral equivalent of “they” is lacking, they have a generalized pronoun “er” that goes around the obstacle of needing a gender neutral pronoun.

The English language is proactively adapting for a better understanding of gender with many gender-neutral pronouns currently in circulation. These include:

  • They/them/theirs,
  • Ze/hir/hirs,
  • Ze/zir/zirs,
  • Xe/xem/xyrs.

Gender is not only a social construct but also a sort of performance in the public sphere. We choose a gender and dress accordingly and then the people in our daily life interact with us depending on the gender. There are many studies that show gender bias to be very real and damaging even if unconscious. Tackling unconscious beliefs is a very difficult path so raising awareness of the issues and participating in the gender conversation makes us more able to discuss our lived experiences of gender with other genders.

Gender is an inherently feminist issue, and you can get involved with a feminist community such as Reading is also a valuable tool for dispelling bias and there are many resources on the Your Dream blog.

Elizabeth Hynes

Elizabeth is an avid writer and activist for human rights and she has worked in IP and science in the UK and Netherlands. In her downtime she enjoys cooking food from around the world, hiking the great outdoors and crafting.

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