I recently sat in on a class where we were shown a brief video of people milling about in a common space, and then asked to describe what we saw. The conversation began innocuously enough, with students describing what they saw people doing. Yet, inevitably the conversation turned to gender (because our society is so enamored by this concept) and students started making assumptions about the gender of those in the video. I heard comments like “most of the people are women” and “there is one man in the far corner” – assertions based entirely on appearance and dress. What got to me the most was that when I piped in (in my superior “let’s-be-politically-correct voice”) that all of us were making premature judgments based on appearance that the people in the video are only male or female and thereby reinforcing the gender binary, my concerns were politely dismissed.
I am by no means an authority on gender identity. In fact, until quite recently I was the furthest from one. Growing up in a highly traditional society where conversations about identity was all but stifled, I didn’t have too many opportunities nor did I see the need to question the gender binary. Even once I started thinking about this topic, I would enquire about preferred pronouns as a formality, having instinctively assumed the gender of individuals in my mind. It took sheer force of will to unlearn this belief, crush that instinct and be unassuming about gender. And so, I can appreciate the difficulty in wrapping your head around the fact that there exist more gender identities than the traditional male/female binary. But what I don’t understand is the ability to turn a blind eye to this issue, to shy away from questioning your inherent prejudices, and thus deny the legitimacy of far too many identities.
If you are reading this, and you feel a pang of conscience, then use this opportunity to be more aware about cis-genderism and how to root it out. Let us face down that instinct to see (and only see) male and female all around us. Let us not assume that everyone identifies by he/she pronouns. Let us not assume that everyone wants to identify by any specific gender identity in the first place. It took society long enough to recognize non-heterosexual identities and now, I hope, you feel that these are perfectly valid. But please recognize that the movement for equality ended prematurely, and that if sexuality can be variant and exist on a spectrum, then so can many other things. Gender is but one.
If you are unmoved by this account, and feel that this issue does not affect you, understand that equality of gender identity is an issue that transcends you and your life. There are so many who identify as trans* (to be interpreted as an umbrella term) here at Clark, and your beliefs and actions may have, unwittingly or not, hurt them grievously. If you think that gender identity is not your cup of tea, then know that you are directly or indirectly contributing to the oppression of perhaps your parents, your siblings, your friends, your relatives, and your future children. Your apathy or bigotry is the reason why they stand an almost 9 times greater risk of committing suicide than the general population (yes, suicide prevalence among trans* populations is 41% as opposed to the 4.6% of the general population). They could be among the 50-54% bullied at school, the 50-59% harassed at work, the 60-70% sexually harassed by law enforcement, and the 69% who experience homelessness. If you think that this is not a real issue which real people face, perhaps it is because you haven’t created the safe spaces for the loved ones in your life to confide in you and say that they do not identify as cis gender. Whatever you decide, know that your actions have consequences beyond yourself. I hope you care.
– Themal Ellawala