By Haylee Thorson
Before we’re even born, our gender identity is already decided for us. As soon as parents receive the news of their baby’s sex, they’re met with a flood of gifts that are either pink or blue. Phrases like “Future heartbreaker” or “Daddy’s little princess” are written in bold letters on the front of onesies to ensure that strangers know whether a bald-headed newborn is a boy or a girl. Girls’ rooms are painted lovely shades of lilac, while boys’ rooms are painted gallant shades of green. And when babies grow into toddlers, they’re given toys that are deemed appropriate for their gender. Boys can’t play with barbies and girls can’t play with trucks. Boys can’t play dress-up and girls can’t play rough.
As a society, we’re conditioned to believe that there are two genders and two genders only. However, gender is so much more than the body parts we’re born with and it’s important for people to understand this. While your sex may be male or female, it has absolutely nothing to do with your gender and how you feel about yourself. To put it simply, gender is nothing more than a social construct that exists solely to dictate the things we say and do.
Throughout the years, certain actions, behaviors, clothing, traits, etc. have been placed into categories that are defined as either feminine or masculine. When someone challenges or defies these categories, it’s proof that gender is nothing but a concept created by humans for humans. Because gender is our own internal understanding of what it means to be male or female, many people’s thoughts and actions often don’t align with societal expectations. While there are a number of terms that embody what it means to break free of traditional gender norms, here are five that you should know.
According to GLAAD, transgender is “an umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth.” While many trans individuals take hormones or undergo surgery so that their bodies can align with their gender identity, one does not have to alter their appearance or body to identify as transgender.
Genderfluid refers to the idea that gender is a flexible concept that can change every day. People who identify as genderfluid can identify as a man one day and a woman the next. Or they can identify as masculine one day and feminine the next. A person who is genderfluid does not dwell on restrictive labels and just does what feels most natural to them in the moment.
Non-binary is a term used to describe anyone whose gender falls outside what we considered traditionally female and traditionally male. This means that their gender is somewhere in between a man and a woman. For some people, they may define themselves as having no gender at all. For others, they may be trans or genderfluid and also identify as non-binary.
Similar to non-binary, the term genderqueer can be used to describe individuals who feel like they don’t fit into to either gender. However, it can also be used to describe individuals who feel like they are both genders or a combination of the two. For many genderqueer folk, their identity is always changing and they are not defined by the traditional gender binary.
While this term is associated with sexual orientation and has nothing to do with one’s personal gender identity, it’s still important to include. According to GLAAD, pansexual means “being attracted to all gender identities, or attracted to people regardless of gender.” Even if someone identifies as cisgender female—meaning your gender identity matches the sex you were born as—they can still be attracted to individuals who identify as transgender, genderfluid, non-binary, etc.
Since we ended on the topic of sexual orientation, let's talk a little bit about sexual fluidity and what it means. According to Lisa Diamond, author of Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women's Love and Desire, sexual fluidity is “an individual’s capacity for fluctuation in their sexual response as a result of different situations or interpersonal and contextual experiences.” Simply put, a lot of people’s sexual orientations change over the course of their lifetime. While a woman may identify as straight when she is younger, she may identify as lesbian or bisexual when she gets older. Because sexuality is a spectrum, the possibility of fluctuation throughout one’s life is high. Depending on your personal experiences and the people you meet, you may identify as bisexual one day and pansexual the next.
The other beauty of sexual fluidity is that there is no need for labels if you don’t want them. Artists like Frank Ocean and Harry Styles have made it clear that they prefer not to label their sexuality and that is perfectly okay. No one should have to label themselves if they don’t want to and if your sexuality is always changing, you don’t really need a label anyway!
Gender and sexuality are two concepts that are not black and white. They are not one way or the other. They are not male or female. They are not straight or gay. As a society, we’ve always been told to follow the rules. But who decided these rules and why can’t they be broken? If men want to wear skirts, let them! If women want to have short hair, let them! It’s about time we let people do what makes them happy without our judgement or two cents.
Haylee Thorson is an editorial writer who specializes in beauty, culture, and travel. Follow her on Instagram.