Sunday, February 8, 2015

A New Gender-ation Comes Out

Ever hear the phrase "gender fluid?" How about "nonbinary?" Or "genderqueer?"
In the new ever-more-open vocabulary of a younger cohort, they mean the same thing. 
In just the last week, I heard of several examples of young people who describe themselves with these words.
The first was from a friend  -- a man who himself was a trend setter some 18 years ago, when he and his gay partner adopted children, a boy and a girl. Recently his teenage son was talking about a classmate whose name did not make clear his gender. My friend asked his son, "Is that a girl or a boy?" The son replied that this classmate was  "gender fluid" and that the classmate had given themself a new first name to straddle the divide. (I know "themself" is not grammatically correct but keep reading.)
The second example came from a school in a free-thinking New England town, where my daughter lives. The school sent home a letter from the new student teacher, an introduction done for all new teachers. 

Aside from mentioning this teacher's many interests and enthusiasm about being at the school, the letter also said:
"I chose this unusual honorific (M. instead of Ms. or Mr.) because I identify as nonbinary. This means that I do not see myself as either female or male (the traditional binary genders.) Because I identify as nonbinary, I prefer using 'they/them' pronouns, which are also unmarked in gender.

"There is historical and social precedent for using ‘they’ as a singular pronoun," the teacher wrote. "Think about how you refer to people you don’t yet know – you will usually say, “Oh, who are they?” or “This friend of yours, are they nice?”  While some nonbinary people use invented pronouns (such as ze/zir/zirs/zirself), I prefer ‘they.’"

The third example (proving that this is definitely a trend) was in today's NY Times. A University of Vermont student, after struggling to feel comfortable as a woman and not feeling comfortable as a man either discovers that the description  "genderqueer" feels right. "Before, it had been really difficult to explain how I was feeling to other people, and even really difficult to explain it in my own head," said Rocko Gieselman. ("Rocko" is the first name Gieselman gave themself.). "Suddenly, there was a language for it, and that started the journey."
So... in the space of a week, I've gone from a baby kind of coming out,  to quite a different one.
It's a new gender-ation!.

Within a day of writing this, I'm told about these other discussions of the topic:
This book "How To Be Both," by Ali Smith.

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