Note: The ideas and words of each blog post are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the position of the USGA presidency or USGA as an organization. Many of the blog posts featured here are written by LGBTQ/SSA BYU students who are not yet ready to have their sexual orientation or gender identity known by some friends, family, colleagues and internet strangers. As you read this or any other anonymous post, please take a moment to consider the implications and risks of being publicly LGBTQ/SSA as a BYU student.
This post deals with the complexities of sex, gender identity, and societal gender norms. Because these topics are so seldomly discussed, the following definitions of terms used in this article should be noted:
Sex: The physical or biological indications that show that one’s body is male, female, or intersex (containing both male and female physical attributes or genetics)
Gender Identity: One’s internal sense of being male, female, or non-binary (feeling somewhere between male and female). Normally this aligns with one’s physical body (called cisgender), but occasionally one’s internal gender identity is incongruent with one’s physical body (called transgender).
Societal Gender Norms: How others expect one to behave based on one’s physical sex. Gender norms are often a way of expressing one’s gender identity, but many are arbitrarily constructed based on culture and societal expectations.
On February 1st, 2015, I attended a Super Bowl party thrown by some good friends of mine. It was a fun night filled with delicious food, football, and friends. Just as the second quarter was starting, I peeled myself away from the game to take a look around the apartment. I saw five girls cheering and screaming for their favorite team, clad in Patriots jerseys and Seahawks blankets. I then noticed all the guys: sleeping on the floor, engaged in conversations, or cooking in the kitchen. I couldn’t help but smile at this display where people went against societal gender norms and no one batted an eye.
Despite this inversion of gender norms, what people choose to do doesn’t affect their gender identity. A woman who enjoys watching football does not become a man and a man who likes to cook does not become a woman. Gender identity is weird and confusing, and way more complicated than societal gender norms. The end. That’s it, that’s all I have to say on the matter. Everyone can go home now.
No, but seriously, gender identity is a very important and confusing thing for you to think about let alone to try and place yourself within. Society tries to tell us that everyone will be cisgender (when someone’s gender identity aligns with one’s sex) but I’m here to tell you that is not true even though that does happen more times than not. The gender identity that others may expect you to have based on your sex is not necessarily the gender that you identify as, whether that means that you are binary transgender (a male gender identity in a female’s body or vice versa) or genderqueer (this includes everything that doesn’t fit in the binary e.g., non-binary, agender, bigender, etc.). Gender identity is more than what we wear or how people perceive us, it is who we are, it is our spirits and that’s why it is such a personal thing to explore. For each person it is a different journey that ends with different discoveries about important parts of themselves. For me, the hardest part was reconciling things I had been told my whole life with this part of me that was undeniable, much like dealing with same-sex attraction.
Non-binary is a broad term many use when they identify as genderqueer; it is used when someone’s gender identity doesn’t align as either man or woman. When I found out the term non-binary and saw other people just like me, it helped me to know there was a place for me. I am non-binary which is honestly so nice to finally say because I went through a lot of years not really knowing there was any kind of language to describe it.
My parents thought that my sex, gender identity, and expression of that identity through societal gender norms would all align perfectly. On the day of my birth I was put in a pink hat, given a feminine name, and taken home to a room full of dresses and dolls. It was because my sex was physically female at birth that I was given all these things and not adorned in blue, given dinosaur toys, or named a more masculine name like George. I had a female body, so society assigned me the feminine gender identity, which meant they expected me to act, dress, and be a certain way, or at least that’s how it felt. When I was little I embraced it; I loved pink and anything “girly.” As I got a little older, I started to branch out, learn more about myself, and like more stereotypically “boy” things. I started wearing sport shorts and t-shirts to school; I wanted to be the leader and was very assertive, but I was still loving, nurturing, and emotional which are all “feminine” things. I found myself as this mixture of things that didn’t really make sense to me.
Now I know that enjoying a mixture of feminine and masculine societal gender norms does not necessarily mean that someone is transgender (that their gender identity is incongruent with their physical sex). Because I enjoyed so many societal gender norms that were normally ascribed to boys when I was younger, I did think I was just a tomboy (a person whose physical sex and gender identity are female, but who enjoys things that societal gender norms ascribe to men). I identified as a girl only because I didn’t identify as a boy, and those were the only two genders I knew, but for me that’s how I realized that I was different, and it’s how I was able to learn more about myself from then on. In my case, it wasn’t just that I liked “boy” things but that I had a gender identity that was neither man nor woman, and I wanted to express that through a mixture of male and female societal gender norms.
Today I am still perceived as woman because of my sex, but I do not closely associate myself with the feminine gender identity, and at times I don’t even feel close to my physical sex. Sometimes I feel dysphoric, meaning that I feel uncomfortable in my female body because it does not match my internal gender identity; some parts of my body start to feel foreign to me, like a parasite, and all I want to do is get rid of them. Other days I feel fine in my body and I can go about my day feeling okay but I don’t really ever know how I’m going to feel on any given day. The honest truth is that I feel nothing when thinking about my gender, and most of the time, my sex as well. I am somewhere in the limbo of my own gender identity, and because non-binary is closest to just saying “meh” about my gender, it is perfect for me. So when I want to express my gender identity through traditional societal gender norms, some days I want to wear floral and be pampered, but some days all I want to do is wear a snapback and be assertive (I have more days like the latter than the former). I love it when people call me “mister” and I hate it when people call me a woman. Sometimes I wish I could walk around campus like a cisgender guy, but I’m not, and I’m glad I got to grow up being perceived as having a female gender identity and I’m glad I’m transgender because it gives me perspective, helps me empathize with people, and at the end of the day this is who I am. Though, I don’t want to be seen by my gender or sex; I just want to be seen as a person regardless of what I wear or whom I like.
Leaving gender identity aside for a moment, let’s talk about societal gender norms. I am a walking paradox when it comes to these: a lover of everything floral but a hater of dresses, extremely emotional but wanting to be seen as strong. Yet none of these things are mutually exclusive; they are only correlated because we are told they are. Just think about it: how are flowers inherently “female”? Why are sports like football and baseball thought as “only for males”? Can I have a vagina and still like playing football or building things with my hands? Flowers aren’t inherently “female” just because a lot of them are pink and football isn’t “male” just because it involves brute force. And pink and brute force aren’t “male” or “female” either. The enjoyment of certain things shouldn’t be limited to someone’s physical sex or gender identity.
There are so many intricacies to gender identity so I invite you to explore yours if you haven’t, even if you end up identifying with the gender identity that matches your sex, that’s okay. No matter how you identify, just know your feelings and experiences are valid and you are a complete person. Gender is weird, but totally awesome so don’t let the abyss of possible identities scare you from learning more.