Since March, most of us have found our lives permanently altered. Other than trips to the grocery store, we rarely interact with large groups of people. Although this isolation has many implications, perhaps an unexpected one is related to gender expression.
Popular sociological theories explain gender expression as a social performance. Based on cultural norms imparted to us at a very young age, every one of us “performs” aspects and ideals of masculinity or femininity in public. Quarantine has presented an interesting scenario in which to observe this theory – what if the public settings where we perform gender were to be removed?
Throughout the last several months at home, I have found that although I was assigned female at birth, I have no inclination to perform femininity – nor do I wish to perform masculinity. I identify as nonbinary, meaning outside of the traditional gender binary. Many people who identify as nonbinary fall along a spectrum of definitions – some define themselves as “in the middle” of genders, while others disregard gender entirely. For me, I am not a woman or a man – I just am.
What’s more is this feeling of not quite being a woman has always been there. These are not thoughts that surfaced merely because of quarantine. However, the removal of scenarios of gender performance helped to clarify my thoughts and emotions around how I identified.
For 21 years, I have been referred to with she/her pronouns. As I came to terms with these new ideas, I slowly began to ask the people closest to me to use they/them pronouns for me. I felt the need to ease people into my identity because although it was not new for me, it felt new to them. It was incredibly difficult for me to make what should have been these small requests, but I felt for some time that it was asking too much.
No person that identifies as something other than what they were assigned at birth should be made to feel this way. We are who we say we are, and the people in our lives must respect that. To use someone’s stated pronouns is to validate their identity, lived experiences, and, most importantly, who they are at their core. This can be a lifesaving act, even if it appears miniscule.
There are steps we can all take each day to be inclusive of the wide range of gender identities that people embody. Asking people for their pronouns when you first meet is a positive act that allows them to feel respected and validated when they are being referred to in the future. Even if we’re no longer meeting each other in person, including pronouns in your Zoom name is a simple act that promotes inclusivity and respect. Our country has a long way to go in terms of gender equality and inclusivity, but together, we can make that change.
Sarah Jester | Digital Media Associate