By: Jean Samick
Gender isn’t just about biological parts. It goes deeper, or perhaps shallower for most. How they identify themselves to the people around them is surface level, from how they dress to how they speak and act. Right from birth, parents are given gender specific clothing and accessories for their little bundle of joy. Parents can break out of the modern mold and buy their little girl a lovely green dress, but there are still a sense of taboo that would stop them from buying their son a cute pair of princess heels to compliment his baseball shirt and jeans. There’s often a stigma that by allowing a child to explore clothes, hobbies or interests often practiced by the opposite sex, their sexuality would be affected.
While not identifying as a gender is something people have dealt with for decades, the emergence of the concept in modern society is fairly recent. Agender only became one of Facebook’s 58 gender options in 2014 (which was later changed to allow users to fill in their own), and in May 2015 dictionary.com added “Agender’ as “a person who does not have a specific gender identity or recognizable gender expression.” This concept goes farther than aesthetic.
Defining and explaining Agender is a complicated subject, and not easily summarized in a few hundred words. In an ever growing attempt to minimize ignorance, I asked a friend of mine Kale to sit down and help me better explain why they no longer identified as either gender. “For a really long time, I just assumed that the whole gender thing was just social and it was just this dance everyone was doing. That it was all acting.” Kale explains, “When I started knowing more trans people it kind of clicked for me that you wouldn’t chose this, you wouldn’t chose to have that kind of performance stress.” Kale explains that not identifying as a gender can be similar to the disassociation that trans people feel. “When you have no perspective on something, it’s hard to compare it.” Kale says, “People would say “Haha, you know how it is with us girls,’ and I’d sit there like “no, I don’t.’”
Kale started with the basics: “Agender is not identifying as androgyny as androgyny is more of an appearance value,” elaborating with, “The David Bowie/ Tilda Swinton effect.” Gender binary refers to rigid definitions of gender, think black and white with no grey. People can be one or the other, but not both or neither or a combination. Obviously biologically this theory has some flaws, but Non-binary refers to all of the people who fall into the grey outside of that binarism. There are shades to identifying and even not identifying on the spectrum, but for now we’ll keep it simple.
When people stop subscribing to these gender norms, it can be a bit startling for the people around them. “One of the really unfortunate things about how people perceive trans people and non-binary people is that they feel like it has to be proven.” Kale explains, “If someone is A-gender but looks quite feminine or quite masculine, people tend to take them less seriously.” At the end of the day, a person’s gender identity really doesn’t make that much of a difference conversationally, unless you're afraid of being rude by referring to them by the incorrect gender. “Not understanding something doesn’t mean that it isn’t valid, it means it isn’t part of your experience.” Kale summarizes.
Being unsure how to navigate conversation may tempt you to shy away from asking questions, but Kale assures anything proposed politely would only yield positive results. “Honestly, the number one thing you don’t do is ask “Are you a boy, or are you a girl?’” Kale says, “If you meet someone and you want to make sure you don’t refer to them improperly, one of the safer ones to use is the gender neutral term “they’. If you’re in a group of people and you’re not sure and you don’t want to refer to them improperly, generally the most accepted way is to ask “what are your pronouns?’” Kale offers, “That can be an awkward one because not everyone wants to be asked, but in an LGBTQ environment, it’s an appropriate question. Most people will appreciate you asking rather than making assumptions.”
With a better understanding and perhaps a new perspective, I hope Kale’s words can reach the people who need to hear them. If a person is able to break out of the mould and identify how they chose with personal acceptance and understanding, then the least society could do is mirror it.
For those with questions or curiosities, Kale can be reached by email for anyone who would like to chat.