Gender is complicated, period. It is very different from biological sex. Gender is the psychological identity that is defined by the social constructs that we, as either male or female, are expected to adhere to. Biological sex is basically your genitalia; which, again, can be changed. The lines of gender are being blurred progressively by the likes of the queer community and by more and more queer allies. Self-expression is gradually being embraced instead of being oppressed and encouraged rather than being dismissed.
But what are the impacts of the long-lasting gender stereotypes that we’ve been exposed to? In a recent post on my blog Instagram ‘@ourhappyplaceuk’, I made a post about gender which stated, “Gender was assigned at birth by people who had no idea who you were”. The psychological impact of being told for years upon years who you are meant to be, who you are meant to like, what you are meant to wear, what you’re expected to do, over and over and over again, is devastating. Is it any wonder that pretty much everyone in the queer community starts their journey of self- discovery full of fear and self-loathing? We feel like what we’re doing is wrong. This topic does not just apply to queer people, it applies to literally every human alive. Any person that exists will have at least one expectation from society based solely on their gender, one which they may not wish to conform to.
Let’s take gender reveals as a prime example. Of course, I understand the thought process behind them. It allows the soon-to-be parents to envision what their child will be like in more detail. You can imagine them with either long hair, a pink bedroom and doing ballet, or short hair, a blue bedroom and playing football – or at least that’s what society has indoctrinated us to think. Let’s break down the concept to its rawest form.
The idea that we need to know the genitalia of our child to feel we’re going to imagine their life ahead of them is quite scary. Rather than having in our heads “I see them being happy, I see them being with someone they love, I see them doing something they are passionate about, I see them being confident in who they are”, we have to envision the specifics of their future based on societies expectations. It’s normal to imagine their future, but instead of imaging their future based on their gender, what if we imagined their future without the societal goggles we’ve been given. We could raise the child in a household letting them know they could be who they wanted to be, encouraging them to do what makes them happy. The reason the whole concept of embracing our queer identity is so frightening is because we are straying away from who we’ve been told to be our whole lives. If we weren’t ever told who we had to be, we could grow up free and happy.
Think about how carefree children are. They are happy playing with whoever, dressing up in whatever, – with no notion of gender. It’s the continual barrage of societal gender stereotypes that leads them down a path of conformity and fear of drifting out of the norm. Children are naturally inquisitive and curious by nature. That’s why when things are different from what they know, they ask questions. So, when they’ve been exposed to continuous gender stereotypes, they will ask questions or ridicule others for being different. I remember when I was at school, maybe like 5 years old, I put on a girl’s dress. I vividly remember the class staring at me and proceeding to chant “Max is a girl; Max is a girl”, that moment scarred me for many years to come. Only now, at the age of 21, am I feeling more comfortable to experiment with my gender identity by wearing accessories such as sparkly earrings – quite minor by comparison. As I’ve said, kids don’t know how to handle things that are out of the norm, but that isn’t the issue. The issue is the idea of normal that they are taught. If children were taught from a young age that they can wear whatever they want, things would be much different in our society.
But this goes way beyond fashion. Body image for example (which is actually getting worse); men are expected to be tall, broad, muscular, have the right amount of body hair etc. Women are expected to be shorter, slim, long hair, natural makeup (but still look amazing), beach-ready, hairless, perfect hourglass figure etc. When it’s all played out in that way, how worrying is it that our children are growing up in a world where beauty standards are literally at their most demanding?
Giving advice on a topic like this is really hard, as there are so many groups that need different types of advice, but I’ll do my best:
Don’t Pressure Yourself – There is no rush at all. Experimenting with your identity is going to be daunting, but fun daunting, that first date daunting. So, only start doing so when you can be excited about it!
Find Inspiration – A lot of my fashion choices have been inspired by either queer artists or females. There are a lot of female fashion influencers that have had a big impact on my aesthetic!
Do So Where You Feel Safe – I wish I could just say “don’t give a fuck what people think”, but in some places or environments it is literally not safe to do so. If you wish to experiment with your self-expression then do so in a safer more liberal environment, and with people that you trust. As much as our communities are progressing, there is still a lot of work to do before we can expect mainstream acceptance.
Make Sure that You’re Happy – There will still be people that may not understand you, or even accept you – but this is not your problem. So long as you feel safe, do what you like. You are not living your life for anyone else, be the best version of you.
(And if you’re a parent) Avoid stereotypes – Encourage your child to express themselves however they like. Try to avoid encouraging their life choices based on their gender, encourage their life choices by what makes them happy!