Hello folks, my name is Isa. And I neither identify as a woman, nor as a man. How does that work? I’ll tell you.
We recently organized a theme week about gender equality at Karlshochschule – for those who have not joined the workshop, I would like to give a short introduction to the concept of “gender”. I would like to stress that this is partly my own opinion and limited knowledge, so this article cannot possibly give a perfect representation of the current discussions and definitions of gender identity.
The concept of gender
A most common misconception is, that there are two sexes, those being male and female. This is based on the biological sex. Many forget the third, though, intersex. This biological distinction is based on our genitals or hormones. There are more possible combinations of those, scientists are in discussion about that topic, but let’s keep it at that.
Next, there is the social gender. It is derived from the idea of the biological sex and its cultural implications. It is society’s idea of what is “a man” or “a woman”, with certain attributes. The relationship and power dynamic between these social genders is also determined through society’s expectations, and you will have a certain threat if you derive from them.
The final part of gender is the gender identity. It is the inner feeling, the deep understanding of what gender we are. This one can differ or correspond to the sex we were assigned at birth. The correspondence is called “cis-gender” and the difference has multiple possibilities.
If an individual is constantly addressed by the wrong pronouns, not corresponding their innate gender identity, it can cause dysphoria, which could be explained as an extreme feeling of wrongness. I still wince every time I get misgendered, it is like a sting deep inside. Very exhausting and hurtful if happening often, I’m telling you. Please, do not knowingly misgender someone. It hurts them. Although in my case, it is complicated to be addressed correctly. Why is that?
Well, let us go back to the multiple possibilities once your gender identity does not correspond your assigned sex. There are countless different directions, I honestly could not name them all. The one most known to society right now is probably transgender. It means that a person identifies as the exact opposite sex than they were assigned at birth. If you think of gender as a spectrum, it is basically the other extreme, simply speaking. Of course, everyone has their own idea of manliness or womanliness, but that is another discussion.
Keeping the idea that gender is a spectrum, with “male” and “female” as the extremes, some people oscillate between them. They experience their gender identity as changing, as fluid. Thus, such people may identify as genderfluid.
There are other terms like genderqueer, agender, or nonbinary. Those could be seen as umbrella terms of not corresponding the heteronormative binary system of sex. “Queer” is already an umbrella term for sexuality, and acts the same in the question of gender identity. Nonbinary is pretty self-explanatory, and comprises the term genderfluid, for example. Agender might go under nonbinary, I am not quite sure. Agender relates to a person who does not identify with a gender at all.
Now, my personal journey through gender identity began, when I did not feel comfortable in “girls clothing” (body tight) clothing anymore, at 15 years old. Then I cut my hair short. I was confronted with expectations and stereotypes, that I referred to as “social gender”: my grandma asking why I cut my hair, since I was “such a pretty girl”; my mother asking why I cannot buy “normal” clothing; judgmental looks from classmates.
But it took until the age of 19 years, that I wondered if I didn’t just not match with my social gender, but also my gender identity. At the time, I was unaware that it was even a possibility to not feel gender at all. I went with transgender for a while, to see if it felt right. After 3 years of being called by a male name and, sometimes, the male pronouns, I decided that this was not it either. I do adopt many “male” characteristics, but I also have inherently “female” character traits as well. In the end, I think that everyone has their own interpretation of gender, and where they stand on the spectrum. I know that I exhibit male and female gendered behavior and preferences, but it just does not feel right to call myself either one, or even attribute myself to anything related. Which is why, I am going with “nonbinary”.
Transferring how I feel about myself into everyday life does not really work – there is a language barrier. In English, people could call me “they” (even though even that feels wrong), but in German, we have no truly established alternative pronouns. We may have three definite articles, but the neutral version describes objects, which feels degrading to be addressed as.
There are several attempts at a “neutral” pronoun, such as “x”, or “xier”. There are a lot, you can find more information (german) here: https://nibi.space/pronomen#pronomen.
I personally have not found any pronoun I feel comfortable with. That is something I have been searching for, and will probably have to for a long time. The easiest way is to just try to call me by my name every time you might use a pronoun.
The hardest thing, next to figuring it out, is to explain it to other people, and not be intimidated if they do not take you seriously. I have been really lucky to be at the Karlshochschule, since professors and students alike are very open-minded and accept me, for the most part. They still address me by the female pronouns, but that is because I told them to. They actually asked. So, if you are not sure about a person’s gender identity, ask them politely how you should address them. But, since not everyone is comfortable about it, do it discreetly.
Another issue is bathrooms. I have been stopped from going into female bathrooms because of my androgynous appearance. Imagine being scared of doing so because you might be attacked for how you look, or identify. No one should feel this way. Unisex bathrooms erase the anxiety genderqueer people might feel for just going to the bathroom. We have been working on introducing gender-neutral/unisex bathrooms at the Karlshochschule, which I wholeheartedly support, and ask you to do the same. Genderqueer people exist, we are not that rare. You do not have to understand our gender identity – how could you even? Just be respectful towards the people around you. Be empathetic.
Thank you ?
Article by Isabel Döngi *IG – Intercultural Management (B.A.), 8th Semester