There are many characteristics that separate generations, from the way we dress to the media we consume to the expressions we use, and one generational gap that has been clear to me since volunteering with Airdrie Pride is how easily our younger generation understands and liberally adopts the idea of gender non-conformity.
While my children think I was around during the era when the dinosaurs roamed the earth, I’m only in my late forties. Yet, I grew up in a time where I merely knew of two genders—male and female. I later went to college and learned about people who were born with characteristics of the two sexes. The old term being h*rmaphrodite has now been replaced with the less derogatory term Intersex. However, by and large, I spent my life surrounded by men and women, so I thought. And wasn’t our society set up that way over the last few centuries? Gender roles, gendered colours, gendered clothes, gendered pastimes, gendered bathrooms were all we knew.
Thankfully society is capable of great change. In Canada, we elected the first black man to Toronto city council in 1894, women were granted the right to vote in 1916, and First Nations finally received the right to vote in 1960. Surely, we can begin to realize that gender can evolve both legally and socially.
Let’s explore some forward-facing gender terminology
Gender Identity: is the personal sense of one’s own gender. Gender identity can correlate with assigned sex at birth or can differ from it. All societies have a set of gender categories that can serve as the basis for the formation of a person’s social identity in relation to other members of society.
Gender Neutrality: describes the idea that policies, language, and other social institutions should avoid distinguishing roles according to people’s sex or gender, in order to avoid discrimination arising from the impression that there are social roles for which one gender is more suited than another. This includes using the term parent instead of mother or father, and the availability of public gender-neutral bathrooms.
Gender Non-conforming: is the term people use to describe when they do not dress, behave, or otherwise “fit in” with cultural and societal gender expectations. For example, I was born female, if I chose to wear clothes and behave in a more androgynous fashion I would not be conforming to my gender. Some people choose to use the pronouns they/them instead of she/her or he/him. Non-conforming can also be called genderqueer, gender creative, and non-binary and apply to gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine—identities which are outside the gender binary.
Gender Fluid: as the name implies, this person’s identity and presentation are not fixed. People may express a combination of masculinity and femininity, or neither, in their gender expression and may change it up from one day to the next.
Transgender: a person whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex. In the past, for our older generation, Transgender was an umbrella term that, in addition to including people whose gender identity is the opposite of their assigned sex, included people who are not exclusively masculine or feminine as with the aforementioned terms. Now that we have these new terms, transgender tends to be used for a person who identifies solely as the opposite gender.
Cisgender: a person whose gender matches the cultural and societal expectations for a person with their sex assigned at birth.
This is a brief overview of the most commonly used gender terms. While they slip off the tongue of our youth so easily today, may we all catch up to their openness of mind and spirit. I hope this list was helpful, and I’d like to acknowledge Wikipedia’s help for some of the definitions. Let us know if we missed something or if you want to add to the list.
by Tammy Plunkett (She/Her/Hers)