The Language and Expression of Gender
Some years ago, when I was a young college student I enrolled in a Women’s Studies class. I dove head first into feminist writing collections. The first time I heard or may have read- the term “gender as a social construct” I was both confused and fascinated! What did that mean? Gender, in my limited understanding, meant sex- like you were a male or a female or biologically XX or XY chromosome. It was as simple as that. Did society determine gender identity? Did they assign identity at “Congratulations it’s a boy or a girl”.
Fast forward some 30+ years and I am sitting on the dewy morning grass awaiting the August eclipse with my own young college student daughter. “ Mom, when Carrie joins us you have to say “they”. That is their preferred gender pronoun (PGP’s)”. Considering myself pretty aware, I did find it a challenging conversation with Carrie. I stumbled a bit and just tried to use their first name throughout but was told later that I likely offended them.
Gender identity as well as expression is a very personal thing determined by the individual. I applaud this generation for exploring the fluidity that comes with self expression and identity and not just who they are told to be.
There are research disagreements regarding the influences of nature and nurture. Research DOES support that there were over 100 instances of diverse gender expression in Native American tribes at the time of first European contact. The terms “two spirit” and “third gender” have been used.
As part of an inclusive community, I challenge myself and readers to familiarize ourselves with language that connects us rather than separates us.
CathyAnn Intemann, Associate Marriage Family Therapist