There’s so much in the news lately about gender identity that it shouldn’t have surprised me to pedal up to a group of giggling teens along the Chicago lakefront, dressed in colorful shorts and tank tops and looking enviable on an unusually warm day in February, only to realize that the group of girls I expected, was a lively group of boys. I’d been thinking about gender identity already; a colleague had encouraged me to read the January issue of National Geographic devoted to “The Science of Gender”. Yet, instead of feeling familiar with the topic, the language and scope of the articles felt strangely foreign, like this group of teens on the bike path.
How could this be? I treasure gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered relationships just as I do cistern relationships. Yet, current media seems to speak of something broader. Time magazine’s cover story last week had an article focused on a changing society, a society beginning to welcome gender fluidity. Yet, in the same week, while HB2, a controversial law in North Carolina was repealed, it did nothing to improve the overall ability for pan, transgender, genderqueer or other people with gender fluidity to feel safe using the restroom of their choice. (HB2 is the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, an anti-LBGT legislation)
What is going on here? Is it fear of uncertainty and the unknown? It’s not unusual to feel anxious or even panicky in the face of the unexpected. Is it that we are quick to judge people who are different from ourselves? You are not like me; therefore, something is wrong with you. This particular defense galvanizes us against the “other” who is different from ourselves (if it is not you, then maybe something is wrong with me!). Another possibility is the strong pull within family, culture and society to view any difference as a separation from being part of a community that has rules and structure designed for getting along.
I am grateful that gender fluidity is being written about, publicized, and normalized. It has made me think about fluidity in other arenas of life — those who are trying to find their way in non-traditional jobs or work environments, those who parent unconventionally, and people who don’t identify with a particular race or social class. Instead of feeling the pain of not fitting in, the boys on the lakefront gave me hope that gender fluidity is part of a shift toward a broader acceptance of being unique. They reminded me that though I don’t know of their personal journey, we all need the support and trust of loving others to experiment, explore and enjoy ourselves.