Recently a friend of mine told me that they had recently realized that they were not the gender they thought the were, and requested that they be addressed by them/them/their pronouns. I immediately and happily complied — as did the rest of their friends — and after a few weeks of mentally admonishing myself every time I used the wrong pronouns, I think I’ve begun to get the hang of it.
This was the experience I was thinking about as I read Elizabeth P Challinor’s article “Sex Changes and Changing Rooms.” Challinor talks about the relationship between sex and gender and how in popular culture those two terms are nearly interchangeable when they really shouldn’t be. Sex and gender operate in two very different ways, and are two very different parts of a person and their identity. This is exhibited in the story of my friend. Although they were born biologically female, they no longer identify as female, but they also don’t identify as male. They identify as non-binary, indicating their identity lies somewhere between or outside of the gender binary. This is different than a transgender person. My friend at present, as far as I know, has no interest in switching genders, either biologically or in terms of habits and presentation. Instead, they wish to be left out of the thing entirely.
This brings up a very important question: What gender is no gender? Is it even a gender? Challinor briefly touches on the option of “Other” as a gender choice on documents, but this doesn’t even begin to cover the range of possibilities for gendering, even in the Western world where gender binary is God. We need to understand those who identify outside of the gender system, because only then will we really be able to begin to understand people’s identity construction within gender.
Reference: Sex Change and Changing Rooms by Elizabeth P Challinor