You’re either a man or a woman, a girl or a boy, right? A lot of millennials don’t think it has to be that way. According to Fusion’s recent “Massive Millennial Poll,” half of the young adult population reject a “gender binary”. They believe that gender falls on a spectrum. That is to say, people do not have to identify as either a man or a woman, but can fall somewhere in between.
For millennials gender depends more on how a person chooses to identify, rather than how society genders certain activities or dress codes. If a male wants to wear a dress, most millennials are accepting of his choice to buck gender norms. For many millennials, it’s not less manly to cry, or any less womanly to burp or drive a race car. A growing number of millennials also ask about people’s preferred pronouns (“he”, “she”, “they”, “ze”) rather than assuming based on external appearance.
The terminology and implication of this new gender fluid world can be confusing, even for millennials. The following is a one-stop-shop for understanding the basics of gender identity in today’s young adult world.
Let’s start by defining some important terms. First off, gender and sex are not the same thing. Sex refers to the biological and physiological characteristics assigned to males and females. Aside from rare cases, humans are born either male or female. Gender refers to socially constructed ideas of what it is to be a man or woman. You aren’t born with a gender identity– the extent to which you identify with one gender or another, it is something that forms over time based on a complex combination internal and external factors.
Cisgender refers to individuals who identify with the gender associated with their biological sex (female, woman).
Transgender refers to individuals who identify their gender as opposite from their biological sex (female, man).
Individuals who experience gender dysphoria feel strongly that their sex does not match their gender. This is often described in terms of “feeling like a man stuck in a woman’s body” or vice versa. Many who experience gender dysphoria change aspects of how they look to match their gender identity. If this applies to you or a loved one, make sure you look for a mental health professional with experience with gender dysphoria to help you navigate the complex transitions.
But many individuals also identify beyond the binary of cis or transgender. They use terms like “gender queer,” “gender fluid,” “gender variant,” “androgynous,” “agender,” and “gender nonconforming”, to describe how they fall on a spectrum between the gender binary of man or woman. Some reject the concept of gender altogether.
Being gender nonconforming does not mean that these individuals necessarily want to change their sex organs or undergo any other kind of physical transformation. Rather they might embody some aspects of identity traditionally associated with being a woman and others associated with being a man. Some famous examples of gender nonconforming millennials are singer/songwriter Miley Cyrus, Ruby Rose of “Orange is the New Black,” rapper Angel Haze, and former Glee Project contestant, Tyler Ford.
The vast majority of psychologists agree that being “transgender” or “gender queer” is NOT a mental health disorder in and of itself. Gender identity is personal, and defined by each person differently. It is also not related to sexual identity, and often forms at an earlier age.
But as with any minority identity, individuals identifying outside of the gender binary can have unique struggles. Being different can feel lonely and isolating. The good news is modern society is better than ever at accepting various gender identities. And as with anything, if you or a loved one is struggling, seek professional help.