Guy, gal, both, or neither?

Yesterday, while perusing clothing stores in and around the Maine Mall, I noticed something. The diversity among the other shoppers was quite intriguing. The stores and sidewalks were busy, and among the customers and cashiers, I observed variety, everywhere. Variety in mood, skin color, style, sexual orientation, and gender expression, to name a few.

I think what struck me the most was the gender non-conformity, meaning people expressing themselves in ways that do not conform to the gender norms of male and female. After exiting the fitting rooms at a Target, I handed the “number of items” tag back to a strikingly beautiful person, of whose gender I couldn’t tell. What I could tell was this person had shiny skin, pearly white teeth, bright eyes, a cute hair flip cut which I could never pull off, and a friendly smile showing on hot pink lips. As I walked away, I had only one thought: Wow, what a beautiful person! I didn’t know if he was a he who identified as a she, or if he liked to wear make-up and nail polish, or if she was a she who dressed more like a he, or any other number of possibilities. Does it matter?

Yes. It matters, not because it’s mine or anyone else’s business which biological gender someone is. It matters because gender is not simply male or female. It is not binary, only two rigidly fixed options of masculine or feminine. If we hold the belief that men are only masculine and women are only feminine, it is because it’s been taught to us by someone else who holds that limited view of gender.

The reality is that gender is far more than the sex we are born as. Having a penis or a vagina does not determine what kind of man or woman we’ll become. Gender exists along a spectrum. Each of us is a mixed bag of masculine and feminine traits, and how we choose to express ourselves may show that, or not.

The gender non-conformity that I observed yesterday was a thing of beauty and bravery. I admired the few people I saw who expressed themselves along the spectrum and did so comfortably, in a society which is still very much “catching up” when it comes to learning about and accepting gender diversity.

To be different in an obvious way, such as wearing what you like despite what’s between your legs, is to put yourself out there, for judgment and possible ridicule. But there are also people who think you’re beautiful, just the way you are.

Gender spectrum

For more information on gender diversity and expression, please check out these websites:

The Gender Spectrum

 Gender Diversity

The Guardian: Mind Your Language

Trans Youth Equality

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