On defying societal gender norms
Augmented gender box options are next step to social changes
Check here for female, check here for male and if neither applies to you, draw your own box. Many of us grew up adhering to strict gender roles that categorizes us as either male or female — there was no in-between. Gender is fundamental to how we as individuals process the world around us. Everything we do is in some way related to gender. Actions either reinforce gender norms or go against them. But the population of individuals who do not fit the binary –– the transgender, gender fluid and gender queer populations –– are making their voices heard.
Self-identification is important. Whoever you present yourself to be is what the world will see you as. But it’s difficult for individuals to divorce themselves from the idea of gender, so when people do not conform to the gender binary, it often confuses the individuals they interact with. If it’s difficult to match physical appearance to preferred names and pronouns, mix-ups and misinterpretations are bound to happen. Therefore, the process is a two-way street of hypersensitivity and respect. It’s a difficult process for the individual seeking to express their gender, and not simple to digest for everyone else. It’s important to pay homage to the wishes of individuals who are transitioning or figuring out who they are and how they would like to be called. But it’s also important to recognize the challenge others can have in honoring those wishes. There is a distinct difference between accidentally omitting an individual's preferred pronouns and making a verbal or cultural transgression. Someone who is actively trying to honor a preferred name or pronoun request may still make a mistake and mislabel an individual. In such cases, it’s unfair to rush to conclusions of disrespect or ignorance. It makes perfect sense to be upset, but understanding is required on both sides.
It is a triggering experience to be called out of a carefully constructed identity. Preferred name policies and augmented gender options will help to deter such transgressions. Rutgers belongs to the group of the universities in the nation that allow students to implement preferred names where legally possible. The University of Virginia has taken one more step and introduced a third gender option — neutral. College is a time of self-discovery and exploration, poised in the perfect position to allow students to express themselves beyond the rigidity of society. Society as a whole is caught up in structure: gender identifiers are needed for information gathering and statistical reasons. Therefore, allowing students gender freedom within school records is a starting point. Even if the rest of the world isn’t perceptive to the switch, it’s a step in the right direction. The fact of the matter is that gender exists on a spectrum: it cannot be streamlined to fit one of two perceptions.
Now that men can be stay-at-home dads and women can be primary breadwinners without the bat of an eye, it’s clear that change is possible. The speed of that change, however, is questionable — it's impossible to know how many years it’s going to take for society as a whole to be comfortable with and understanding of preferred pronouns, names and gender fluidity. It all seems like semantics, but its not: it is someone’s livelihood, their identity, the person they present to the universe. The institutional barriers run like a river, coursing deep and fast through society as a whole. Being able to categorize people as male or female is important to the human experience. Creating social change is never convenient for the majority: the minority will always be at a disadvantage as they wait for the wheels of change to begin to turn. But if offering up a third, fourth or fifth box to check speeds up that process, then by all means, draw the box.