It’s astounding how much humanity has managed to develop. We’ve moved past the need for what were once considered ground-breaking inventions and discoveries. Now it is the race to outdo the ancestors. To make the cars fly, to create artificial assistants that can manage your home, to hear what your books and magazines have to say and much more. The masses usually have mixed reactions towards something new. Afterall, change is never easy. But with the ever growing needs and ever improving devices and technologies, we have nothing much to complain about. It is a delight to see new surprises waiting to be unfolded every day and witnessing our lives improve for the better.
I personally believe that the most welcomed one out of all these is not a technological change- but the change in people’s mindset. It has been quite a tough journey but we as a society, are finally in a place where we have discarded many baseless and offensive traditions and practices in favour of being more accepting towards each other. We are still far from an ideal society but we’re getting there. Shunning evil acts of cruelty and discrimination (or “traditions” as the bigots so willfully call them) has been a crucial step in growth of the society. The lines are blurring between different castes, gender, races, and religions and the world is becoming what scholars call, ‘a global village’.
At a glance, it may be considered that these intangible and obscure subjects are trivial to the society’s growth. But how wrong that is! The society itself is a manifestation of these factors interacting with each other and reaching symbiosis. It is a truly intriguing concept and people have spent years observing and these subjects and then analysing how the society can further improve. These subjects usually fall under the disciplines of sociology, psychology and social psychology. On one hand, we are glad to know more about these subjects that help us identify ourselves and where we stand in society. On the other hand, it’s getting more complex each passing day and misinformation on such topics can cause anything from a minor strife among communities to a full-fledged war between countries.
Well, sharing knowledge is always welcomed. And if it can stop people from waging wars and destroying the planet (more than we already are), then why not. So today we are going to be discussing one of the most recondite concepts out of these, the knowledge of which was considered a taboo among almost all the communities around the world- the concepts of gender and sex. We will see their origins, their importance and how far we have come as a society in exploring and embracing the true meanings behind these terms.
Gender is one of the most commonly used terms in our world yet being one of the most misinterpreted terms as well. Some of you would scoff at this statement. This word has been drilled into our brains ever before our parents filed our birth certificates. How can we be misinformed? We’ll get to that in a moment. For now I ask you to think for a moment and construct your definition of what gender actually is.
Now, according to World Health Organisation, “Gender refers to the characteristics of women, men, girls and boys that are socially constructed. This includes norms, behaviours and roles associated with being a woman, man, girl or boy, as well as relationships with each other. As a social construct, gender varies from society to society and can change over time.” Many other medical and research organisations support similar ideas.
Pretty different from your own right?
This is because the society has conventionally accepted that there are only two genders which are identified by what’s between your legs. But just because it’s been widely accepted doesn’t mean it is true.
Gender is not just being a man or women. It’s not about your anatomy either. Gender is, in simple terms, how you know yourself to be. What your mind feels comfortable in, regardless of your body’s predetermined structure. It is totally upto you, what you identify yourself as or don’t identify at all. It will be your own distinct gender identity.
Gender has always been a prominent factor in determining the working of human communities and can be traced back to earliest civilisations. Given there was no specific term to express it, humans were able to identify themselves based on their anatomies. Sad how that crude way of identification is still considered widely acceptable. The modern concept of gender is however contributed to Sexologist John Money, who introduced the terminological distinction between biological sex and gender as a role in 1955. Gender has always been mentioned in various religious and ancient texts. Some of which had quite wonderfully accepted the diversity that comes with the term. The texts, in the passage of years have been uneventfully lost or have been misinterpreted. Thus, the lack of proper information among the targeted audiences of the texts.
Today, you could come across people with more than substantial knowledge on this subject, however, it’s still far from satisfactory. Some communities are still less than accepting and individuals are left with no option but to hide their beautiful, unique selves. A ray of hope has emerged in recent decades in the form of mass revolutions and campaigns all over the globe. It might not amount to much, but atleast people are now willing to accept themselves and fight to establish their unique identities. People have been more inclusive towards minorities and we’ve come so far as to accept gender neutral terms in official situations. The acceptance of pronouns “they/them” is another celebratory milestone on our path. People are slowly including the etiquette of asking a person’s pronouns so as to not offend or hurt them in any way.
Listed below are some gender identity terms that are accepted worldwide-
This one’s the easiest to understand since our society loves preaching that this is the only acceptable form of gender. A cisgender is basically whatever gender you were assigned at the time of your birth. For example, if you were assigned female at birth and know yourself to be a female, then you are a cisgender.
This refers to people whose gender assigned at birth differs from what they identify themselves as. As we know, at birth gender is assigned on the basis of the infant’s genitals. Therefore, the confusion. For example- A child born with male genitalia would be considered a male. They however might know themselves as a female. They will then identify as a trans woman. Vice versa for a trans man.
Nowadays gender change surgeries and other treatments are offered to people if they wish to do so.
This one’s a little tricky. Non-binary means different things to different people. But to put it in simple words, it is a term used for people who identify themselves as neither male nor female. They find their identity to not fit with the binary constrains and create their own definition of gender identity. Non- binary acts as an umbrella term for Agender, Bigender and various other categories of gender identity.
Someone who fluctuates between different genders or have many genders at the same time may identify themselves as gender fluid. Their genders may vary based on circumstances. This is NOT to be mistaken for non-binary.
If you find yourself to fit among none of these then don’t worry. At the end of this article I’ve linked many related articles that you may find useful. Remember your identity is yours to make!
Sex and sexuality
Sexuality or sexual orientation is another one of the sensitive and widely unknown subjects to society considering the fact that it is an evident and inescapable part or person’s life. Even a person with no sexual interests, must be educated about their own, as well as others’ sexualities. Sexuality, for the lack of better words, can been described as the sexual feeling and attraction one feels towards people of a certain identity. It does not however, equal romantic feelings.
Sexuality, like gender, is unique and personal to each individual. It does not come easy for people to accept who they are attracted to and where that might lead them. There is a lot of bigotry and discrimination to face if a person is outed as of ‘unconventional’ sexuality. People go as far as exorcising, threatening and harassing their own kin to get them back to the ‘old’ ways. Years of such mistreatment and lack of knowledge has led to people being clueless and unaware of their own desires and wants.
However, the subject of sexual orientation did not have the same fate years ago. There are clear evidences of various sexualities been prominent and even celebrated in various cultures and communities. But years of malicious political and other selfish agendas have messed up people’s ideas and notions. We lose hold of what’s actually important to us and seek for instant gratification and shallow social status.
In present day scenario, after years and years of campaigns and protests, the communities have finally accepted the concept and existence of various sexualities. This has led to formation of a separate community of people with different sexual orientations and genders coming together and putting up a united front- the LGBTQ+ community. The term has various acronyms, but one of the most commonly used is LGBTQIA+. LGBTQIA+ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer/Questioning, Asexual and many other terms (such as non-binary and pansexual). It started in year 1988, when US activists used the term LGBT to show that they were a force to be reckoned with. It was after this, in 1990s that lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people started gaining respect and equal footing in society.
The community is still marginalised and discriminated against, but we’re slowly spreading awareness and gaining support. Many countries have finally decriminalised homosexual marriages and relationships and many are underway of doing so. Communities are trying to accept and broaden their views to ensure happiness of their young ones. In fact, the entire month of June has been unofficially declared as the “Pride Month”, in various parts of the world to celebrate the coming together of various minorities and promote the agenda of freedom of self-expression. The community even has their own flags with represents different groups within it. Many famous figures have openly ‘come out’ and the knowledge about gender and sexuality is gradually spreading. Still, there are various hurdles to the path of success that we are working hard to remove.
Below mentioned are some of the terms used to identify different sexual orientations-
This refers to those who are sexually attracted to the opposite gender. Men towards women and vice versa. Again, this term is inclusive of trans men and women liking their opposite gender. Heterosexuality is sadly the most lawful and socially acceptable form of sexual orientation as of yet.
This refers to when people are attracted to the same gender as their own. Lesbians and Gays come under this. Homosexuals are one of the most oppressed sections of society, to the point where they are criminalised for who they choose to be attracted to, in many countries. Misinterpretations of religious texts are used to shun homosexuals and they are ripped off their basic human rights. Many encouraging changes have taken place in recent years towards the treatment of this group but it can only be considered bare minimum at most, we are still far from what is considered ideal.
Pansexuality means attraction towards all genders. Pansexuals prefer every gender regardless their own. They are often confused for bisexuals but in reality these two are vastly different terms. Pansexuality mostly ignores the constraints of gender and focuses more on a personality of the individual.
As the name suggests, bisexuality refers to be attracted towards both genders- male and female. They might however, prefer one slightly more than the other. It is said that most of the people are curious about others of their own gender but only a few actually explore it. Considering the negativity towards same gender relationships, it is only fair. Bisexuals are often mocked as “having it easy” or “getting the best of both worlds” but in reality, the community suffers their own share of problems.
An Asexual or Ace is a person who is not sexually attracted to any gender. The keyword being ‘sexually’. Asexuality does not mean Aromantic. A person may be asexual and develop feelings or in a more passionate wording- fall in love, like any other person. Sex is not the necessity of life and an asexual person can get by just fine without the need or urge for sex. This does not mean theydo not indulge in any other forms of physical affection. Asexuals can kiss, hug and cuddle just like anyone you might know. Sometimes they might even indulge in sexually pleasing their partners.
Again, do note that these are only few of the terms that can describe a person’s sexuality. Times are changing and so is the mentality of people. The short span of human life does not ensure that you please every single person you come across. You’re not to be constricted to the few terms that the society finds acceptable. Explore yourself and discover your own identity. Seek help if you’re confused or scared. Do not hesitate. Your life is yours to decide. A life chasing approvals from people for your choices who will not bear the responsibilities of those choices is waste.
Here are a few readings to help you know more about Gender and sexuality-
Other Important Articles
- WHAT IS MAJOR DEPRESSIVE DISORDER
- Gender roles in our society
- What is Gender Stereotypes
- Erik Erikson on stage of Adolescence