Society believes it has sexuality and gender all figured out. You can either be gay, straight or bisexual. You can be male or female. That all seems simple. Well, this is where society, and maybe you, would be wrong. There is, in fact, a whole underworld of sexualities and genders that most probably haven’t heard of.
Human sexuality and gender are like a kaleidoscope of colours and emotion. They evolve and shift, and are simply impossible to predict. Who knows what one person will identify as, and how would it be fair to judge someone based on that identity?
Picture yourself in someone else’s shoes for a moment. You wake up each morning and look at yourself in the mirror. You see a body that you do not recognise. It’s your body, but it shouldn’t be. There’s something that you don’t like about it – but it’s way more extreme than that. You feel not only down about yourself, but loathe yourself. You don’t just hate your body, but you feel trapped by it. You hate the position in society that you hold.
People assume you are one thing, and they define you by what they think you have down below. You begin to feel depressed because of your body and the way that society responds to their perceptions of you. People who feel this way are sometimes referred to as being transgender, but conventional society has got transgender as a concept all wrong. Being transgender is not just wanting to be the opposite gender to the one you were assigned at birth, but is in fact anyone who feels as though their gender differs to that assigned to them at birth. Which means they may identify as male, female, or neither.
People who identify as agender — a term that means to be without gender — or gender queer, an umbrella term that refers to someone who transgresses gender norms, can both also identify as transgender.
Agender and gender queer are both non-binary genders. A person who identifies as non-binary feels as though they don’t fit into the roles of being male or female. Most people do fit into the binary and are comfortable with being called male or female, but for a percentage of society it is not only uncomfortable to be referred to in such a way – but it is distressing. These people see themselves as neither male nor female. They may see themselves as something totally different, or as completely removed from any notion of gendered identity. Non-binary people see themselves as just that: people!
Gender is a societal construct that is enforced upon us, and for many people that is totally fine. But for other people, the pressure of living towards a certain ideal of how certain sexes should behave is just too much and doesn’t correspond with how they see themselves
Most people have probably heard the term “pansexual”, but tend to confuse it with bisexuality. Pansexual means to love people regardless of gender and identity, whereas skoliosexuality describes the love of non-binary people. You know, those people who see themselves as outside of the gender norm? That’s right, they are capable of being loved, too! And there’s even an exclusive label to describe the love that people feel for them.
Skoliosexuality can be just one of many sexualities that an individual has. Whereas pansexuality means an individual can love anyone regardless of how they identify, someone could be skoliosexual and androsexual at the same time. Androsexual is a way of saying that someone is attracted to men. The term androsexual is typically used by the non-binary community as it is a way of saying that someone is attracted to men without revealing their own gender. This is because “gay” is when a man loves a man, but what about when a non-binary person loves a man? That is androsexual.
The same applies for non-binary people who are attracted to women, which is called gynesexual. Whereas pansexual is a catch-all term for loving anyone and everyone regardless of gender, these other terms allow for a much more fluid experience of sexuality and for the expression of multiple attractions, as well as excluding others.
There is also demisexuality and sapiosexuality. Demisexuality is quite similar to asexuality, however demisexuals do feel sexual attraction towards those with which they have an emotional bond. Sapiosexuality, on the other hand, is when someone feels a sexual attraction towards intelligence and the mind as opposed to physical appearance.
Internet trolls and people who can’t grasp the concept of non-binary genders often mock en masse. “I sexually identify as an Attack Helicopter [sic]” one keyboard warrior says. “God created men and women for a reason”, echoes centuries of conservative tradition. It cannot be disputed that male and female sexes exist biologically for a reason. But how those sexes behave and act within society (gender) and how they see themselves is nothing to do with nature or some God up above. Everything is to do with the society we live in.
Gender norms differ between societies, and they have changed a-plenty over time. For example, in Western society it is no longer conventionally seen as acceptable for women to be confined to the home in purely domestic roles: there is still a way to go in achieving equity for women in the workforce, but the idea of what the norm is for women and work has definitely shifted somewhat since the fifties.
The internet trolls also love to claim that these non-binary genders were made up on Tumblr so that people can “feel like special snowflakes”. Which, of course, is a ludicrous notion to suggest, given that androgyne people are recorded as meeting as a group in New York in 1895. Two autobiographies from pseudonymous group member Earl Lind were written in 1918 and 1922.
Australia introduced gender neutral passports in 2003, whereas Tumblr wasn’t launched until 2007. How can this group of people have been made up on Tumblr when their existence can be traced back to 1895, and perhaps even further? Sure, some of the terminology used to describe these sexualities may have been coined more recently and have spread thanks to social media, but the concepts date back decades.
“What about those pesky pronouns?” I hear you ask. Well, non-binary people often (but not always) prefer to use pronouns that do not refer to a specific gender. In English, this has always been difficult, as English almost exclusively uses gendered pronouns. In the late 18th century, grammarians considered using the singular ‘they’ as a pronoun to be bad grammar. However, singular ‘they’, along with other non-binary pronouns, seem to be rising in popularity. Throughout history, there have also been attempts to create gender neutral pronouns; University of Illinois Professor Dennis Baron writes that in 1792, ‘ou’ was used as an indeterminate pronoun by Scottish economist and philosopher James Anderson. There is a large amount of gender neutral pronouns in use out there, and if you’re ever unsure of to how you should refer to someone – then just ask them!
Perhaps it’s time that society had a bit of a pronoun shift. As opposed to people having to state what pronouns they prefer, maybe it would be better to just assume neutral pronouns for everyone unless they say otherwise. This is already taking place in America, where the University of Tennessee-Knoxville has asked for students and staff to use gender neutral pronouns in an attempt to promote diversity.
Many things can be done to assist in the acceptance of these genders and sexualities that many people simply haven’t heard of. For instance, gender-neutral passports could be introduced by the government so that non-binary people aren’t forced to declare a gender that simply isn’t theirs.
Society could begin to use neutral pronouns in everyday situations as opposed to automatically gendering people based upon their appearance and stereotypes. Inclusive sex and relationship education should be introduced into the curriculum to educate the youth of today on these genders and sexualities. It would also ensure that GSM (Gender and Sexual Minorities) youth are educated about sexual health and relationships in a way that includes them as opposed to the cut and paste, heteronormative, sex and relationship education that we have currently. The government should also update the 2010 Equality Act to protect all transgender people from discrimination; the findings from a government inquiry into transgender equality reports that the government is yet to create a legal category for those who identify as non-binary. Another report found that 65% of respondents who identify as non-binary were not protected by the act.
This can all be very confusing, especially when being introduced to terminology and concepts you’ve never heard before. If you ever find yourself confused about topics such as this and find yourself not knowing what terms or pronouns to use with someone, then simply remember the platinum rule: treat others in the way you would like to be treated. You don’t have to understand someone’s gender or sexuality to be respectful of it. Ultimately, live and let live. Who cares how other people choose to identify?