Gender Expression vs. Gender Identity and Gender Neutrality in Life

A while back I wrote a post on the difference between gender and sex ( and how we reflect that with our appearance. I thought I would talk a little bit more about gender and how it affects some people daily, not just in their appearance, but in how the world sees them and tells them what to do.

I have a friend who went to a teen summer camp one time. It was a week-long, overnight camp, and generally pretty accepting. There were people open about their sexuality, people who weren’t, and everyone seemed to respect each other for lots of different things. But one of the things that my friend noticed was that everyone at the camp was a bit stuck on some gender stereotypes. Not huge ones, but enough to make the week kind of rough for my friend. This friend is used to being around people who are quite accepting to almost everything. They treat genders pretty equally, they try to see not the differences, but the similarities in genders, and use gender-neutral names for each other, or use the same name for everyone, despite gender. (They use ‘guys’ a lot, no matter who they’re talking to.)

At this camp, though, my friend felt pretty overwhelmed by how gendered things were. The counselor referred to everyone in their cabin with very gender-specific names whenever she was referring to them as a group. My friend admits that she can’t really blame them for that, because everyone in the cabin claims to identify as that one gender. But they mention one thing that maybe could use some work. The way they’re cabin mates would talk about the opposite sex made them seem like aliens, people you couldn’t relate to as well as people of the same sex because their gentiles were different. Most of it was teasing, yes, but my friend hasn’t been around a group like that for a few years, so it was very shocking. It didn’t help that at the time, my friend was questioning their gender identity. During that long week, my friend couldn’t figure out where they fit in. Their current cabin was friendly enough. They made good friends and enjoyed hanging around the people there. Although there were times they felt out of place. But they also felt like they would be out of place with the cabin full of the opposite gender because of my friend’s biological sex. They only made a few friends with people from the other cabin because of how awkward it was for them.

Once my friend got back and started telling me these stories, we both started to wonder what it would be like if someone happened to make a camp with a unisex cabin. It would be for all people who don’t feel like they belong in the female or male cabin. And then it went on. More unisex bathrooms and dressing rooms and things like that would be a dream come true for my friend. A place where anyone who doesn’t fit the labels is allowed. My friend would love to go back to this camp again because of the great experience, but they also wonder how much more enjoyable it would be if they were more open about their gender.
My friend has told me before that yes, they have a hard time being either male or female sometimes. They can be one or the other, but there are also times where they are both, or neither, or some other confusing gender. But my friend has never really felt uncomfortable with their biological body. They have never felt trapped, or stuck. “I don’t hate my body.” They say. “I just hate the way the world views it.”
I really love the way that’s put. My friend truly does not hate their body. They love the body they were given and wants to take care of it. But because of the specific body parts my friend was born with, it can really make life difficult and annoying sometimes, just because of how people view their body. People really do assume a lot about a person just because of their outward appearance. Sometimes, you are almost absolutely correct. Sometimes, you are very wrong. Just the other day, I was in the car with some younger kids, and they were looking at someone in another car, trying to figure out whether or not they were male or female, just because of how they look.

Now, their guesses could have been right. The person in the car could very well be the gender they are expressing. Or they could be the opposite. Or something else entirely. There’s no way we could know without them telling us or us asking. But it reminded me how much we gender things based on their gender expression. I admit to doing it from time to time, but I’m working on stopping myself. Whenever I notice myself giving someone a specific gender because of their expression, I stop, tell myself what I just did, remind myself that just because someone expresses themselves as a certain gender does not mean that they are for sure that gender, and go on viewing them as they really are: A human being. Just like the rest of us.

No matter our parts.


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