Have you ever been misgendered? Has anyone ever mistaken you for a gender other than the one you identify with? When I was twelve, I had short brown hair, plain, tailored clothes, and my breasts had yet to develop. More than once someone thought I was a boy, and it hurt. From my perspective it meant that I wasn’t pretty, that I didn’t fit in as a girl.
Imagine that happening to you every day, well past puberty and into young adulthood. Imagine not identifying with any particular gender identity and yet constantly being referred to as “she”, “ma’am”, “miss” because most people assume that if you’re shorter, have longer hair and a higher pitched voice, you must be female.
My oldest child, who is 21, identifies as non-binary, that is, neither male nor female. Affirming pronouns are they, them, and theirs. Not preferred pronouns, as in making a choice, but affirming pronouns, as in this is who they are. You may be saying to yourself, “But ‘they’ is plural. How can ‘they’ refer to a singular person?”
In the English language, “they” is used when gender is not known. When someone cuts you off in traffic, they are being a jerk. When you take a message for someone, sometimes you may say, “They aren’t available right now. Can I have them call you back?”
Gender isn’t genitals. We know that when someone is transgender, their gender identity is not the sex they were assigned at birth (see what I did there?). Gender identity is who we are on the inside—who we are deep down, indelible. Gender expression is something entirely different—who we are on the outside, how we dress, wear our hair, speak, act. Over centuries we have created norms and assumptions about what is feminine and what is masculine, what it means to be female or male, never mind non-binary. When we refuse to recognize anyone who doesn’t fit into our binary norms and assumptions, basically we are saying I know you better than you know yourself.
But like anything else, norms and assumptions are changing. And many people fear change. But those who are considered gender outlaws fear being put into a box or category or binary that renders them invisible and marginalized. Or worse, vulnerable to attack and violence.
Which is why I am so very thankful for Planned Parenthood of Delaware. At any of their clinics, my child is accepted as they are and receives healthcare, no matter what. There is no need to explain or defend who they are. Their gender identity is not questioned or disrespected but accepted and affirmed. My child feels safe and relaxed and is therefore comfortable and empowered to ask questions to get the help and support they need.
Remember, no one knows you better than you do. I think it’s wonderful that there’s a healthcare provider that listens to you and trusts your knowledge and decisions about you and your body.