2015 Changed The Way We Think About Gender For Good – So What’s Next?
The Debrief: 2015 everyone started to get what 'trans' kind of meant - so what comes next for how we talk about and define gender?
2015 has been a year of dresses and dapper suits clinging fabulously to all figures, and people flaunting their box-breaking attitudes with pride. Even those who were living under their collective rocks now get what 'trans' kind of is: 'oh, trans? So you're were born a woman, but now you're a...' Or vice versa. It’s not perfect, but we're getting there. And hopefully people who would have never contemplated gender on a deeper level than ticking ‘male’ or ‘female’ on an online shopping form are starting to ask some deeper questions. What makes a man a man and a woman a woman? Can you be neither? What is gender fluidity? What's a non-binary when it's at home? And so on.
This is down, in part, to an upsurge of media interest that's gone from trans people being real life magazine and salacious tabloid fodder, to the subject of incredible films (Tangerine), TV series (Transparent, Orange is the New Black), and well-produced documentaries (Transgender Kids by Louis Theroux). While Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out was a huge spike in trans recognition, she was by no means the only trans or non-binary person of 2015 to garner headlines. Obama appointed Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, the first openly trans woman in a white house senior position, a petition saw jailed trans woman Tara Hudson moved out of an all-male prison and in July, Ireland celebrated passing its Gender Recognition Bill, so trans individuals have a quick and easy way of self-defining their legal gender.
2015 has shown trans people to not only be pioneers, but inspirations to those looking up to them. I’m a non-binary person, which means I don’t identify as just a man or just a woman all of the time. And I've spent much of this year wondering if this type of visibility is positive. Who gets media attention is something I've been thinking a lot about as well as how this extra attention impacts on the lives of everyday non-binary and gender non-conforming people?
I came out as non-binary at the age of 16, 7 years ago, and I would have had far more people to look up to had this happened then. There has been a backlash though and non just from those who aren’t smart enough to know better.
There are ‘feminist’ critics who want to exclude trans women from from debates – from Germaine Greer now infamous assertion, that ‘lopping off your dick doesn’t make you a fucking woman,’ to Julie Bindel has expressed her disappointment that butch women will now apparently start being asked when they’re transitioning, saying that: ‘Being openly and proudly butch has now, as [Orange Is The New Black star Lea] DeLaria says, become something that many in the lesbian community look down on.’
But with all of this going on, what about young people who are searching for – and possibly still not getting that much-needed reassurance that their presentation or rejection of binary gender isn’t a weird phase? A study by Youth Chances released last year investigating the experiences of LGBTQ young people in England revealed that three quarters of trans young people have experienced name-calling, and 23% of them have experienced physical attacks.
This is why famous people speaking openly about being genderqueer, genderfluid, or any other definition, like Ruby Rose, Miley Cyrus, and more recently Sting's child Eliot Sumner, give faces to people who are breaking gender boundaries. And they’re not just visible, but they have a cool factor as actors, singers, and artists. For a young person – or anyone - being bullied for who they are, this can mean a lot.
But as ever, the idea of what is marketable as 'palatable' androgyny is still a factor. Celebrities being celebrated for their androgyny often fall into set criteria – white, thin, and a pleasing-but-not too-challenging blend of femininity and masculinity. For me, as a person of colour, my inspirations have been more diverse than that.
Agender rapper Angel Haze, unabashedly femme X Factor contestant Seann Miley Moore, and the US writer, speaker and MTV contributor Tyler Ford, have all split the 'thin, white and hairless' stereotype of androgyny refreshingly wide open. To see non-binary people of colour upheld as prominent creators and speakers at the forefront of trans and gender discussion is a particularly powerful thing. As Laverne Cox explained to the Guardian this year, ‘if you look at spirit traditions in the United States, or hijra traditions in India, religious cultures all over the world have fourth and fifth genders.
‘And then Europeans and westerners came along and said, ‘What is this?’ Colonialism was not just about colonising whiteness, but about colonising the gender binary model.’
In simple terms, being strictly male or female is such an inventions that there were, and still are entire cultures that have flourished without it. And that’s why seeing people given a platform in spite of not fitting into any of those moulds of white, straight or living within strictly male or female parameters is empowering to me.
It’s not only young people who can feel inspired, as a whole host of institutions can benefit from opening their minds to the diversity of genders and bodies that hold them: I would like to see more positive stories behind non-binary individuals, and stories that touch on our different shapes and sizes, ethnicities, religions, levels of ability and disability.
I want people, who may be at the end of 2015 questioning if 2016 is the year that they finally step into themselves, to learn that 'trans' looks like whatever it wants to. That 'androgynous' looks like whatever it wants to, and that you – yes, you – can look like whatever you want to.
In my dream 2016, there is no 'I'm not feminine/masculine enough' or 'I'm not trans enough'. In 2016, may more laws change, may we see media produced by, not only featuring, gender fluid and non-binary people, and may we, as a society, continue to become more open to being challenged when it comes to gender.
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