Despite very important developments, increased visibility, media exposure and lately, recognition (in the USA), as a priority area for funders, Trans identities in general, and non-binary gender identities in particular, often represent an enigma to a considerable majority of cis people. Non-cisgender identities cause fear, an oftentimes ‘futile’ fear of the unknown, anxiety and, the reaction that onlookers and complete strangers know you better than your own self. Any non-binary person could confirm the extremely offensive and disturbing nature of such attitudes.
Society, both in the West and elsewhere, is too accustomed to the gender binary. Some people, even those who are well-meaning, sometimes tend to perceive non-binary, fluid and plural gender identities through the prism of prejudices and clichés.
In my own experiences as a non-binary person, and encounters with like-minded people in several countries, I have come across varying degrees of [sometimes pseudo] acceptance of people who position themselves outside the gender binary. In Germany, for example, one thing that was repeatedly confirmed was that someone assigned ‘female’ at birth expressing gender fluidity and a non-binary/Trans identity was somehow more ‘tolerable’ than a non-binary person assigned ‘male’ at birth. Indeed, a similar general attitude can be observed in many other places.
Analysts, activists and writers concur that for those assigned ‘male’ at birth, assuming one’s femininity is rendered extremely challenging, dangerous and on occasion life-threatening. The root causes of this reality extends to narrow perceptions of gender and gender-related ‘hierarchies’ that continue to wield influence even in countries with apparently strong gender equality legislation and practices (suffice to read a bit of Steig Larsson or Henning Mankell, among others). A consistent discussion of the causes of this attitude is beyond a mere blogpost. However, I would draw attention to the obvious; the fact that, to a very large extent, people’s attitudes towards gender (and consequently, their gender stereotypes and clichés) are shaped at a very young age.
A different and more equitable way of looking at gender and society really needs to start from the nursery. Apart from, perhaps, the Egalia pre-school in Södermalm, Stockholm, primary education is one in which binary gender norms are deeply entrenched in children’s minds. People who have attempted at introducing more dynamic and inclusive approaches have met with tremendous objection, stern criticism, violent reprisals and condemnation. This has been the experience of the likes of Egalia’s creator Ms Rajalin. In France, the Minister of Women’s Rights (presently Minister of Education) who sought to introduce a programme to combat sexism gender-based discrimination, named ABCD de l’égalité, was vehemently condemned, and despite the programme’s clear merits and worth, it was not taken forward. To protest against this initiative, some parents (especially of children ‘assigned male’ at birth), even decided to keep their children home. In a country struggling with a range of racial, ethno-religious and gender stereotypes, protest against ABCD de l’égalité marked a rare scenario in which conservative Catholics and Muslims were in full agreement.
Many people find it extremely difficult and oftentimes unwilling to admit the basic reality – that (as opposed to what is generally taken for granted) gender identity is not something beqeathed to one at birth. There are many different ways of being either male or female, and many gender identities exist in-between. It is up to each and every person to discover their gender identity and affirm who they are. Instead, what we have is a society, a system of education and institutions that systematically seek to assign a straightjacket, prefabricated gender identity to each and every human being. Not only is this not on, but it simply does not work.
A great deal of work remains to be done in facilitating equality, justice, respect and recognition for non-binary/gender-fluid/non-conforming/genderqueer/ people, and indeed for Transpeople in general. Hence the importance of the work, at varying levels, of activists, advocates, academics and writers across the world. Despite the obvious challenges involved, it is an absolute priority to work towards change, turning society into a place where individuals are never forced to suppress or ‘justify’ their gender identity, and consequently, their very existence.
Post-scriptum: Links to several thought-provoking pieces on ABCD de l’égalité and gender eqaulity education at nursery & primary levels, [all of them carrying universal relevance and significance], appear below: (This list will be updated here and in future posts).
An article, published in Le Monde, by Martine Storti, an ‘Inspectrice-générale at l’Éducation Nationale, on the absolutely ludicrous critiques of the ABCD de l’égalité initiative.
An analytical piece by Nina Schmidt, for the Observatoire des Inégalités, on the Hollande government’s decision to abandon the ABCD de l’égalité initiative, in the face of mounting conservative opposition.
Pour celles et ceux qui s’intéressent au projet ABCD de l’égalité, son contenu et ses objectifs, voici une copie du Rapport d’évaluation du dispositif expérimental.
A BBC report on the Egalia Pre-School.