Facebook has come a long way from the “man/woman” drop down menu of a few years ago. We can now choose from an expanded list of gender categories by selecting “custom” from the scroll down bar, followed by options like agender, trans female, FTM, pangender, two spirit, androgynous or various other pre-determined choices. I tried typing “Pansy” and it flashed an error message across my screen, “You must select one or more custom genders”
Wait, I thought selecting a custom gender was about being able to custom define ourselves? I looked up the definition of custom – “a habitual practice; the usual way of acting in given circumstances.” I routinely rock ruffles in place of cuffs, frequently flounce about in fishnets, and customarily carry a little “too much” emotion in my otherwise “manly” voice. Does that not make me habitually a Pansy?!
Apparently our genders need to be vetted by Facebook’s gender decision making board. Who’s job is that?! Like seriously, “Hi honey I’m home! Today I decided to allow Pixie Ranger and Pansy as genders, but I thought Stardust Unicorn was going a little far so I blocked that. How was your day?”
Or maybe it’s a computer program, and when a pre-determined number of people identify as a particular gender, the lightbulb goes on in Facebooklandier. So how many Pansies does it take to change a light bulb?
And what exactly, do the gender gatekeepers fear about Pansies and Stardust Unicorns? Are they worried that people will get ridiculous and make fun of the whole gender thing? My gender is “shithead”! No wait, wait, my gender is “buttfuck penisbreath”! Because that would be a disaster – children, gender is very very very serious because otherwise white men couldn’t be the bosses of the world and besides, there’s way too much free fun already in this god-forsaken world. Are you trying to make the professional-fun-makers lose their jobs? Just how selfish are you gender non-conformists?
Maybe the gatekeepers are worried that people who define their genders in non-normative ways may topple the entire world. I mean, shit what would happen if suddenly anyone could just define themselves in any way they felt moved to? If we could no longer rely on old assumptions about gender (and many other things), we might actually need to c-o-m-m-u-n-i-c-a-t-e with each other. Like really and truly enquire, listen and share of ourselves. We’d no longer be able to assume that we can tell everything about someone by a limited vocabulary of words which have lost their richest meanings through the asinine assumptions dripping from the vowels and the rotting refuse caked on the consonants . When I say a word like woman or heartfelt or revolution – does it mean the same thing to you? Of course not! Language becomes laden with the baggage of the context in which it’s spoken, signed or otherwise shared. And that context, is a little (or a lot) different for each of us.
OMG and if we started to communicate more fully, we might actually begin to understand each other! Without our continuous misunderstandings, we might stop fighting and blowing each other up. And shit, let’s face it, that would be very very bad for the economy (at least this version of the economy).
I’m not saying we should abolish words or concepts like womanhood and manhood – these are beautiful things (well, people, really). It’s about politely asking these identities to stop blocking the telescope for a minute, so that we may peek through and be awestruck by the galaxy that is gender. The Carnivalesque Magicians! The Nerdy Pirates! The Petunias! The Sissies! The Bears! The Queens!
But what does this all mean? Aren’t these just words? Yes. And no. We create language to communicate important ideas. As our ideas and our understandings of ourselves and the world shift or become unobscured, so too does language need to adapt. Beneath what may seem trivial to some, is a universe of important and genius ideas and experiences. Next time you think something is trivial, I challenge you to drop your judgements (even for just an hour or so) and take the time to listen to why people are making language requests. You might surprise yourself by finding it’s liberating for you too. What’s your custom gender today?
In fact, often it’s not even about change, it’s about re-remembering, reclaiming or recentreing those who have had way more than the man/woman gender menu bar all along. It’s only really dominant western cultures that seem to be fixated on the two gender system. I’m deeply grateful to all the communities who hold warm places by the fire for a many gendered galaxy, and am praying my people will catch up soon. Two spirit people across Turtle Island (North America). Fa’afafine in Samoa. Hijras in South Asia. Sistergirls in Australia. Loosening our grip on the two-gender-man-woman-thing, is an important step in decolonisation.
Plus it’s way more fun.
What do we want? Infinite custom genders!
When do we want it! Now!
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