Gender is such an important issue, particularly in today’s society. But don’t just take my word for it. Clearly, some agree with me.
Former South African President, Nobel Peace Prize winner and philanthropist, Nelson Mandela once said: “We pledge ourselves to liberate all our people from the continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender and other discrimination.”
Yes, I’m clearly in good company on this issue. But how can we possibly hope to achieve the lofty goals espoused Nelson in the ‘gender games’, if most of us cannot or will not open our minds to gender diversity.
So many people ask me the difference between genders. Unsurprisingly, most understand the differences between the male and female genders. But few understand much beyond that broad distinction. Indeed, most people I speak to about the topic have no idea, and a few simply refuse to accept, that there are other genders that go way beyond the ‘Adam and Eve’ thing.
I must confess that I was equally ignorant when it came to the so-called ‘third gender’. And it is not surprising, given the inadequate sex education I was forced to endure at school. Unfortunately, with very few exceptions, sex, and gender awareness in particular, is still very poorly taught. So, there is no shame in being ignorant on the topic of gender.
Having said that, ignorance is no excuse. Education is the foundation stone of a truly successful life. And the education I refer to is not just about understanding others. It’s also about understanding yourself. Because with self-awareness, comes real strength.
As actress Katharine Hepburn put it so forcefully: “I have not lived as a woman. I have not lived as a man. I’ve just done what I damn well wanted to, and I’ve made enough money to support myself, and ain’t afraid of being alone.”
Hey, I agree with Kate. I agree we can be anyone we damn well want to be. And no-one has the right to judge who I am or who I choose to be.
Take, for instance, my recent visit to Bangkok. I was fortunate enough to be introduced to and spend time with a number of wonderful people who are third gender. The experience was both fascinating and eye-opening. I found these people – so-called ‘lady-boys’ who were born male but choose to live as female – far more feminine than a majority of women in the west. Seriously, they behave better, take better care of themselves and truly understand what a female is and how to behave. Some may find my way of looking at things a bit harsh. But you know me, I always call it the way I see it.
Whilst in Thailand, I also came to understand how important is acceptance of diversity, particularly in the context of gender. Seriously, the openness towards and acceptance of the third gender I witnessed in Bangkok was incredible. And it was a marked difference from my experiences in the west, where people so often are ignorant of or fear difference
Ignorance is one thing, and our very poor sex education system is probably to blame for that. But who knows why anyone would ‘fear’ gender diversity? I suspect it has a lot to do with the teachings of the church that are all so judgemental and focussed on what is right & what is wrong in the church’s eyes and consequently unwilling to accept difference. Also, perhaps many are frightened of the unknown or simply fear themselves – that they themselves may be different. After all, as we saw in decades past, so many of the vile creatures who persecuted gays and lesbians were in fact closet homosexuals themselves.
So, it is unsurprising that so many people do not, or choose not to, understand gender diversity.
Fortunately, this appears to be changing. For example, there is growing awareness of younger children being recognised as transgender. To be honest, transgender has always been around. It simply hasn’t been openly accepted and spoken about.
Certainly, I accept that gender diversity is a difficult issue to grasp, particularly for older people. It’s like learning a whole different language, after years of being forced to accept only one way of thinking; one way of being. For example, my own mum found it unacceptable for my 13-year-old niece and I to watch ‘I am Cait‘ on an E channel entertainment in-depth reality show, in which Cait Jenner opened up about being transgender. My sister (my niece’s mum) accepted transgender reflected how the world is today, and agreed it was fine for us to watch the show. My mum, on the other hand, and probably typically of her generation, couldn’t accept it. I don’t think it’s because they are against transgender people per se. I think it’s simply they have lived for so long without being aware of its existence, let alone coming face to face with it as they do today.
To be fair, some groups are beginning to open up about intersex gender. Having met the third gender, I am more convinced than ever there are more than 2 genders.
So, I thought it might be helpful to lift the lid and take a look inside the world of gender diversity.
First, let’s understand what we mean when we talk about ‘gender identity‘. This expression is used to describe the particular gender role in society with which a person most identifies. Unfortunately, there has been a tendency to categorise males and females into social roles. This creates problems, especially when an individual doesn’t feel comfortable in the body they were born and raised in, and would rather choose their own sex.
Male and female
At birth, the parents are congratulated on the arrival of bouncy bundle of joy and label it either a girl or boy. But what happens if the welcome young (say, girl), turns out to be or wants to be, a boy, or even both a boy and a girl, or neither? Unfortunately, the answer to that question in current society is heartache and pain for all concerned. Hence the need kfor education in and understanding of gender diversity. We need vast improvement in understanding so these situations – these lives – can be accepted and celebrated.
Let’s start with some simple terminology. Below are some simple explanations of the different recognised genders. I am not going to describe them in technical terms such as chromosomes and DNA etc… I’ll leave that for the scientists. I am happy to learn and understand about sex and gender, and I encourage you to adopt the same approach – for the sake of your kids, for the sake of your family, and for your own sake.
Hermaphrodite: Someone who has both male and female reproductive organs – both genital characteristics. Typically, the internal organs are of one sex, and the external organs are of another sex. For example, a hermaphrodite might have a penis and testicles, but inside, there are ovaries and possibly a uterus. Once it is known that the child has both reproductive organs, parents normally decide a gender for the child to be. Hermaphrodites commonly face discrimination, and in some countries employment is not provided to them. As they have both male and female reproductive organs, theoretically, they can have sexual relationships with both sexes depending on their own individual preference.
Did you know the once James Bond girl, ‘Caroline Cossey’, was raised a boy but had female appearance. At 17, she chose to live her life as a woman, and had gender reassignment surgery. Unfortunately, she was eventually ‘outed’ by the tabloids.
Transgender: A person who identifies themselves by gender orientation and not by a member of a community. This includes people who do not identify exclusively with either of the traditionally recognised genders – male or female. Many transgender feel that they have been born in the wrong body and therefore go through surgery to become a member of the opposite sex from which they were biologically born. They may be pre-operative, post operative or non-operative. Many transgender become victims of discrimination by people not understanding and this includes the law. You may have recently heard about a woman from Bath who had successfully transitioned from male to female and was locked up in a male prison. This was because her birth certificate stated she was male. No certificate is re-issued when you change sex, it seems, at least in the UK. Although transition for transgender is legal in many countries there are still many countries where it is not. Similarly, sexual relations for transgender people is complex, with varying attitudes amongst countries. As with hermaphrodites, this is further complicated because, of course, there is a continuing, traditional mindset of only 2 genders, such that there is no particular gender orientation for these people to be ‘categorised’ into. So, in some countries they can have relationships with any person they desire; in others, they cannot have them at all!
Agender: An individual who sees themselves as without gender. People who identify themselves this way also describe themselves as genderless or gender neutral. Even though they see themselves as genderless, they should not be mistaken with asexual people. Some undergo surgery to make them appear with a body that lacks sexual characteristics.
Bigender: Someone who identifies with two genders. They can change between male and female identities whenever they choose. This is often associated with cross-dressing.
Genderfluid: Very similar to bigender but the gender they identify with varies over time. A genderfluid person may at any time identify as male, female or any non-binary identity and even sometimes a mixture of the two. They are also known as multigender.
The bottom line is, be proud of, and live, the life you choose to lead. Whether you identify as male, female, third gender or a mix of all of them, or as none of them – be true to yourself.