It seemed like the world collectively fell in love with model and breakout television star Ruby Rose after her appearance on the hit Netflix TV show, Orange Is the New Black. Rose identifies as genderfluid and used her fame to spark a national conversation on gender non-conformity. Men and women alike found themselves smitten with Rose’s androgynous, striking beauty.
At the show’s beginning, many people in the transgender community were elated to see Laverne Cox, an out binary transgender woman, playing a principal role in the show’s story. It was a victorious stepping stone to trans representation in mainstream media and that was a cause for celebration.
For many people in the non-binary and gender non-conforming community, seeing Ruby Rose (who identifies as genderfluid but not as trans, which some people do choose to do) gain so much attention also gave them a huge sense of victory. For the first time in many of their lives, a person who does not identify with binary gender presentation was receiving praise and accolades.
But for others, particularly people who are cishet, even just the mere utterance of the term "genderfluid" left many scratching their heads in confusion and scrambling to the closest dictionary they could find, desperate to understand the situation.
In order to understand genderfluidity, one first must understand the gender binary.
The gender binary is the system the majority of societies have developed in order to understand and contextualize the distinctions between people with penises and vaginas. For most people, gender is assigned to them from birth based on their genitals. With that assignment comes a "gender role" and a specific set of expectations, attributes, and stereotypes that pretty much every person is expected to follow.
For example, men and boys are typically pressured to present masculinity and express themselves as tough, independent, courageous, and assertive. Women and girls, on the other hand, are typically pushed to seem as feminine as possible; they are expected to be demure, polite, patient, kind, and selfless at all times.
The assigning and enforcing of these gender roles is a form of socialization that often results in negative consequences on a personal and societal level.
For many people, gender roles can be stifling and damaging. Men who face constant pressure to present masculinity often fall into a dangerous behavior pattern known as toxic masculinitythat is psychologically damaging, and sometimes physically demanding, to them and those around them.
Along with personal damage, the gender binary also facilitates insidious cultural and social injustices such as misogyny and rape culture.
So according to the gender binary, there are only two genders. So how is Ruby Rose “genderfluid”?
The gender binary is only one way of looking at gender and it’s an archaic and inherently flawed system of thinking. A more holistic and accurate approach to gender is to see it as a spectrum. There is speculation that the brain is the center of individual gender identity, not cultural and social ascriptions.
For many people, their gender identity is about finding a balance of how they present and express themselves in terms of the masculine and the feminine. Therefore, it makes better sense to see gender as a spectrum upon which any individual can fall on any point, according to their own presentational balance, because the gender spectrum accommodates all the different balances of the masculine and the feminine. For those who are genderfluid, their position on that spectrum of masculine to feminine changes depending on how they feel at any given time.
A LITTLE CONFUSED?
Think about it like this: A color wheel is not comprised of two colors on opposite ends that never touch. Instead, a color wheel is a sliding scale of lots of colors in which people can pick their favorites. For example, there is more than one shade of red. Your favorite shade of red may not be the shade of red that others like best. However, both shades exist and they’re equally valid and beautiful just as they are.
Such is the case with gender: your idea of feminine or masculine may not match someone else’s, just as theirs may not fit yours. However, it is up to neither of you to dictate the other person’s perception of their identity and/or presentation.
SO WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN?
Well, when all is said and done, our society’s perception of gender is still pretty binary. This leaves folx like Ruby Rose to contend with a lot of animosity and ignorance because of the way they present.
Here’s a few things you can do to normalize genderfluidity and the gender spectrum:
- Ask folx about their pronouns before assuming they go by a particular set.
- Often, genderfluid and non-binary transgender people have alternative pronouns they go by as opposed to the typical “she/her” or “he/him”;
- Educate yourself on trans issues and do what you can to help trans people at all times;
- Support genderfluid and non-binary artists and creators to help their narratives become more mainstream, and;
- Maintain an open mind and heart to folx who are gender non-conforming. After all, they’re human just like you.