Understanding and explaining gender fluidity

Ritash (pronouns: they/them) is co-founder, RANG & CLE Trust. They moved from writing software programs to people’s and places’ stories. They are asexual & gender fluid and an LGBTQIAP+ community peer counsellor.

“Do you feel like a woman sometimes and a man at other times?”, asked a long time, cisgender heterosexual friend. I had revealed my asexuality and gender fluidity to this friend only over the last few years, like I have been doing with many people, however long and well I have known them.

“You consider yourself only as a human? That is a nice concept”, said two other cisgender heterosexual friends, who had known me for some years before I had disclosed my gender fluidity, changed name and pronouns (i.e., they/them) to them.

I agree that understanding gender and its diverse manifestations, identities, interpretations, definitions, labels, classifications, representations, et al, is not easy. Additionally, many people conflate gender with biological sex, external and internal body parts and appearance. However, I wish that people who are unaware but are keen to understand and willing to accept the diversities of SOGIESC (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression, Sex Characteristics) try to do it from the perspective of gender, sexual and romantic minorities (GSRM). This is definitely necessary for gender and sexual minority people such as me to believe that we are being respected and included.

Explaining my gender fluidity to persons who are new to the term and what it means to me, has been tough, largely. But tougher and more tiring than this, is explaining my gender fluidity to those who think they know it well, are unwilling to listen to me patiently and complete my words and sentences instead of letting me talk. Quite often, such persons actually do not know or cannot comprehend my gender fluidity or understand it incorrectly. Their impatience disappoints and frustrates me, sometimes.

How my gender unraveled?

When I was aged 15 or 16 years, I serendipitously overheard my late foster maternal uncle (actually, an adult friend of our biological family), telling a group of some of his adult friends, among whom my father was present, that there is a woman in every man and vice versa. In hindsight, I interpreted that my uncle meant that gender is fluid. I found partial affirmation for my gender fluidity, through these memorable words of my uncle. Of course I heard and chose the term ‘gender fluidity’, many years later, well into my adulthood.

I have always believed and said that my gender is a continuum – this is the essence of my gender fluidity. It implies that I am not of a specific gender at any time, however my physical appearance or biological body maybe, internally and externally.

Unsurprisingly, I have struggled for long to find understanding and acceptance of my gender fluidity probably because most people believe in the gender binary. Further, I have not met too many people who consider or declare themselves as gender fluid. Consequently, I feel isolated and anxious and I have questioned my gender fluidity periodically. My self-doubts are perhaps because I believe that gender is much more than a social construct and a physical or psychological identity, that many people consider it to be. To me, gender is also about how I emote and express myself physically, mentally, externally and internally.

Why my gender matters?

Sometimes, I wonder if I am thinking too frequently and deeply about my gender fluidity. But that is because my gender is integral and important to me. Additionally, I am sad and sometimes irritated that people do not try to understand my gender from my perspectives and experiences. Further, many people quickly misinterpret my gender fluidity, although they may dislike my treating their gender similarly. Of course, I would never dismiss any marginalized SOGIESC or other socio-cultural identities, challenges or needs of anyone, however they treat me.

My gender and its understanding from my perspective affects my mental wellness – disrespect and rejection cause outrage, confusion about my gender and alienation and may result in depression and loss of self-esteem. All this constitutes gender dysphoria. Some misinformed persons, including healthcare providers, prefer calling it ‘gender identity disorder’, but I find that term derogatory and pathologising. And I know many people detest the word ‘disorder’, in the context of health.

As a writer and a peer counselor from the LGBTQIAP+ community, I have heard from many of my community members over the last 18 years, about the extremely adverse health impact of rejection and misrepresentation of their gender and sexuality. Some gender and sexually diverse people have been subjected to physical and mental torture, coercive counselling (it is NOT counselling) and conversion ‘therapy’ (nothing therapeutic) for considering themselves outside the gender binary. All these are unethical and unlawful activities, and their proponents can be penalized or punished. Obviously, our detractors need sensitization and must avoid gender diverse people if they can only reject, disbelieve, pity, ridicule, exoticize, misrepresent or scorn us!

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