Why Gender Is Always Relevant

One argument that I hear often—particularly in response to increasing awareness around trans identities in a certain context, like the workplace—is that “we’re drawing attention to gender” when it doesn’t otherwise need to be there.

Some folks wonder: why make gender an issue if it doesn’t have to be one?

My response is this: gender is always an issue.

It’s true that gender is salient to varying degrees for us based on our positioning in the world.

For instance, if the sex someone was assigned at birth matches their internal sense of their gender (i.e., “cisgender”), they probably don’t think about their gender very often.

Because they don’t have to. And that’s okay.

There’s no value judgment in that. But it does mean that that person has more privilege when it comes to their gender positioning in the world.  

I know that talking about privilege brings up lots of feelings for some people. Sometimes folks feel accused—like they were given something they didn’t ask for and now they have to listen to people talking about how bad they are because they have this thing that they didn’t ask for.

I get it.

And I’m not assigning blame here.

Privilege can be defined as “A set of unearned benefits given to people who fit into a specific social group. Society grants privilege to people because of certain aspects of their identity, such as race, class, gender, sexual orientation, ability, language, etc.”

Privilege wasn’t asked for. It isn’t inherently bad. It doesn’t make us a bad people.

AND: it’s our responsibility to become aware of and own our privilege(s). And to ultimately use them for good.

Being cisgender in this world is a privilege. Period.

Trans and gender nonconforming folks have to think about their gender a lot more throughout their days because it is near-constantly relevant for many in these communities.

Take a look at some of these examples of privilege when it comes to gender:

  • Most cisgender folks can use public restrooms (or other facilities) without fear of verbal abuse, physical intimidation, or arrest.
  • When you’re cisgender, strangers call you by the name you provide, and don’t ask what your “real name” [birth name] is and then assume that they have a right to call you by that name.
  • When you’re cisgender, strangers don’t assume they can ask you what your genitals look like and how you have sex.
  • If you end up in the emergency room and identify as cis, you do not have to worry that your gender will keep you from receiving appropriate treatment, or that all of your medical issues will be seen as a result of your gender.

Those are pretty huge privileges! 

Regardless of gender identity, we are all impacted by the strict gender roles of our society, cultures, and families since before we were even born.

Take a moment and think about the messages you received about what it means to be a “man” or a “woman.”

Think about messages around attractiveness.
Emotional expression.
Activities/interests that were or weren’t okay for you based on your gender.
Body hair.

How has your gender been policed?

Are there certain ways you would act or dress or behave if it weren’t for gender rules?

These messages around gender roles and expectations are playing out and interacting constantly, regardless of context.

Gender is always relevant.

Trans and gender nonconforming folks aren’t to blame for making everyone in a workplace talk about a thing that isn’t relevant.

Instead, they should be thanked for bringing a conversation to the surface that has been insidious for so long.

And folks in positions of power in these contexts have the opportunity to take the lead by recognizing that these conversations are important. And necessary.

Just because we don’t talk about a thing doesn’t make it irrelevant.

Understanding and naming the culture of a workplace is the first step in beginning to shift that culture towards a more inclusive place for everyone. Not just for trans and gender nonconforming folks.

Everyone benefits from open and honest conversation. Even if it makes people uncomfortable. Even if it seems irrelevant.

I encourage you over the next week to pay attention to the way gender is relevant for you at work or school or at the store—in ways that maybe you haven’t been aware of before.

It can feel a little overwhelming and eye-opening to realize the ways we are all impacted by gender roles and expectations. I’d love to hear what you observe. Either shoot me an email or let me know below!

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