While a wide variety of gender identities have always existed, western society is only recently becoming more aware. Of course, there is a great deal more progress to be made. In the meanwhile, we can all benefit from establishing some shared language and understanding. Cisgender people, in particular, shoulder the bulk of that responsibility to the community. The realization that gender and sex assigned at birth can be fully irrelevant to each other is the beginning of an important new chapter.
What is gender fluidity?
Gender fluidity is a relatively new term used to name an ancient identity. Historically people whose identities fell outside the gender binary didn’t always have a label. Notions of an alternative gender have often been considered a violation of societal norms in Western cultures. With male and female being deemed “normal,” the rest of the gender spectrum has often been excluded.
Thankfully, the world is constantly changing, sometimes for the better. A concept like gender fluidity is slowly entering the cultural vocabulary. This kind of change can yield increased freedom and safety for people expressing their authentic gender.
Gender identity is a person’s internal knowledge and experience of their own gender. They can feel male, female, a blend of both, or neither. Gender-fluid people experience certain flexibility and range regarding their identity. They don’t have a set gender or a certain place in the spectrum of identities. The way they experience their gender can fluctuate over time.
Is being gender-fluid the same as being non-binary?
While gender-fluid falls under the umbrella of non-binary gender, being gender fluid is not exactly the same as being non-binary. Many gender-fluid people may feel the concept of “non-binary” applies to them, but the important distinction is that some non-binary people don’t feel their gender changes over time. In other words, nonbinary people may have a set gender identity that doesn’t fluctuate, while gender-fluid people are defined by their fluctuating internal experience that materializes in fluid identities.
Gender fluid individuals may feel more than just male or female. They may experience the entire palette of non-binary identities including:
And the list can go on; gender is incredibly expansive.
Is being gender-fluid the same as being transgender or genderqueer?
No. Gender fluid persons may feel masculine one day and feminine on another. They may feel like they have no gender at all at any point in time. They do not necessarily have a fixed, single sense of their gender, and their gender identity can always change. On the other hand, trans people more generally may have a fixed gender identity or gender expression which differs from their biological sex.
Genderqueer folks are more similar to gender-fluid individuals because they don’t identify exclusively as male or female. Just like gender-fluid people, genderqueer persons fall outside the gender binary concept and gender stereotypes. However, while all gender-fluid individuals are genderqueer, not all genderqueer persons are gender fluid. A person may be both genderqueer and gender-fluid but the first doesn’t necessarily imply the second.
What kind of support is available to gender-fluid individuals?
Gender identity can seem complex or confusing at times. But coming into it with a posture of humility and curiosity makes a big difference. Every gender identity entails differences and nuance. Current gender norms, on the other hand, attempt to force people into two standardized categories: male and female.
While it may be socially marginalized, the identity and expression of gender fluid individuals is rich and valid. Being gender neutral is not a phase, a whim, a choice. It is an authentic lived experience.
Many gender-fluid individuals and gender-neutral persons experience prejudice that can lead to mental health issues and require mental health care. Everything from workplace discrimination to friends or family refusing to use gender-neutral pronouns can cause a significant strain. Talking openly about these experiences and seeking gender-affirming care can make a huge difference. While speaking openly with a trusted loved one goes a long way, meeting with a gender-affirming therapist can bring fresh perspective and tools to improve quality of life.