The big ideas of 2016: the end of gender

We are in a heightened state of gender sensitivity
December 10, 2015

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Read the rest of Prospect's big ideas of 2016 here Which gender are you? A simple question that as traditionally elicited a simple response. But the move of transgender culture into the mainstream has sparked an embrace of gender fluidity. “More and more young people are comfortable existing outside or in conflict with the gender binary,” said KJ Rawson, an American academic and Director of the Digital Transgender Archive, which collates material from around the world. The fashion world has indeed gone crazy for gender fluid models—a trend reflected in a forthcoming Hollywood film, Zoolander 2, which features Benedict Cumberbatch playing an androgynous catwalk star. And it’s not a just pop culture shift—in April the White House installed gender neutral toilets, and the British parliament is now considering following suit. These days, choosing your gender is an act of self-identification which is more nuanced than mere sexual preference. High-profile activists, such as the food writer and blogger Jack Monroe, have recently “come out” as something other than their birth gender. Monroe states that she regards herself as neither a boy, nor a girl and prefers the term “non-binary transgender.” Sign up to Facebook and you can choose from 58 different gender options including everything from intersex to asexual, androgynous, bigender and genderqueer. There’s even a custom option to ensure that nobody is excluded. The decision in June to add the gender-neutral prefix “Mx,” variously pronounced as Mux, Mix or Em-Ex (as opposed to Mr or Ms) and the word “cisgender” to the Oxford English Dictionary underscored this heightened state of gender sensitivity. The term is defined as “designating a person whose sense of personal identity corresponds to the sex and gender assigned to him or her at birth,” and its inclusion was greeted as a victory by those campaigning for gender equality. The word actually first appeared in print in the 1990s, making it a relative newcomer compared to “transgender” (1971) and “transsexual” (1949). But there has been a backlash on social media with angry hashtags and impassioned op-eds circulating with defiant headlines such as “I am not Cisgendered.”

“The resistance that people are expressing to the term cisgender is similar to that expressed in the past to terms such as ‘hetereosexual’ or people’s reluctance to recognise whiteness as an identity,” said Rawson. “Part of the position of privilege is not having to name yourself, that’s usually what you do with difference, ‘cisgender’ is an attempt to name what is normative so we can recognise that is a normative, privileged position.”