Updated: Apr 21, 2021
What do people mean when we say gender is “made up” or constructed? And what is a social construct anyway? This is a topic we'll create countless zines, curriculums, and more work on in the future of Queer Sex Ed CC but, for the moment here are some initial thoughts drawn from personal, educational, scholarly, and professional contexts.
Oftentimes you’ll hear folks in queer circles make statements like: “gender is fake” or "gender is useless." At the beginning of my gender journey while discovering and accepting my non-binary identity, I also found myself shouting from the rooftops about the "fakeness" and invalidity of gender. What I began to realize is: gender is not "fake" but constructed, meaning that my experience of gender is mine to do what I'd like with and that anyone else can do the same. At the age of 17 I learned that there could be as many gender identities as people in the world, this idea fascinated me, I began to learn more. I learned the power of social construction and the responsibility to affirm the genders (or lack thereof) of others while constantly exploring and creating my own gendered experience. I realized I was not mad at the concept of "gender" but rather the roles assigned to me based on the gender I was assigned. This revelation was a turning point in my own notions of gender as a construct.
In the rest of this short thinking-together post, I'll share a bit more on this topic. As usual, please feel free to comment below or contact us with any questions! What do you think about the social construction of gender? Read on, and let us know!
So, what do we mean when we say gender is a social construct?
Gender is a social construct, meaning it is not “real” in the same way that our bodies, a tree, or a tangible object are. While gender is constructed, calling it “fake” can be disaffirming for many folks who have worked very hard to affirm their gender through various modes of transition. Even though gender is constructed, it has very real impacts on people's lives and experiences. Gender being “made up” does not make your gender identity any less valid, rather it validates ALL gender identities or lack thereof, not just those in the binary.
The crucial thing to remember is, gender itself is not what is harmful as gender itself is “made up.” What is harmful, are the binary oppressive roles and power assigned to socially ascribed binary genders.
It is important to remember that one person rejecting gender entirely does not invalidate the gender identity of someone else. When I say gender is fake, it means gender is something we can play with. For some, gender is beautiful, expansive, and liberating while for others it is something they seek to transcend and get rid of entirely.
When we talk about gender, we need to consider everyone’s experiences and make sure that we are uplifting each other in our own personal journeys with gender and sexuality. Gender is socially constructed whether someone is cisgender or not. Gender is ours to do what we want with as long as we do not use it to oppress, constrain or invalidate others.