Gender is a big topic. We hear a lot about how gender is fluid, how gender is or isn't determined by biology, how gender is changing, and so on.
But what actually is it? What does it mean to have a gender, to be a gendered person, to "become" trans, or cis, or non-binary, or agender, or however you identity?
How does someone become a gender?
There are different ideas of how people come to be the gender that they identify as.
Essentialism - the idea that your gender is biological and not determined by you.
Social constructivism - the idea your gender is constructed over time, determined in part by you and in part by your gender attribution.
Gender attribution is the idea that your gender is “externally imposed,” meaning that the way others read you and interact with you determines your gender. Gender attribution is affected by the culture you live in, how others perceive you, and so on. In a cultural cisgenderist society, the only genders to “impose” or “attribute,” are binary. Therefore, many trans and queer folks’ identities are either ignored and lumped in with the male/female categories, or seen as deviant since they fall outside of this rigid structure.
Gender, gender attribution, and gender identity.
Your gender is in part determined by gender attribution; your gender identity might be up to you, but your gender is co-constructed with the outside world. Since gender expression, gender attribution, and gender identity are all fluid, gender is fluid too!
Where are all the trans narratives?
As a result of cultural cisgenderism, trans narratives are often inaccessible to trans and cis people alike. The stories that we do receive about trans people are often depressing, violent, or fatal. In a cisgenderist culture lacking in trans narratives, transness becomes “intelligble” to both cis people and trans people alike. This in part explains why many young trans people’s revelation of their gender identity occurs when they first access language, imagery, etc of trans experiences.
Check out the full zine here for more info:
Kennedy, Natacha. 2018. Prisoners of Lexicon: Cultural Cisgenderism and Transgender Children. In: Normed Children: Effects of Gender and Sex Related Normativity on Childhood and Adolescence. Bielefeld, Germany, pp. 297-312. [Book Section]
Reitz, N. (2017). The representation of trans women in film and television. Cinesthesia, 7(1), 2.