Gender Fluidity


What is gender fluidity

The idea of “gender” is often confused with the shape of our organs of reproduction. Chances are that you grew up believing that the shape of your body decides your gender, but there are many more elements to it. As long as we think that gender can be either male or female, we are assuming that gender is binary. In fact, many people experience their gender in a non-binary way, which means that we do not usually fit into being fully and only male or fully and only female.

Gender fluidity describes the experiences of many people whose gender varies along two main dimension:

  1. Gender identity

  2. Gender expression

There are aspects of gender that do not change. For example the shape of reproductive organs does not change over time and some people need to use gender reassignment surgery when the shape of their body does not match their gender identity.

Dimensions of gender fluidity

Gender has many dimensions; some of them are visible to the external world, while others are hidden. Here are some of the most important dimensions of gender fluidity

  1. Gender identity: this is what you identify as in a specific moment. You might imagine yourself as being male or female or as having percentages of both at the same time. Your identity is the inner image you have of yourself. Some people do not identify with any gender at all.

Tips to understand your gender identity

If you are not sure about your gender identity, you can do this simple exercise.

Say to yourself something about your gender identity. For example tell yourself “I identify as a male” and see how you feel.

If you notice a pleasant reaction, you have said the truth about your identity. Then continue with “I identify as a female” and see what reaction you get instantly.

Is it stronger or weaker than before? Continue with as many statements as you like until you have an idea of what your gender identity is at that moment.

You can repeat this exercise in many times and keep note of your gender identity at various times of the day.

2. Gender expression: here we enter into the visible dimension of gender. Once you know your gender identity, you can choose, partly, if and how you want to express it to others. For example, you might identify as 70% female and 30% male, your body is male, and you are comfortable dressing with male clothing while moving in a way that expresses your feminine identity.

There are many ways in which you can express your gender.

  • Clothing

  • Movement of the body (walking, sitting, etc.)

  • Posture (the way you hold your spine, chest and shoulders)

  • Hair

  • Make up

  • Jewellery

  • Activities

  • Tone of voice

  • Career choices

  • Choice of display of emotions

Virtually every form of human expression can have an element of gender to it. It is our culture that decides how male and female people express themselves publicly. This means that, if your culture says that men have long hair, then you might choose to grow your hair if you want to express maleness.

Gender Fluidity and Mental Health

You mental health largely depends on how well you feel in relationship to the world you live in and to the people you interact with.

We live in a moment in which the way we look has great importance. The number of selfies posted on social media every day is so big that I can’t count… and we know that, for every selfie posted, we take 30 selfies to choose from.

The way we express our gender is one of the first things people look at. As soon as a man does something that is more on the feminine side, we notice it and we make instant judgements about it; and the same goes with women who express themselves in any way we consider masculine.

Tips on understanding your gender bias

Think of a man and notice the first image that come to mind.

Then imagine that this men is wearing a red skirt; what is your reaction? Then add some red nail polish to his hands; what happens to you when you notice it?

Now think of a women and repeat the same exercise. First notice what comes to mind as a woman.

Then add to your imagination a hairy chest, what is your reaction? Now give her the legs of a footballer.

Each time you have a reaction to the images in your mind, you have a part of you that is making some judgement on how man or a woman should dress and behave. These are your gender biases, and you have probable inherited them from your cultural background.

Gender biases are the reason why many people, who express themselves in a non-binary way, have had negative experiences during their life, with bad consequences on their mental health.

I speak for all people who were branded as too feminine or too masculine before they even knew their gender identity. Gender bias is so strong that people are targeted by negative judgements from all sides when they do not express themselves as their culture commands.

If the processes of gender identity formation and gender expression are frustrated by excessive criticism, bullying, scapegoating, or indifference, this means that the person has not been able to develop properly, and will have had to use one of the following coping mechanisms

  1. Denial of their own gender

  2. Having to keep a vital part of themselves secret and surrounded in shame

  3. Development of an extremely critical voice to keep their gender expression in check

  4. Forms of aggression towards others whose gender expression is not standard

The list can continue, and the very first step to recover and heal your gender is to find a community of open-minded people who can make you feel accepted for who you are.

Mental health professionals, unfortunately, are not all well trained in identifying their own gender biases, and I suggest making sure that you choose someone with proper training in the field.