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transgender

Gender Expression and the Umbrella of Terms

Gender Expression and the Umbrella of Terms

     Transgender Americans and their struggles have become much more prominent in recent times. Last year, an article about the transgender rights movement focusing on actress Laverne Cox made the cover of TIME magazine;[i] and earlier this year, Caitlyn Jenner made her transition from male to female public, discussing it in interviews with 20/20[ii] and Vanity Fair.[iii] It would be fair to say, then, that there is a fair amount of public interest and discussion on the subject of transgender people and the life they experience at present. However, most of the public discourse appears to focus on a clearly delineated change: male to female, female to male. But for many people, gender can actually a much more complicated issue than simply being one or the other.

     People who do not feel they fit in the world as either male or female will often refer to themselves as “genderqueer” or “nonbinary” rather than simply transgender.[iv] Both are umbrella terms used to cover many ranges of gender expression. Some people will use both terms interchangeably; others feel they have slightly different connotations. For the purposes of this article, I will be using the term “nonbinary” to refer to this group of people, as it came into use for this purpose more recently than “genderqueer,” and I have seen it used more often in recent discussions of gender. The word nonbinary refers to the fact that these people consider themselves as living outside of the gender binary, which is to say, the male/female dichotomy we usually think of when describing a person’s gender.

 

The marginalization of the transgender community

The marginalization of the transgender community

     The LGBTQ community is often seen as a monolithic entity, with everyone working towards the same end goal. It’s certainly easy to think that way, since they’re united as a community by the marginalization they experience for their sexuality and gender expression. But that acronym itself shows the inaccuracy of that assumption. This community includes gay men and lesbians, who are linked by their homosexuality but often experience different, gender-specific forms of homophobia – for instance, while a gay man might be greeted with simple disgust and even violence by a straight man, a lesbian might instead be told that her homosexuality is “sexy” by the same man and find that he is sexually aggressive towards her despite her orientation or even because of it. Bisexuals often face marginalization in the LGBTQ community because their homosexual peers resent their option to “pass” for straight, or find that potential partners outright reject them for fear of not being able to fully satisfy them. The “queer” label that rounds out the acronym is itself an umbrella term for several other disparate groups who face similar problems in how they are treated by their society for their sexuality and gender identity; often “queer” is used as shorthand for these groups or even for the entire LGBTQ community, due to how many terms would need to be rattled off to mention all of them.

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