Millennials are the First Generation to Embrace Gender Diversity
Half of all Millennial’s surveyed by Fusion believe that “gender is a spectrum”
At least once a week, 30 year old Alexander* (a pseudonym was requested to protect Alexander’s identity) spends an afternoon browsing through clothing stores in the downtown core of Toronto in search of new outfits to display for his five thousand Instagram followers.
“The key to looking good is to keep an open mind,” says the fashion enthusiast, sporting a fedora, a black peacoat, ripped jeans, and white Timberland boots. “If I see something on the rack and I like it, I’ll try it on. Last month I found a $400 Ralph Lauren vest on sale for 70% off at the Bay. I tried it on, and it looked dope. Then I looked at the tag and saw it was a women’s vest… I still bought it, because I liked the look. And that’s what style is. It has nothing to do with saying ‘mens’ or ‘women’s’ on the label. It’s about having confidence in what you’re wearing.”
Alexander’s gender neutral passion for fashion is just one example of the millennial approach to self-expression and gender. Whereas in the past, gender was viewed as fixed and binary, youth are now embracing gender as a fluid and entirely self-defined construct. According to Fusion’s new, and albeit, small “Massive Millennial Poll of 2015”, half of 18–34 year old’s surveyed believe that gender exists on a spectrum. Recognition of the gender spectrum gains traction every day, such as in Diesel’s new launch of their gender neutral clothing, which they call “a gesture of liberalism and creativity”.
The Gender Continuum
Extending beyond ephemeral trends in fashion, the concept of gender comprising of just two possibilities has been put into question by the Gender Continuum theory. Much alike the Kinsey scale, a system which redefined sexual orientation by placing it on a continuum from exclusively heterosexual to exclusively homosexual, the gender continuum places gender expression on a scale from exclusively feminine to exclusively masculine. A person’s expression of their gender can vary, as someone can feel traditionally masculine, androgynous, or feminine on any given day. Someone’s gender expression, or how they present their gender to the world through behaviour, physical appearance, interactions, and clothing, is considered independent from their sexual orientation, biological sex, and gender identity. These distinct, (and often confusing) approaches to gender and sex reflect the nuanced complexity of the lived experience of Canadian millennial’s today, compared to the binary perception of gender that was unquestionable just a generation ago.
The multiplicity of gender is not an invention of the new millennium. In fact, throughout history, a number of different cultures established gender identities separate from male and female. Take, for example, the 155 indigenous First Nations in North America which documented the existence of “Two-spirited” people; men and women within their society’s who displayed a mixture of both feminine and masculine qualities who were revered by their peers. Or, the “hijra” (third gender) in India, which gives citizens the option to identify as neither male nor female. Although these expressions are controversial through the lens of Western beliefs and values, they have been recognized in other cultures worldwide.
Throughout modern psychiatry’s short-lived existence, the dissonance between a person’s biological sex (what’s between their legs) and gender identity (how they feel about their gender between their ears) was considered a mental disorder in need of reparative therapy. However, since the release of the 5th Diagnostic and Statistic’s Manual (DSM-V) in 2012, the phenomenon was re-conceptualized as “gender dysphoria”, a persistent conflict and discomfort with one’s biological sex. This recognition of gender disconnect as a mental state in lieu of a mental disorder has opened the doors for more discussion, information, and media representation of people from all walks of the gender spectrum who were previously stigmatized as mentally unstable.
Canada is hard at work acknowledging and supporting the spectrum of gender identity ascribed to by some millennial’s and LGBTQ people. Starting in British Columbia, a wave of the institution of “all-gender bathrooms” has swept across the country, creating safe spaces for gender queer people to perform their bodily duties free from the widespread harassment and unwelcoming stares in traditional “women’s” and “men’s” restrooms. Furthermore, schools in British Columbia and Alberta are offering gender neutral pronouns such as “xe” and “xym” for their students to be identified by. This past September, Central Toronto Youth Services launched the “Families in TRANSition Group” — a 10-week program for parents of trans youth who wish to support and learn more about their child’s gender identity. The upcoming Trans Remembrance Day on November 20th seeks to be a day of solemn recognition of the violence, inequality, and bullying perpetuated by transphobic’s towards people who are gender non-conforming, gender queer, trans, and visibly displaying a gender expression which may be in conflict with their biological sex.
Traditional gender constructs aren’t obsolete
Although millennials support flexibility in gender expression through fashion, many are still unsure of where they stand on transgenderism. When asked how he feels about dating a transgender woman, Alexander replied “That’s weird. I could never have a relationship with someone that wasn’t born a woman.” Although half of millennials surveyed by Fusion said “gender is a spectrum,” only 44% of millennial men compared to 57% of millennial woman adopted this view. 52% of men (versus 40% of women) said that gender should be defined as male or female. The remaining 50% of millennial’s surveyed who don’t see gender as a spectrum still believe in the traditional, binary model of gender.
“Wearing a women’s vest doesn’t mean I want to be a woman or that I’m gay,” explains Alexander, eyes wide and voice firm. Although the wheels of change have slowly begun to turn, the heterosexual male expression of femininity is still followed by reassurance of inherent masculinity and interest in women. “It just means that I can wear whatever I want without caring what people think.”Although the vast majority of millennials still follow conventional gender metaphors, there is more acceptance for flexibility. The first step was an escape from the narrow confines of gendered dressing. Millennials have re-opened the doors to gender fluidity and a break-away from traditional gender constraints, and now it’s up to the next generation of Canadians to keep the ball rolling.