Exploring girlhood, Part 4: Decoding the gender binary

Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series with the question, “What does it mean to be a girl?” In the series we have explored the way society defines and confines girlhood, as well as gender in general. (Click here for part 1, part 2, and part 3.)

This being SCS intern De’Liza Galimidi’s final official post (but hopefully not last), I just wanted to thank her for her dedication, inspiration, and courage during her time with SCS. She was a joy to work with and I wish her luck and success as she starts a new school year and beyond!

By De’Liza Galimidi

In last week’s posts we posed the question: What does it mean to be a girl? A multitude of male and female perspectives flooded in. After reading all the responses to this question, the exploration of this rigid gender binary still clung to my thoughts. The only path that could lead me to answers was through the voices of the those who understand this gender binary all too well. Those who live in the in-between spaces of gender identity.

I sought out Jane Heenan, a local advocate for people who are transgender and gender non-conforming. Heenan also serves as a founding member to the organization Gender Justice of Nevada. What was initially going to be a traditional interview focusing solely on the lives of those who identify as transgender soon transitioned into a raw, painfully honest conversation — the deeply rooted gender binary placed in our society was further exposed. What I encountered in this forty-five minute talk was an experience which left me rethinking my whole role as not only a cisgender female, but most importantly as a human being.

“What is the first question someone asks when someone’s pregnant?” Heenan asks me. “Before they ask if the child is healthy. Before they ask how are you. They ask if it’s a boy or a girl.”

A simple question, which has been regarded as the polite conversation starter, has shown not only how easily, but how much gender is infused in our lives. This soon-to-be born child has yet to have inhaled it’s first breath of the outside world and already has become subjected to an identity.

“You can’t have a birth certificate that just says ‘child.’ Why can’t we allow them to find out who they are and let them find their own truth?” asks Heenan.

Fortunately, Germany has recently passed a new law that will allow parents to choose a third option aside from male or female on their child’s birth certificate. Heenan believes the only way real change can be created is, “we need to reevaluate how we raise children in this binary system of sex gender.” This new law serves as an important step towards the acknowledgement of those who do not fall between just male or female.

The idea of shaming human beings especially children for expressing themselves, even if it “challenges” what their gender identity is, is ludicrous and a creation of what Heenan calls, “fundamental violence.” Do boys wearing nail polish, and girls rejecting skirts really perpetuate more violence? Indeed. An article from Time Magazine reported a study showing that “kids who don’t gender conform are at a higher risk of abuse.” Unfortunately, this violence has taken the life of 21-year-old, transgender woman Islan Nettles.

Talking with Heenan, I have consciously increased my awareness of my everyday language. It has become a true journey of unlearning these societal “rules” of what it means to be a girl and what it means to be a boy which has propelled me to further realize that each word, action and unnecessary disapproval will continue to pass the harmful gender binary ideas to the next generations. Each day is a new stepping stone to make sure that my niece and nephew do not fall in the same pitfall society has created. When I compliment my nephew, I find myself replacing it with “you’re beautiful,” instead of “you’re handsome.” Same for my niece, whenever I find my niece opting for her older brother’s skateboard or toy trucks I cannot help but hand her a toy shield too. In essence, my hopes for these two children is to grow and to understand this world should not be lived with restrictions.

Human beings “with open arms” must refuse to restrict and dictate themselves and those around them, then and only then change will begin.

One thought on “Exploring girlhood, Part 4: Decoding the gender binary

  1. Pingback: Addicted To Love | Hipster Racist

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