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Understanding gender identity | The Triangle

Understanding gender identity

Flickr: Ted Eytan
Flickr: Ted Eytan

March 23, governor of North Carolina Pat McCrory released a statement condemning the city council of Charlotte for allowing transgender people to use whichever restrooms they identified their genders with. Governor McCrory then signed legislation to prohibit persons from using multiple occupancy bathrooms or changing facilities designated for a sex other than that of the person’s biological sex, as assigned on their birth certificate.

Just weeks before, Gov. Dennis Daugaard, the governor of South Dakota, vetoed the same type of bill after pressure from various sources including students, businesses and celebrities who condemned the bill’s discriminatory aims. In North Carolina, the governor cited a breach of trust and security in allowing “…a man to use a woman’s bathroom, shower or locker room” for enacting the bill. Rep. Tom Morrison of Illinois claimed that the reason he introduced the bill to control access to public bathrooms was that sexual assault victims felt uncomfortable when they were in a private space with people of a different biological sex. Action on the same type of bills is pending in Illinois, Kentucky, Kansas, Massachusetts, Missouri, Tennessee and Wisconsin.

Transgender people state that such bills are an assault on their civil rights against discrimination. Some of them feel quarantined when they are told that they can only use single person restrooms. Others experience physical and/or verbal assaults. Ivan Coyote, a TED contributor, tells a story about a young four-year-old self-identified tomboy faced with a dilemma between being harassed by other kids in a Halloween party by using the girls’ bathrooms, and ignoring her teacher’s instruction by using the boys’ bathroom. She opted to pee her pants.

Planned parenthood defines gender as “…social and legal status as men or women” and sexual orientation as “whether a person feels sexual desire for people of the other gender, same gender, or both genders”. I believe Millennials’ views on gender differ in every setting. The views on gender in Kenya, where I was raised, and the USA are polar opposites. In Kenya, the general opinion is that one’s gender identity is steeped in his or her biological sex. In most cases It is absurd to suggest otherwise. However, I feel that in the USA, where I have been a resident for quite some time, there is a general acceptance towards gender non-conformity. While I was in a Kenyan high school a transgender activist, Audrey Mbugua, was involved in a court battle over her identity. She wanted to change her name from Andrew to Audrey. The Kenyan public was very quick to condemn her. In the end the courts granted her wish but her actions were anything but heroic in the eyes of the Kenyan public (Kenya’s Transgender). In my own high school, a form of shaming was going on. During inter-house drama competitions boys who could portray female characters were cheered on onstage but just like the castrati, they were shunned offstage when these ‘talents’ became part and parcel of their lives. I feel that the USA has taken steps towards addressing gender non-conformity. I believe that one of the strongest voices in doing so has been Laverne Cox of Orange is The New Black. The fact that she portrayed a character in a show that was very popular among Millennials as well as her cover feature on TIME magazine show an increasing acceptance of the possibility that biological sex and gender identity are different entities.

I was curious to gain a better understanding of the theme of the class, gender bending because I did not understand what exactly it meant. I have never given the concept of gender bending much thought yet it plays a very big role in my life, whose quality will be determined greatly by how I interact with other people. I especially hope to know more about gender identity and how people come about it. I would like to address my inner demons by addressing my assertions honestly and deciding whether any conservative or radical thoughts are worth upholding.

Drexel University has an equality and non-discrimination policy that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There are no unisex bathrooms in the school. However, transgender people can make use of single-person restrooms on campus. The locations of these restrooms are provided in the Drexel University website. I think this is a step in the right direction, but more can be done to guarantee inclusion and fairness to all. I believe gender identity is an issue that everyone has a right to address personally and comfortably because it goes down to the very core of our existence and seeks answers to the question: who am I? I therefore laud efforts by Drexel to inspire campus dialogue and impart new perspectives by inviting Laverne Cox, an LGBT rights advocate to the annual Power of Inclusion Series.  

Society has deep norms and beliefs that make sense on the surface, but our world in this age has exposed us to novel human experiences that demand newer approaches. It is unethical to curtail another person’s right just because “we think” their actions would harm us. It is time we stopped believing dogma, faced the facts honestly and made choices however radical they may seem. This is our task.