When the topic of the gender spectrum arises, people have varied reactions: denial, acceptance, anger, and laughter are some of the common responses that I have witnessed. When I first learned of the gender spectrum, which addresses the idea that gender isn’t limited to male or female, I had no issue with it whatsoever. That was until I found out that some people who advocated for the gender spectrum, as opposed to the traditional binary view of gender, expected people to learn a multitude of new genders and terminology, crucifying them if they were unable to alter their vocabulary overnight. Overwhelmed, I was inclined to write off the gender spectrum as a whole.
After I had time to process the new information, I realized that no matter how I felt about the gender spectrum, it was not up to me to deem one’s identity invalid. In addition to this, I learned that non-binary people are recognized by the American Psychological Association (APA). Given the credibility of the APA, I came to the conclusion that identifying as a non-binary person is both scientifically and socially legitimate. What is illegitimate, however, is the expectation of some non-binary people and non-binary advocates that individuals undergo an overnight cultural shift. Not only is the expectation unrealistic, but much of the proposed terminology is redundant, too specific, and unnecessary. For some, the purpose of this terminology is to further social progress, but rather than aiding the LGBT community in their fight for recognition, the implementation of said terminology has the inverse effect, instead delegitimizing queer people’s identities.
Generally, the purpose of a label is to simplify everyday life: to provide an easy way to identify and group together individuals on the basis of qualities they share. However, labels can only serve their purpose if there is a common understanding of their definition. This is where the issue with new terminology arises.
When our vocabulary becomes incapable of describing aspects of our evolving culture, it makes sense to add terminology for the purpose of simplification. However, as previously stated, simplicity can only be attained if there is a universal understanding of the new dialect. Therefore, if there are too many labels to be learned, the very terminology that is meant to simplify things instead makes them more complex. Thus, rather than improving upon people’s understanding of the gender spectrum, adding an influx of labels for genders alternatively causes confusion. Ultimately, if people don’t understand what these labels mean, their confusion inclines them to call into question the validity of non-binary gender identities. This not only affects non-binary people but all people within the queer community, given that LGBT individuals are often associated with one another.
Some may argue that, despite the confusion these labels may cause, they are necessary given that non-binary individuals need a way to accurately communicate their gender identity. However, in reality, a term like “non-binary” is just as accurate as one like “genderfluid” or “bigender.” This is because, according to the APA, the term non-binary includes all “gender identities that do not fall exclusively in man/male or woman/female categories.” This means that gender identities other than male and female aren’t more accurate per se, but rather more specific. This is because they are included in the definition of the umbrella term non-binary. Specificity might be necessary for people to fully understand a non-binary individual’s identity, but this can be achieved by the individual explaining it to them. If a large percentage of non-binary people all identified as the same gender, it might make sense to create another label for simplicity’s sake. However, with the number of genders being potentially infinite, it is neither logistically feasible nor practical to create a new label for every possible gender identity.
Labels are supposed to help us understand each other, to help us appreciate and accept our differences along with our similarities. But today, due to the unsympathetic assertion of a myriad of labels, many people are angry, confused, and/or in denial about the gender spectrum. Luckily, the labeling of genders is a complex issue with a simple solution: using labels that are applicable to all non-binary people. These labels could include “non-binary” and a set of pronouns for those who identify as such. In doing this, we would be able to both respect people’s gender identities while maintaining simplicity and practicality.
Due to the complexity of gender, it may seem outlandish to suggest that non-binary individuals should use more general terms when describing their identity. However, the negative implications that come along with the addition of new terminology and labels must be considered. Just the other day, I had a conversation with a Packer student who told me that there are no more than two genders. Eventually, through civilized conversation, I was able to persuade them that the gender spectrum is valid. After conceding this, they told me in exasperation that the amount of terminology they were expected to learn was “crazy.” This interaction affirmed to me that the labeling of genders was indeed causing people to write off the gender spectrum as a whole, just like I was originally inclined to. This suggests that by reducing the amount of terminology surrounding the gender spectrum, people would be more willing to listen– no amount of descriptors will improve the understanding of non-binary individuals if said descriptors fall upon deaf ears. To spread knowledge of the gender spectrum, we must make it as digestible as possible.
Regardless of how much or how little new terminology is instituted concerning the gender spectrum, it is essential that we do not chastise those who make mistakes in the process of learning. Doing so can lead to an individual feeling attacked, ashamed, and confused, resulting in them outlashing in frustration against the proposed ideology. For people who are a part of a community that preaches the acceptance of one another above all else, it is hypocritical for non-binary individuals and those who advocate on their behalf to attack those who don’t immediately understand everything to do with the gender spectrum. Instead, non-binary people and allies should approach others with the sole intention of helping them better understand the gender spectrum, accepting the mistakes they make along the way.