Our local library hosted a presentation the other night. It was led by Bech Jax-Linx and Cara Tirney, both members of the Ottawa trans community. The presentation invited us to think about gender differently, to recognize it as a social construct and to be open to more fluidity in gender identification. It was a great evening.
As I sat there listening to the presenters I could not help remembering a letter to the editor in our local paper that I had read earlier in the day. The writer had spoken of “our government’s feminist agenda”, a phrase which confused me. In its context it seemed a criticism, a concern; as though a ‘feminist agenda’ would be a bad thing. To the best of my knowledge a feminist agenda would mean supporting equal pay and equality of opportunity and opposing the exploitation and abuses which have come to dominate the headlines. I find it extraordinary to think a person would oppose a feminist agenda. But given the letter writer’s clear discomfort with feminism my thoughts drifted to wonder what he would think about the presentation I was experiencing. How would he process the idea of gender fluidity?
By the end of the presentation Bech and Cara were talking about trans allies, what it means to be supportive of people living into non conforming gender types. One thing they held up was the helpfulness of being clear about how you gender identify. If you are meeting someone for the first time and identity as male you can say, “My name is ______, he/him”, if female, “My name is _______, she/her”, if non defining, “My name is ______, they/them”. This lets the person know you are open to diverse gender expressions. Another common issue in the trans community is washrooms. Gender neutral washrooms are hard to find and yet are a simple way to improve accessibility. As they pointed out we all have gender neutral bathrooms in our homes so it should not be that hard to create them in public places. They also spoke of the need to move gender identity out of the current medical model. Children who identify in non gender conforming ways are currently seen by doctors and psychologists as though being non conforming is an indication of illness. They challenged that assumption.
We are currently living in an age of hyper gender identity. People are defining as male or female with no overlap or middle ground. There was a news story recently about a professional hockey player who announced the gender of his expected child by shooting a puck which exploded into blue smoke. This kind of gender based celebration feels odd to me, limiting. I do not why it has become so defining to us. I invite you to pay attention to how gender is expressed and used in our society. What feels healthy and whole and what does not? What does it mean to be created in the image of God and how does that understanding shape our sense of gender?
Bech and Cara are creating new presentations. I will watch for them, grateful to have such teachers in our community.