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By Megan, a love is respect Youth Council member

What is gender?

I like to think of gender identity like this: you’re looking up at the sky–vast, beautiful, too large and long to see it all in one glance. It changes over time. The clouds move, the sun rises and it sets, stars twinkle in the evening. Maybe two people are looking at the same sky or same cloud and they see two entirely different things. It looks different from different perspectives, and that’s ok.

I grew up in a religious household, and gender was not viewed as if it was the sky. It was viewed as if it was a newspaper: black, white, only one way to read or look at it.

Our Inner Scripts

I grew up with this inner script that I memorized, a script that told me there was a binary of gender I had to stay within. Not only that, but I had to act out a certain role in this script to receive acceptance as a woman. I needed to present myself in certain clothes, be kind and quiet, and never too curious. I needed to smile, to have humility, and to keep my ambition at bay.

This always felt wrong to me, and I never knew why. That is, until I got older.

When I came out as bisexual, a whole new world was opened up to me and I met people who didn’t fall within the binary at all, people who saw the sky of gender far differently than I did. I was fascinated, surprised, and excited.

When I met my fiancé, my view of gender changed even more. You see, they are nonbinary.

This launched me into a journey of breaking out of my comfort zone which led to seeing the world more fully. I made mistakes along the way, and I still do. I will likely learn more and more for years to come. I am so thankful, though, for this experience that really made me expand my definition of gender but also my definition of violence.

Expanding Our Definition of Violence

I think our definition of violence as a society is too narrow. People tend to think of it solely as physical when it is so much more than that . It’s emotional, verbal, digital, and psychological. People’s emotions are deeply connected with their gender identity. Our definition of violence needs to include trans and nonbinary identities and take into account that homophobic or transphobic language is often used as a tool to hurt people and maintain power and control over them.

For example: verbal abuse might look like misgendering someone or intentionally using someone’s deadname.

Think of it like this–If someone tells me, “This is who I am, and I would like for you to respect that” and then I say in return, “Who you are does not feel right to me, so I will not be respecting what you ask,” I am trying to control them, to fit them inside MY imagination and lens, which may be very different from their own.

Next Steps

I encourage you and challenge you to try this instead: see people from their perspective and not your imagination. Listen to people and take them at their word. If they tell you, “This is who I am,” it is not up to us to imagine them in any different way. We must instead accept their perspective and try to practice empathy.

Calling people by their pronouns is healthy, it is kind, and it is respectful. Little changes in language and being conscious of how we speak can go such a long way in our relationships, in our friendships, and even to strangers passing by. Let’s all be more conscious of our language today.