In today’s society, gender often is first deciphered through visual cues. A person might assume that someone they see is a girl if they have long hair and are wearing a dress. A person might assume that someone they see is a boy is they have facial hair and are wearing a suit. Other visual clues of gender might include posture, walking style, and non-verbal communication style. The former 1976 decathlon winner Bruce Jenner, now Caitlyn Jenner, has captivated many people in the country with her very public transition from male to female. This introduced many people to the transgender movement that might not have thought about gender in such a way. Some started questioning for themselves what it really meant to be a man or a woman. Even my own view of gender has changed several times throughout my life.
I think one of the most prominent outwardly signs of gender is clothing. Clothes are separated by gender from the moment of birth onward. Things like cut, length, fit, and popular colorings vary drastically in clothing stories depending on whether you are in the boys or girls section. I think this is the most obvious the younger the child is. Perhaps this is why young transgender youth find themselves dressing in a parents or older sibling of the opposite sexes clothing. This expression of gender might be the easiest to do and hide from others if someone has not revealed their gender identity. Caitlyn Jenner, for example, at age 10 would sneak into his mother and sister’s closet to put on their dresses and scarves. This gave him a moment to express himself in a way that made him feel comfortable and closer to the gender that he more closely identified with (Bissinger, 2015).
Obviously, gender is far more complex than just the clothing someone chooses to wear. Dominant society might expect a woman to have breasts and a vagina, and a man to have a penis. However, genitalia is not a visual cue of gender in public. That is why things like clothing, body shape, and body language are generally the first indicators of gender. There are many aspects of gender that are not outwardly expressed.
My ideas of gender and how I perceive other people’s genders has changed over the course of my life. When I was young I had a very simplistic view of gender. I thought girls could wear things like dresses, and heals, and could have long styled hair. I thought boys always wore pants and it was strange if they had long hair. I used these kinds of clues to identify a man or woman, but it didn’t necessarily mean that I always agreed with them. As a young girl I really fought against doing things that were stereo-typically girly. I would go out of my way to wear boyish clothing, keep my hair cut short, and play sports with my dad and brothers. Sometimes I wished that I could have been born a boy. At the time I was very confused as to why boys and girls had to do things so differently. I struggled with this for some time and only during my high school and college years did my current view of gender begin to form.
As I grew older, I became more knowledgeable about the transgender community. I followed many transgender peoples transition on the internet, and took more anthropology classes that included topics like sexuality and gender. From these experiences I started to changes my views on the subject. Gender identity, I think is a collection of different things. Gender identity might include what gender you personally identify with, the gender you physically express yourself as, and how you feel about the biological sexual characteristics you were born with. A person might express themselves in a masculine way, use he/him pronouns, but be perfectly okay with having a uterus or breasts. In contrast, someone might use she/her pronouns, but have a penis. This is why I don’t concern myself as much with visual cues of gender. Gender expression is really only one part of gender identity. So, if I see someone one the street and I can’t instantly pinpoint their gender on the spot I’m not too worried about it. As long as the person is comfortable with themselves I don’t care what gender/s they identify as.
Bissinger, Buzz, Annie Leibovitz, Jessica Diehl, and Jeremy Elkin
Caitlyn Jenner: The Full Story. The Hive. Vanity Fair. https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2015/06/caitlyn-jenner-bruce-cover-annie-leibovitz, accessed August 4, 2018