Gender Fluidity and Label-Free Living

In modern Western culture, it can be generally agreed upon that society as a whole has slowly started to move away from the more traditional, binary sense of gender and begun to adopt an appreciation for a spectrum of identities. Even with this transition, however, most people still rigidly look through a lens that plays into the conventional male vs. female dichotomy. One very interesting article that looks more into this comes from the Huffington Post “Queer Voices” segment, entitled The Universality of Gender Fluidity. The author Noah Manne, a psychotherapist from LA, hits on many points that I personally have found problematic even in our class discussions and in some of the readings. “Gender fluid” has become a popular identification among people who “can play both sides”, moving equally between “man” and “woman” or “masculine” and “feminine” as part of who they are. I’d like to call this identification to question, however, as it still buys into the performative aspect of gender as taught by society and discussed in the “Gender” and “Tomboy” Keywords essays.

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<> the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2015 at Erika Hess Eisstadion on July 10, 2014 in Berlin, Germany.
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Manne eloquently expresses this sentiment, stating, “Beyond culture, gender is malleable. It is fluid. Until culture gets involved, we are each one of us naturally and unavoidably a gender minority of one. The experience of the body and the inner sense of self not being aligned (an experience especially impactful during puberty) is not deviance as such, but disconnect from cultural norms.” Gender is, at its very base, a social construct. Each individual is unique in their own way, as is every person’s DNA, so why should one need to place any societal expectations of conduct and roles simply based on the appearance of another’s genitalia? He delves into this again later in his article, recounting a time when he “had a client who said, ‘How could God have made such a mistake as to put a woman in this man’s body?!’ No mistake was made. The mistake is a society’s that does not let a person with particular reproductive organs express gender except within narrowly circumscribed parameters.”

So, what does that mean moving forward? A new Calvin Klein campaign believes it has the answer. A new Teen Vogue article entitled “How Our Generation Is Approaching Gender in a Totally New Way” explored the concept. While keeping the capitalist aspect that Calvin Klein is using this to further promote a new product, the campaign and following article do give some valuable insights into why gender labels can be harmful and, in this day and age, are in fact unnecessary. The four models “talk about why gender stereotypes are limiting, proving that you don’t have to identify as gender fluid in order to understand gender fluidity.” Gender fluidity itself is an unnecessary identification if one is able to live outside the cultural norms that are passed down with the revelation of one’s biological sex. Will the young millennial generation be able to break the past chains of gender norms and instead transcend the application of the performative social construct entirely? Only time will tell, but I am glad that society, as a whole, is moving in that direction.

3 thoughts on “Gender Fluidity and Label-Free Living”

  1. Thank you for posting this, Kate! I think we probably find some of the same things problematic. The Manne article covered the basics of gender fluidity, and seems like a perfect “gender as a social construct 101” (I’m a GWS major, though, so I’d be interested to hear from people who aren’t as familiar with these concepts). I hadn’t seen the Calvin Klein ad, but I have noticed that more and more young celebrities are coming out as having fluid, non-binary, or otherwise queer identities that refuse labels (should we even call it “coming out” when the point is to reject labels?). I, too, am excited about the direction in which society is headed- not only are gender norms being deconstructed, but the very concept of gender itself is changing! Something like this hasn’t happened since the 19th century. We’re living in a very exciting historical moment.

  2. https://youtu.be/2GX_dgwEj3o
    The song “Like a Boy” by Nick Pitera is another example (I think) about breaking the gender norm. If you’re not familiar with Nick, he is a YouTube singer with an incredible vocal range. The “high voice” in the video is actually him! (He has also demonstrated his talent on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” if you don’t believe its actually him.) In this autobiographical song, Nick explains how society tells him to conform to gender norms, but that is not who he is. I agree with your comments that society is moving in a good direction, based on the overwhelming, positive feedback Nick Pitera often receives on his videos.

  3. I also believe that in this class there are many topics like gender and sexuality that are fluid but which we haven’t discussed. In other classes I have found that most people in our generation believe the idea of gender fluidity to be true if explained. The controversial part comes from whether or not labels are positive or negative. On one hand, labels create restrictions on these fluid processes. On the other hand, labels are able to make those that don’t fit strictly into the “boy” or “girl” categories feel like they actually belong somewhere. This does come from a cultural standpoint of what each of these preexisting labels mean but never the less can have a positive impact when you are provide validation for someone that they are not alone.

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