Will Work For Food: From One Couch to Another, How To CouchSurf During Travels (And Stay Safe)
Will Work For Food #9 Advice & Stories ...
Travelers: I have some news for you.
Oh wait, no no. Let me try this again.
While you’re exploring the world, you’re going to meet all types of people. And just as there is a spectrum of colors, a spectrum of sexuality, gender, and personalities also exists.
That’s right, I said it. Gender.
Everything is not black and white, pink and blue, boy and girl.
While I was on my first big trip across the U.S., bike touring, I met some people who really helped me to see the bigger picture when it comes to humans and the many ways that they exist.
I met people who looked like “men” in my eyes, but wore skirts and heels. I met people who didn’t use the gendered pronouns of “he” or “she”, but chose to use “they” instead. I met people who didn’t appear as your “typical” male or female, and I learned that it wasn’t important that I knew what parts they had between their legs.
Traveling brought me perspective; thus making it easier for me to navigate the world with an open heart, and create a safer community for everyone no matter where I ended up.
And as many of you have seen, on October 12th, it was National Coming Out Day. Many new patterns of thought, arguments, and conversations were sparked by the hashtag: #ComingOutDay and the conversation that followed.
What was the point of this day?
The Human Rights Campaign describes it as:
“Every year on National Coming Out Day, we celebrate coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) or as an ally. On Oct. 11, 2017, we marked the 29th anniversary of National Coming Out Day.
29 years ago, on the anniversary of the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, we first observed National Coming Out Day as a reminder that one of our most basic tools is the power of coming out. One out of every two Americans has someone close to them who is gay or lesbian. For transgender people, that number is only one in 10.”
To explain part of myself to my peers on social media, I posted my own #ComingOutDay photo and offered some words to go along with it. I have to acknowledge my privilege here: I am a middle-class, white femme. I do get sexually harassed, but I don’t go through even half of what other folx in the queer community experience on a day to day basis.
I decided to make a post on this day for two specific reasons.
I have to admit—sometimes I get so deep into my world of activist friends who are social justice warriors, that I forget how the majority of the world often works. When I made my post for this day, I got a swift reminder.
I had a few different types of responses on my post.
Most of them were positive, while a few others strongly disagreed with who I am as a person. Many people commented that they “support and accept me” but flat out refused to use my pronouns. They said that they would rather misgender me or call me “it”, rather than learning how to work at reconstructing their ideas behind pronouns and gender. Or just learning how to use a different word, without the mental and emotional work that can go into such learning.
I get it, I get it. Learning and seeing can be hard. But, when it comes to supporting the people that we love and care about, it is something that we need to be open to.
(These pronouns are real; identity is real. The pronouns “they/them” are just as real, correct, and valid as the pronouns “he/him” and “she/her”.)
You still may be confused. And that’s OK. In a world where humans demand to shove things into boxes—pink or blue, boy or girl, black or white, wrong or right, good or bad—the newness of this can be confusing.
As Charlie Sudlow says, “Gender is not a physical concept. Here’s the dictionary definition of gender, “Either of the two sexes (male and female), especially when considered with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones. The term is also used more broadly to denote a range of identities that do not correspond to established ideas of male and female.”
That didn’t seem to make sense to the doubters that kept the heat alive on my Facebook post. They were still confused, annoyed, and refused to acknowledge that people that are neither man nor women exist. They need a straight, easy-to-see line between the parts that we have between our legs and how we define our genders.
Dave Mathews then went on to say, “Also, the existence of non-binary people is not an opinion, so you’re drawing your line pretty arbitrarily. There’s research on this stuff. Intersex is a thing. You can have XXY chromozomes, or an unusual balance of hormones, or any number of other situations where the term “girl” or “boy” just doesn’t capture who you are.”
Basically, our knowledge of this stuff is continually evolving now that we in the west have stopped taking “man or woman” for granted. It may bug you now, but there are plenty of cultures around the world who have taken non-binary people seriously for thousands of years. It’s not such a radical idea, it’s just new to us, and there’s nothing to be gained from not accepting it.”
That does not mean that someone has to have certain, or more than one set of parts, to use a certain set of pronouns.
As I just got back from traveling across the US, I am recently reminded of how diverse the world and the human animals that occupy it truly are. To be able to travel the world, or even move through it in an authentic, loving way, we must respect others; including their pronouns and how they choose to identify.
Because it is a choice, after all.
Although I am just now starting to truly understand more about my friends in the queer community and educate myself, I do feel as if I have some light to share. As I held out my candle, Marshall Luther offered to light it:
I watched some ugly comments roll in that were a product of confusion, anger, and disbelief. I felt the support of my friends as they also offered their experiences to the public eye.
Scrolling through my newsfeed, I saw the story of Lilia Trenkova:
Lilia’s story was not the only one like this. When you’re ready to witness more, just type in “#ComingOutDay” or “#NationalComingOutDay” on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, or Facebook.
If you’re still confused, that’s OK. There are resources online that are easy to access, simply by doing a quick google search. And even if you don’t understand all the different ways that we express our gender, you can still show respect by using an individual’s chosen pronouns.
As Charlie Sudlow expresses:
“I wish everyone could be born with their outsides matching who they are on the inside. You should be grateful that you can look in the mirror and identify with what you see. Not everyone has it so easy, though. Some people look in the mirror and see a body that is foreign to them; that they don’t belong in. How would you feel if you looked in the mirror and saw a feminine body, but your mind and personality stayed the same? Would you still identify as a man or would you identify as a woman just because your body looked a certain way? Also, why do you say we must pick either male or female? What makes you think those are the only choices?”
In a world of trauma, magic, war, miracles, humans, animals, space, language, concepts, creativity, music, technology, and the birth of new ideas, we must remember how diverse this planet is. And not only that– the fluidity and choice of its occupants.
If you can’t embrace the diversity, at least respect it.
And oh, yeah. How could I forget? If you’re “worried” that there is no way in which you can use the pronoun “they” for just one human, check this out. If that’s not enough, this could be a wonderful time to start your practice of searching out new information with that handy dandy Google search engine. 😉
“Gender is a spectrum … as I raised my children, I would say to them, ‘there is too much emphasis on gender’ some people are pink, some people are blue, some are purple, grey, magenta, orange, brown, green, or silver and gold, and I think that’s pretty cool! so be whatever color you feel ”
Thank you to all of the people who allowed me share their wise words with the world. And a double “thank you” to Charlie Sudlow, for the added edits and input on this piece.