Cordelia Winter on Gender Inclusion: My Two Bits
Written by Cordelia Winter.
To me, gender inclusion comes in two bits: a recognition of everyone’s unique experience, and intersectionality.
There is a meme floating around that says something to the effect of, “Whenever someone says they are only two genders, you add another two to the total number of genders that exist.” And that’s just it: You define your gender and the person next to you defines theirs. It’s deeply personal. So to be inclusive, we need to start seeing that everyone’s understanding of their gender is uniquely their own. For me, saying gender is a spectrum doesn’t even quite do it justice.
You define your gender and the person next to you defines theirs. It’s deeply personal.
It’s as individual as fingerprints. There may be broad groups of whorls and loops, but no two are the same. And so it is with genders.
As a culture we get frightened by that kind of infinity. It’s a countable but nebulous infinity. We like boxes. For all this country’s talk of rugged individualism, we run screaming away from things we can’t easily define and group together. We fight and we claw to put labels on everyone. Even those who don’t want any.
And look, I’m not saying labels can’t be important; I use them all the time. Pronouns, names, communities you represent – these labels can be very important. But it’s a lot more complicated than a binary or even a spectrum.
I use “she” and “her” pronouns. I use the labels of “woman,” “trans woman,” and “genderqueer.” I changed my name from Dylan – a name I love that was given to me by people I love – to Cordelia, a name I love that was given to me by people I love. But when the world sees me, they see someone who presents fairly masculine. So where does the spectrum put me? In the middle? On the end? Does it matter how I present? Does it matter how people see and label me? This is my constant inner monologue.
The gender spectrum looks like a topographical map going out as far as the eye can see in all directions.
As I see it, everyone’s gender adds ridges to the spectrum: things that don’t fall on a line between masculine and feminine. The gender spectrum looks like a topographical map going out as far as the eye can see in all directions. Everyone has their own coordinates; therefore, everyone’s gender has to be included on the legend. I guess what I’m saying is: We spend too much time trying to parse out and define everything and too little time trying to treat everyone with respect and dignity.
If someone wants to define their spot on the spectrum, I get it, but if we are going to include everyone, it really has to mean everyone. A struggle for gender inclusion cannot end with white cisgender women closing the wage gap. It is a constant and ever growing quest. We need to learn to move with the tide. The map is only getting larger and more and more bumpy. But if we embrace our experiences together, we can wrap our arms around the whole thing – bumps, tangents, intersections, and all.
But people aren’t only defined by the one map. We’ve got cultural and racial maps; we’ve got class maps, sexuality maps, and language maps, and they all criss-cross inside each of us. We have to address that intersectionality.
If we are going to include everyone, it really has to mean everyone.
Gender doesn’t live in a vacuum. A trans woman of color’s experience is different than mine. And mine is different than yours. So it’s upon me to listen and learn from you. Gender inclusion has to be bigger than man and woman.
It’s about trans men being welcomed into communities that make them feel comfortable, instead of being left in the cold. It’s about nonbinary people not being told that their gender “doesn’t make sense.” It’s about making bathrooms safe for trans women (especially trans women of color). And safe streets. And bars. And dating apps. And family functions. It’s about kids being able to express themselves in a way that isn’t powder blue and pastel pink. It’s making sure a Latinx woman gets paid as much as her white woman coworker and that they both make what their male coworker makes. It’s allowing trans athletes to compete at the highest (and lowest) levels of competition. It’s letting our birth certificates reflect our reality. It's about letting go of your spurious claims of grammar policing and using “them/their” pronouns when asked.
Gender inclusion is listening. Gender inclusion is standing up and stepping back. It’s amplifying the voices of the voiceless. Gender inclusion is radical. Gender inclusion is justice seeking. Gender inclusion is anti-racist. Gender inclusion is not trans exclusionary. Gender inclusion is not body shaming. It’s not sex shaming or sex work shaming. Gender inclusion is having the hard conversation when your friend makes a sexist joke. It’s about letting your ego down when someone comments on your bad behavior or mistakes. Gender inclusion is about learning and trying to be better.
Gender inclusion is listening. Gender inclusion is standing up and stepping back. It’s amplifying the voices of the voiceless. Gender inclusion is radical.
This process can be hard. It’s uncomfortable. For many people, it’s not only about making room at the table for everyone; sometimes it’s giving up your spot at the table. Pushing against privilege isn’t comfy, but that discomfort is just the feeling of us learning. It’s that almost painful feeling of a stretch; that’s our sore, underused muscles stretching out to include everyone.
We have all of these intersecting maps. Each individual, each community, with their own coordinates.
When I sit back and try to visualize it, it always looks like a neural network, or like if M.C. Escher tried to draw what a computer looked like inside. It’s weird and hard sometimes, and I am definitely not one of the finest minds thinking about this, but this is how I see it.
In my own life, I tend to follow the prevailing message of almost every major religion in the world: Take care of each other.
And inclusion is part of that. We don’t get to shun because we don’t understand. We don’t get to shame to keep our position of power. All the peoples of the world are called by a common ancestry, some urge of humanity to care for each other.
The world would be so much better if, when we looked out and saw the vastness of our experience, we offered it justice and respect.
Gender inclusion is much bigger than an essay, too, but this is my two bits.