In a world where people are identified as either male or female, what happens to those who are a mix of everything or nothing?
Sandra Wekesa @andayisandra
Jabari Salat Tirop does not conform to any gender. She is not a lesbian and neither is she a transgender. But she would rather identify with gender-neutral pronouns such as they, them or their.
However awkward this may seem for conservatives, Jabari is not alone in this. Celebrities such as pop singer Miley Cyrus, author, playwright, and gender theorist, Kate Bornstein, and singer-songwriter of La Roux, Elly Jackson, among others, have come out openly to support this gender fluid phenomena.
Kate in her autobiography, A Queer and Pleasant Danger, said, “I don’t call myself a woman, and I know I’m not a man.” While Elly said, “I don’t feel like I’m female or male.”
Miley once said in an interview, “I don’t relate to what people would say defines a girl or a boy, and I think that’s what I had to understand: Being a girl isn’t what I hate, it’s the box that I get put into.”
So what is this gender fluidity? According to urban dictionary, it is a gender identity best described as a dynamic mix of boy and girl. It refers to a gender, which varies over time.
A gender fluid person may at any time identify as male, female, neutrois, or any other non-binary identity, or some combination of identities. Gender fluid people may feel more comfortable using gender-neutral pronouns.
However, this sense of ‘creating’ the self and landing in between commonly accepted, rigid genders varies widely for individuals who identify as gender-fluid. For example, not all gender-fluid persons identify as transgender, but some transgender people identify as nonbinary ot exclusively masculine or feminine.
“Growing up, I always identified as female, I would do everything just like any other girl, put on dresses, play with dolls, among others. However, as I got to my teen age, I felt like it was best not to identify myself in any gender,” says Jabari.
Jabari says people who do not understand gender non-conforming are often quick to judge her. “In our society, people are so rigid when it comes to gender.
You are expected to behave in a certain way because you are a man or do this because you are a woman. But what if I don’t feel either? What if I don’t want gender to dictate what I should do, behave or be?” Jabari poses.
Barbra Leone, executive director of East Africa Trans Health and Advocacy Network (Eathan), says gender fluid people face a lot of challenges as society insists on dividing human beings by only two genders. Therefore, gender fluid persons often do not fit in society.
“A large part of gender fluidity is the need to express as themselves through dressing, having unisex names, behaviour, among others,” says Barbra.
And fashion lines are cashing in on this, coming up with gender-neutral clothing. International fashion brands such as Zara, H&M, among others, have launched unisex brands .
Barbra says ‘man’ or ‘woman’ is something that is, in a sense, a social construct. Those are words that we use to describe differences that we stereotype.
Other challenges existing in this binary-based world include: stigma from society, difficulties in accessing basic amenities such as public washrooms, security check challenges due to their indistinguishable gender, consequently leading to unemployment, and inaccessibility to bank services because of their often perceived incongruence with their identity cards.
But many people are yet to come to terms with this phenomina. Elaine Zawadi, a student, terms it as a state of confusion. According to her, it makes no sense being so complicated over petty issues.
“I think to some extent it doesn’t make sense being gender binary. For one to wake up and think that they can choose their gender is a bit absurd. Personally, it’s best if someone doesn’t complicate matters and stick to their natural form,” she says.
Arthur Muriuki, a psychologist from The Brain Initiative, says gender fluidity starts from the mind. If someone chooses to be non-conforming, then it is for them to decide how best they are going to deal with the consequences of their choices.
There’s no specific cause of gender fluidity. It is a matter of choice. And people make choices based on how they perceive or understand situation, or if they went through a certain situation, for example, experience challenges of being put in a gender box. Also, many gender fluid people are coming out encouraging others who were afraid to do the same.
“If someone wakes up and feels they are neither male nor female, let them be. It’s not for anyone to stir a debate and pick out how best one can live,” he advises.