Gender Matters

02 Dec Gender Matters

By: Dr. Joshua Levin

shutterstock_463241588We used to think of gender in simplistic terms. Male or female. Boy or girl. Men’s bathroom or women’s bathroom. This is known as the “gender binary”. In this day and age, that binary system no longer holds, and the question of gender is no longer viewed as simplistically. Some people do not identify themselves as simply male or female, while others identify with a gender that differs from the one assigned at birth. These terms may help in order to better understand and support these individuals.

  • Gender non-binary: This refers to people who do not experience gender in a way that is solely male or female.  Other terms include Genderqueer, Agender, and Bigender.
  • Gender fluid: This reflects non-binary individuals who experience gender in a non-fixed way.  For example, they may feel more male one day, more female another day, and gender-neutral on a third day.
  • Gender assigned at birth: The gender you were socialized as from birth, usually congruent with your biological sex
  • Transgender: An individual who does not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth.  These individuals may be Non-Binary or may identify simply as Male or Female.
  • Misgender: To refer to someone (especially a transgender person) using a word or pronoun that does not correctly reflect the gender with which that person identifies.

It is also important to recognize that life as a transgender, gender fluid, or bigender individual can be difficult.  Feeling different or isolated, having low self-esteem, being singled out or ostracized, facing bullying or bashing, not knowing which bathroom to use — these are all things they may experience on a daily basis. The suicide attempt rate amongst transgender patients ranges from 32-50% across the countries. Depression and anxiety are much more common in this population as well.

The non-binary patients in my pediatric practice are some of my very favorite people.  This touching and wise wisdom comes from my brilliant teenage patient, A.Y.  While this quote was aimed towards parents of non-binary gender patients, these powerful and beautiful ideas can teach us all:

“You literally hold your child’s life in your hands right now. You can choose to help them blossom into the strong, brave person hiding inside or squish them between your palms with your transphobia. Yes, it will take some effort to educate yourself. Yes, it may be difficult to accept a new and different way of thinking. And yes, you’re not going to be perfect. But if you want your child to stay alive, then accept them for who they are.”

These individuals are part of our communities and our society. We must do our best to welcome them, to embrace the diversity they embody, to accept them, and to support them.  Use their preferred pronouns, which may often be “they” and “them” as opposed to “he” or “she”, but varies amongst individuals — the best way to know which one to use, is to ask them. Advocate for non-binary rights at work and at school. Defend them against bullying and slander, should you see it, whether it be physical in nature or a case of misgendering.  Understand that commonly used phrases, like “boys and girls”, or “ladies and gentlemen,” should no longer be assumed to be all-inclusive, and in fact may insult or upset some individuals. Encourage them to work with therapists who possess expertise in transgender care, should they need it. Ultimately, treat them with kindness, and respect them and their identity.


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