Also published at Medium
No, they’re not new per se. What’s new is how we’re seeing their faces more broadly, as symbolic sledgehammers of society, breaking down walls that have for decades stood in the way of authenticity.
Jacob Tobia. Jeffrey Marsh. Harry James Hanson. Hunter Schafer. CJ. Charlie. Get to know these (and hundreds more like them) as the lovely human beings they are. These gifted souls are brave enough (or just don’t give enough of a damn what others think) to live authentically, however that may look, despite some level of public shaming they’ve endured.
Whether they’re subjects of harassment and bullying, legal battles over public restroom facilities, or simply weird looks from strangers on the street, these expected social aggressions are unfortunate daily truths lived by our current generation of young trans and genderqueer people. (And by current generation of young trans and genderqueer people, I mean younger and way cooler than my generation, or I, could ever hope to be — as a middle aged, white, 40-something, cishet, boring mom of three — the youngest of whom happens to be trans, non-binary, AMAB, feminine presenting, and uses “they/them” pronouns).
I don’t mean to imply it’s just the young folks, either. I recently received a letter from a 70 year old trans woman who only now, at age 70, found the courage to come out of the closet where she masked as a cis man for decades.
These people are a force to be reckoned with. And they are only on an uphill climb as they gain larger platforms across media outlets, much to the relief of trans and genderqueer youth everywhere in America. With time as the eternal sculptor, it’s certain that one day we’ll come to a place where daily micro and macroaggressions are no longer an expected thing for trans and genderqueer people. As they are becoming more visible and culturally mainstream right before our eyes, they are going to change the social landscape.
Blurring the lines of gender, folks like those mentioned above are slowly trickling into mainstream culture and readily embraced by the hungry, open arms of Generation Z, who’ve proven time and again that they will fight for a better, more diverse and welcoming world than the one my generation has haphazardly left them. The Stoneman Douglas High School students, in the wake of the Feb. 14th Parkland shooting, are a prime example. They have shown us what it looks like when a group of young folks gives a damn, becomes “woke,” for lack of a better word (though my kids will *hate* I used that word), and ultimately, when they demand a better future.
Most of us watched the horrific Parkland, Florida tragedy unfold through our TV screens and we felt — once again — devastated, heartsick, and powerless. But something else happened; we also bore witness to the moment these amazingly strong, resilient, young members of society collectively realized their power and influence. In the face of unimaginable devastation experienced at way too young an age, the grit and determination of the Parkland students, shouting truth to power, blew most of us away. ThatAmerica, unlike the current America of trumpery, machismo, and bravado, is the America that rings true to me.
As reported by WashPo, the Parkland kids have risen to the occasion because they’ve had to, but also because they have the necessary skills and aren’t afraid to use them. The Columbine High School shooting took place before social media, and the Sandy Hook survivors were too young. “We’ve had iPhones since we were out of elementary school,” said Jaclyn Corin, the 17 year old class President turned gun control activist.
GenZ (a.k.a. iGeneration, or Post-Millennials) are mostly considered babies born around 1995 through the mid-2000’s, and they are amazing to behold. Sure, maybe I’m biased; my three kids were all born between 2000–2006 and I’ve always said they were going to change the world. But it’s not just my partial mom opinion. Many influential business and tech savvy people, and even global media outlets like Forbes, Inc. Magazine, and The Atlantic are also echoing the reverence for post-millennials and what they can bring to the table.
It is widely predicted that Gen Zers will change the future of business, technology, politics, social progress, and global care, for the betterment of everyone — not just for me, myself, and I. It’s said that by 2020, they will account for one-third of the U.S. population, certainly worth paying attention to. Gen Zers, born into a world of fast-paced and continuously updating technology, have also evolved as highly attuned experts at cultivating both community and entrepreneurship through social media, which is actually pretty brilliant. And yet, they are still capable of being socially keen and fast-thinking in face-to-face discussions and debates.
Additionally, Gen Z has grown up with and therefore expects social and cultural diversity. Combined with their lightning fast-paced learning style, open-minded nature, and desire for authenticity, it stands to reason they are automatically accepting of an ever growing gender-bending culture. Specifically, they’re okay with tearing down the patriarchy, evolving our language, and putting an end to senseless violence — especially when committed against people just trying to live comfortably in their skin.
As Human Rights Campaign lights another candle for the violent murder of another trans victim, it is clear that fatal violence disproportionately affects transgender women of color, and that the intersections of racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia conspire to deprive them of employment, housing, healthcare and other necessities, barriers that make them vulnerable. Gen Zers are in tune with all of this. Trans people are their friends at school, their siblings at home, their part-time co-workers. It’s personal.
Take Gen Z and the current young population of trans and genderqueer people, and you have a whole generation of folks giving a collective middle finger to a patriarchal society ruled by cishet men who’ve imposed arbitrary rules and sanctions on gender roles and gender expectations.
Why is Gen Z so against these arbitrary gender rules and sanctions? There’s an awful lot to unpack there, but in a nutshell, because they’re arbitrary. And outdated. And, because it really sucks that cisgender, heterosexual males — especially cishet males with unchecked white privilege — continue dominating American institutions, culture, politics, professions, wealth, etc., etc., in spite of their bad behavior (think: the election of Reality TV show host and snake oil salesman, Donald J. Trump, to the highest, most respected office in the United States Government.)
Look at the current Republican party, specifically, the older white men in D.C. who are supposed to be representing their people. This isn’t the Republican party. It’s the party of Trump, and it looks nothing like the Republican party I once knew. It’s no coincidence that it’s these same type of males who are propagating the heteropatriarchy — they’re in their death throes; they’re smoke and mirrors, they’re rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic as it sinks.
It’s these males who, from childhood, are shaming and squashing the uniqueness out of anyone with feminine tendencies. It’s these males who are man-spreading and taking up room that almost certainly should go to someone else more talented, who is not a cishet, white male. After all, a whole lot of success in America rode in on the shoulders of giants who never gave their consent in the first place.
Or, maybe it’s that Gen Zers are just fed the hell up with homophobia and transphobia and sexism and misogyny. Maybe it’s just that simple. As succinctly communicated by Charlene Incarnate, in a recent article featured on BuzzFeed:
“Most straight people still can’t see the difference between a drag queen and a trans woman. They see effeminate gay men, drag queens, and trans women — all ‘faggots.’ In a straight man’s world, there’s no need to tell us apart.” — Charlene Incarnate
Of course, women buy into the patriarchy as well, and many are happy to keep it that way. It’s sort of an unexpected reality, like how there’s transphobia running rampant within the LGB community. But, it seems that is all beginning to change for the better with Gen Z. They are sick and tired of racism, bigotry, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, xenophobia, and the like, proudly parading around Washington D.C. like a three ring circus. And it has only been one year. (And did I mention these kids are mere teenagers?) Kids born in 2002 and earlier will be eligible to vote in the next Presidential election for the first time in two more years, my oldest two included. These kids are already thinking and talking about it like a rite of passage not to be taken for granted.
Look around a bit and you’ll likely begin to notice gender nonconformity becoming more the default iconic look than Disney princesses or Marvel superheroes. Whether with TV show characters like Eleven from Stranger Things, or video/online games like Minecraft and Roblox, there’s equal appeal for boys, girls, and non-binaries. Whether it’s the world of haute couture and the showcasing of supermodels like Leyna Bloom and Casil Mcarthur, or the world of human rights activists, speakers, creators, and authors like Buck Angel, or Janet Mock, there’s equal appeal for every gender and a universal message for all people.
Now is the time. Do you feel like your gender is a square peg trying to fit into a round hole? Now is the time to do yourself a favor and start living your gender authentically, however that looks to you, however much it goes against the expected, traditional, stereotypical gender norms. It could be now or never. No more hiding in the closet. No more bowing down to fear.
And my fellow cis folks who might think anything outside the notion of stereotypical boy or girl is just plain ridiculous, or maybe just the latest “P.C.” adventure? Buckle up. For that matter, come along for the ride! These kids will one day be taking care of us, and it’s never any of our business what genitals they have underneath that Utilikilt. But that’s what we’re really communicating every time we ask, “are you a boy or girl?” What we’re *really* asking is “what genitals do you have?” because that’s how we categorize things, neatly, into one of two boxes.
We forget (or don’t realize) that gender, like many things in life, is a spectrum. Gender is not binary. There are endless possible combinations. For the record, biological sex isn’t binary either — intersex people are the proof. Gender is many things, but it isn’t binary. It is born in the soul and developed in the brain. Unfortunately, this is hard for many folks to understand because the way we’ve been taught to define and understand gender is merely as an arbitrary, social construct. It wasn’t that long ago that pink was the designated color for boys, blue for girls, and high heels were originally designed for men. Gender diversity is nothing new. Many other cultures and religions have always recognized more than two genders.
Now is the time to claim back gender for what it really is. Now is the time to stop shaming people who are brave enough to live and express their gender authentically. The walls are coming down. Gen Zers are not interested in facades. And now is the time for anyone who just doesn’t (or refuses to) “get it” to just sit and simply listen.