It is 2015. Legal love won nationwide on June 26th. Things are going so well, on a large scale, for the LGBTQIA+ community in the United States. After decades of discussing sexuality, our mainstream dialogue has recently started highlighting a new subject: gender. The way we talk about gender is changing rapidly. For example, Target, which most of us know as a magnificent, fluorescent oasis of everything that we could possibly want, recently made the groundbreaking decision to not separate their children’s toy sections into “Boy” and “Girl.” Instead, the company is allowing the previously ‘gendered’ toys to intermingle. The idea is to let kids decide what they like for themselves, so that they can develop their own opinions, personalities, and preferences.
But what happens to gender when we step beyond the toy section of a huge corporation and into the real world? And, more importantly, into people’s personal lives? After all, Target’s decision was essentially a business move; a response to what people are talking about and feeling in regards to gender these days. So what does gender look like in 2015 to those who don’t necessarily identify with the male versus female constructs of society?
Ruby Rose Langenheim, a high-profile super-tattooed model, artist, DJ, and actor, has really changed up dialogue about gender on the mainstream level. Ruby Rose came out as lesbian at age 12, and originally made plans to transition from female to male using hormones. Later, she changed her mind, and has instead become, essentially, the Covergirl for androgyny. While she still uses female pronouns, she identifies as gender neutral.
Ruby Roses’ recent appearance on “Orange is the New Black” stirred up some controversy on social media. There were endless posts from straight women claiming to be “gay for Ruby Rose,” because of her mystique and aesthetic appeal. Many queer women were offended by comments like this, saying that they just reinforced the antique idea that being gay is a choice. Twitter user @kxthleen illustrated this widespread irritation perfectly when she said “YOU ARE NOT 'GAY FOR RUBY ROSE' YOU CANNOT JUST 'TURN GAY' FOR ONE PERSON THAT'S NOT HOW SEXUALITY WORKS YOU BUNCH OF WET NOODLES.”
There are lots of opinions about oh-so-hot Ruby Rose and the nature of her fans. There could be pages of analysis written about what her presence means in society. And perhaps the angry sentiment from gay women is an understandable one. But what if, instead, we look at self-identified straight women being openly “gay for Ruby Rose” as an illustration that sexuality is not rigid and permanent? And what if we acknowledge the fact that lots of kinds of people are totally on board with the fact that she identifies as gender neutral?
Controversial questions aside, it is crucial to acknowledge that many people who identify outside the societally defined lines of gender also exist outside the Hollywood spotlight. While Ruby Rose is awesome for keeping the topic going, we should not look to her for all answers about gender identity. There are many people much closer to us who have unique, important stories to share. Casey MacPhail ‘18, hails from Arlington, MA. He says that he was lucky enough to grow up in a very “accepting and queer friendly community.” His family is still very active with the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington. UU churches are unique, because they “create spirituality and community beyond boundaries,” meaning that they include many religions and spiritualities within their practices. UU churches also have a sex ed program called Our Whole Lives (OWL), which aims to “dismantle stereotypes and assumptions, build acceptance and self-esteem, foster healthy relationships, improve decision making, and has the potential to save lives.” Participating in OWL at age 13 helped Casey to feel safe and supported, as well as provided him with resources to help define his identity in more concrete terms. It provided him with the term ‘transgender,’ and also helped him realize his bisexuality at the time. In regards to sexual orientation now, Casey prefers to use the label ‘queer,’ because it is more inclusive and demonstrative of his true feelings. From that point, a lot of Casey’s identity process was introspective. As a young teenager, he would often think about what he wanted to be like when he grew up. Eventually, he realized that the ideal Casey was essentially just a male version of himself. This helped him to come to terms with his gender identity. He came out as transgender as a young teenager. Since then, he has tweaked his identity when learning new words or concepts, and today identifies as transmasculine/ agender.
Being transmasculine, to Casey, means that “even though I do not identify fully as male, I still wish to present masculinely. For instance, I personally use he/him/his pronouns and plan on transitioning medically with testosterone soon.” And to Casey, being agender means “without gender.” Casey says, “Though I present a certain way, in my heart I don’t feel a connection to any gender.”
Casey wants to see more trans writers, producers, and directors creating stories about trans lives to continue the discussion that is slowly starting in the United States. He says that “all of my definitions come from my own experience and education.” This is important to point out, because people who exist under the umbrella of ‘transgender’ or ‘agender’ or ‘queer’ can have very different feelings, opinions, and experiences from one another. That’s why it’s important to have lots of different narratives, so we can remember that one person does not speak for all.
Lastly, Casey said that the best thing allies can do is to just listen, keeping in mind that some people like to discuss their genders/ identities, while some do not. And that is okay.
Lyndsey Ramjue (also called L or Logan) ‘18 came to Emerson from Hill Valley, a town in the San Francisco area “home to yoga moms, health nuts, and where mountain biking was first invented.” They identify as a transgender nonbinary queer individual. To Lyndsey, being transgender “refers to anyone who identifies as something outside the gender binary, or outside of female/male.” They explain that a lot of people get transsexual and transgender confused. They explain that “The media uses transgender to refer to individuals who change from their sex at birth to the opposite sex, which is actually called transsexual.”
Lyndsey’s gender identity is very fluid. They explain, “Some days I feel exactly in the middle but on other days it fluctuates,” and point out that other names for this are ‘genderqueer’ or ‘genderfluid,’ depending on a person’s preference.
Lyndsey, similarly to Casey, began their journey by coming out as bisexual at a young age. Later, in high school, they came out as gay. Since then, they have gone through a lot of personal development and learned new terms and concepts, which has led them to be most comfortable identifying as a ‘queer individual.’ They feel that their gender identity is not completely understood, but that trans issues and identities are slowly becoming more widely understood by everyone. They feel that though Emerson is positive in this regard, because people here “are so willing to learn and ask questions, which really makes a difference,” even our campus has a lot to learn.