Like the overwhelming majority of people I was immersed from my earliest days in a world divided into two. It is so pervasive that it doesn’t seem at all strange; most people never have cause to even think about it.
In the blue corner we have everything male. Boys, men, anything electronic or mechanical, big or loud. Football. Beer.
And in the pink corner we have the supposed polar opposite, female. Soft, delicate, dainty, quiet. Embroidered cushions and flowers. Ballet. Prosecco.
Take a moment to think about how much of the world is seen in terms of masculine or feminine. It’s even ingrained in many languages such as Spanish, French, German, Russian.
Who do you see when you imagine people in various jobs? Flight attendant, nurse, engineer, bricklayer, plumber, mechanic, secretary, truck driver. Are the examples you think of primarily male or female?
How about when you see a person at the mall or in the street? Do you find yourself automatically thinking of them as she or he? Making an unconscious decision about their gender simply based on a quick glance, a fleeting impression?
It’s so deeply ingrained in our culture and society that it’s hard not to. And when somebody doesn’t seem to fit into either category we can find ourselves wondering, “Are they…?” Does that make you uncomfortable? How would you address them?
Good news: there’s a solution. It’s not easy because you have to make an effort and learn to see things differently. But you can teach yourself to look at people without the need to put them in a box labeled M or F.
Go on, try it. Watch the TV, scroll through Facebook, whatever, and deliberately keep an open mind about the gender of everyone you see there. Avoid “he” and “she” in your thoughts; use the neutral “they” by default.
After a while you find that it becomes easier, the conscious effort becomes an unconscious reflex. And you discover something unexpected: you still see aspects that suggest male or female, but your overall impression is a blend of the two. You see both simultaneously!
And it strikes you that the whole dyadic division is an illusion, a pernicious lie.