Unbound Gender

Unbound Gender

I think a lot about gender – norms, limitations, expectations, pronouns, language. I think about how gender has affected my experience in the world, and how it will affect my children’s experiences. And I’m faced over and over again with lessons about how others – especially persons whose gender is non-binary – are challenged by our cultural gender norms to a much greater extent than I am as a white cisgender woman.

Right now I’m thinking a lot about gender in our congregation. The UUCC Women’s Retreat begins this evening. The men of UUCC will gather tomorrow afternoon for a conversation about Men in the Age of #MeToo. We had a Transgender Day of Remembrance vespers service last week.

This gender-defined stuff is inescapable and important. Every one of us has been influenced by patriarchy, and we need to implement a variety of tactics to address its effects and to cultivate better ways of being in the world. There is a need for gatherings that are designed for subgroups defined by gender.

And I believe that these gender-defined divisions need to be the exception to the rule and that we need to unbind ourselves from our rigid adherence to binary gender norms.

I’m glad we’re talking about these things more thoughtfully and openly. I’m delighted to see mainstream articles like the recent op-ed in Teen Vogue (“How to Break Away from the Gender Binary”) in which “Samantha Riedel explains how everyday actions and words can enforce an archaic gender binary, and how you can stop doing that today.” And I cheer when an expectant parent responds to the “boy or girl?” question as my friend did recently: “Our child will tell us eventually!”

Evin Carvill-Ziemer is a leader in Unitarian Universalism, working mostly with our youth and young adult programs in our Central East Region, but also as a leader among clergy, and especially clergy parents. This week on Facebook, Evin offered a compelling challenge to all of us who are cisgender, and especially us who are leaders and facilitators of congregations and groups. I encourage you to read the public post in its entirety, but here’s the piece that I’m holding as a personal challenge:

If we want a world where we’re undermining toxic masculinity and restrictive femininity where guys can wear pink and women can have whatever length hair they want, we *have* to stop assuming gender for *everyone’s* sake.
In every space you, the cis people, do not take the lead in this, you are letting the next trans or non-binary person shoulder the load, again. And again. And you know what? We’re tired. It’s hard. Please.
Yes, I know, knowing your pronouns as she/her or he/him tells me almost nothing about you. It doesn’t tell me you’re a man who likes pink and knits or you’re a woman who loves power tools…
And you know what? Knowing a trans or non-binary person’s pronouns tells you just as little about their gender.
Which means… not only is including pronouns in introductions *literally* the least we can do for trans and non-binary inclusion (and is performative if we don’t do more), it isn’t really a way we are getting to know each other. That requires story and vulnerability.

I’m committed to continuing to learn and practice, that we all might be more unbound. You, too?



  1. Jackie Gordan

    Rev. Getty,
    Thank you for this thought provoking article on such a sensitive topic.
    The world is full of expectations for biological male and female roles that we
    sometimes forget the we are more than just our biology. We have a soul that is
    loved by our creator. We also have our essence or emotional being that makes us
    the unique individual that we are. For those of us that feel that we do not fit in any one
    category it can be a lonely existence with the feeling of not fitting in.

    It is conceivable to imagine a woman engaging with men on topics like sports, cars,
    construction or any other societal masculine subjects. But it is my sense that it would be
    difficult for a man to engage in discussions with women on topics like fashion, hair and makeup,
    decorating or any of the societal feminine topics. It is understandable that the ingrained norms
    are where many people feel comfortable.

    It is refreshing to see the beginnings of the barriers being removed and acceptance of the person and not
    just the body. The progress has seemed agonizingly slow and I look forward to the day we all can feel free to be

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *