Breaking the binary; gender in today’s society

The transgender flag colours. Photo: Google images.

The concept gender is different now than it was even 10 years ago. Today, the concept of gender is moving away from the typical binary – something made up of two parts, in this case male and female.

More and more transgender people are coming out every day. With resources and educational tools constantly improving, even celebrities like Caitlyn Jenner and Chaz Bono have come forward with their true gender identities.

Harper MacAngus says gender has a lot to do with self-expression. He identifies as a transgender man.

“I think it’s a way of expressing yourself, just another way of expressing yourself because you have so many other options. I think gender is just another way to do that. Just like every single person is different, I think every single gender is different too and you have a different way of expressing yourself,” he said.

There are several different gender identities that fall under the transgender umbrella. Some are more masculine, some are more feminine, and some are neutral. Some gender identities have to do with culture, like Harris-Isaac’s.

Kem Harris-Isaac says that gender fluidity is important within First Nations culture. Photo: Ben Crouse

“I identify as two-spirited. It’s a First Nations identification. It’s different for every nation, so depending on what nation you do talk to they’ll give you a different description of what two-spirited is. For my beliefs it is an individual who can experience the world in both a masculine and feminine way, or in a neutral way,” said Harris Isaac.

Depending on how Harris-Isaac is feeling, their physical appearance and attitude will change.

“For me, depending on how I’m feeling or how I’m acting, I’ll be able to dress a certain way. I’ll also act a different way as well. If I want to be more masculine I’m a little more gruff. If I’m a little more feminine I’m more calm and to myself,” Harris Isaac said.

Gender impacts not only what a person looks like, but also impacts who people are. Al Cusack is non-binary – neither male nor female. Cusack uses the singular “they” pronoun.

“I feel like the way that I act as a leader is an important part of my gender, and my assertiveness is an important part of my gender, and sort of my role in the community has been a big part of how I express my gender and helped the way that I discover my gender,” said Cusack.

Even though Cusack is non-binary, they still take on masculine and feminine mannerisms and characteristics.

Al Cusack is an executive of the Queer and Allied Society at St. Thomas University, an organization that provides education about gender and sexuality. Photo: Ben Crouse

“I take on more masculine traits, but I’m in a bit of a personal crisis where I’m not sure if I’m taking on more masculine traits because I don’t feel that I’m trans enough, or if I’m taking on more masculine traits because I legitimately feel more masculine,” said Cusack. “There are definitely social pressures there that are influencing how I’m going about expressing myself.”

The process of a transgender person embracing their gender identity is called a transition. No two transitions are exactly the same, but a lot of them include the same steps. For example, trans people usually begin transitioning by changing their physical appearance with a new haircut or wardrobe. Legalities often come next, like official name changes on drivers licenses. Finally, there’s the medical component to the transition. This can include hormone replacement therapy and various surgeries.

If a transgender person chooses not to follow the same steps in their transition that the majority of trans people take, they are often looked down upon within the transgender community. This can result in “not feeling trans enough.”

MacAngus has chosen to medically transition. He began hormone replacement therapy three months ago. Once a week, MacAngus injects himself with liquid testosterone. He does this to feel more at home within his body.

“I think a lot of people have the same answer [for why they take hormones], and it’s mostly just to feel more secure with yourself,” said MacAngus.

Harper MacAngus says that gender roles are not important in today’s society. Photo: Ben Crouse

“I mean you can dress how you want without hormones, you can say what you want without hormones and everything. On the inside you can say ‘This is who I am’, but I think a lot of people looking in the mirror… it’s tough when the outside doesn’t match.”

Testosterone has several side effects, including facial hair growth, a deepening of the voice and changes to fat distribution and body structure.

Despite taking steps forward in his transition, MacAngus says that stepping outside the gender binary can be challenging, even today.

“I think in society it’s just very black or white still. I think it’s getting better, but it is still very black or white, male or female. I think that’s a standard that people have to just kick in the butt.”

Cusack says education about gender identity is essential to moving towards a society accepting of all.

“I think by humanizing trans people and showing everyone that it’s… it is complicated, but at the same time it’s simply just people are who they say they are. If someone identifies a certain way, then you just have to have that respect to believe them,” Cusack said.