February 8, 2015

Young People Move from the Gender Binary to Believing in Continuum

Young people are increasingly believing
in a gender spectrum
Photo: Maruy75
There is a shift in attitude towards gender among younger people, at least in the "Western" part of the world. This has implications for crossdreamers and transgender people.

Fusion just published results from its so-called Massive Millennial Poll, which asked 1000 Americans between the age of 18 and 34 about various issues.

When asked about their understanding of gender, 50 percent replied that they believe that gender is a spectrum, and that some people fall outside conventional categories. 46 percent said that there are only two genders, male and female.

57 percent of female assigned respondents believed in a gender spectrum, reflecting --perhaps -- that society is more forgiving of gender bending among women than among men.

Tumblr reflects shift towards spectrum

Figure from the Massive Millennial Poll.
Click on image to enlarge.
My wife Sally and I are currently blogging at  tumblr, a social site dominated by the young "millenials". (66 percent of all visitors are under the age of 35, while 39 percent are under 25 years-old.)

We are mostly blogging as news curators for transgender and genderqueer issues. This brings us in direct contact with young people struggling with their gender identity and/or sexuality. At the moment some 4000 people are subscribing to our two blogs.

Our observations underpin what Fusion is saying. Among those who are interested in transgender issues (and I am using transgender as an umbrella term for gender variance here), a large proportion support the idea of a gender continuum. This also apply to many of those who are clearly transsexual.

We can see this trend in the response we get on our blog posts. Those that go viral are most often those that help readers develop concepts that make it possible to understand and communicate identities outside the strict male/female binary.

Here are a few examples:

Cassandra's dysphoria infographic goes viral

Fellow male to female crossdreamer Cassandra/ Morphodite followed one of my tweets to an article written by Dara Hoffman-Fox, by designing an infographic on gender dysphoria.

Gender dysphoria has become an important term in the transgender and genderqueer debate on tumblr, not at least because the so-called "truscum" transsexual separatists have tried to establish gender dysphoria as a litmus test for whether you should be considered a "real" transgender person or not. For them dysphoria is an on/off proposition. You are either dysphoric (and therefore a real transgender person) or you are not (and a fake "transtrender").

(The World Professional Association for Transgender Health,WPATH, defines gender dysphoria as "discomfort or distress that is caused by a discrepancy between a person’s gender identity and that person’s sex assigned at birth and the associated gender role and/or primary and secondary sex characteristics).

Hoffman-Fox points out that gender dysphoria may vary immensely both in type and intensity, and Cassandra divided gender dysphoria into three subcategories (body dysphoria, social dysphoria and mind dysphoria), each with a ten level discomfort scale.

We put up a short blog post on tumblr presenting the infographic In one week the blog post had received 10,000 likes and reblogs. It had gone viral. We are convinced this is because Cassandra had managed to communicate the complexity of gender dysphoria in a simple manner.

Cassandra's hugely popular inphographic on gender dysphoria communicates the complexity of gender identity in a brilliant way. This version is taken from the Crossdream Life discussion. Click on image to enlarge!

Many of the comments given explain why the illustration has become so popular:

Rifa writes:
"This is so important, I was experiencing dysphoria for a long time before I realized it because most of what I felt was social dysphoria. Once I realized it and accepted it was when I realized how I felt about my gender identity and realized I was nonbinary so please reblog this it could help someone confused and lost out!"
vensplace's comment tells us how important concepts are for self-discovery:
unconditionalregard elaborates on this, explaining why models like this one can help us explain our feelings to others:
"THIS. This is beautiful. I wish I had this when I tried to explain the different kinds of dysphoria to my parents."
This comic from Completely Serious Comics was used
to illustrate the fact that chromosomes and genitalia
do not determine your gender identity.
The diversity of gender

Others posts gone viral also illustrate an interest in the diversity of gender. 

Many are, for instance, interested in the way other cultures define gender. A post on Bangladeshi "third gender" Hijras got more than 7000 notes,  Another one, on "two spirit" trans women in Venezuela 3000.

Sally's post on Google's "infinite gender options" has 11,000, notes while Jack's  post on the need for gender neutral toys generated a whopping 31,000.

A post questioning the relationship between chromosomes, genitalia and gender identity has so far had 5000 likes and reblogs. (Illustration to the right).

It is not that the younger generations deny the identity of transsexual men and women, mind you, but they see that as one of many incarnations of gender variance.

Given this respect for diversity we also see a strong interest in real life proplr coping as transgender, transsexual or not transsexual.

Beyond the "perfect transsexual"

There is little of the earlier focus on becoming the "perfect" transsexual. Sally sees a clear pattern in what posts on transitioning transsexuals get the most traction. Posts about perfectly feminine looking transgender models are rarely popular. Post that depict "regular" trans men and women are.

Infographic about Brooke Guinan,
used to illustrate Sally's post.
Her post on the New York firewoman Brooke Guinan has got more than 8000 likes and reblogs, probably because this is a trans woman who transgress the gender stereotypes in more than one way. By doing so she opens up new ways of living for many young transgender people out there.


Cassandra's infographic opens up the possibility of other transgender constellations -- beyond the traditional "woman trapped in a man's body" metaphor.

This has led to the creation of a wide variety of new terms meant to describe identities that bridge the concepts of male and female, masculine and feminine.

An older term like "genderqueer" lives side by side with newer terms like "genderfluid" (where the gender identity may vary over time), "nonbinary" (gender identities that don't fit within the accepted binary of male and female) and "neutrois" (a term related to being agender, gender neutral, or genderless).
The gender variance survey.
Preferred identities as reported
by 482 tumblr respondets (out of a total of
1202). Respondents could
choose more than one alternative. Among
other identities reported were
genderfluid, bigender and pangender.
Click on image to enlarge!

If we look at the tumblr respondents from our 2014 survey of gender variance, we find that the most popular of the alternative identities listed were queer, genderqueer, transgender, nonbinary and cisgender.

Some tumblr bloggers also embrace terms like "demigirl" (someone who partially identifies as a woman and partially nonbinary), or "girlfag" (a woman who in some way identifies with gay men) in order to express the ambiguity gender identity.

Others find it helpful to distinguish between sexual and romantic attraction. There are therefore bisexual as well as biromantic persons (people who feel romantic attraction towards persons of two or more genders.) Biromantic persons are not necessarily bisexual.

Many of the terms will probably die out in the end, but in the meantime they provide gender variant people with a bigger palette of colors they can use to illustrate their lives.


  1. Jack with the freedom of today comes the more open expression of how people feel inside. I am pretty sure that these young people are reflecting the true variance that is out there which had to be all but completely repressed when I was their age. They feel less constrained by social expectation than people of my generation and are not afraid to be themselves which can only be a good thing.

    Yes we have a biological binary but our minds are much more expansive and less constrained by the fact that we were born with a particular set of genitalia. Your surveys reflect the attitude that I see in my own 17 year old daughter who has a more expansive view of gender expression than I did at the same age.

  2. Yes, this makes sense to me too. Many (but obviously not all) parents and care-takers are much more relaxed about diversity than their own parents were. They are more knowledgeable. So even if there is a lot of indirect gender stereotyping (especially when it comes to toys), they are much better at tackling gender variance when it appears. And the attitudes of the millennials seem to reflect this.

    The whole idea of early onset and late onset transgender people as two separate classes is also crumbling because of this. Gynephilic trans women can more easily come out of the closet as teenagers these days.

  3. To get a good idea of what future attitudes and conventions will be, your best bet is to look at the attitudes of the young people, about high school age. Back when I was still a high school teacher I could plainly see this. A lot more guys with long hair than when I was growing up, and (I think it was a fad back then) a couple of them would wear bangles in it. Even though, out of the whole school there was just one guy that wore a feminised "goth" style of clothing with a skirt and black pantyhose.
    Since crossdreaming is a lot harder for me to spot in girls, I'd most easily notice the guys. The really important thing was that the ATTITUDE of the guys was a lot more cooperative, social, egalitarian, and generally feminine as opposed to when I went to high school. When I went to high school, there would be fights on an almost regular basis, but when I was teaching high school I never saw a single one!
    I think this definitely gives one hope for humanity.

  4. @RichGuy51

    In my country we also see this tendency of the newest generation being more careful, open-minded and compassionate. It could be that their parents grew up in a society moving towards more tolerance, and that this has had an effect of the upbringing.

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  6. @ I'm not a mr or ms Mirror

    Communication is so much easier if you avoid slurs and the terminology of transphobes.

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