Transformational Identity

Credits: Photo - Anonymous, Styling - Sarah G. Schmidt, Location - Queen Elizabeth Elementary School, Calgary


The announcement and public reveal of Caitlyn Jenner caused quite the stir. The ripple effects of her big Vanity Fair pinup cover cannonball extended past the pop culture world into mainstream grocery store stands and talk show television. She looked and was styled beautiful because she simply is.

I believe this marked a turning point in history, as more of the commentary was supportive of Jenner’s transformation, applauding her courage. Not all of the commentary was this kind, as Jon Stewart pointed out on The Daily Show. Like many women presented in the media, the conversation quickly shifted from transformation to the criticism of her beauty. I would like to tear the media a new one – but that’s too easy. What is of more interest to me here was the idea of identity: how gender plays a tremendous role.

Before I really get going here, a fair warning: I know very little about transpeople’s experiences. But, the aspect of this that I seem to align with the most so far is the need to be the person one was meant to be. Dress the way they intend. Be the person they intend. It’s not for you or I to tell another who they are supposed to be, rather, it’s for the individual to work through. I support that desire, that right, and I encourage others to get on board.

There appears to be a larger movement building beyond Jenner. For instance, Laverne Cox and her character on Orange is the New Black. She portrays the struggles and, ultimately, the price her character has paid to become the person she was and wanted to be. I am beyond excited to see what else we get to learn about Sophie and the other characters as Season 3 will become available this coming weekend. The stars of the show are on Essence and Rolling Stone simultaneously for the lead up of the release date. These covers celebrate diversity in women and one of the show’s major themes, both in jail and before they convicts, is identity. Episode by episode, we identify with parts of these characters or moments of their experience. We can, at times, identify with them.

All of this to say: self-identity is a huge societal topic now. Look no further for the size of “Self Help” section in Chapters Indigo or the countless titles online. How one sees themselves, and how one can grow and improve, is front and centre. It’s big business because it matters. And it’s always changing.

Supporting one in how they positively identify is basic human decency. What isn’t so decent is how many people will say they are on board with this concept, but do nothing to change our structures and norms. I am troubled by the number of “his or her’s” binary choices out there. I will ask you start to take notice of how many pieces of paperwork (think: applications, questionnaires, surveys) include a binary gender option. Here’s what I can rattle off the top of mind: booking a flight, going to the washroom in most workplaces, Alberta drivers license, my mobile phone contract, and many surveys I have been asked to take online. Whoa.

From a data mining and consumer behaviour perspective, gender is typically monitored because it is aligned with purchases. I would be curious to challenge what role that still plays in 2015. I digress. Back to it: what does the airline have to know about my gender? No, really, I’m asking what is the purpose? And why isn’t there a third (fourth or fifth) option for those who don’t self identify as either male of female? We have all of these pronouns at our disposal in the English language, why not use them? Some may challenge, “Sarah, if we allow all these options, when will it stop?” To that I would reply, “When we’ve included more people in the way they wish to be included.” That will likely amount to more paperwork which, at the very least, may open more eyes to the topic by their increased workload. How terrible it is to accommodate people, hey? (please hear the dripping sarcasm)

I don’t have much of a point other than a suggestion to be more aware of the language we use every day. Let’s not thrust gender upon people, rather, let’s get to know people one by one, listen to who they are, and give that back to them. You know, listen and be respectful. Be human.