On the third Thursday of October every year comes a very special holiday for the LGBTQ+ community known as Spirit Day -- which spreads awareness of bullying against children who are not cisgender or hetero/allosexual. It is a time of positivity, but also of remembrance.
Started in 2010 by Canadian activist Brittany McMillan, it was founded in response to an epidemic of widely publicized bullying-related suicides in 2010, including that of Tyler Clementi, an LGBTQ+ student. Promoted by GLAAD, Spirit Day observers wear the color purple as a visible sign of support for LGBTQ+ youth and against bullying during National Bullying Prevention Month (NBPM), as well as to honor LGBTQ+ victims of suicide.
Bullying against LGBTQ+ children can take many forms -- from homophobia and transphobia to deadnaming and even outing. Every day, LGBTQ+ students have to hide themselves in a general society that doesn’t accept them -- or even understand them -- just yet. In today’s world, where the gender binary and hetero/allonormativity are engraved into our minds, people of all ages are conditioned to believe that the only valid identities are those of heterosexuality, cisgenderedness, and allosexuality (a level of sexual attraction that society deems ‘normal’). For everyone that does not fall into these categories, it is a rigid and oppressive existence that attempts to erase who we are as individuals -- and has, evidently, led to a pandemic of s*icide, s*lf-h*rm, dysph*ria, and internalized self-hatred across the world.
By virtue of the society we grew up in, we’ve been led to believe that straight, cisgender, allosexual/alloromantic people are the norm, and that the gender/sex binaries actually exist -- misconceptions which have led to hurtful jokes being made towards the LGBTQ+ community, such as the infamous “I identify as an attack helicopter” routine. Contrary to popular belief, these sort of jokes are extremely harmful to queer people, whose identities are reduced to a simple joke. As someone who is pansexual, meaning I am attracted to people of all genders, it can be demoralizing to hear that my sexuality is either a form of bisexuality (the attraction to two or more genders, but not necessarily all genders) or is invalid altogether.
The sex and gender binaries are concepts developed by European and Mediterranean societies over the centuries, leading to the old adage of the supposed two sexes and genders. However, before European colonizers invaded the Americas, civilizations such as the Indigenous Ojibwe and Algonquin peoples of North America recognized many different genders and identities separate from the two that Eurocentric societies aren’t inclined to invalidate. In 1990, at the third annual Native American/First Nations gay and lesbian conference in Winnipeg, Manitoba, this idea of non-binary identity was associated with Indigenous cultures through the name “two-spirit” or simply “spirit,” denoting identities such as androgynous (a combination of masculine and feminine characteristics), non-binary (either in between or separate from masculinity and femininity), or polygender identities, such as bigender, trigender, or even genderfluidity; the concept of a fluid and changing gender identity -- the category that I most closely identify with. Moreover, the idea of the sex binary was also coined during the heyday of European colonialism and imperialism as a means of defining masculinity and femininity from the perspective of their own local population as a way to justify demonizing facial features that differ ever so slightly between various peoples of color and peoples of European descent. In reality, sex is defined by a variety of characteristics, such as the sex chromosomes, hormone expression of many kinds, as well as internal and external reproductive organs. Sadly, though, anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda has now made the phrases “there are only two genders” and “I identify as such and such,” et al, very popular among transphobic folx. For those who have said these phrases, I implore you to make more of an effort to understand the effect that your words have on your fellow human beings.
Regardless of what transphobic dogma will teach, transgender individuals are the gender or genders they identify as -- rather than whatever people might misconstrue them as.Trans people will always be (and always have been) the gender(s) they identify as, regardless of how they look or how one defines a man, woman, or other gender. Sadly, though, Western society is not as accustomed as it could be to accommodating the wants and needs of the transgender community, as deadnaming (referring to someone by a name other than the name they have chosen to align with their gender identity), intentional misgendering, and other forms of harassment and bullying are still common in public environments.
Speaking from personal experience, it can be a strange and often disturbing experience to have people refer to you as simply “a man,” “masculine,” or something to that extent -- when in reality my gender identity is far more complicated than just the Western idea of maleness. I cannot speak for the experiences of others who go through this, but I can offer my support as a fellow LGBTQ+ student -- as well as the hope that my impact aligns with my intent.
Now, after having read my article, some of us might be inclined to embrace the LGBTQ+ community by going public with details about LGBTQ+ students’ identities because we think that it makes them safer -- I can tell you right now that this is one of the most dangerous things you can do to a closeted individual. Confidentiality is one of the only ways to get by in the world if you’re gay, transgender, non-binary, etc. Therefore, the act of “coming out” is a honored and important act that should not, under any circumstances or excuses, be violated -- for the utmost safety of the closeted individual(s). As someone who was outed earlier this year, far before I decided on my own accord to be more public with my queerness, I can safely say that the act of outing someone is a disgusting violation of someone’s trust and of their right to safety and security. If you know someone who is LGBTQ+ and are thinking of telling people, consider this a friendly piece of advice -- let them handle it on their own and at their own pace. Identity is deeply personal for most, and allowing for a closested person to come out is the best thing you can do to support them.
The LGBTQ+ community is a community marginalized and discriminated against, and our mental health matters. We’ve always been here, we’re proud to be queer, and we’re stronger than any form of hatred people can muster.