Xanthe, 15: ‘You can just have fun with gender’
What does it mean to be gender-fluid? Xanthe tells The Day that they do not feel like a boy or a girl. “I’m just me,” they say. More teenagers than ever are rejecting the old gender binaries…
Xanthe is 15 years old. They love “eating and sleeping mostly”, have a pet owl named Squiggle, and one day they hope to be a stylist to the stars — ideally a K-pop band. “I love K-pop. The music is so good, everyone’s so pretty, and it’s so different from western music… it’s a lot more stylish.”
They are also gender-fluid, meaning they do not think of themselves as a boy or a girl, but can switch between the two. Their gender is not fixed; it can change depending on the day. “Put very simply, I feel I can wear a suit comfortably, but also rock a pair of heels with it.”
Gender-fluidity is a non-binary gender identity. “Non-binary” is an umbrella term for genders that are neither male nor female. For Xanthe, it means “you can go to the two extremes. You can be incredibly manly, you can be incredibly womanly.”
Xanthe does not mind which pronouns people use to refer to them — “they”, “she” or “he” are all fine. Often, people assume they are a girl, as their body is biologically female. But with short hair, they can also be mistaken for a boy.
“I quite enjoy when people think I’m a boy because it’s different from what I usually get... it makes me feel kind of giddy.”
To Xanthe, “gender is a mental state and does not at all apply to your body type. It applies to your taste, it applies to the way you act.”
They say that “if there was a scale from one to 10, one being incredibly male and 10 being incredibly female, I’d say I’m about a six or seven. Because I do have a slightly more feminine side... But I will occasionally sit in a very masculine way or I will wear very masculine things.”
More and more teenagers are rejecting the gender binary (the idea that there are only two genders, male and female). Xanthe believes there are an “infinite” number of genders.
They say social media is helping more non-binary people to express their individuality. Often, however, “people assume you’re just making it up. But it doesn’t feel like something that I need to really explain… I’m okay with it really, because it’s their problem that they don’t understand.”
How important is gender to society?
“Reasonably,” Xanthe says. “I don’t think gender completely defines a person, because it is up to you how you define yourself.” Other things can be more important, “from the way you speak to the way you dress to… anything. It’s your life, it’s up to you what you do with it.” As for the rest of society, “I don’t think we should be worrying” about gender, “I think we should be presenting more of a spectrum. That’s very important. Because a lot of people do get a lot of hate” for being non-binary. “A lot of people get discrimination for it, I’m just lucky that I haven’t.”
- Where do you think you fit on Xanthe’s gender scale (one being masculine and 10 being feminine)?
- How many genders are there?
- Write down all of the characteristics and stereotypes that you can think of which are associated with non-binary people. Then discuss: Are they mostly positive or negative traits? If you know any non-binary people in real life, do you think they fit those stereotypes?
- Class debate: This house believes that everyone should use gender neutral pronouns like “they” or “xe”.
Some People Say...
“Gender is not sane. It’s not sane to call a rainbow black and white.”Kate Bornstein
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- Although most people are biologically male or female, a small minority (some say around 1.7%) are “intersex”, meaning they do not fit neatly into either category. This is not the same as your gender being non-binary, as your gender is how you feel inside. However, it does show that even biological distinctions between men and women are not simple. Some cultures, such as Mexican and Indian, have long had room for a third gender.
- What do we not know?
- How many people in the UK identify as non-binary. In the 2001 census, for example, 0.4% of people did not tick a box male or female. However, it is impossible to know the reasons behind those decisions, or how many would have ticked a third option. There are plans to introduce a broader question about gender in the 2021 census.
- Although Xanthe does not mind which pronouns are used to refer to them, The Day has decided to use “they”, as it is a common option for non-binary people. It also clearly demonstrates Xanthe’s rejection of the idea that people must choose between two genders.
- South Korean pop music.
- Your gender identity refers to the way that you feel inside, rather than your biological sex, which is usually determined by your genitals, hormones or chromosomes.
- “Binary” means something with two sides: black and white, male and female, gay and straight. However, binaries are rarely simple, and many have shades of grey in between. The term “non-binary”, when it comes to gender, is a rejection of the idea that there is only male and female. Instead, it encourages people to see gender as a spectrum.
- More and more
- Although there are not exact figures for the proportion of people who identify as non-binary. However, a poll by Fusion in 2015 found that around half of millennials believed that gender is a spectrum.