Photo credit: Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Here’s What I Think: A Non-Binary Gen-Z Queer Kid’s Opinion

April 05, 2022

By Danika Young

Gender? Pfft. Here we go again with that complicated stuff! This generation is crazy. Why does any of this matter anyways? They/Them is confusing. We should just stick to he/she.

This is the commentary I often hear during discussions about gender and sexuality. That gender is only masculine/feminine or male/female. However, this type of thinking harms those who sit outside of culturally designated male/female roles (Richards et al., 2016). It invalidates people like me and Gen-Z kids who have never agreed with the strict gender binary of maleness and femaleness.

In recent conversation with other Gen-Z kids, it is apparent that we dislike the way society dictates what is or isn’t acceptable about our bodies, especially those of us who feel we don’t belong (Rumens et al., 2018). To explain my take on this, I will use the words queerness and queer. I have borrowed these terms from Queer Theory, a theoretical framework that challenges normative and hegemonic assumptions about gender and sexual identities.

Queer theory has a complex history, it has become a feature of feminist scholarship, and it is also familiar to many outside the academic world. Even so, I feel that it is arguably the younger generation, better known as the radical Gen-Z kids, who truly understand the value and importance of queered genders. For example, when researchers visited a Vancouver school in 2015, it was a student who drew attention to the fact that school-wide studies often do not account for those who do not identify as male or female (Frohard-Dourlent et al., 2016).

You can find evidence of this Gen-Z awareness on social media. For example, on TikTok, there are many male students dressing up in girls’ clothing to show that dress codes are unfair and often penalize girls for their bodies. User Drew Jarding (@drooscroo) is one. Jarding uses their platform to dismantle the gender norms in place through wearing crop tops or unbuttoned shirts to school (see here and here for video examples). Through these acts of activism, students, and others like Drew, address the system of inequality for girls and push at the gender binary by allowing individuals to feel accepted for wearing alternative clothing items.

I admire Drew and their activism on TikTok because their content allows me to feel seen, heard, and validated, especially since I had no reassurance about my gender growing up. I attended a private school where we had to wear uniforms, and everyone had to look the same. I often found it to be exclusionary towards those of us who did not take on the male/female role. I hated wearing skirts and long socks. I hated having to wear tighter clothes, especially in gym class. I remember feeling the most intense body dysphoria when the girls’ shorts were changed into mandatory tight, butt-hugging shorts, yet the boys were still able to wear long and loose basketball shorts. I consistently felt like an outsider because I could never see how anyone dressed outside of school, and I wanted so desperately to find friends who understood how I felt as I navigated the gender dichotomy.

My sister, who is six years younger than me, now attends that same high school. One day she came home complaining about some boys who were over-protective of their masculine egos. Some of the boys in her grade had teamed up with the girls and swapped uniforms (guys wore skirts, girls wore pants) in protest of the strictness of the dress code to show it doesn’t matter who is wearing which uniform. Other boys thought the idea was stupid and argued that boys and girls should stay in their own designated uniforms. Being the feminist I am, I pushed further and asked my sister to think deeper about this topic. She felt the boys who complained about the uniform swap were insensitive towards other’s feelings, and so reliant on keeping this hyper-masculine persona that they were unwilling to view the world in a new way.

After our conversation, I began to think about people like my mom, a first-generation Canadian immigrant who struggles with understanding why the heck validating other genders is important. I would like to explain why it matters.

To begin with, it is important to understand sex and gender are two different things although they commonly get confused with one another. Your sex consists solely of your biological features (XY, XX chromosomes which assign you a male or female sex at birth) (Weiss, 2018; Frohard-Dourlent, et al., 2016). Gender, on the other hand, is the way you identify and the way you choose present yourself to the world. For example, I am half-Filipino and half-Caucasian and I look whiter than I do Asian. Although I look and present as white, it doesn’t mean that my Filipino identity is not valid, right? The same is true of gender. Just because someone looks a certain way or acts a certain way doesn’t mean you should assume they are male or female, because they might identify as something completely different.

The idea that gender is either only male or female perpetuates a rather narrowminded worldview. I now ask that you reflect on your own ideas of gender. As a man, are you willing to be the only person who works in your family? Are you okay with putting on this macho façade and persona every time you walk out the door? Does it sit well with you that you must constantly compare yourself to people like Tom Brady or Dwayne Johnson, when you know you’ll never really look like that? If you’re a woman, how does it make you feel that you are expected to stay home tending to children all day long? Are you okay with people seeing your body as a baby machine, or a sex object and nothing more? Does it not anger you that you must look white, be skinny, and have a bombshell body to be considered beautiful? And are you okay with others judging you harshly for not acting in nice or submissive ways?

What are your answers to these questions? I think about how my parents or grandparents would answer these questions. I know my answers to them.

I also recognize that many readers may have already comfortably embraced queer nonbinary identities, but I want to specifically address those of you are still stuck in the cisgender binary that conforms to historical ideals.

We’re all a little queer, even if we don’t want to admit it. Just in the way that LGBTQ2+ people, who represent about five percent of the entire Canadian population, which is similar to the demographic distribution in Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, and France (Statistics Canada, 2021; Richards et al., 2016), represent a spectrum of sexualities, we all span a spectrum of gender identities. Each of us has a part of ourselves that doesn’t fit society’s expectations of male or female (Rumens et al., 2018).

As open non-binary Gen-Z kids, we continue to fight to be heard, seen, and validated. We are your co-workers, mom, dad, sister, brother, child, the list goes on. But we’re not just fighting for ourselves. This generation, the Gen-Z kids, are part of the new upsurge in feminism that seeks a more equitable world for everybody. Queer people are on the forefront of the struggles for fundamental rights and freedoms many of us enjoy and likely always have been even when they were forced to do so from inside the prison of the gender binary.

We — proudly Gen-Z, proudly non-binary, proudly queer — are comfortable with pushing norms that have oppressed our families for generations, and collectively agree that society is truly unfair and unjust and that there needs to be a change. I ask that you embrace our views because there is no stopping us. We are the new tomorrow. We are the future parents to your grandchildren. Even though times are different, and these ideas may be difficult to grasp, remember that change is good.

Change is wanted.

Change is needed.

Change is inevitable.

Danika Young is a 5th year PSYC and GSWS double major student. She is interested in developmental psychology and how unrealistic gender norms affect the well-being of adolescents. In her free time, she enjoys doing anything arts and crafts related, spending time with her dog Milo, and is an avid foodie.

*Danika Young originally prepared this opinion piece for GSWS 398W: Feminist Currents, a course taught by Dr. Patterson during the Fall 2021 semester at SFU.