Tearing down gender constructs

By Jessica Brown, @BrownJessicaJ

Gender policing — the imposition of “normal” gender expressions on an individual who does not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth — has become an issue within the LGBTQ community as traditional gender roles continue to diminish.

Sam Dylan Finch, an LGBTQ — lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer — educator, spoke about what it means to be genderqueer on Thursday night in Lawson Hall. Genderqueer is a non-binary category for gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine.

“[Gender] is so deeply entrenched in culture,” Finch, a biological female, said. “From the time you’re an infant, you’re automatically assigned a gender role.”


His gender identity is often met with confusion, discomfort and in some cases, denial. Many refuse to acknowledge genderqueer as an option, dismissing it as uncertainty.

“As if you’re not allowed to be unsure,” Finch, of San Francisco, Calif., said. “As if you’re somehow invalid because you’ve identified as one way before and you identify another way now.”

His identity is not only questioned by cisgender people — those who identify with the gender they were assigned with at birth — but by those in the LGBTQ community. People do not always accept him as transmasculine because he is not taking hormones and is not sure if he wants to medically transition into becoming a biological male.

Finch said this attitude is a problem because it does not only set the individual back personally, but the LGBTQ community as a whole.

“The idea that we should limit people’s choices or tell them their gender isn’t something they can self-identify is counterproductive,” he said. “We’re trying to reclaim what we think of gender.”

A mission of gender redefinition is not one without adversity. Finch has encountered many uncomfortable situations because of reactions to his androgynous appearance.

Strangers will often stare at him openly, asking things like, “What are you really?” or “Do you think you’re a boy?”


The harassment is not strictly verbal. He has been spit on, physically threatened and was nearly intentionally ran over by a van full of men screaming homophobic slurs.

“People think they’re entitled to information about my body they would not ask a cisgender person,” he said. “There’s a big difference about asking my pronouns because you don’t know how to engage with me, and asking to provoke or intimidate me.”

Leslie Delgado, a sophomore from Elgin studying English literature, is in the process of redefining her pronoun. After coming out in May 2014, she said altering her pronoun to something more reflective of her identity will increase her self-comfort.

Delgado, a student worker at the LGBTQ Resource Center, said disclosing the pronoun an individual feels comfortable with when meeting others should be implemented in everyday exchanges to avoid misgendering.

Misgendering is not only a reality for people who are genderqueer. Yaya Heller, a junior from Chicago studying political science, experienced a mistaken gender identity when she was in the bathroom at Morris Library.

“A lady ran in and asked me, ‘Someone reported there was a guy in here, have you seen him?’” said Heller, a cisgender lesbian woman. “I was like, ‘Ma’am, I think they were talking about me.’”

Finch said it is important that victims are not afraid to correct people if they or others around them are being misgendered. He said this is a teaching moment.

“If we create this culture where gender policing is OK, what we’re saying is it’s OK to bully people who don’t conform to standard gender stereotypes,” he said. “Being complicit isn’t any better than being the aggressor.”

Jessica Brown can be reached at [email protected].