Beyond the Narrow Expectations of Gender

The people in these portraits by Linda Bournane Engelberth move along, and beyond, gender identifications.

Comments: 34

  1. In nature just about everything is binary and meant to be binary. People have the right to choose to be whatever they want to be but the reality is that those who choose to be neither exclusively male or exclusively female are outliers. Outliers should not be surprised when non-outliers feel uncomfortable around them. The more non-outliers are exposed to outliers the more comfortable they will be with those who choose not to adopt a specific gender.

  2. @Jay Orchard I don't know, nature is way more complex when you look beyond just the surface. It's like Newtonian physics and Quantum physics: we are used to "seeing" things at the Newtonian level and mostly operate within that just fine, but it doesn't make the Quantum level any less present or real. As we come to understand things more deeply, I think we will start to perceive fewer outliers as "outliers."

  3. @Jay Orchard On the contrary my friend! Nature (and I'm assuming you are using that word to mean that which is not human or made by humans) is a million times weirder than you might expect. Same-sex courtship sexual behavior has been documented in more than 450 species, ranging from dolphins to bonobos to swans. (Blowhole sex anyone?? It's a thing). And many, many species are hermaphroditic or switch sexes during their lifetime. "Third genders" are noted and have a role in human cultures going back to the earliest recorded history in Mesopotamia. So I don't have a clue what science you could possibly be basing your assertion that "in nature just about everything is binary." Spend 5 minutes on Wikipedia and educate yourself, because your view is based on complete ignorance. From one non-outlier to another, being uncomfortable around non-binary folks is a choice that has a lot more to do with you than with them.

  4. @Jay Orchard - While it is easy to presume such a thing, nature is by no means binary. Nature is multi-various is almost every area of description, and that includes many animals who practice sex for both reproduction and desire in other-than-binary fashion. And although I can accept the "outliers" statistical label, you have no basis for: "Outliers should not be surprised when non-outliers feel uncomfortable around them." That is amateur psychology describing a social culture prejudice as natural. If you need an example consider that in a tight radical gay community a vary ucool straight person is discomforting ie the outliers now practice the prejudice - it is social.

  5. Doesn't being non-binary apply to people of all ages? All except one profiled is in their 20s, and no one is above their 40s. Whether intentional or not, the message here is that gender fluidity belongs to the young.

  6. @Jocelyn Good point. Maybe it's because the young are newish to sexuality and preoccupied with it? Maybe as you get older you tend to see yourself as a lot more than gender and sexuality, and hopefully you become more at ease with whoever you are, in whatever way, and less sensitive to whether or not others see in you what you see in yourself.

  7. Perhaps because of the self obsession of youth and the need to label oneself to "fit in" (even if they think that label makes them special).

  8. Used to be all grown ups were beyond gender identification. You heard of Morrissey? Now the movemeny that changed that is moving beyond? Fat chance.

  9. Beautiful people... thank you

  10. The individuals storied here are welcome to visit my house anytime. We have much to learn. And the photography is excellent.

  11. @Bill F. ❤️

  12. Beyond the Narrow Expectations of Gender - are the expectation of gender so narrow? it strikes me that gender has broadened and diffused over the last two decades into a spectrum of characteristics no longer defined by biology nor limited by social expectations.

  13. However you identify, just be your best self to others, too. Everyone is always learning, growing, changing, and everyone is fighting a battle; it might not be about gender identity, or something performative. Let's all be kind with one another.

  14. Perhaps we are evolving out of a rigid binary world to more degrees of freedom. Why should we have boundaries at all if it gives happiness to people and hurts none. I am tired of people deciding standards for what it is to be a woman or a man or how we each need to live. Be free, it's time.

  15. Well, you confused me in attempting to do otherwise. I am a gay man, and consider myself reasonably intelligent and very tolerant since I’ve experienced some intolerance. Terms and definitions and more terms and definitions (who prescribed these, anyway?) are getting crazy. So, can we just take a breath here with the ever-expanding ascribed terms and definitions? I am not defined by my sexuality nor have I ever been. I am who I am— like me or leave me. Fine. But even my 24-year old queer nephew, said to me “I’ve got no idea anymore,” when I asked what one term meant. “But they all want a name.” Let’s go with that.

  16. re: binary & outliers & whatnot Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity by Bruce Bagemihl "a survey of homosexuality, transgender, and nonreproductive heterosexuality in animals"

  17. Beautiful portraits & perhaps even more beautiful stories. Thank you for publishing this piece!

  18. I found this article to be very informative and educational.

  19. All this angst over gender fluidity is such a waste of everyone's time. When is society finally going to get to the point where no one has to explain whether they are non-binary or binary? Why does anyone give a rat's derriere if someone wants to dress like a boy or a girl or somewhere in-between? You want to transition? Then go for it. Why is another person's sexuality or gender any business of mine? Are we a free country or not?

  20. Hate to break this news to you, but there are only female and male human beings. Scientifically speaking, that is. I don’t care which one you think you are but you are biologically one or the other. Sorry, but there’s only a binary system for humans.

  21. @Average American scientifically speaking, no, regardless of whether you're talking gender or sex (however you separate them), or biological or social factors (which don't neatly correlate with sex and gender respectively). Regarding biology, see e.g. Blackless et al. 2000 ("How sexually dimorphic are we? Review and synthesis") or Vincent 2018 ("Transgender Health: A Practitioner's Guide to Binary and Non-binary Trans Patient Care"), or just Google "intersex" for a start. We aren't biologically binary/dimorphic at all. Regardless, I'd argue we're not much interested in biology here.

  22. @Average American You need only to look at the photos to see there is biology at work here; there are numerous biologic variations and conditions in humans that cause sexual ambiguity. Sex is assigned at birth solely based on the appearance of the genitalia, it is not scientific at all.

  23. @Average American - Scientifically speaking, this is incorrect, especially if you are attempting to argue your point on a biological basis. Biologically, one can be male, female, or intersex, because there are humans that are born with both forms of genitalia. Are there biological differences between the sexes? Yes! But they vary widely. We're only beginning to understand the level of variation between identifiable males and females. We've barely touched the tip of the iceberg regarding variation in intersex folks. I just wanted to point out that biologically, the system is non-binary. Which is fascinating, exciting, and somewhat frustrating for our culture. I won't continue into politics, but I'll end with this: Humans are incredibly complex, and there's tons of excellent literature on the genetic and physiological mechanisms behind gender development that I encourage you to explore - it truly is fascinating and remarkable! Here's a great intro to the genetic and biological mechanisms that result in one being born "intersex", or "hermaphroditic" (to use an older term) Pragmatic approach to intersex, including genital ambiguity, in the newborn. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28535943

  24. It makes me incredibly happy to see non-binary identities represented in a picturesque profile like this. It's affirming and heartwarming to see people around the world who identify the same way as me - and based on their testimonials, think quite similarly about their identities. It's fascinating to consider the implications that this will have for gender identity in the future. They're not wrong - times are changing, and people will hopefully be able to open their minds beyond the rigid structures of gender that have essentially always been around. That hope is a bit vague, but...it gives me hope to see people from all over expanding their minds in such a similar way. It really feels like we're hitting on something beyond a trend or a fad - it feels "real". In a world where we're constantly pushed upon with negative messaging about gender and identity non-conformity, it's extremely helpful to see this portrayal.

  25. @Quinn we are many ❤️ and yeah, it's so nice to see a major newspaper (via Linda's work) give us the platform to tell our own stories and provide our varied perspectives on our identities and lived realities of gender.

  26. I've watched teen boys exchange elaborate "gang" handshakes and I recall thinking, "Sure, that's one way to separate yourself, keep strangers at bay, and feel special." But the truth is eventually those boys would become men and those secret handshakes would have no meaning and the world would want to know "Can you do your job? Can you show up on time?" The idea that you "identified" as a gang member just won't matter. In terms of gender, If you're hires to make lattes or drive an Uber or chase diapers on aging Baby Boomers, no one is going to c are what your gender identity is. People will only care if you can do your job. Swear to god. If you have to announce every act and thought and decision with the preface "As a...." then you are leading a poor quality of life. IMHO.

  27. @Third.coast But here's the thing: if your employer happens not to like the fact that you're transgender (or gender queer, or non-binary, or even just gay), in most states they can fire you. Even if you are doing your job and showing up on time. And it happens pretty frequently. And sometimes these folks can't get their preferred gender listed on their driver's license. And sometimes their parents disown them. And sometimes they get harassed just for having the audacity to walk down the street. The vast majority of people in these categories would prefer that their gender identities not be a big deal (at least the folks I know). Until the world stops penalizing these people at every turn, declaring themselves as non-binary is a risky and brave act.

  28. This. Feel free to live life the way you’d like as whatever gender you’d like and take time to explain to your friends and family that you prefer a special pronoun. I respect you and you respect me and we’re fine. I don’t feel your preferred gender is any of my business. Quite honestly, I don’t care and I don’t need or want the explanation.

  29. Masculinity and femininity are options. Whether you are male or female is not up to you. However there are other options in this wonderful life and time. You can ask people to see you as who you feel you want to be and refer to you accordingly. But just because people call you “they” doesn’t mean you’re one of them.* And by “them” I don’t mean “them”; I mean THEM. *See Rachel Dolezal and Elizabeth Warren. You can pretend is what I’m saying.

  30. Incredibly happy with this article. Thank you for giving me and my community a voice! I’m so happy I got to be apart of this and share my story.

  31. Such a very great gift, these photos and the statements below. The specific gift is precisely being given permission to look closely, to absorb the humanity and complexity and beauty of these people without feeling like I'm being rude by sharing.

  32. @Karen: "staring" not "sharing"--can't see how to edit.

  33. Still confusing to me. It might be easier if the people in the article had started with what they feel defines being a man or woman and in what ways they felt restricted by that. Is it the social roles they feel are restricting? The gender-assigned clothing? What? And why try to manipulate how others see you? Why not be you, and just let everyone else see what they see? I personally have never felt that gender or sexual preference defines anything essential about me. I know that in some ways I am typically female -- but in many others I'm not -- and it's something I just never think about because it seems to me such a small part of the total me. And perhaps that's part of what I don't understand. I've known since early age that I'm a girl. But I'm a girl that has never worn a pair of heels in her life and never will. I like skirts, though, and wear them most of the time. I like earrings, but don't wear lipstick. I've had my hair done professionally twice in my life, and have never waxed a thing. I fall in love with men and am sexually attracted to them -- but choose not to have a life partner. Do I really need a name for all this, or a special pronoun? Do I need to convince others that they should acknowledge these things about me? I don't think so -- it's just me.

  34. “O I say these are not the parts and poems of the body only, but of the soul, O I say now these are the soul!” - Walt Whitman. “I sing the body electric”. What beautiful witnesses to our potential! Thank you.