Last month, when Caitlyn Jenner introduced herself to the world – via a sneak peek of her July Vanity Fair cover – the issue of transgender identity was propelled into the global spotlight. Most people find the rapid shift in social norms we are currently witnessing, unnerving: from the growing global acceptance (except in Africa) of same sex marriage, to the legalisation of recreational weed. So for those who prefer an uninterrupted status quo, the very public transition from Bruce Jenner to Caitlyn Jenner is perhaps doubly disconcerting.
But the winds of change have been brewing for some time now and Caitlyn Jenner’s introduction to the world is merely the tipping point, and convergence, of a movement that has been building momentum for years.
A month before Caitlyn’s Vanity Fair cover went viral, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) already announced that they will be adding the gender neutral honorific ‘Mx’ (pronounced ‘mix’), to be included alongside Mr, Mrs, Ms or Miss, to represent transgender people and those who do not wish to identify their gender.
While this may seem serendipitous, the OED assistant editor Jonathan Dent said in their announcement that the first recorded use of Mx appeared back in 1977, in an issue of “Single Parent,” an American magazine. Dent explained that, “The early proponents of the term seem to have had gender politics as their central concern and saw the title as one which could sidestep the perceived sexism of the traditional Mr., Mrs., and Miss.’”
This addition to the OED might formalise the use of Mx but in the U.K. banks and some government agencies are already offering their customers the gender-neutral “Mx” option. These include the Royal Bank of Scotland, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Royal Mail Group and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency.
Transgender “personalities” have also steadily been seeping into popular culture in the last few years. Last year Laverne Cox became the first transgender actor to be nominated for an Emmy Award for her role in the hit series, Orange is the New Black.
In politics transgender issues have been brought to the fore with Bradley Manning, the soldier convicted of leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks in 2013, and now serving a 35-year prison sentence. After being sentenced, Manning announced that she is transgender and would prefer to be referred to as Chelsea Manning. In February this year, in a groundbreaking decision, the US Army approved hormone therapy for Manning’s transition to a woman, after Manning sued the federal government for access to the treatment. The army’s own doctors diagnosed Manning with gender dysphoria: the condition of feeling one’s emotional and psychological identity as male or female to be opposite to one’s biological sex.
In an internal memo at the Fort Leavenworth Disciplinary Barracks, a top official wrote, “After carefully considering the recommendation that (hormone treatment) is medically appropriate and necessary, and weighing all associated safety and security risks presented, I approve adding (hormone treatment) to Inmate Manning’s treatment plan“. This decision came after Manning’s lawyers pointed out that even The American Psychological Association had changed their definition of gender dysphoria and no longer considered it a “disorder”. The National Center for Transgender Equality added that Manning has therefore been diagnosed with a medical condition reasoning that: “If she has a heart attack, they have to treat that, too. This is no different.”
This radical shift in thinking will validate the existence of a unique summer camp in America that caters specifically for “gender fluid” children. Camp “You Are You” was created to provide forward thinking parents, who don’t have gender conforming children, with a safe and free environment where their children could express themselves without social prejudice.
In Sweden, the concept of gender-neutrality has been advocated for some time. The pre-school Nicolaigarden is run like the “You Are You” camp, except that their gender-neutral policy is core to the school’s ethos. They use genderless dolls to encourage and teach emotion and self-expression, and their library stocks an equal balance of books with male and female protagonists. As a country, Sweden is the global leader in terms of political correctness when it comes to eradicating gender discrimination. The Swedes even have a gender-neutral pronoun “hen” as opposed to the “han” (he) and “hon” (she).
Some might say that South Africa lags behind in this type of thinking, but last year The University of Cape Town provided gender-neutral toilets on campus to serve transgender students or students who don’t want to define their sex or gender.
These facilities are marked with a gender-neutral symbol, and a sign explaining that “these toilets are for everyone, regardless of gender, identity or expression.”
Baby steps, but steps in the right direction.
While discussing her transition, Caitlyn Jenner observed that, “the transgender issue right now is kind of where the gay issue was 30, 40 years ago“, and Mx Jenner will no doubt be the one to fast track the acceptance of gender neutrality.
By: Dion Chang
Image credit: en.wikipedia.org