Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Of Roles, Expressions, and Identities in Gender

“Gender is performative.”

“Gender is a social construct.”

Depending on the social circles you frequent, you may or may not have heard these phrases tossed around. And if you have, chances are you’ve probably heard them a lot. But what do they mean? How is one’s gender dependent on a performance? How is one’s gender constructed?

The answer lies in the fact that different circles use the word “gender” to mean different things.
Some use it to mean “gender roles”
Some use it to mean “gender expression”
Some use it to mean “gender identity”
Some use it to mean “genetic sex”
The last one is an outright fallacy, but that’s for another post.

Essentially, the “gender” as a word is used interchangeably to mean 3 different things (roles, expression, and identity) without distinction. Because of this, theories applied to one aspect – however correct they are – are also simultaneously applied to the other aspects by popular culture, which results in massive amounts of misinformation being spread around. Allow me to clear up the myths now as accessibly as I can.

Gender Roles

This is the one most applicable to the statement “Gender is a social construct.” Gender roles the ideals placed by society that all men are to provide for the entire family; while women are expected to be housewives and child bearers. It is gender roles that state that women have to take on the role of the carer and are lead by society into ‘caring’ occupations: homemaker, nursing, secretaries, hostesses/servers, flight attendants, child care workers, etc. These same gender roles state that men are natural leaders and therefore can do any occupation that does not require ‘a gentle touch’: builder, engineer, body guard, scientist, pilot, businessman, etc. Gender roles are the expected actions placed upon an individual by social norms in order to naturalize the gender binary construction of man/woman.

As is probably obvious, this societal standard is nothing but a farce. It’s a false ideal used as a tool to force people into certain pre-set molds which they were never meant to fit. It was constructed by people in power as a means for them to keep power (check out the Iceberg of oppression on how these systems are held in place).While gender roles are states of being; gender expression is how you manifest and perform masculine/feminine. 

Gender Expression

This is the one most applicable to the statement “Gender is performative.” Gender expression is the manifestation of your gender identity in physical forms (e.g.: the clothes, accessories, and make-up you wear; the patterns in your speech, the way you walk/act, etc. It’s performative because it comes from a person actively (or passively) expressing (a.k.a. performing) their gender in their chosen form. The characteristics of femininity include acting in a way that can seem small, dainty, submissive, emotional, irrational, quiet, etc. The characteristics of masculinity include acting in a way that can be perceived as aggressive, rugged, dominant, emotionless, rationalization, etc. All people have both characteristics of femininity and masculinity in their gender expression.

Gender expression is also a construct, as it is formed around an essential core (gender identity) and is designed to express the nature of said core. It also sometimes relies on societally defined labels to name their performance (ex: “Butch” which implies a societally defined “masculine” set of attire and mannerisms).

Gender Identity

This really applies to neither statement. Gender identity is one’s internal gender, as felt and known by that person, and that person alone. It is autonomous, in that it does not require any society or societal construction to exist (save perhaps in giving it a name, as language is in and of itself also a construct).

It is not derived, but felt.

For some this may seem like a foreign concept, often because the gender assigned to them at birth was fortuitously aligned with what they actually felt, and never had the need to actively discover it. There is nothing inherently wrong with this; but it does mean that these people (cisgender people) have an element of privilege over others (trans* people)


So what does this all mean? How does the confusion of gender roles, gender expression, and gender identity impact real life?

Mostly the effects are felt by trans* people as an attack upon or delegitimization of their gender. We are going to take a deeper look at how it effects and manifests in the lives of transwomen:
  •       The myth that clothes define gender (ex: transwomen are just drag queens)

o   Note: there are some drag performers who are trans*, but most are not. The two are not synonymous. Drag is a gender expression. Trans* is a gender identity.
  •         Fetishization
  •          The idolization of “sex” (also a social construct; essentially gendered chromosomes, body parts and hormone levels) as a supposed “biological truth.”
  •        Dehumanization
  •          The myth that crossdressing/presenting androgynously allows cisgender individuals to go through trans* experiences

o   Cis people may experience backlash from a community for doing this, but their internal gender identity shields prevents them from fully understanding trans* experiences. For example:
§  If someone were to call a cis-woman drag king a woman, they would be correct. Granted, said drag king may be offended that the stage persona was not respected, but it has nowhere near the same effect as a transman being called a woman. In the former, only a stage persona is violated; a costume put on occasionally for show. In the latter, the man’s very core (as far as gender identity goes) has been denied.
§  If a man or boy is beaten up for “looking girly” he will receive far more support from his community than a transwoman or transgirl.
  •        Only binary identities exist (re: gender roles and the non-acknowledgement of non-binary trans* people). Trans* people need to act in complete accordance with the gender binary (gender expression and roles of one of two genders), or they are being fake.

How They Work Together

The basic gist of it is that conflating gender identity, gender expression, and gender roles is problematic in and of itself and causes many problematic assumptions to take place in everyone’s lives.

An easy way to think about it is like this:
1 Phoneticization of “N.B.” which is short for (non-binary). A term used by the non-binary/genderqueer community as an alternative to girl/boy.

If you’ll notice, in each label there are two words. One is a noun, which is that person’s gender identity. It is innate, autonomous, and needs nothing else to define it. The other is an adjective, which is that person’s gender expression; their own way of crystallizing their gender in physical form. The adjective describes the noun, and therefore needs it to make grammatical sense, just as a gender expression needs a gender identity.
Gender roles would be the enforcement of any specific label as hegemonic. In essence, the relationship between gender identity and gender expression are one way. Identity defines the expression. Not the other way around. Gender roles have no effect on gender identity, and may or may not have an effect on gender expression.

Wow, that was a lot.

Anyhow, I hope I’ve cleared up (more than) a few things, and perhaps provoked some critical thought. If I’ve missed anything, or if you have questions, please feel free to comment or send me a message at

See you all at next week’s post!


Monday, 21 October 2013

Trans* Etiquette 101

Good day all!

Scarlett here, with a friendly guide for those of us who are unsure of the ethical boundaries
surrounding social interaction with Trans* people.

Things you need to know about a Trans* (or really ANY) person:

  1. The name they want you to use.
  2. The pronouns they want you to use.

Any other information is in almost all cases unnecessary for basic human interaction and should not
be requested. If they want to open up about their lives, they will do so of their own accord.
Examples of what you DO NOT need to know include:

  • Old or previous names.
  • Sexual history.
  • Progress, history, or goals for transitioning (They may not want to transition)
  • Sexual orientation.

Furthermore, it is important to remember that the way a question is phrased can make a huge

For example, when inquiring about desired pronoun usage, stay away from “Are you a boy, or
a girl?” For one thing, this person may not identify strictly as one or the other. They could identify as
both, neither, alternate between, a third gender, a fourth gender, or a fluid mix in between (see my
earlier post on “The Gender Identity Cube” for reference:

Secondly, even for those Trans* people who do identify in the binary, that question – as innocent as
your intent may be – has a legacy of being used to harass and abuse Trans* people. Historically, the
implications of that statement include:

  • That the recipient of the question does not “pass” as either binary gender
  • The idea that one’s gender identity is invalid
  • The idea that one’s gender identity is synonymous with genetic sex and cannot be changed
  • Etc.
Even if you don’t mean it that way, there’s a decent possibility that the phrase could be triggering,
and should be avoided. Instead, try asking “What pronouns do you prefer?” It’s a much more
validating question, as it intrinsically implies that you as the asker recognize their gender as is.

Another technique is to lead by example and offer your pronouns with your name at introduction
(i.e. “Hi, I’m Scarlett. I prefer ‘she’ and ‘her’.”) This technique can sometimes be a bit awkward in
one-on-one interactions, but can particularly useful in group introductions/functions. Think of it as
positive peer pressure; if everyone does it, a Trans* person is less likely feel singled out.

If this Trans* person happens to be someone you’ve known for a long time and has only recently
come out, drop their old name(s) and pronouns immediately. Do not use them ever – even when
talking about them in the past tense – unless you have been expressly authorized to.

If the answers to these questions happen to be something you’re not used to – for example: “Hi, I’m
Q.R.D, and I prefer Xe/Xyr” – don’t argue. Don’t ask for an alternative, either. It’s what they want, and
you should respect that.

NOTE: When asking for pronouns, don’t just ask people who “look” trans*; do it for everyone. This
may seem obvious as a concept, but in practise it is very easy to just assume that someone is
cisgender based off their gender expression and to not ask. The reality of the matter is that any
person – cis or trans* – can look like anything. Cis people can present really androgynously (case in
point: Andrej Pejic).

For trans* people it’s even more complex. Their presentation can depend on:

  • Choice of whether or not to transition
  • Being pre/mid/“post” transition
  • Being pre/post surgery, or not wanting surgeries at all
  • Their gender identity
  • Their gender expression
  • Physiology
  • Etc.

Only asking people who “appear” trans* for their pronouns is extremely cissexist*, and problematic.
To avoid this problem, make a point of asking everyone for their preferred pronouns.

On the flip side, if you are a cis person and are asked for your pronouns, do not be offended. In all
likelihood, it’s because they are aware of trans* issues (particularly of the above) and are trying to
create a welcoming space. Make sure though to only state the pronouns that apply to you. On
occasion, cis persons that have been asked for their pronouns have stated that they are fine with any
pronouns being used for them. While this may seem progressive to some, in reality it serves only to
invalidate the experiences and emotions of all trans* people by painting gender identity and proper
pronouns as frivolous; whereas for many trans* people, validation of one’s gender is something that
must be fought for tooth and nail.

How to educate yourself about Trans* experience and issues:

  1. Avoid pestering your Trans* friends with loads and loads of questions. In all likelihood, they probably just want to be treated like any other human being, and not have every interaction be an interrogation.
  2. Do research online. Search for sources written by and/or approved by Trans* people.
  3. Read the news. Especially news by trans* people
  4. Find a queer/Trans* resource centre near you and ask if you can look at their resources in order to educate yourself. The Rainbow Centre and the Centre for Women and Trans* People at Laurier are open to all students and members of the community, but be aware that some such centres are considered “separate spaces” where only people who fall into the appropriate category are allowed in. This is a measure put in place to help ensure that the people who need the centre most feel free to come in, and that they feel safe from any non-identified persons that have harassed them in the past. Do not take this as an attack on yourself, but remember rather that many queer people, and Trans*people specifically have had severe negative experiences in their lives, and sometimes even the presence of a certain type of person, particularly in a space where they aren’t supposed to be, can be triggering. If it turns out that the centre you visit is a separate space, apologize for intruding and try to find somewhere else. If that centre is the only one accessible, see if there is a way for you to speak to one of the staff members – without entering the space – about accessing resources in an alternate fashion.
  5. If you must ask your Trans* friends for this information, first ask if they know of any resources you may have missed. This question is far less likely to pry into experiences they may not want to disclose, makes your intent clear, deflects the responsibility off them, and is only one question, rather than fifty.
  6. If after all that, you still don’t have an answer, re-evaluate and make absolutely sure that this information is vital to you before asking your Trans* friends directly. As I said before, the only things you need to know for basic human interaction are name and pronouns. Genuinely wanting to understand the Trans*experience (which is in itself a misnomer, as no two people’s experiences are ever identical) is admirable, but ultimately impossible in its entirety. It’s okay to not get everything, so long as you don’t mistake your incomprehension for invalidity. If you really think you need to know, then at this point I can’t help you, as every person’s experience is different. Just make sure your intent made clear, your questions phrased properly, and that your friend(s) have granted you permission to ask about their experiences.

How to refer to Trans* people when talking to a third party:

  1. Don’t give out any information that you have not been expressly authorized to give. Trans* people can often have complicated histories, and may not be “out” to everyone, even the people one might assume they’d be closest to. Don’t assume that anyone else knows the proper gender and pronouns, unless you’ve been told outright. Don’t assume that – even if they do know gender and pronouns – that they know about specific previous experiences. It is not your place to tell people these things without permission, regardless of how good your intentions might be.
  2. If such conditions apply, your Trans* friend will probably tell you about them early on. If they do, follow them to the letter, and no more. If they don’t, assume that no one knows until shown otherwise, referably by your Trans* friend. This is, perhaps, the 3rd appropriate question to ask a Trans* person, but should still be done with caution. Asking about every person you are allowed to speak to is tiresome and annoying. Again, keep it as brief, infrequent, and non invasive as you can.

What to do if you accidentally misgender a Trans* person:

  1. Apologize immediately, once. Apologizing over and over again draws attention to the issue, and will make people remember it.
  2.  Assure the misgendered person that it will never happen again.
  3. Make sure it doesn't happen again.

What not to do if you accidentally misgender a Trans* person:

  1. Mention how hard it is to get their name and/or pronouns right.
  2. Mention how much of an ally you are, particularly if it’s in reference to another Trans* friend of yours.
  3. Criticize the Trans* person for having an awkward or unusual name/pronoun set.
Pronouns: Do it Right. by mjthinkpink

And that’s all I’ve got to say. I hope I’ve cleared up a few things, and perhaps provoked some
critical thought. If I’ve missed anything, or if you have questions, please feel free to
comment or send us a message at
See you all at next week’s post!


*Cissexism: the belief and treatment of Trans* people as inferior to cis people and/or the belief that
everyone is cis gender

*Please look at our list of terms if there were any words used in this article that you are unsure of*

Monday, 9 September 2013


Hello Everyone!

The WLU Rainbow Review is back in action again! We will be posting all school year long (from Sept - April). As of now the WLU Rainbow Centre is looking for Volunteers and Members to join our team for this school year:

Member: An individual who is interested in being a part of the Rainbow Centre's diverse community and is given all updates of the Rainbow Centre, is knowledgeable of the Rainbow Centre's services and policies, has an opportunity to be involved in all campaigns or working groups, and is invited to all RC socials! Members must attend a short info session.

Volunteer: An individual who is a part of the Rainbow Centre by helping open, close and/or manage the space with two office hours a week, helps sign-out resources, attend bi-weekly meetings, engage in advocacy and support of LGBTQ issues on campus, has an opportunity to be involved in all campaigns or working groups, and is invited to all RC socials! Volunteers must attend volunteer training and the info session.

So if you live in the Waterloo/Kitchener region please think about coming out and supporting us. Our open house is on Wednesday, September 11, 2013 and we would love to meet all of you! You can also drop by the WLU Rainbow Centre from Monday to Thursday 10am - 4pm and a coordinator will be there to tell you about the Centre. We are located in Waterloo on Wilfrid Laurier University Campus in Macdonald House. We will be posting new blog updates throughout the year with articles by new and old contributors!

Thank you for your interest in the WLU Rainbow Review and the WLU Rainbow Centre!

-The Linguist

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Summer Hiatus

Hello viewers!

I'm afraid I must be the bearer of bad news tonight. As it is getting into exam season for all of us, the WLU Rainbow Review will have to go on hiatus for a while. As of April 5th, the Rainbow Centre will be closed,  the volunteers' responsibilities end, the Coordinator Team will be busy handing the reins over to their successors, and there just isn't time for the few of us that remain to actively contribute to the blog. Depending on the wishes of next year's coordinator for the blog, the blog may still update on an irregular basis, but at this point, I'm afraid no promises can be made.

Thank you all for your support!

Hope to see you again in the fall!


Thursday, 14 March 2013

Shameless Plug for the WLU Rainbow Centre

Hey all!

This week, I want to tell you about the WLU Rainbow Centre's upcoming campaign:

The Oath of Silence 2013 - March 18 - 22

This week-long campaign is the last in our annual series, and is the only protest among them. It is derived from GLSEN's International Day of Silence (, a student-lead silent protest founded in 1996 to fight against LGBTTIQQ2SA+ discrimination and oppression. However, as the International Day of Silence occurs in the middle of exam period, we at the WLU Rainbow Centre have chosen to hold it a month earlier, when people can attend.

As you might expect, the entire week centres around the Day of Silence, which occurs on the Wednesday. On that day, participants tie a white bandana or piece of cloth around their mouths and refuse to speak for the remainder of the day. The hope is that this adopted silence - made visible by the bandana - and the resulting difficulty in communication will make people stop and think about the silenced masses; if the inability to communicate for one day is so hard, how must it be for those who are not allowed to speak at all? To assist and further this learning process, we are also hosting a workshop on social injustice, an open discussion on our experiences during the campaign, and a debrief at the end to help us all move forward as a community.

I understand that not all of our viewers - or even a majority of our viewers for that matter - live in the Kitchener-Waterloo Area, and that travelling from halfway around the world can be a bit of a problem. Of course I'm not asking you to come all the way over to our campus. What I would like to humbly request is that you share both this event and the International Day of Silence with your friends and colleagues. Signal boost this. Find and like our page on Facebook. Share it on Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, Buzzfeed... wherever. Or, better yet, participate in your hometown. Refuse to speak for a day, and offer your community a glimpse into the barriers surrounding those who are silenced. Show your support for the silenced masses. Just remember; our goal is not to fight or break or burn, but to open people's eyes.

Thank you for reading.

If you have questions, please feel free to leave a comment or send us an email.

See you all next week.

~ Scarlett ~

P.S. For any of you out there that use social media involving profile pictures, if you want to go the extra mile in showing your support, you can change your profile pic to the one provided below until the end of the campaign. Cheers!



  1. Workshop: "Social (In)justice: Developing (Dis)Idendification"- March 19, 2013 - 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm - Room P1017
  2. Day of Silence - March 20, 2013 - All Day - Everywhere
  3. Discussion - March 21, 2013 - 7:00 pm - MacHouse Lounge
  4. Debrief - March 22, 2013 - 12:00 pm to 3:00 pm - Rainbow Centre

Workshop: "Social (In)justice: Developing (Dis)Idendification"- March 19, 2013 - Room P1017

Have you heard of terms like oppression, sexism, racism, classism, looksism, or cissexism? Have you heard of transphobia, discrimination, homophobia or ethnophobia? What is identity and what does it mean to identify with your body? Have you ever wondered what space your body takes up and what you can do with it? What does it mean to identify with, against, or between dominant social norms?

We hope to make ground work on conceptualizing individual space and what contributions make to the wider society using disidentification theory.

Join us for an interactive workshop for folks of all experience levels to indulge in rich discussion and brainstorm ideas on understanding systems of oppression, constructing notions of solidarity, and focusing our spaces of identity to challenge dominant privileges in society.

About the facilitator:

Ethan is a white, queer settler who resides on Grand River Territory of the First Nations. He is community organizer and activist who works in areas regarding reproductive justice, women's rights, transgender rights and environmental justice.

Day of Silence - March 20, 2013 - All Day - Everywhere

The main event of our week. On this day, those who participate will remain silent all day, in order to bring awareness towards those who are denied their own voice. Those taking part will be wearing white bandanas symbolically over their mouths, while those who are unable to remain silent for the day but still support the cause can wear it around their arms. There will be a booth in the concourse on Wednesday, March 20th from 10 - 2 pm with supplies for anyone who wishes to take part, including the bandanas, and pre-made business cards to explain the protest to professors and TA's.

Please join us on this day, so that the silent masses might have a voice of their own.

Discussion - March 21, 2013 - 7:00 pm - MacHouse Lounge

A discussion open to all individuals who partook in, or were educated by the Day of Silence. It is our hope that through dialogue and discourse we might further the understanding of our community and foster a more open welcoming environment.

Debrief - March 22, 2013 - 12:00 pm to 3:00 pm - Rainbow Centre

Over the course of this campaign there will be a lot of heavy material being covered, as well as some eye opening experiences. Here we will recount everything we've learned and discuss how we can all move on from there. Please join us for this debrief on Friday, March 22nd from 12-3 pm in the Rainbow Centre. There will be free food.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Canadian Blood Donation Ban

Alright everyone. Short post this week.

There has been a proposed change to the ban on MSM (men who sleep with men) blood donation in Canada. These changes would alter the ban from a lifetime after sexual contact to 5-10 years after sexual contact. 

Although these changes would be a positive step, they do nothing to reduce the stigma of male-on-male sexual contact, reaffirming the view of it as ‘unclean’ and dangerous. 
The reasoning behind the ban is that, of the five methods of transmission, rates of HIV transfer and infection is highest through exposure to anal fluids (which is true), and that MSM's can only have anal sex (not true). This 'logic' ignores among other things: the use of condoms, straight couples that have anal sex, WSW couples that engage in anal activities (e.g. rimming, sharing of sex toys without sanitization), and male identified trans* people who have vaginas and are comfortable having vaginal sex. 

Any ban on MSM blood donation is especially pointless as Canadian Blood Services already screens all donated blood for HIV and other blood-borne diseases. Also, HIV is currently incurable in adults, and once contracted will never disappear, especially not after a 5-10 year wait. As there is no legitimate reason for this ban, it is clearly a discriminatory action. It would even make more sense to ban donations from anyone who has had anal sex, or anyone who has had unprotected sex of any kind. Ultimately though, any ban serves only to further marginalize and oppress, through the association of a specific demographic with a specific behaviour, and the implication that said behaviour is dirty and wrong.

These changes are under review from Health Canada and are expected to be confirmed or rejected by early April.

Comments? Opinions?

Have a great week!

- James -