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JOURNEY TO WHOLENESS - May 2017 - Kansas City
What is Gender? Is it rigid or fluid?
By Jude LaClaire, Ph.D.
The dual nature of gender as either male or female has been a long-held concept. It has been the basis of social norms regarding behavior, dress, and in many cultures, a basis for inequality. There is a burgeoning movement today, predominately among young adults, embracing a non-binary gender approach to one’s identity as male or female exclusively.
According to the genderdiversity.org website, “Gender fluidity conveys a wider, more flexible range of gender expression, with interests and behaviors that may even change from day to day. Gender-fluid people do not feel confined by restrictive boundaries of stereotypical expectations of men and women.
Interestingly, the younger generations’ ideas about not wanting to be trapped in narrow boxes of gender expression are not an entirely new concept. Today, it is being presented in language that has more categories and more explanation in modern terminology and understanding. This may be confusing and overwhelming for many people whose brains appear to be wired in a binary gender pattern.
According to Wikipedia, "Androgyny among humans—physical, psychological, and cultural—is attested to from earliest history and across world cultures.” In Plato’s Symposium “There were three sexes: the male-male people who descended from the sun, the female-female people who descended from the earth and the male-female people who came from the moon. This last pairing represented the androgynous couple.”
In fashion history we began seeing gender roles blur as women began wearing trousers and sporting the ‘chic bob’ androgynous hairstyle. Elvis Presley is seen as the one who introduced androgyny to rock ‘n’ roll with his pretty face and use of eye makeup. Later, Mick Jagger, Jimi Hendrix, and David Bowie wore more “feminine clothing.”
Feminism of the 70’s and 80’s addressed the stifling nature of sex role stereotypes, especially for women. Many women were embracing their feminine selves more deeply while embracing masculine qualities in the world of work. Androgyny was seen as desirable for men and women.
Carl Jung’s idea of the anima (feminine) and animus (masculine) as aspects of a fully developed person have morphed over the years to explain the innate nature of the masculine and feminine in all humans. Jungian analyst Marion Woodman says, “The true feminine is the receptacle of love. The true masculine is the spirit that goes into the eternal unknown in search of meaning. The great container, the Self, is paradoxically both male and female and contains both…Without the true masculine spirit and the true feminine love, no inner life exists…To be free is to break the stone images and allow life and love to flow.”
It is my experience that embracing the masculine and feminine aspects of life in whatever ways one feels moved to do so is essential to our growth and development. The expression of this in gender identity, behaviors, or dress is individual and certainly can be fluid.
I encourage men to find the expression of their true selves in whatever way feels right to them. This is difficult as the expectations of the culture for men’s roles, behavior, and dress is very narrow and rigid. Women, though still working for social, financial, and political equality, have embraced more freedom in the expression of themselves, unrestricted by sex-role stereotypes.
However, in the past few decades, those of us who lived through the 60’s-80’s, have been somewhat dismayed by the return of the culture to those rigid stereotypes for gender identity and the expressions of them. So, I applaud the younger generation for embracing the broad aspects of gender fluidity, both in identity and sexuality. Do not forget there is a history supporting you in going forward.
The studies in neurobiology, genetics, and psychology are continuing to challenge the rigidity of the binary definition of gender identity and its expressions. History, science, and personal experience encourage us all to embrace the diversity of our human nature. It is rich, deep, and amazing!
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Jude LaClaire, Ph.D., LCPC, is a counselor, educator and author. For counseling appointments, seminars, training, speaking engagements or information on Neurobehavioral Programs or Imago Couple therapy call 913-322-5622. For more information about Jude LaClaire or the Kansas City Holistic Centre go to