A recent cover story in Time Magazine highlighted the emerging issues of how young adults, in particular, see their gender identity. Facebook now has about 60 options for users’ gender. A bill introduced in California would add a third gender option on identification documents like driver’s licenses and birth certificates: male, female or nonbinary. A survey commissioned by an LGBTQ advocacy organization found that 20% of millennials identify as something other than strictly straight and cisgender compared with 7% of boomers. The article included a number of interviews with millennials who relayed their stories about being gender fluid and not wanting to be labeled male or female.
Disclaimer: I understand that gender identity is an issue for both men and women but since this blog is about men’s issues I will only address the male perspective.
From my point of view there are two gender categories – male & female based solely on anatomy. The only exception would be for the very few individuals who are born with clear hermaphroditic abnormalities. If we take sexual orientation into account there are still two gender categories with the sub groups being straight, gay or bisexual. However, based on the data in the Time article a fair number of individuals are not comfortable with choosing either male or female as their gender even with the qualification of sexual orientation.
What I am trying to understand is why someone born with a penis and an intact Y chromosome has a problem calling himself a man? He can be straight, gay or bisexual and still be a man. If he wants to wear dresses and makeup but not willing to undergo sex change surgery he is still a man who likes to dress up as woman.
My take is that there is an aversion to the stereotypes of masculinity that is causing gender confusion among young adult men. Apparently, a number of men believe that because they do not enjoy sports, do not drool over tools, do not care to fish or hunt and often cry at the movies they are not really men and must seek an alternative to checking the male box on an information form. It is a problem because it just adds one more hurdle for a young man who is trying to come to understand who he is. Psychologists label this process as adult ideation which is a characteristic of adolescence. Gender identity forms an important part of identity as it dictates to a significant degree how one views oneself both as a person and in relation to other people, ideas and nature. The more identity labels young people are offered the more bewildering the process of understanding oneself becomes. Compounding the issue are the meanings, often exaggerations, that are attributed to each label. It is hard enough for the typical high school male to choose among the many common adolescent labels – jock, nerd, preppie, goth, hippie, etc. Adding what is my gender to the identity game just makes accepting oneself as an adult that much more difficult. The negative impact of not knowing oneself has done more harm for young men than women. In previous posts I have shared data that points to the fact that many young men are not achieving their potential as illustrated by the alarming number of males who drop out of high school, do not enter or complete college, commit crimes and less severely seem to drift through life with stunted ambitions.
Putting the male gender confusion issue in the context of defining masculinity it seems that if a man can shed the artificial attributes of masculinity and come to understand that masculinity is more than those attributes. A man would be more comfortable in calling himself a man and appreciate that the best of masculinity- a topic that is infused in many of my previous blog posts – has little to do with the stereotypes and can empower him to a more fulfilling life.