The Gender Unicorn

October is a month full of significant days in the LGBTQIAP community.  With National Coming Out Day on October 11, National Pronoun Day on October 17, and Intersex Awareness Day on October 26, we are thinking a lot this month about identity and self-expression. 

One of the most popular illustrations for how sex, sexuality, and gender cooperate as separate parts of each of us is the Gender Unicorn, by Landyn Pan and Anna Moore, published by Trans Student Educational Resources.  Each of us has our own gender identity, expression, sex assigned at birth, and romantic and sexual attractions.  As we learn to celebrate the many variations of diverse and beautiful people in the world, we can understand the differences in all these parts of identity.

Read on for some frequently asked questions about these topics:

Why do people need to come out?

To understand the need for coming out, we have to understand how LGBTQIAP identities became othered in the first place.  Traditional concepts of relationships were heteronormative, working from heterosexual relationships as “normal.” Similarly, traditional concepts of gender were strictly cisnormative, meaning people were expected to align to gender roles that were associated with their sex assigned at birth.  When we begin to understand that sex assigned at birth has little to do with gender identity, we can begin to understand that gender roles aligned with sex are predominantly cultural.

We know now, however, that these are not only not true for everyone, but the more accepted LGBTQIAP individuals are, the more comfortable everyone is considering their gender and sexuality.  You might think that makes coming out easy, but many people find it to be very difficult.  When someone comes out to you, the most important thing to do is listen and accept them.  Be cautious about your curiosities, as not everyone is ready to answer all questions.  Do not ask them to prove their gender or sexuality, and do not use their gender expression as an argument against either.  And lastly, just because coming out is more common does not mean LGBTQIAP people are.  It just means people are comfortable talking about it.

How do I use they/them pronouns?

Every person gets to decide how they’d like others to refer to them, based on personal identity.  You might meet someone with “they/them” pronouns, and some people find that tricky at first, because it sounds like multiple people.  But an easy way to understand is to consider that anytime you are speaking about someone you haven’t seen, you probably use “they/them.”  For example, you might say, “I don’t know who dropped their keys, but they are going to have a hard time driving home.”  The next step is just to make sure you understand that just because you’ve seen someone’s gender expression doesn’t mean you know their gender identity or pronouns.  After that, it just takes practice!  You’ll find that they/them aren’t the only non-binary pronouns.  Check more out at https://uwm.edu/lgbtrc/support/gender-pronouns/.

Why do cisgender people put their pronouns on their social media and email?

It is a courtesy to ask anyone’s pronouns if you don’t already know them.  When cisgender people share their pronouns, they are not only helping you out by answering this question for you, but also normalizing the practice of sharing pronouns and the idea that what you see in a person’s gender expression does not dictate their identity.

How do I support someone who is intersex?

Did you know that intersex traits occur in 1.7% of people, or 1 in every 2000 individuals?  According to GLAAD, that’s about as common as red hair.   People who have intersex traits and variations in sexual development face social, medical, and personal stigmas that many people do not yet understand, and may undergo surgeries at birth or a young age before they are old enough to consent.  Often, other members of the LGBTQIAP community don’t fully understand the meaning of the term “intersex” or the needs of intersex individuals.  Visit www.interactadvocates.org and www.glaad.org to educate yourself and learn how you can become and advocate!