lifestyle

For Gen Z? Gender is fluid. Sexuality is fluid. People are people. Pure and simple.

Yesterday, I got schooled about gender by an androgynous-looking 17-year-old.

I was sitting at my usual table at the local cafe. I like the very back corner of the big communal table because it balances my competing needs for sociability and privacy when I’m writing. However my attempts to get any actual work done on that particular day were in vain. I had my baby in tow and he doesn’t appreciate being ignored in favour of a laptop.

My son is going through a very social stage. A waving stage. And a clapping stage. A high-fiving stage. And a throwing-anything-he-can-get-his-little-hands-on-on-the-ground-stage. So after desperately trying to get the attention of the teenager sitting across from us for almost half an hour, he chucked a lime green wooden car viciously at her head.

“… A throwing-anything-he-can-get-his-little-hands-on-on-the-ground-stage.”

“What a lovely looking child, what’s their name?” she asked.

“Oh, he’s a boy,” I said instinctively.

“I didn’t ask about gender, I asked their name,” she replied with a smile.

“Sorry, you said ‘they’ so I assumed you weren’t sure if he was a boy or a girl. It’s hard to tell when they’re this little, isn’t it?” I responded. My son was dressed in a blue t-shirt and dark grey pants with pink stars printed on them; pants that had been a source of confusion for pleasant strangers on previous occasions.

“Yes, I s’pose it is hard to tell,” replied the stranger I was currently conversing with. “But, like, it also doesn’t matter much to me. I was raised male but that’s not how I identify anymore. Anyways, I like your baby, they’re very cute”.

My new friend in the cafe used the ‘they’ pronoun as a default, not as a special application.

Her presumption was not to use a gender label at all – not because she didn’t know my son’s sex – but because it was irrelevant. To her, gender is something to be chosen (or, not to be chosen), rather than something you’re born with. And gender certainly wasn’t something she felt that she needed to know in order to have a meaningful connection with my baby.

“Gender certainly wasn’t something she felt that she needed to know in order to have a meaningful connection with my baby.”

Now, I like to think of myself as a progressive, inclusive and educated person. I’ve just had my thirtieth birthday, so I’m smack bang in the middle of generation Y. Until yesterday, I’d always considered people my age as leading the current charge for social enlightenment. Amongst my generation for example, there is broad consensus that gay marriage should be law, recognition that the queer community faces challenges others don’t and that occasionally an individual might choose to identify as a gender that doesn’t match their sex.

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But as all generations do, the one following mine – Generation Z – are doing more than merely blurring the lines of gender and sexuality. They’re rubbing them out entirely. For them? Identifying as queer is more than accepted, it’s the norm.

A report from the J Walter Thompson Innovation Group attracted a lot of attention recently, when it found that more than half of 13-20-year-olds said they had a friend who preferred to use a gender neutral pronoun. Further to that, less than half of the Generation Z survey participants identified as exclusively heterosexual. That’s less than half.

This generation are open-minded about gender and feel that it doesn’t (and shouldn’t) define a person in the way it has historically. They have strong feelings about access to gender neutral bathrooms and don’t see why school uniforms should differentiate between sexes. To their minds, pink is for girls and blue is for boys isn’t just gender-stereotyping, it’s as archaic a principle as forcing women to retire from the workforce when they get married is for my generation.

Their pop-culture idols are people like Jaden Smith, whose androgynous fashion choices have drawn attention from the likes of Vogue and Louis Vutton, bisexual movie star Amandla Stenberg from The Hunger Games and popstar Miley Cyrus who refuses to be put in a gender box. Cyrus told Out magazine last year that:

“I didn’t want to be a boy. I kind of wanted to be nothing. I don’t relate to what people would say defines a girl or a boy, and I think that’s what I had to understand: Being a girl isn’t what I hate, it’s the box that I get put into.”

As I look around me, the more I believe that Generation Z might just be the ones who truly achieve equality between the sexes in their lifetime. They’ve grown up with technological advances that make heterosexual relationships far less necessary for procreation and where intimacy is rarely binary. They’ve seen so-called traditional marriages end in divorce and less traditional relationships overflow with lasting love. By understanding gender as a concept rather than a biological state and accepting sexuality as continually evolving, Generation Z could make gender largely irrelevant to how communities and workplaces interact.

To them? Gender is fluid. Sexuality is fluid. People are people. Pure and it’s simple.

And that sounds like a pretty appealing view of the world.

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