On Gender… For the majority of people one’s gender is simple, clear, and defined: one is either a man or a woman. There is nothing complicated about it. Our society has certain “womanly” or “manly” behaviours, traits, and expectations around what a man or woman is and/or looks like. However, for some, the term gender is mutable, open to recreation, and can be played with. This implies that gender is socially constructed, that we have choice with how we experience and want to inhabit our gender.
On Sexuality… Similarly, one’s sexuality may be defined by the categories of straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, or trans. For many straight folks, their sexual preference may remain relatively consistent in being attracted to the opposite gender whereas LGBTQ folks prefer and are attracted to the same gender or the entire spectrum of gender.
Let’s now look at the fun stuff: gender and sexual variancy.
Gender variancy… By gender variancy I mean any person who chooses to live outside of the mainstream, socially proscribed, sanctioned gender roles, duties, performances, presentations, and identities of what it means to be the gender “woman” or “man” in North America. For a woman, she may choose to stay in her born female (cis) body, or choose to morph, alter, or transition her gender in some way. Some gender variant women may exhibit and play with androgynous, non-binary, masculine, and/or butch traits, behaviours, presentations, preferences, identities etc. When you see a woman or man exhibiting these styles or identities, or dressed in drag for example, that’s gender variancy. Think the Madonna and Marlene Dietrich look of tuxedo and top hat, Barry Humphries persona of Dame Edna, and Dustin Hoffman’s character of Michael Dorsey turned Dorothy Michaels in the film Tootsie. Variant gender implies locating one’s gender identification, playfulness, choices, and/or performance outside of the mainstream, heterosexist, male/female, masculine/feminine fixed gender norm binary.
Sexual Variancy… By sexually variant I am referring to people who choose to dwell outside of the socially proscribed and sanctioned heterosexual roles, desires, identities, duties, performances, presentations, and practices that are regarded as “normal” and acceptable in North American culture and society. Variant, non-normative sex and sexualities imply locating one’s sexual preferences, desires, and/or practices outside of the mainstream, heterosexual, reproductively based, acceptable societal norm. To give a general context, the desires involved in engaging in non-reproductively based sex, same sex attraction, non-monogamy, and fantasy could all be considered “variant.” In our culture, sexual practices and sexual variancy has the most room to play.
Variant Practices & Lifestyle…
Simply put, the gender and/or sexually variant person’s preferences, practices, and choices are outside the centre’s norm of societal structures. They take place in mutable locations, instances, preferences, and choices that are different from or outside the mainstream. Another way to look at it is they exist outside of the limiting ideologies and points of view that govern socially conventional sex and gender norms.
To support his/her/their choices, people with variant sexual and gender expressions may choose to be part of one or more of the vast networks of feminist, intersectional, or LGBTQ subcultures and organizations that allow for greater gender and/or sexual fluidity. More than a few straight folks have asked me: “why all the pride parades?” Safe and inclusive organizations, events, and groups that support variancy are important because they allow for individual and group visibility, acceptance, understanding, and integrity, to be felt and experienced. Variant sexual and gender preferences are often not seen or celebrated, in fact, they can be marginalized, shamed, and sometimes violently used against a person.
To support people’s gender and sexual freedom, a great question we can ask is: what is one action I can take that would contribute to people in my family, community, or environment experiencing more equality and safety? A simple alteration in language choices is a very powerful place to start! Respecting people’s choice of pronoun and supporting folks w share and express their variances, is another. And finally, consider allowing your own variant desires and/or preferences some room to play: be open or curious about them, share them with a friend, lover, or professional, and/or read up on how others have explored their sexuality and/or gender.
“Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.” – Rumi