Youth Discussion: Gender Expectations and Stereotypes | Totnes Pride Online

During Totnes Pride Online 2020 we recorded a discussion between Proud2Be youth members – together they discuss how gender stereotypes and expectations impact on their lives. Here it is!

Transcribed with Otter.ai, edited.

Maya:
Hi there and welcome to Youth Speaks, a discussion around gender expectations and stereotypes. So, my name’s Maya and my pronouns are she/her. I’m not a young person, I’m here to facilitate the discussion and kind of pose some questions. So I wondered if we wanted to go around and introduce ourselves?

Jack:
I’m Jack, he/him.

Clay:
My name’s [Clay], my pronouns are they/he.

Sam:
Hi, I’m Sam, I go by them/them pronouns.

Maya:
Fabulous, thank you for that. So shall I pose the first question?

Sam:
Yeah

Maya:
In what ways have gender expectations and stereotypes impacted your life?

Sam:
Depending on the gender you were assigned you’re expected to dress a certain way, like certain things. Usually when you’re born you’re given pink or blue, if you know what I mean.

Jack and Maya:
Yeah

Sam:
Pink is for female and blue is for male, and then through your life you’re given that colour, if you know what I mean.

Maya:
Yeah. How has that impacted you in terms of everyday life?

Sam:
I suppose it’s now made it so that pink is my new favourite colour!

Maya:
Oh wow, that’s interesting.

Sam:
Yeah, so now I like blue and I like pink, but pink I like more due to I suppose being surrounded by it.

Maya:
Okay, wow, yeah. That’s really interesting. Jack, have you shared those experiences? How has that impacted your life?

Jack:
I think one of my biggest ones was with expectations. My biggest problem was, when I first came out as trans especially, was gatekeeping. So when I was 15 I was like, I’m not in a place to come out to my family, so I’m going to wander over to Facebook and get some support. But there are all these people, and they’re like ‘if you like anything feminine you’re probably not trans’, ‘if you haven’t known since you were a kid you’re probably not trans’.

Maya:
Wow.

Jack:
‘If you prefer art over maths and science you’re probably not trans’, which really messed me up, especially as a kid pretty much, because I didn’t want anyone to have any kind of doubt about who I was.
So I’d try and push myself to meet these expectations and stuff. Like I stopped doing art because of it, I’d get really ill if I even thought about wearing any makeup or looking at it and stuff like that, because it was considered feminine and I was not.
I think that’s probably what one of my biggest issues was, and it really stressed me out quite a lot. And it’s taken me a very long time to try and get out of that mindset. So, it’s a fun time.

Maya:
It sounds like it’s impacted you a lot, and when you were speaking it just felt so incredibly limiting. Even down to doing an art class for goodness sake. Wow, that must have been
really tough.

Sam:
Yeah, that sounds horrible.

Jack:
Yeah, I stopped doing art for months because I just couldn’t bring myself to do it, because I started doubting myself.
And other things like I’m really bad at maths as well, so I was just like ‘okay, that’s it, I’m not actually trans because I can’t do maths’.
And looking back on it, I feel really stupid I ever felt that way. But I think because that was my first and only experience of trying to get support from people, it stuck.

Sam:
There was this one girl from my school who was like ‘well, you can’t wear dresses if you’re non binary’, ‘you can’t wear suits if you’re non binary’, ‘you’d have to wear a suit and a dress
because you’re non binary’.

Maya:
Wow all these different rules. [Clay], what’s your experience of this because I can see you’re nodding quite a lot. Do you relate to some of this stuff? What are your experiences?

Clay:
I’m relating to all of it which is weird, because I’m non binary and I present as quite masculine so I use both pronouns. I don’t really believe in binary gender, I just do what I want, but it’s taken me a long time to get to this point and a lot of trial and error and a lot of people telling me ‘you can’t do that’ because the world is very binary.
You’re conditioned right from the second you’re born to either be a boy and like the colour blue and like trucks and dirt and math, or dresses and art and princesses and the colour pink, and you’ve got to be one or the other.
I didn’t figure out that I was non binary or trans, I didn’t even think about gender until I was 18. Before that, all the way through when I was growing up I never really liked dressing
feminine, I never bothered with makeup. I didn’t really care. I didn’t want anything to do with that. Didn’t really conform to either side, but I wasn’t even thinking about it at the time. The
only time that I would dress up all feminine or wear makeup is if my mom would push that at me. There were a few years, I think I was maybe 14/15 and a little bit after, where my mum
would be like ‘why are you dressing like that? You look like a boy. Why are you dressing like that?’. You know, things like that stuck with me and now I’m older, people can say what they
want. It’s still gonna affect me, It’s still gonna hit, but it’s not going to affect the way that I act. Just because I’m more confident in my identity, I don’t really care what people expect of me. I don’t owe anyone anything. I don’t owe anyone presenting a certain way. I’m non binary, I don’t owe you androgyny. I can be masculine if I want to, but then also if I’m using he/him
pronouns I don’t owe you “passing” as male. I don’t owe anyone that. It’s gonna take society a bit to catch up.

Jack:
Yeah

Sam:
Society is cr*p.

Maya:
Thank you [Clay]. It was really interesting what you were saying Jack, about how it took you ages to do art again, to reimmerse yourself in something you love. I wanted to explore that a bit more. Are there any other ways that we feel like there were certain things that we haven’t done, or have chosen to avoid, doing just because it feels easier and it feels safer? Let’s start with you, Sam.

Sam:
There was football I was really interested in when I was little. But because my gender I was assigned was female I wasn’t allowed to do football or basketball or anything like that.
Because of the peers I was with. Meanwhile, now I’m expected to like both football and dance because I identify as non binary. Which is really random, why dance? I hate dance. So there was a thing going round the school of how, after I came out as non binary there were expectations. Similar to ‘you can’t like art if you identify as a male’.

Jack:
Yeah

Sam:
Yeah, but it was like that with football, stuff like that.

Maya:
So what do you think people were worried about when they wouldn’t let you play football? What do you think their reasoning was? Was there any logic to it?

Sam:
I don’t think there was logic to it. I think it was just ‘well, you were this so you still have this mind ’, which I didn’t understand. What mind? Human?

Maya:
Yeah, that’s so interesting. Jack, do you still feel that pressure in any way today? Or do you feel completely comfortable with doing something like art today?

Jack:
Sometimes I get a little bit self-conscious about it, like if I post my art people are gonna doubt me and stuff, even though pretty much all of the people who had that opinion I
removed from my life pretty quick. But I still get really weird doubts in the back of my mind about it, because this is stuff that I saw when I was like 15/16 and it kind of stuck in there. I
mean, it took me a long time to be able to do art again properly, but you know, I’m trying. And there are days where I get doubts and stuff, but I mostly ignore it.

Maya:
Oh good for you. What about you [Clay], do you feel like there was maybe a regret of not feeling able to do something, or is there something that you still feel uneasy taking part in
because of what people might think?

Clay:
Yeah and no. Because I’m at the point now where pointlessly gendering activities is ridiculous. But at the same time, people that don’t understand that still hold those expectations. People will randomly decide football and the colour blue is masculine. And if I don’t like those things, then ‘you can’t be masculine’. Which is ridiculous. It’s silly, because there’s just no reasoning behind it at all. So I see it, I hear it, but I don’t identify with it. So I don’t care. But at the same time, there are still things because I’m still living with my family and my mum’s still very much like ‘you’ve got to conform to gender expectations’. And I’m like ‘really? I’m not going to’.
I think most of my interests are fairly neutral anyway, or would be considered fairly neutral. You know, like music, messing around with horses… which, I’ve done since I was maybe 12. I always used to go riding with my mum because she was very much into that. And a lot of that is girls and running around in a neon pink t-shirt or dressing up your pony to look like a unicorn or whatever. And I never understood why it was so female heavy, because it’s hard. It’s hard work. It’s dirty and it’s rough and it’s not all good weather and glitter and unicorns. So again, I think that’s pointlessly gendered as a female thing to do. Which does still affect me sometimes. I mean I haven’t gone riding for maybe two years now, because the last time I went, the stuff that you have to wear, you have to look a certain way. That gave me a bit of dysphoria. So I was like ‘no thanks’ and you know, it’s a new place, people misgender you because you look a certain way because you have to wear a certain thing, and I was like ‘you know what? No, thanks. I’ll just give that a rest for a bit’. So maybe that, but with anything else, not really.
I was never really arty or performance-y when I was at school. I never really conformed to feminine stereotypes anyway. Which, it wouldn’t matter if I had because they don’t mean anything. But I never did. I kind of stuck out like a sore thumb at school because I was never a girly girl, but I was never one of the lads. But I didn’t notice that. I didn’t twig until I was at uni.
I think it affects a lot. A lot of things and a lot of people in really different ways. People can expect what they want, doesn’t mean you have to do it.

Maya:
Sure, yeah that’s a good point. Something that me and Max get told time and time again is‘it’s okay for LGBTQ+ young people these days, they don’t have the same pressures that people 30/40 years ago or even 10/20 years ago had’. I wondered how you felt about that, when people say ‘it’s fine for you lot these days’. What would you say? Let’s start with Sam.

Sam:
I guess if, if you compare it to let’s say 20 years ago, it was pretty rough however it is still bad. In some cases it is still bad, and no matter the amount of things, it won’t change unless
people change how they expect people to be. Like how I said from birth you’re just given a colour, which then changes how you’re supposed to act the rest of your life. So, I suppose the question is why?

Maya:
Why do you think Sam?

Sam:
I think it’s because ages back, all the way back people have been different. It’s been expected that for some reason, but there’s never an explanation why, nobody has it. Not a single person I know has the explanation.

Jack:
Well, I mean, it’s not fine , there’s still a long way to go. People are still being attacked and being bullied and being kicked out of home for being LGBT. Some parts have improved slightly in society now, like marriage and stuff like that. But in terms of how people are, generally that’s still a lot of issues. A lot of people still struggle with acceptance and stuff because homophobes and transphobes still exist. Who knew?
So it’s not better, it’s not easier. I mean, it is a little bit better, but it’s definitely not easier. Not at the moment.

Maya:
Thank you Jack. [Clay], what do you think?

Clay:
I think better doesn’t mean good. It’s better than it was, but we’re not done fighting yet. I don’t think we will be in my lifetime. You know, as long as society still thinks that straight and
cis is the default then we’ve still got fighting to do, and as long as everyone assumes that binary is the default we’ve still got fighting to do. None of it has any meaning unless you give
it meaning.
It’s better than it was, but that doesn’t mean that everyone’s safe and accepted and happy and can live their best lives and can feel free and present themselves how they want and do what they want to do. The vast majority, I am generalising, but the majority of people can’t do that. In at least in some little way. Even if you think you’re living your best life, there will be a situation or a conversation that you have where you have to hide something about yourself, whether it’s to feel comfortable or for your own safety or anything like that. No one that’s LGBT, even this in this year, is going to feel completely free all time. And it’s rubbish, and it’s better than it was, but it’s not good.

Maya, Sam and Jack:
Yeah.

Maya:
When you were talking before, [Clay], about they/them pronouns, how do you feel people are with that?

Clay:
I was having this conversation with someone a few days ago. Since we’ve been in lockdown, I’ve been using they/them pronouns for myself a lot more. But when I’m at uni or at work, I tend to ask people to use he/him pronouns because they don’t understand how they/them pronouns work. And because if I want to be gendered correctly as anything but female, then I have to try and pass as masculine. Because if I’m dressing neutral, I’m going to get misgendered. So little people in places that I’ve worked or the places that I’ve studied, understand it to the point that if they meet a new person they’ll use they/them pronouns until they’ve asked . Because that’s the default for me and a lot of people that I know, but that’s not the normal default. And it should be.
But yeah, places that I’ve worked, especially as I do a lot of leading and teaching and coaching and whatever, and the people that I’m working for say ‘you have to be a title, they’ve either gotta call you sir or miss. They’ve either gotta call you Mr Brown or Miss Brown’. And I’m like, but I’m neither. I’m not. But if I had to pick one it would be sir or Mr. That’s still what the system is like. That’s what society is like. And that’s how kids are being brought up. You know, you get a class of 30 primary school kids, and they’re colour coded blue and pink. And obviously the teachers then also have to be colour coded blue and pink.

Maya, Sam and Jack:
Yeah.

Clay:
So using they/them pronouns is tricky. And I’m really grateful to have the spaces that I do have where people will use those pronouns.

Maya:
And it feels like you’re almost expected to educate people. So it’s not just a case of saying ‘my pronouns are they and them’, but in some cases I’m guessing it would be like ‘oh, why do you use they/them pronouns?’, ‘what’s this?’. So it’s like a whole education session and you’re actually just telling people your pronouns. Is that what it’s like? Does that feel correct? Is it like that a lot?

Sam and Clay:
Yeah.

Clay:
Yeah, it also feels like I’m teaching people basic literacy.

Maya:
Right, yeah. Which is fine if you’re being paid for it I guess.

Clay:
Yeah! Like yeah, great, I’m being paid to be a teaching assistant, fantastic. But I’m not being paid to explain my gender to a bunch of 10 year olds. Being put on blast in front of a group of
30 with the teacher sat in the corner of the room going ‘oh actually, I don’t know this either so I’m going to keep asking you questions’. I mean, it blows my mind. It’s so easy to teach them
in basic English language that a person can be he, she or they, you know. Because people will reach older than me and be like ‘you can’t use they as a singular pronoun’. I’m like ‘do you know basic English literacy? Do I need to give you an English lesson right now? Are you being serious?’. It’s driving me round the bend.

Maya:
Yeah, it’s so interesting isn’t it. Sam, what are your feelings about this because you seem to kind of relate to it.

Sam:
I was told they/them is if I was 2 people. The first thing someone had said to me. It was simple things, like ‘how would I say this?’, and ‘why? How do you know?’.

Maya:
How do you answer a question like that, ‘how do you know’?

Sam:
I usually say ‘you just do’.

Maya:
Sounds like a good answer.

Sam:
It’s like the question ‘how do you know you’re straight?’ I just do.

Maya:
Absolutely, yeah.

Sam:
Sure you could answer that question if you are male, ‘I like girls’. How do you know you like girls? ‘Just do.’ Like it’s a question where you don’t have an answer. It’s a very simple answer – ‘just do’.
With my experience with people trying to use they/them pronouns, when I first came out I came out to my school first, which was a terrible idea in my opinion because then I ended up
not thinking about the story and then having to tell my parents.

Maya:
What, so coming out to your school kind of prompted you feeling you have to also come out to your parents?

Sam:
Yeah. Because when I first came to my school, I came out to a teacher and the very next day the first thing I heard behind me was ‘who’s Sam?’.
The teacher, after I explained the pronouns I wanted to use to her, she explained to the class. And then afterwards, it was ‘but you’re a girl’.
I suppose, with they/them pronouns, like [Clay] said, it’s an education. And I still want my money, I want to be paid for this.
Sadly, no matter how much people try, there’s always going to be a couple of people out there. It’s horrible.

Maya:
How can people challenge their own and others’ beliefs around gender expectations and stereotypes? If people are watching this and thinking ‘well this is all very well but I’ve been living with these kinds of stereotypes and expectations for years and years’, how do I begin to challenge them? What’s the best thing to do? What might you say? Let’s start with Jack this time.

Jack:
Just being open minded. Don’t have assumptions about how a person should dress or act etc. You can always ask questions to people if you’re unsure on something, as long as it’s within reason. You’re not going to get shouted out, or you’re not going to get laughed at because you want to better yourself and, you know, learn.

Maya:
Thank you for that Jack. [Clay], what would you say to people who are looking for the answers or trying to be an ally but struggling?

Clay:
I think asking someone their pronouns when you meet them. It always makes me feel more comfortable. And I feel like if a cis person gets offended by being asked their pronouns maybe that’s their problem. And if you get offended by someone asking you to use different pronouns for someone else then that’s also on you.
It’s so easy to fall back on it and believe in it, because you’re conditioned to from an egg. It’s much harder to confront your own ideas and change and learn and admit places that you’ve been wrong, and better yourself.
Asking questions is fine, to someone that has voluntarily said ‘hey, you can ask questions. I’m here to answer your questions’. You can’t expect someone’s time and energy without them volunteering it. That’s just not their place, you know, if they tell you to go away that’s their own decision. They don’t owe you their time, or their attention or their energy. There are so many resources online that are accessible to pretty much everyone in so many different formats. And there are plenty of people and groups and places that are there to give you information. All it takes is a little bit of effort on your part, rather than asking probably an already stressed trans person or non binary person to give you their time and energy. Yeah, using resources, I would say, taking a little bit of time out of your day to educate yourself, rather than asking someone to do it for you. Because nobody owes you that, but you do owe it to yourself to better yourself and learn. And move with the times. Old ideas and tradition doesn’t have any place right now. It means nothing. And, again, gender is fake so be better.
It’s easy to do that right now, it doesn’t matter how old or young you are or where you’re from, or you’ve been brought up to believe, you know, taking the time to think ‘maybe what my parents taught me is wrong’. Takes a lot of energy, and it’s no one else’s job to do that for you.

Maya:
Yeah, well said. When you were both talking about questions, you know, people have questions and stuff, are there any questions that are off limits? Have you ever kind of found yourself in a position where you’re like ‘I can’t believe you just asked me that question’? Jack, what’s your experience?

Jack:
I think probably one of the more uncomfortable questions ever got, I was at a pub. I was 18, it’s fine. This bloke came up to me because I’d introduce myself as Jack and he asked ‘is it short for anything?’ and I was like ‘no, it’s just Jack. I’m a dude’.
I remember he asked me a couple of questions, you know the general kind of ones like ‘how did you know? How old were you?’, stuff like that. And then he asked a question that I’ve got a few times, it’s really uncomfortable, it’s to do with ‘what if you want to go all the way with someone, what do you do?’. And it’s none of your business. I’m not going to sleep with you so why does it matter? It’s just a really uncomfortable question to get, how exactly are you supposed to respond?
And then, another question that I do kind of get quite uncomfortable about is about operations and stuff. I don’t know why because it’s just ‘are you gonna have the operation?’ and you say yes or no, but, you know, it’s still my business.

Maya:
I think it’s totally valid for you to not want to talk about that kind of stuff with people. Totally.

Jack:
And then there’s also the ‘haha what’s your deadname?’. Just like ‘haha it’s none of your business’.

Maya:
Do people ask that?!

Jack, Sam and Clay:
Yes.

Jack:
Yeah, I’ve had people ask me what my deadname is. And ‘have you got any photos of you as a kid?’. Why do you want to see me as a kid?

Sam:
Or the question ‘what’s in your pants?’.

Clay:
That’s what I was gonna say as well.
The two that I get most often are ‘what’ve you got in your pants?’ which, again, is gross. Because why’d you need to know? That’s just weird. Don’t ask me that. What’s it to you?
You’re not getting in there.
You wouldn’t go around and ask a cis person ‘what’ve you got in your pants?’. That’s weird for anyone, it’s creepy.

Jack:
Dodgy pickup line, just going up to someone like ‘oi, you got in your pants?’

Maya:
Yeah, I’m not gonna try that one.

Clay:
And the second one is always like ‘have you had the surgery? Are you going to have the surgery? Are you going on hormones?’, all of this and, again, why does it matter to you? I’m not gonna ask you about what surgery you’ve had. That’s not something you ask anyone unless you already know them well. Someone could have had surgery on their knee or their shoulder, you don’t go and ask a stranger ‘have you had surgery?’ No.

Maya:
So why do you think they do? Why do you think that’s a question that some people think they are entitled to ask?

Clay:
People that don’t really know very much about trans people have a very limited view of what it is. And the very little representation that we get in like mainstream cishet-normative media is very much they’re like ‘I was born as this, and I transitioned to the opposite binary, and I had all of the medical procedures’ and that the only way to be “really trans” is to just completely have gone from one binary to the other, and have had all of the surgeries and
hormones, and that you’re only “really trans” once you’re like, the final product.

Maya:
Sounds like expectations and rules all over again.

Sam:
Sounds like a bad maths test.

Maya:
Sam, what do you think?

Sam:
Questions I’ve had are very similar to [Clay’s]. ‘What are in between your legs, what’s under there?’ and ‘are you going to get surgery?’, or ‘if you are going to get surgery, why?’ None of your business, none of your business. none of your business. With the ‘what’s in between your legs’ I always say thighs.

Maya:
Why are people asking you that question? Are these young people asking you, or are these adults?

Sam:
These are people my age asking me. There’s an expectation that you have to have all surgeries if you’re trans. Or, for some reason what I’ve had is ‘if you have any surgeries when you’re non binary then you’re not non binary’.
So like, I want to get surgery for my breasts. But then people start saying ‘well, shouldn’t you be fine with your body?’.

Maya:
What kind of question is that?

Sam:
I don’t know. Unless either we’re dating or you’re someone really close to me then it’s none of their business.

Jack:
So before I realised I was trans I had a bit of time questioning, and my name was different. It was Alex. And then I changed it because Alex is a gender neutral one. But I mean, I only really named myself Jack because [Clay] kept calling me Jack the first time we met and I liked it.

Clay:
Did I?!

Jack:
Yeah! Because you kept forgetting my name, and you turned around to me like ‘I just keep calling you Jack I’m so sorry’ and I was like ‘it’s fine’.

Clay:
Oh, I do remember!

Sam:
Top 10 name changes.

Maya:
So [Clay], you named Jack! You christened Jack!

Clay:
But also he named me! His middle name is Nathan, and that’s where I took my [old] name from.

Maya:
Really?!

Jack:
Yeah!

Maya:
Oh yeah, I think I remember that! That’s amazing.
We’ve come to the end of our discussion. You have done so brilliantly. I want to thank everyone and for everyone watching I say, give a big round of applause, a virtual round of applause. Yeah, just thank you so much for being here today, I really appreciate it.

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