The importance of creating safe spaces and providing support for individuals questioning their gender identity
By Elizebeth O Leary
Understanding Gender Fluidity
Sexuality and gender in the 21st century fall under a huge spectrum, with many people questioning their sexuality and gender, changing and experimenting. As time goes on, the spectrum of gender and sexuality can change to ensure a world of inclusivity, safety and belonging. In this article, we will dive in and learn more about the LGBTQIA+ community and Gender Fluidity, its’ definition, meaning, and its roles in Indigenous cultures throughout the world.
Gender serves as a classification system that often categorizes individuals based on their assigned sex at birth. Gender Fluidity, on the other hand, refers to individuals who do not identify with a fixed gender. Simply put, these individuals might feel or choose to be female, male, both, and neither on any given day.
Gender fluidity is often mistakenly associated with being transgender, but not all gender fluid individuals identify as transgender. Each gender fluid person has their own unique perspective on gender.
The Role of Gender Fluidity in Indigenous Cultures: A Historical Perspective
Gender fluidity is not a new phenomenon. It has been present in many cultures and societies throughout history, especially among indigenous peoples.
For example, in ancient Egypt, there were young women who preferred to dress and act like men and were raised as such. In Native American cultures, the ‘two-spirit people’ embodied both masculine and feminine traits and roles and were respected and valued for their wisdom and spiritual abilities. Similarly, In Hawaiian culture, there were ‘Mahu’ people expressed a third gender that was neither male nor female. They too were considered to have special skills and talents in arts, crafts, and healing.
The Kanaka Maoli indigenous people have long acknowledged the Mahu tradition – a cultural practice that embraces multiple genders. Their community respects and honors gender fluidity, with many Mahu individuals pursuing careers as healers, educators, and caregivers. The Polynesian cultures indigenous to Hawaii wholeheartedly welcome and celebrate individuals who choose to express their non-binary gender identities.
There are also examples of gender fluidity being readily accepted in South Asia, dating back to the period of the Mughal Empire in India. The Hijra, were individuals preferring to dress in women’s clothing, but choosing not to identify as female, male, or transgender. Similarly, there is evidence that the ‘Māori ‘culture recognizes two groups: ‘Whakawahine’ and ‘Whakatāne’.
Whakawahine men are inclined towards the company of women and engage in traditional feminine occupations and hobbies. Conversely, Whakatāne women prefer masculine likes and roles.
These are just some examples of how gender fluidity and diverse sexualities have been recognized and celebrated in different cultures. Unfortunately, Western colonization and oppression have erased or suppressed many of these traditions and identities. However, there are still many people who identify as gender fluid today and who are reclaiming their heritage and history.
Support and Resources: Helping LGBTQIA+ Youth Navigate Identity and Mental Health
For many expressing their gender fluidity or being part of the LGBTQIA+ community can be challenging however, as not all cultures accept diverse sexualities. This can lead to feelings of loneliness and mental health concerns, especially among young people in the community. Significantly, a survey conducted by the LGBTQIA+ charity ‘Just Like Us’ revealed that young individuals within the community are twice as likely to feel isolated and have concerns about their mental health. Organizations and helplines provide a safe space for individuals to seek support and talk about their experiences.
In addition to the invaluable work of organizations and helplines, there are countless ways for our community and society to become allies to the LGBTQIA+ community. By actively improving and demonstrating our support, we can create a more comfortable and safer environment for everyone. We can for instance,
- Avoid making offensive or intrusive inquiries. Occasionally, we may find ourselves feeling curious and wanting to ask questions. However, it’s important to remember that asking personal questions, particularly about someone’s identity or community, can be inappropriate. Even if someone is open and proud about their personal details, it’s best not to make assumptions or inquire about such matters.
- Promote inclusivity by accepting and embracing individuals for who they truly are. Keep an open mind and practice active listening without passing judgment.
- Empower individuals to express themselves freely and safely by creating a supportive environment where their voices are heard.
- Ensure you stay informed about the latest laws, terms, and community updates to expand your knowledge. By doing so, you can make a positive impact on those around you, making their lives a bit smoother
Demystifying LGBTQIA+ Terminology: What Do All These Letters Mean?
To further understand the LGBTQIA+ community, it is important to familiarize ourselves with the terminology.
LGBTQIA+ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Intersexual, Asexual plus many more.
Here is a quick guide to understanding each term:
Lesbian: A woman who is attracted to people of the same gender.
Gay: A man who is attracted to people of the same gender.
Bisexual: When a person has an attraction to all genders.
Transgender: This is when a person’s gender identity is different than the sex assigned at birth.
Questioning: People who may be unsure of their sexual orientation or gender.
Intersexual: This is a term to describe individuals who are born with variations of sex characteristics that do not define of male or female bodies.
Asexual: An individual who has little or no sexual attraction but sometimes may experience romantic attraction.
Plus: This is to signify all gender identities and sexual orientations.
As mentioned before, there are many organisations and helplines who aim to help those in the community and give them a safe space to talk such as. Below are just a few useful contacts:
LGBT Ireland – A national organization that provide support, training and advocacy which aims to improve the lives of LGBT+ people across Ireland.
Tel: 353 1 6859280
BeLong To Youth Services – This is a national organization supporting Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex young people in Ireland.
Tel: 01 670 6223
Transgender Equality Network – They seek to improve conditions and advance the rights of equality of trans people and their families.
Tel: 01 873 3575
National LGBT Helpline – Monday – Thursday 6:30pm – 10:00pm Friday 4:00pm-10:00pm Saturday – Sunday – 4:00pm – 6:00pm.
Tel: 1890 929 539
Transgender Family Support Line – Sundays 6:00pm – 9:00pm Tuesdays 10:00am – 12:00pm
Tel: 01 907 3707
Samaritans – 24/7, 365 Days a Year
Tel: 116 123