With the use of an ultrasound, by just 18 to 22 weeks into a pregnancy, an OB/GYN can determine the gender of a baby based on their genitals. Babies with penises are identified as male, and babies with vaginas as female. Some grow up and relate, connect with, and identity as that assigned gender and are what's known as cis. "The full terminology is cisgender, which in simple terms means you agree and feel aligned with the gender you were assigned at birth," says sex educator and trauma specialist Jimanekia Eborn.
However, such a binary doesn't work for everyone. Gen Z is rejecting the gender binary in favor of more fluid definitions, encouraging more people to realize gender is more complex than strictly cis-male or female.
Outside of cis, the spectrum of gender identity is constantly growing. Some identify as trans, meaning their gender assigned at birth does not match their gender identity. There are also non-binary folks, an umbrella term for those whose gender doesn't fall on the binary. "They are just beings that may tend to lean to one side more than the other, or are a combination of it all," Eborn says.
Gender-fluid people are those whose gender fluctuates and have different gender identities at different times. And there are also people who are born intersex, and who have reproductive anatomy that's not explicitly male or female.
What cis people can do to acknowledge the gender spectrum:
- Introduce yourself using your pronouns
- Ask others for their preferred pronouns
- Don't assume a group's gender
- Use neutral words like "y'all" or "folks" in a group setting
Eborn says cis people need to know about other genders, and in particular, how to use cis privilege to make the world easier to survive in for others. "Those of us that identify as cisgender have the privilege of not having to challenge the world every day. We have less of a chance of being questioned for our actions. It makes us no better than anyone, it just makes us folks that feel connected to the gender we were assigned at birth," Eborn says.
So how can cis people help others? To start, when you introduce yourself to a crowd of new people, use both your name and pronouns. For instance, "I'm Sophie Saint Thomas, and my pronouns are she/her." When cis people say their pronouns, and ask others theirs, it normalizes the practice and makes life easier for trans, non/binary, and gender-fluid folks who are frequently misgendered.
"Another thing that we can all do is stop making everything so hetero/gender normative," Eborn says. "There are other ways to address a group of individuals without making it gendered. You can say y'all, people, humans, or friends just to name a few. Do not assume anyone's gender and or pronouns based upon how one may present."
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This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.