Gender fluidity is hardly an unknown term in 2019—but you wouldn't be alone if you're unsure of exactly what it means. As more and more people begin to openly challenge conventional gender stereotypes—a 2017 government study found that 6.9 percent of 108,000 British citizens surveyed identified as non-binary (although there is no guarantee that it was representative of the entire LGBT population in the UK)—the term is becoming more widely used.
Here's everything you should know.
What is gender fluid?
In short, it's when gender expression shifts between masculine and feminine. However, this can mean different things to each individual, and it's certainly not as black and white as wanting to wear a dress one day and a suit the next.
When we're born, we are given a gender based on our physical anatomy—but not everyone feels connected to the perceived "traits" of that gender.
Stonewall told Cosmopolitan UK that gender fluidity is a subcategory of the non-binary gender. "Transpeople may describe themselves using one or more of a wide variety of terms, including (but not limited to) transgender, transsexual, gender-queer (GQ), gender-fluid, non-binary, gender-variant, crossdresser, genderless, agender, nongender, third gender, bi-gender, trans man, trans woman, trans masculine, trans feminine and neutrois," they explain.
And the term is shifting into everyday life. Sites such as OkCupid and Facebook now let users state their own pronouns in their profiles alongside other important information, while toy manufacturer Mattel recently announced a gender-netural doll.
What does it mean to be gender fluid?
It's far more than just appearance. Lady Kitt, an artist who works as a drag king, told Cosmopolitan UK that they began to question their given gender identity at a young age. "As a child, I remember not being unhappy about who I was, but feeling like I wasn't really a girl or a boy because both seemed bound by a set of invisible, unspoken rules that I just didn't get," they told Cosmopolitan UK. "As I got older I felt more at home with the 'boy rules' but still found it all pretty odd."
After years of confusion, it took a momentous life event to make them realize that they could choose their own identity. "Becoming a parent was the thing that really made me interrogate what gender meant to me," they explained. "When I was pregnant with my first child, a shop keeper refused to sell me a blue baby hat because I didn't know if the baby was a boy or a girl."
Lady Kitt explained that it's other people's presumptions that can be difficult to deal with. "The assumptions about the role I take in the children's lives, which are not at all based on knowing me—solely on my gender—can be confusing," they said. "I also found it hard to understand the things people think the children might be interested in or aspire to because of their gender. I started to think: If this makes so little sense to me, why am I being part of it?"
"For me, gender fluidity means gender confusion. Not confusion about my own identity but complete, utter, mind-melting confusion about societal norms based on gender. The binary categorizing of stuff—feelings, appearances, reactions—doesn't reflect the way I feel about myself or how I experience the world. Emotional women, stoic men, pretty girls, handsome boys, boys will be boys, big girl's blouse...
"At best I find it totally weird, at worst (thinking about things like male suicide rates) genuinely dangerous."
According to a Stonewall report, almost half (48 percent) of trans people in Britain have attempted suicide at least once; 84 percent have thought about it. A better understanding of non-binary terms could make all the difference to these shockingly high statistics.
Is genderqueer and non-binary the same as gender fluid?
In this case, it's all about what the person prefers to be called. If you're unsure? Just ask.
Not all gender fluid people use "they/them" pronouns, and may prefer the terms "zie" or "Mx."
How do I know if I'm gender fluid?
Only you can answer that, and it comes down to how you relate to "gender norms."
"If you imagine the spectrum and imagine the most feminine expression you have ever seen and most masculine you have ever seen and just sort of imagine where you are on that," Dr. Dot Brauer, author of Gender: It's Complicated told CNN.
Lady Kitt has seen first-hand the lack of understanding around gender fluidity. "People often think that I must feel like I was 'born in the wrong body,'" they said. "That I want to stop other people from identifying as male or female. That I, and other gender non-conforming people are going to use the 'wrong' public toilets, and thus bring about the end of civilization as we know it! That I'm asexual.
"Some people have seemed really surprised to find out that I'm a parent. One person actually said 'Oh, but I thought you were non-binary'—as though that automatically excluded me from parenthood."
"Most folks who aren't supportive are not rude or aggressive, more confused or even upset—often offering me reasons why they think it's important for society that people identify as male or female. 'We need to know someone's gender so we know how to treat them,' 'You must admit men and women are essentially different and need different things,' 'It's too confusing for children' are all classic."
Luckily, most have been encouraging, and Lady Kitt's work is focussed on encouraging more understanding around the history of gender non-conformity. "I have such a gorgeous supportive community around me," they explained. "Reactions from most people I know have been great—more than great—and I've been very moved by how accepting people have been."
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This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com/uk. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.