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Explaining Gender and Sex to Older, More Conservative Latinos From an LGBTQ+ Standpoint

Gender and Sex BELatina Latinx
Image courtesy of BELatina.

Pride month is, more than anything, a time to celebrate the queer community while also recognizing the historic and continuous violence towards LGBTQ+ folks. Pride allows us to rejoice as a community while also demonstrating gratitude for the queer activists that laid the framework for the rights that we have to this day and whose work encourages us to continue fighting for what our community needs. 

Pride month can also be a time when more people are engaging in conversations around queerness with family members who might not understand or who may completely deny the existence of the queer community. 

It certainly can take an emotional or mental toll for trans/non-binary/gender non-conforming folks to have conversations around gender and sex with older and/or conservative Latino family members. If you know this conversation will be difficult to have, check in with yourself before you enter this conversation. Ask yourself the following questions: 

  1. Do I feel safe having this conversation with this person? 
  2. If I have this conversation, do I feel like this person will actively listen to my perspective? 

If the answer to both is yes, then you must ask yourself a final question: do I feel like I have the emotional and mental energy to engage with this person about gender and sex? 

If, after all this reflection, you feel like you could have a productive conversation, then by all means. Otherwise, continue to protect your own health and wellness, and reflect on other ways to educate your family members that don’t compromise your wellbeing. 

Though we all, especially allies and queer folks who don’t struggle with gender, have an innate duty to speak up and educate our family members about important LGBTQ issues, it is also essential to understand how taxing these conversations can be and that they can be mentally and emotionally impactful to those of us having them.

When approaching this conversation, asking yourself these questions and reflecting can help you decide if or how you’d like to bring up gender and sex to your older, conservative family members.

The burden of re-educating and opening conversations

Having family members be open to healthy conversations around gender and sex is not a privilege that every queer person has. As members of the queer community, it often falls on us to educate our relatives who may not yet be thinking of gender and sex outside of their imposed binaries. We may have family members who think of both of these concepts strongly as existing on a binary and that anything outside of that is other or unacceptable.

If you decide to enter this conversation, the gender unicorn can be an extremely helpful tool for tackling this difficult conversation. Though the graphic does not include intersex under biological sex assigned at birth, it can be an excellent framework for starting the conversation around sex. 

Start with the (not so) basics

You can begin by explaining that biological sex is much more than genitals. Biological sex is nuanced and includes so many other anatomical and physiological components like hormones, chromosomes (aka genetic makeup), and gonads, to name a few. 

Humans don’t just have XX or XY chromosomes, just like humans don’t just fall into having a female or a male body. When explaining this, give examples of how biological sex lies on a spectrum and cannot be simplistic enough to fall into two categories.

The difference between gender identity and gender expression

When it comes to gender, make sure to communicate how there is a difference between gender identity and gender expression, which are not necessarily interconnected. 

Explain how gender identity is how you feel about yourself, like if you feel like you are a woman, a man, neither, both, or another gender. You might encounter some resistance here, so try asking the person you’re conversing with how they know what their gender is. 

They might say, “well, I was born a girl, so I am a girl,” to which you can ask, “outside of what your body looks like, how do you know you’re a girl?” They might have trouble answering this question, to which you say, “you don’t need to know the answer! That’s the beauty of gender. Gender is the way you feel about yourself outside of your body. If you were to change your body one day, you would still feel like you were a girl.”

Then the conversation hopefully lends itself to discussing gender identity, which is how people choose to express their gender through dress or behaviors. 

Make sure to state that gender expression has nothing to do with gender identity because people do not need to express themselves in a certain way to identify with a particular gender. 

For example, someone who identifies as a woman does not necessarily mean that she wears dresses, make-up, long hair, or other hyperfeminine clothing. Similarly, someone who identifies as a man does not have to be muscular, have facial hair or be emotionless. 

Gender expression can also fluctuate for an individual! Some days they may want to present more feminine; other days, they may want to present more masculine, and sometimes they may want to be a mix of both or neither! 

A small step to break a big paradigm

If the conversation has been rocky and you’ve decided just to share one thing with this person, make sure to stress that assumptions around gender can be really dangerous because it sets a standard of what is considered appropriate for women or men, meaning anything outside of that is “other.” And when we “other” a group of people, it becomes a slippy slope to perpetrating violence on those communities.

Acknowledge that taking in all this information can be overwhelming. If you’re happy to explain something to them again or continue this conversation later on, make sure to share it with them. Continue this conversation if you have the mental and emotional capacity to do so, and share your gratitude with the people who choose to listen to what you have to say.

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