The excuses we keep hearing against celebrating gender identity are pretty tired, if we’re being honest.
“Change is hard.”
“I don’t feel like I need to learn someone else’s pronouns.”
And our personal least favorite:
“That’s the way it’s always been done.”
Let’s just keep everything the way it’s always been, right? Buy minutes for our flip phones, browse the internet as slow as dial-up allows (are we aging ourselves?), and choose between five TV channels—on a good day. Sounds better, right?
Of course not!
Excuse us if we treat your tired excuses around gender identity the same as dial-up internet. A more inclusive way of living and treating others is the way of the present and future, and WITH is here to celebrate gender identity.
We may be wellness experts, but we turned to a professional to teach us everything about how to make celebrating gender identity a priority—Assistant Professor Francisco J. Galarte.
Episode 9 of Priorities, our podcast on all things health and wellness, features Galarte in conversation with Bryan and I as we discuss how to prioritize inclusivity by celebrating gender identity. In this episode of Priorities, we cover:
- Articulating gender identity in our daily lives
- Rethinking familiar gender concepts
- How to celebrate gender identity
- Definitions to know when discussing gender identity
Meet Francisco J. Galarte
Francisco J. Galarte has earned more than his fair share of distinct titles. They include:
- Ph.D. in Educational Policy Studies, with a minor in Latina/Latino Studies from the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign
- Assistant Professor of American Studies and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of New Mexico
- Former Assistant Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Arizona
- Fashion Editor (2012-2018) for the only existing journal in Transgender Studies, TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly
- Co-general editor for TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly since 2018
- Published author
Galarte’s accomplishments extend far beyond this list, but they can only really tell a small portion of his incredible story.
We’ll let Galarte fill you in on the rest.
Francisco J. Galarte’s Intro to Gender Identity
Galarte is a vocal leader in increasing education around gender, sexuality, and gender identity. So, naturally, we picked his brain on the complex ways people identify—specifically, Galarte himself. He introduced us to a new term: transfronterizo.
Don’t worry, we’ll let Galarte explain it for us.
“Transfronterizo is a term that, for me, really encapsulates both my geopolitical location and commitments as someone who grew up on the US-Mexico border—that's the “fronterizo” part. And then “trans” reflects my identity as someone who identifies as trans and has that experience of growing up in the world and informs my understanding of what my life was as a child and thinking about what that experience was for me growing up. And then also the growth from that and how living in the border of the space, it's always moving and changing, and thinking about myself as in that location as well as where those two come together. Being trans is a place where you're consistently learning how to navigate the world in different ways in terms of thinking about gender—and of course how that changes—and also in relationship to race and racialization becomes really important to me, too.”
Galarte highlights the important makeup of how he identifies, through:
- Geopolitical borders
Complex stuff already, and we’re only getting started.
Celebrating Gender Identity in Our Daily Lives
Over 1.6 million Americans identify as transgender as of 2020. More people are openly identifying as transgender each year.
So why does it seem like gender identity—specifically, the use of pronouns—causes so much pushback? 43% of American adults feel that issues around transgender and nonbinary individuals are changing too quickly for their comfort.
We asked Galarte for his thoughts on this:
“I think to start at the systems and what is informing our slowness, I think it's just how quickly capitalism forces us to adapt both as consumers, but also as workers. The faster we work, the faster the system catches up and there's a continual desire or a way that capitalism I think pushes us to push our boundaries and to go faster and faster and faster. And there's not really a threshold in which the system is going to say, stop. And so I think the cultural transformation is slow because we're really just trying to move and keep up.”
We all know what it’s like to try and keep up with advancements and changes on an almost hourly basis. The trans community shares those feelings, feeling pressure to keep up with the pace of constant change while getting pushback from those that want things to slow down.
The cultural divide strikes again.
“I think that we're complicated as human beings. I think that we can be conscious of the way in which we are moving at a speed or a pace that is untenable, that is just pushing us to our max, but then also not necessarily really having time to think about what it is that I am consuming that might have a consequence for somebody else. Or, how can I not take this as purely consumption and entertainment, but really kind of think about what music or a film or clothing, who's at the other end of that.”
Galarte makes a great point, giving us a few questions to ask ourselves:
- Are we really thinking about the people behind the products we buy or the entertainment we consume?
- Do we support companies that actively celebrate gender identity, rather than do the usual performative corporate activism?
- On the flip side, do we ignore transphobic lyrics from our favorite artists because the songs have a good beat?
Galarte pinpoints some of the good being done in entertainment and social spaces to celebrate gender identity.
Celebrating Gender Identity Through Entertainment
The entertainment industry has been at the forefront of social change since, well, forever. Sometimes, this is a good thing, and sometimes it can be a bit of a hindrance.
Galarte gives us the whole picture, providing two examples of the current state of trans representation in entertainment, including:
- Bad Bunny
- TikTok and Instagram
Bad Bunny Celebrates Gender Identity
If you haven’t heard of Bad Bunny—and we’re guessing that’s very few of you—let’s just say, he’s a big deal. Spotify’s most streamed artist in the world, the Latin rapper and singer skyrocketed to fame after landing features on Cardi B and Drake tracks.
Galarte counts himself as a fan:
“I could never afford to go see Bad Bunny, but I love the work that he does, enjoy the music. I think as a cultural project, he does a lot of really important work.”
Bad Bunny has gained notice in recent years for pushing his often conservative home of Puerto Rico to be more inclusive and supportive of the trans community, inviting trans rapper Villana Antillano to join his shows, and including messages of acceptance and positivity in his lyrics.
Is this enough, though?
“You ask yourself: who's in the place to be able to have time to really excavate the work that is being done aside from the pleasure that the beats give or the space that it enables on the weekends or on your drive home or whatever that might mean for you? So I think that there's a way that our lives are just so fast-paced that even cultural workers that are really wanting to create a kind of critical conversation around things like gender or race and its relation to social justice and transformation, there's a way that you can get lost. But then at the same time, I’m okay with people experiencing pleasure from acultural texts and it kind of opening up spaces in their life.”
Sometimes it does feel like the heavy thinking is only being done in the campus classrooms or scholarly journals, leaving the rest of us on the outside.
So, what can we do?
Galarte has a few suggestions:
“For me, the question is: how do we bring both those two worlds together where we can consume? Because I'm someone—I love to shop, I like to look good. I like all those things, but I also really want to be able to do so in a way that is not at the expense of other people, or that I can create a conversation around my own kind of consumption or what it is that I'm doing. And I think those are the possibilities.”
One place where real conversations around trans and nonbinary communities are reaching the masses? Social media.
TikTok and Instagram Celebrate Gender Identity
It’s probably not news that more 18-39 year olds identify as something other than straight binary than any other demographic (cultural divide, remember?). If the younger generations are leading the way in celebrating gender identity, it’s probably a smart move to turn to them for examples, right?
Galarte thinks so:
“There's a reason why TikTok and reels on Instagram and these kind of short moments of teaching things are especially important for the generation right now because you can do it while you're doing something else or if you need to. So that immediacy, as sad as it might be to some, is really just the pace that we are living at and in that moment. So I think people are making do with how technology is transforming around the pace in which we have to live our lives in many different types of ways.”
We use TikTok and Instagram for keeping up with the relatives, showing off our vacations, and discovering new recipes. Why not put it to good use by celebrating gender identity, too?
Rethinking Familiar Gender Concepts When Celebrating Gender Identity
One goal of educating ourselves on transgender and nonbinary lifestyles is to rethink old ways of doing things. That starts with basic terminology.
Masculinity and femininity. Easily defined terms, right? We all know what these words mean.
Galarte suggests we reconsider:
“I think for me as a project and this holistic way that I have kind of undertake this project for myself and wanting to consistently interrogate what masculinity is for me and what that looks like, and also being reflective on what that looked like maybe five years ago, 10 years ago, and how that changes, I think that's a big part of it too. I think for me, one of the first steps when I was really trying to think seriously about masculinity, it was investment in all of the things that I thought went along with it. So that's close. That's also ways of relating to others and having gender just dispute really kind of central in your mind, whether we're talking about norms or whatever, it's opening doors.”
Galarte relays his own early experiences with masculinity and femininity that shaped his identity.
“One of the things that for me was always on my mind both as a child in coming of age is masculinity and what that was like and how I encountered it in different forms in my life. I really admired in [my father] the masculinity that he embodied. He was someone who was very emotional in the sense that he offered that kind of emotional caretaking, different types of ways that I didn't see often with other people in my life, and then masculinity or masculine roles, or what I was understanding as masculine roles. I also saw it embodied in my grandmother and my mom to a certain extent in terms of being the head of the household in various ways.
And that alongside being the person who's supposed to reproduce and instill culture, I didn't see that as something that was only the responsibility of the feminine. I saw that in my dad and I valued that. But I also valued my grandmother and my mother as kind of the folks who instilled and reproduced. So masculinity for me, I always felt like it wasn't as constraining as the world that I encountered later as an adult or in adolescence. In young adulthood, I really began to encounter situations where there was a particular way to be masculine that just was completely outside of the box of what I understood masculinity to be.
And so the shape of masculinity that I was yearning for and wanting to embody was not one that I was overtly encountering in the world, or was one that was being devalued or punished in different ways.”
Galarte sees masculinity and femininity as very personal identifiers, influenced by family and geopolitical location or community.
“I think trans folks are really kind of making sense of what is really valued around masculinity and femininity. Not speaking for everyone, but I think at a baseline there's a desire to navigate that and to explore that. And depending on the world that you live in and your circumstances, you may be given that freedom or you might be punished for that. And I think we're living in a time where we're also seeing a lot of anxiety around trans children specifically as well.”
Many of us simplify gender into the binary male-female. It’s just easier that way. And pushback occurs when the old way of doing things is challenged. Galarte gives us new ways of thinking about familiar terms to expand our own definitions of masculinity, femininity, and gender.
Because one thing Galarte has taught us: gender identity includes all of us.
“I don't think that trans people are the only ones who think about gender all the time. I just think that trans folks are often called upon to comment on the materiality of what gender brings to how we might encounter the world and how we as individuals make those experiences real in different types of ways, whether it's joyous or whether it's violence. But definitely I think most of us are consistently navigating gender in different types of ways, but we don't always really speak to what that might look like.”
It’s about time we have more conversations about what gender identity means to us—straight, cis, gay, nonbinary, transgender—all of us.
How to Celebrate Gender Identity
Professor Galarte has taught us some valuable lessons already, including:
- How to think about gender identity in our daily lives
- How to use social media to promote gender inclusivity
- How to rethink familiar terms to self-educate on gender identity
So, how do we celebrate gender identity?
“I think at the most material and basic level [celebrating gender identity] means accessibility and mechanisms available to change simple things like markers on birth certificates or legal name change. And then at the more nuanced level it is access to healthcare, access to shelter. And that is an investment in everybody, not only trans people. I think that a concerted investment to assuring that people have their basic needs met—whether it's shelter or healthcare or clean water—that at a basic level is a celebration of gender identity at the level in which we're not making determinations about who has access to what because of what they're choosing to do with their bodies. Why single out a particular population who is changing the shape of their bodies because it's a necessity for them, it's a human need?”
Helping is celebrating. Educating ourselves and others is celebrating. Reexamining our relationship to gender identity is celebrating.
Being inclusive of everybody is celebrating gender identity.
Definitions to Know When Discussing Gender Identity
As we hope has been made obvious, the way we speak and words we use around gender identity are vital to celebrating and understanding gender and the trans and nonbinary communities.
We share a few important terms to know to educate ourselves, think more critically about gender diversity, and to celebrate gender identity.
- Asexual— the complete, partial, or conditional lack of sexual interest or attraction
- Bisexual— an individual attracted to more than one sex, gender, and/or gender identity
- Cisgender— the alignment of gender identity with the sex assigned at birth
- Gender Non-conforming—any gender identity that does not conform to traditional standards of gender expression, including transgender
- Genderqueer— fluid gender identity, seeing oneself as both male and female, neither male or female, or separate from gender categorization (often also known as “gender-fluid”)
- Intersex—physical traits that do not conform to a single sex, including differences in genitalia, chromosomes, hormone production, and/or secondary sex traits
- Gender binary— the constructed treatment of gender as only male or female, aligning with sex assigned at birth
- Gender dysphoria— significant and diagnosable distress when sex assigned at birth does not align with gender identity
- Nonbinary— descriptor for an individual that does not identify within the binary of male or female, and instead identifying as male and female, neither, or a separate categorization of gender
- Pansexual— the potential for attraction to any gender
- Transgender— individuals who identify as gender separate from cultural or traditional expectations of sex assigned at birth
Self-education is a big step in understanding gender identity, and Galarte believes it is a much-needed step in sharing in the joy and pleasure of celebrating gender identity.
“We don't talk about what brings us joy or even pleasure. I think that when we do, we feel kind of guilty about it. And so for me, what really brings me joy, I think if I dial it in at a very basic level, it is learning. I just always have to consume something to learn. I love to learn something new every day. And for me that is in listening to podcasts or reading articles or even in my own deep dive into a maker of a specific type of clothes or brand. It’s like, ‘Where did that come from? Who's a producer? What's its history?’ So even in what I consume, I'm always just trying to learn a little bit more about where it came from and how I encountered it.”
Prioritize Inclusivity by Celebrating Gender Identity
WITH is committed to all forms of wellness–from financial well-being to mental health. Galarte directed us on how to educate ourselves on gender identity, rethink familiar definitions of gender and sexuality, and celebrate gender identity to promote inclusivity.
For more of our extensive conversation with Galarte, check out our podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Captivate, or wherever you stream your podcasts.
You can catch up on previous episodes of our podcast by visiting our health and wellness magazine, or checking out our articles:
- How to Find the Right Therapist When Mental Health is a Priority
- Making Financial Literacy a Priority in Uncertain Times
- How to Reset When Avoiding Burnout is a Priority