Pride season fills me with nostalgia from joyous memories with friends as well as an indescribable sadness. Several years ago, a good friend of mine committed suicide. Despite being in a very loving long-term relationship and adored by his friends, he expressed being unable to shake a feeling of not belonging. I vividly remember a conversation during which he expressed the internal distress he felt about being a gay man, fuelled by judgment from society and his culture. I wish I could have understood then the depth of his suffering.
We have been programmed to have default assumptions about how the world functions. A subset of these pervasive assumptions include heteronormativity (that one will be attracted to a member of the opposite sex); cisgenderism (that one’s gender identity will be aligned with the gender assigned at birth); and that gender is a binary construct, that you are either male or female, each of which comes with a rigid framework for gender expression and gender roles.
Human beings are complex, multilayered beings and cannot be reduced to a box or even boxes. The essence of a person cannot be contained. We have to keep striving toward looking at the human experience through a much larger lens, one that does not constrain our vision.
Pride season, to me, signals the need for a more open discussion about gender/sexuality/societal norms. Wouldn’t it be liberating not to have prescribed roles to which we feel we need to adhere? Rather than spending our time fretting about whether we are behaving in ways everyone is expecting us to, we would have more time for introspection and be free to act in accordance with who we feel we really are.
There is no evidence that gender is in fact binary. Biologically, we all fall on a spectrum of masculine and feminine levels of hormones. Gender falls on a spectrum, regardless of genitalia. This fact has been recognized in several cultures, but surprisingly, not in North American culture. The only exception is the notion of “two-spirit” in First Nations culture — a sacred social space for non-binary individuals. In contrast, the dominant society seems invested in fitting us into restrictive categories. If you fall into this category, you must play with these toys, behave this way, dress this way, be attracted to this gender. And if you dare to challenge your prescribed role, society will be at best judgmental and at worst vicious and cruel.
Categories are important for policy, advocacy and laws. However, we have to constantly keep questioning ourselves to ensure that no human being is feeling excluded, or worst of all, made to feel invisible. Every time you fill out a form where there is no box to tick that represents who you are, the world communicates the message: “you don’t belong here.” A sense of belonging is absolutely crucial to the human experience. A paradigm shift would allow looking at relationships with the lens of a human being who loves another human being who at different points in time could be either male or female or anywhere on the gender spectrum.
Despite above arguments, you may still be wondering to which categories I belong. I would situate myself as a cisgender, heterosexual woman. However, this does not fully reflect my experience, and feels restrictive and suffocating. I never felt myself fitting into rigid categories either in terms of gender expression or sexual orientation. A feeling of love and acceptance is a key ingredient in one’s lifelong quest toward our authentic self, what I most hope to impart to my children. Everyone should feel loved and supported for who they are by their family, family of choice, friends and the society at large.
Marjorie Rabiau is a clinical psychologist and assistant professor in the School of Social Work at McGill University.
For more information, see Montreal Gazette.
This year’s edition of Montreal Pride runs Aug. 9-19.