Weigel: Our identities are on a spectrum, including gender

Gender is typically conceived as a dichotomous identity where a person is either a man or a woman. However, recent local initiatives are leading the societal reconstruction of this fallacious characterization, ushering in a new era of gender fluidity.


Zach Weigel, Opinion Columnist

Along with race and partisanship, gender is arguably one of the most salient identities in America today. There’s no denying that often, it matters whether you are white or nonwhite, a Democrat or a Republican, and a man or a woman. People pay attention to these identities and use them to characterize one another. However, to the chagrin of some, not everyone fits in these binary identity categories.

You could be mixed race, an independent, and neither a man nor woman. In other words, you could fall in between two categories. Theoretically, it’s perfectly fine to fall in between two categories, yet in reality, falling in between can lead to being marginalized and ostracized.

But at least when it comes to gender, a number of local initiatives right here in Iowa City have embraced a new gender-fluid conceptualization that favors inclusiveness over marginalization.

It’s astonishing that it’s been more than two years since the the University of Iowa débuted 147 gender-neutral restrooms across campus. What’s more, it’s also been more than a year since the university started allowing students to select their preferred gender pronouns through MyUI.

Consequently, students can now use a gender-neutral restroom instead of having to worry about what other people will think when they use a restroom that doesn’t align with what others perceive their gender to be. And instructors now know whether a student identifies as a man, woman, or neither by simply printing off a class roster that has each student’s preferred gender pronouns.

The UI isn’t the only place in Iowa City tackling gender fluidity, either. Last spring, the Iowa City West Student Senate decided to follow suit by initiating the implementation of gender-neutral restrooms in the building. Instead of having a Homecoming king and queen this year, West High will vote on six individuals — regardless of gender — to be the “Heroes of Troy” for Homecoming. 

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Even kids at the high-school level are willing to expand their definition of gender to include those who don’t fit the strict man-woman definition that many of us are accustomed to.

Policy-wise, it appears Iowa City writ large is committed to gender inclusiveness, too. The Iowa City School District released a statement earlier this year saying, “It is our shared responsibility to ensure every member of our school community is valued and respected regardless of gender identity.” Moreover, in February, the Iowa City City Council passed an ordinance expanding its definition of gender to be more inclusive for those who don’t identify as a man or a woman in the anachronous binary definition.

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So, it certainly seems like the Iowa City community is on the forefront of the battle to reconstruct the definition of gender. Numerous initiatives evince that gender should no longer be conceived as a binary construct in which someone is either a man or a woman.

When someone asks you if you’re a liberal or conservative, you can always say, “neither” or “moderate,” because people understand that ideology exists on spectrum. Thanks to a community-wide rethinking of gender, hopefully, we can all come to understand that gender exists on a spectrum, too. People can be neither man nor woman, just as they can be neither liberal nor conservative.