Perhaps the modern version of, "Don't judge a book by its cover" is, "Don't judge a podcast by its thumbnail." No matter who you are, looking beyond first appearances and checking your preconceived notions is an important practice. Whether you're a queer angel or an ally (I see you, allies!), knowing why you shouldn't assume anyone's sexuality or gender identity can help everyone feel safe and validated.
"The LGBTQ community is as diverse as the fabric of this nation, and there is no one way for an LGBTQ person to look or act," Deputy Press Secretary of Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Elliott Kozuch tells Elite Daily. "If we assume the LGBTQ community is a monolith, we erase the beautiful diversity that makes up our humanity."
Just as there is no one way for a straight or cisgender person to look or act, queer angels come in all shapes and sizes. Whether you're a bisexual babe with a buzzcut, a trans-masculine honey with long acrylic nails, or an asexual angel wearing all Gucci everythang, your appearance doesn't dictate who you are. "Assuming someone’s gender or sexuality based on someone’s appearance is rooted in outdated stereotypes," GLAAD Ambassador Syd Stephenson tells Elite Daily. "Just don’t do it."
According to Stephenson, when you assume someone's gender based on how they look or what they're wearing, you're reinforcing outdated and insular ideas about sexuality and gender. Just like wearing a baggy t-shirt one day and a body-con dress the next doesn't make you any less you, clothing and outward appearances don't dictate how a person identifies. And while stereotypes can be especially dangerous for trans angels, constricting ideas can affect everyone. (Think: being told you don't look "feminine" when you wear sweats or your cisgender brother being called "girly" for wearing a certain color.)
"It can be devastating as a trans person to have your gender incorrectly assumed," Stephenson says. "There is no one specific way to look at any gender. For instance, I am non-binary, but a lot of people assume that I am a transgender woman because I do not usually bind my chest."
As Stephenson shares, assuming someone's gender identity from their physical body or clothing can be super painful for everyone. Though some non-binary folks (or other people of all genders) may choose to "bind" their chest (i.e., wear compression garments shaped like crop-tops or sports bras to make their chest look flatter), others may choose not to. Maybe they choose to wear a pushup bra with more padding than a pillow-top mattress. Or perhaps they choose not to wear a shirt at all.
No matter your gender identity, your physical body and clothing don't dictate who you are or how you like to be seen or addressed. In fact, assuming someone's entire gender identity based on what they're wearing is pretty baseless.
In addition to gender stereotyping, making judgments or insinuations about someone's sexuality (i.e., the gender(s) they are sexually or romantically attracted to) because of their appearance can be incredibly damaging. "When it comes to sexuality, assuming someone’s identity is also very harmful as it reinforces stereotypes about lesbian, gay, asexual, bisexual, and pansexual people that can lead to violence," Stephenson says. Assuming someone's sexuality is not only hurtful and harmful to them, but it also fortifies outdated and restrictive ideas about queer people in society at large.
Though you may think nothing of calling your friend's new haircut a "Bisexual Bob" or noting that your pal's flannel makes them look "so gay," associating certain identities with specific haircuts or insinuating that someone is or isn't queer because of what they're wearing can be harmful. As an assigned female at birth (AFAB), non-binary person who has had an array of (bad) haircuts and fashion "phases," I know the pain of feeling "too queer" for a given space. I also understand feeling "not queer enough" because of my clothes or appearance.
Of course, asking yourself to never judge anyone based on their appearance ever again can be a pretty tall order. Start by trying to be critical, conscious, and mindful about where your judgments come from and how you're letting them impact the people around you. (Especially queer people, and especially trans people of color.) Cognizance is something you can work on every day.
Perhaps you might consider rephrasing the evite to your sorority's formal to read "siblings" instead of "sisters." Maybe you can put your pronouns in your Instagram bio in order to further normalize the practice. You could even skip more gendered compliments like "beautiful" or "handsome" and instead opt to call your friends "angelic" or "striking." Speaking of friends, you can try to use more inclusive terms like "babes" or "pals" instead of "ladies" or "girlies." Though these may seem like small actions, being mindful of not assuming someone's gender or sexuality can go a long way.
Additionally, if you've known someone for a long time and you realize you've never checked in with them about their pronouns, Stephenson shares that taking a moment to acknowledge their identity can be a super validating practice. "Something along the lines of, 'I apologize for not asking sooner, what pronouns should I use for you?' can let people know that you are conscious and respectful while also not assuming their gender based on their presentation," Stephenson says.
When meeting someone new, Kozuch adds that introducing yourself using your name and pronouns (even if you use the pronouns that align with the gender you were assigned at birth) can normalize the practice of not assuming a person's identity. "A simple, 'Hello! My name is Elliott, and my pronouns are they and them,' can open the door for someone to respond with their name and pronouns," Kozuch says. Of course, sharing your pronouns is a personal decision, and it's never OK to interrogate someone or force them to share their personal identity. However, making space for others to share theirs can establish that you will not assume anything about anyone's gender or sexuality.
Though the way someone presents themselves may give you a taste of who they are, it doesn't dictate their sexuality or gender identity. If you catch yourself making some outdated assumptions, try thinking about where your judgment is coming from and adjusting your behavior. While stating your pronouns or using more inclusive language may seem like a small deal, making space for everyone to be seen and validated can be important. Make no assumption: There is no place for outdated stereotypes about someone's gender and sexuality, no matter who they are.
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