Gender fluidity relates to a person whose gender expression or gender identity (or both) is non-fixed, but can shift over time.
What is gender fluid – meaning and explanation
A gender fluid individual can go through several non-fixed expressions of gender.
For some, it’s a transitory phase which allows people to explore different aspects of their own gender identity before finding their true gender identification. For others, it’s an ongoing process that lasts throughout their lifetime.
The need for an inclusive gender fluid meaning is important in order to challenge traditional stereotypes and norms. A person who identifies as gender fluid may be non-binary or transgender, but they can also identify with their biological or birth-assigned gender.
The term ‘gender fluidity’ has come to acknowledge that gender doesn’t need to be fixed, and that we don’t need to align ourselves with one specific gender. Some people feel their identity fits outside the gender binary, or somewhere in between.
In short, the term recognizes that there are alternate ways of expressing gender identity.
The difference between gender identity and gender expression
When speaking of gender fluidity, the terms gender identity and gender expression are often interchangeably used. However, there is an important difference between the two.
A person’s gender identity relates to their experienced gender identification, whereas gender expression refers to how the person expresses themselves through their gender identity. Some people have a predominantly masculine or feminine way of expressing their gender – but they may also express themselves in ways that are neither, or both.
What is cisgender?
Cisgender refers to a person who identifies with their birth-assigned gender, which matches their sex (male or female) on their birth certificate.
A gender fluid person can, depending on the situation or their experienced gender identification at the time, identify as cisgender. However, this is a non-fixed identification that can very well shift later in life.
It is also important to mention that a person’s gender fluidity might be only in the way they express themselves, but not in their identity. It can also be the other way around. Likewise, gender identity and gender expression can evolve together.
Gender fluidity has always existed, even though the concept is new
The concept of gender fluidity hasn’t been around very long. Still, history has many examples that prove the concept has existed for a very long time.
- Hijras refers to a group of gender non-conforming people in India and South Asia that have existed for thousands of years. Individuals who identify as hijra are generally born male but identify as female, and eventually transition into the “third gender”. For centuries, they have continuously challenged rigid traditional gender roles within patriarchal societies.
- In Juchitán, Mexico, some gender non-conforming individuals identify as muxe. These individuals’ gender identity may encompass a single non-assigned gender, multiple genders, or no gender.
- The 18th century French spy and diplomat Chevalier D’Eon is a well-known example of a gender fluid person. D’Eon lived the first half of their life as a man, and the latter years as a woman under the name Charlotte-Geneviève-Louise-Augusta-Andréa-Timothéa d’Éon de Beaumont.
Gender fluid or non-binary?
As an identity, being gender fluid is typically associated with transgender and nonbinary identities and, even though there are some similarities, they aren’t exactly the same. In all three cases, these are terms that apply to individuals whose gender identity diverges from their assigned gender at birth.
But far from every individual who identifies as non-binary also identifies as gender-fluid.
Non-binary gender identities are often outside of the traditional gender binary. Therefore, non-binary is an umbrella term for many different non-binary identifications, including:
- Gender non-conforming
Gender fluidity and sexual fluidity
Gender fluidity has its roots in the concept of sexual fluidity – the idea that sexual orientations exist beyond the conventional norms of heterosexual, bisexual or homosexual. As in the case of gender fluidity, a person’s sexual identity can also be fluid, meaning it might change repeatedly over the time.
Different people will define gender fluidity in different ways, but one thing most agree on is the basic idea that gender isn’t one fixed point. It is flexible and can shift depending on the person’s own internal self or the context they find themselves in.
Gender fluidity and transgender identity
Most people develop their gender identity in early childhood, typically around the age of 3 or 4. Gender identity is influenced by many factors, such as:
- Social context
Each of these factors can have different, sometimes conflicting, norms about gender identity and gender expression
An example of conflicting gender values
An adolescent might live in a family that encourages diversity when it comes to expressions of gender and identity, but also live in a community where boys and girls are expected to dress and act according to their sex. It also might be the other way around.
Depending on the situation, this adolescent will feel more or less free to express their true self at home or out in public.
How is transgender identity different from gender fluidity?
For a lot of people, gender identity remains the same over time. For others, it can shift at some point. Some people may identify with one gender throughout their childhood, then identify with another gender as adults. This person might be considered transgender rather than gender-fluid, because they experience one single gender identity shift rather than a series of changes throughout their lives.
How to support gender fluidity
Gender fluidity is intimately linked with our internal sense of self. How we express ourselves, and how we choose to define ourselves are integral parts of our individuality.
Studies show that non-binary individuals encounter a disproportionate amount of bias and discrimination in all areas of their lives, and especially in the workplace.
Here are some ways in which companies can work toward creating a more inclusive workplace for all employees, regardless of gender:
- Replacing gender-fixed language in company communications. Start by changing gender-based forms of address like ‘Mr/Mrs’ with gender-neutral salutations, such as Dear Name/Dear Colleague. Add pronouns (she/her, he/him, they/them) on email signatures.
- Creating an inclusive physical workspace that is accessible to everyone. Allow gender-neutral bathrooms. Make sure all spaces in the office are open to everyone, regardless of gender.
- Giving employees guidance on which terms are appropriate. In HR processes it is important to be considerate to employees who are experiencing changes in gender identity.
- Making sure all gender identity data is protected. Gender identity should never be disclosed to any other person without the data holder’s consent. Always ensure that employees feel empowered. Reassure them that they maintain control over their personal information at all times.
- Company harassment and anti-bullying policies should include references to gender identity. Updating policies to make sure they cover all areas in this context is key.
- It is important to act promptly if an employee raises concerns about discrimination or bias. Any claims of discrimination must be treated seriously while providing a safe and supportive environment. By offering educational resources, employees can gain a better understanding of these issues and how to promote a more inclusive culture.