Max, age 13, does not identify as male. Ordinarily, working through the process of elimination, that should be enough to deduce Max’s gender.

But Max does not identify as female, either. Max is agender. When referring to Max, you don’t use “he” or “she;” you use “they.”

Once strictly a pronoun of the plural variety, “they” is now doing double duty as singular, referring to individuals, like Max, who do not see gender as an either/or option.

Max, 13 years old, identifies as agender—neither a male or a female. (Bert Johnson/KQED)
Max, 13 years old, identifies as agender–neither a male or a female. (Bert Johnson/KQED)

This can be awkward.

“I can’t expect anyone to use the right pronouns for me because it’s not a thing that people know,” Max says. “It’s been great being myself, but it’s also been really hard for people to get it, and for even family to get pronouns and stuff.”

We’re talking in Max’s room, where posters on the wall showcase Max’s appearance in school theatrical productions: “Peter Pan,” “Tarzan,” “The Pirates of Penzance.” Max is old enough now to make use of a makeup area—blush, foundation, lipstick—but young enough to enjoy going with their mom to see “Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory.” (The review from Max: Gene Wilder’s great!)

From these surroundings, you wouldn’t think the room’s occupant is someone who has poked and prodded at the most fundamental sense of who they are. Really, this is just a kid’s room.

What does “agender” mean? I need to ask that kid.

“What it means is I’m neither guy or girl, and that’s how I feel, which is different than terms like ‘gender fluid’—which means you feel like a guy or girl at different times—because I don’t feel like I’m both guy and girl; I’m neither.”

Max sounds a bit didactic, here, teaching me Nonbinary Gender 101. A crash course for someone who never considered that gender didn’t mean just male and female.

Outside Max’s room, out in the world, being nonbinary means having to do a lot of explaining.

When did you first feel different? I ask.

“I’ve been feeling different than just a boy for all my life, really.”

Max frames the transition from who they (that is, Max) were to who they are as a journey of self-discovery. In elementary school, there were girl friends and dressing in pink boas. That, Max says, was “awesome.”

But two years ago, someone at school called Max a “girl-boy.” Later, Max walked upstairs to the third floor of the house and stepped out onto the balcony, weighing whether or not to jump.

More than 40 percent of transgender or “gender non-conforming” people have attempted suicide, according to surveys, with school bullying playing a significant role.

Why, I ask, did that particular insult hit so deeply that you would think about ending your life?

Max answers in spare, even-toned summation.

“I felt like no one loved me.”

Leaping the Gender Boundary

That day, on the balcony, Max had summoned up the presence of mind to call a transgender hotline. A counselor talked Max back into the house, to continue a struggle that appears remarkably profound.

If same-sex marriage was yesterday’s battle to redefine gender roles and privileges, and transgender rights today’s, we just may be on the cusp of the most transformational stage yet. This you-ain’t-seen-nothin’-yet development involves the splintering of what heretofore has been one of the most resilient organizing principles of American society—the division of the entire human race into male and female.

Those who now erase that line may identify as both male and female, as neither male nor female, or as sometimes male and sometimes female. “They” is often the pronoun of choice. These individuals may use any number of terms to describe their gender identity: genderqueer, gender-fluid, gender creative, gender-expansive. While definitions fluctuate, “nonbinary gender” has emerged as an umbrella description.

“I think we’re seeing a new gender revolution,” says clinical psychologist Diane Ehrensaft. “It’s erased boxes and created gender infinity instead.”

Ehrensaft directs mental health at the Child and Adolescent Gender Center at the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in San Francisco. At 70, she has been practicing her profession for some time.

“We are seeing more and more kids saying, ‘You know what? What’s with this either/or business? What’s with this boy-girl and you have to fit in one box or the other?’”

Cypress, 14, who identifies as gender fluid, with her mother, Christine Chrisman. ". I’ve never really felt all the way over on one side of the spectrum," Cypress says.
Cypress, 14, who identifies as gender fluid, with her mother, Christine Chrisman. “I’ve never really felt all the way over on one side of the spectrum,” Cypress says. (Jon Brooks/KQED)

How widespread is the nonbinary phenomenon? The results of the most recent survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality attest to how many transgender people are opting to identify this way. Out of almost 28,000 respondents, more than a third chose “nonbinary/genderqueer” when given a choice of terms to best describe themselves.

While the number of transgender clients seeking help has swollen into a “tsunami,” according to Ehrensaft, the number who want to transition to the opposite sex has been steadily dropping.

A much greater percentage, she says, say they’re “kind of the person that matches the sex on my birth certificate, but kind of not, as well. I’m going to use ‘they’ instead of  ‘he’ or ‘she’ because those are not choices that fit me at all.’ ”

And there is growing evidence that even those outside the transgender community are buying in.

A January 2015 general population survey of 1,000 people age 18-34, conducted for Fusion media, found just 46 percent agreed that “there are only two genders, male and female.” Fifty percent, meanwhile, said “gender is a spectrum, and some people fall outside conventional categories.”

As more people redefine their gender identity in nonbinary terms, schools, governments, workplaces and parents are having to adapt.

Christine Chrisman, 46, has a 14-year-old, Cypress, who identifies as gender-fluid. Chrisman says she was fully aware of transgender people who wanted to transition completely to the opposite sex. But, she says, “It didn’t really occur to me you could just hang out in the neutral, the in-between spot.”

“I don’t know what to think about it,” she says, adding that she knows a lot of parents who feel similarly. “Everybody seems sort of bewildered.”

Legal Recognition

Here in this state, the California Healthy Youth Act, signed into law in 2015, requires comprehensive sex education for grades 7-12 to “teach pupils about gender, gender expression, gender identity, and explore the harm of negative gender stereotypes.” A checklist from the California County of Superintendents, designed for school systems to evaluate their compliance with the law, includes this definition of gender identity:

“One’s internal, deeply-held sense of being male, female, neither of these, both, or other gender(s). All people have a gender identity.” (Emphasis ours.)

Phyllida Burlingame of the ACLU of Northern California calls the law the nation’s first of its kind. She says districts are currently working to come into compliance with it.

Official recognition of nonbinary gender appears to be accelerating. Last June, a county circuit court judge in Oregon, in what transgender advocates believed was a first in the U.S., affirmed the legal change of 52-year-old Jamie Shupe’s gender from female to “nonbinary.”

Then, in September, a judge in Santa Cruz, California issued an order recognizing “nonbinary” as the legal gender of 55-year-old Sara Kelly Keenan. Since then, California courts have granted nonbinary status to several more individuals. Coming this spring, according to the Gendersex and Queer Recognition project, hearings will take place in several Bay Area counties for an additional seven people who also want to officially change their gender to nonbinary.

Last month, a California legislator introduced Senate Bill 179, which would make the state the first to recognize “nonbinary” as a legal gender, joining other national and sub-national jurisdictions around the world.

And an Oregon school district last year settled with a nonbinary-identified fifth-grade teacher for $60,000 after the teacher complained of harassment, partly due to coworkers refusing to refer to the teacher as “they” and “them.”

Hanging Out in ‘the In-Between’

Think about this: Max, at 13, has already shed not only a gender identity of origin—male—but also one that turned out to be temporary—transgender female.

genderphoto11
Max and family. “I was taken very much by surprise in terms of gender. It came from left field, I knew nothing, I was scared,” says Max’s mom. (Jon

Max lives with their mother, father and brother in a roomy East Bay home. Two years ago, after first coming out as someone who identified as a girl, Max learned on Tumblr about terms like “nonbinary,” “gender neutral,” and “agender.”

“I was like, you know what? This describes me a little better than ‘girl,’” Max says. “I’ve been rolling with that for over a year.”

Max’s mother, Margaret, 52, acknowledges she was clueless about gender issues when Max came out. “Sexuality–no big deal,” she says, explaining the commitment she and Max’s father, BZ, have always made to gay and lesbian rights. “We’re super lefties.” (She asked we not use last names due to online threats against other transgender families.)

But Max’s nonbinary identity definitely threw her. “I was taken very much by surprise in terms of gender. It came from left field, I knew nothing, I was scared.”

Even here, in the ultra-progressive San Francisco Bay Area, a region that rarely meets an iconoclastic idea it won’t embrace, Max has felt isolated.

“I think it’s a lot harder as nonbinary than trans,” Max says. “I’m not saying it’s not hard as trans, but you can’t really say ‘Oh I’m not a boy, I’m a girl.’ If you say ‘I’m not a boy, I’m not a girl’—so what’s left? It’s hard to define what that means.”

That is an existential quandary with real-world implications.

“I think we were at a mall somewhere,” Margaret, says, “and there was the men’s room to the right and the women’s room to the left, and Max walked right into the wall, in the middle, to make a point. Because where do you go to the bathroom? Where do you feel comfortable?”

While the question of who can go to the bathroom where may sound prosaic, about a third of transgender people have reported abstaining from eating or drinking in order to avoid using one, because of frequent harassment and confrontations.

At school, Max would use the boy’s room only during class, when it was less crowded, and only when desperate. The girls room was not an option, either.

“It would just feel like ‘I’m in the wrong place, I’m not supposed to be here,” Max says. “Something in your stomach—this just doesn’t feel right.”

Davi Mühlinghaus-Anderson, 20, identifies as gender neutral.
Davi Mühlinghaus-Anderson, 20, identifies as gender neutral. (Jon Brooks/KQED)

The family lobbied Oakland School for the Arts, where Max is in the 8th grade, for a gender-neutral bathroom. It took awhile, but the school converted a faculty restroom, which can now be used by anyone.

The other issue that comes up daily is being referred to in the wrong way, as he or she. Max says it hurts to be misgendered.

“It means I’m not passing, especially when people use he/him, it really makes me feel like I’m not doing enough,” Max says with some passion, “and I’m never going to look the right way.”

Max’s father says pronouns have been difficult for him.

“It has taken awhile to get those right,” BZ says. “Max was born male. I’ve had 11 years of ‘he.’”

Dealing with other people is only part of Max’s struggle as a nonbinary youth. Max must also wrestle with the decision of whether to go through male or female puberty.

“Max is on this exploration, but it’s harder [than], like, ‘I’m absolutely a girl, I’m absolutely a boy,” Margaret says. “Being in the middle, what does that mean about your body?”

Right now, taking hormones that prevent the emergence of secondary sex characteristics, such as breasts or facial hair, has bought Max more time to grapple with the choice.

Ehrensaft’s clinic now sees a growing number of people, mostly teenagers, who want to transform their bodies in ways that don’t fit a binary model. One client, Ehrensaft says, doesn’t want testosterone or a lower voice or facial hair, but doesn’t want breasts either.

Davi Mühlinghaus-Anderson, a soft-spoken 20-year-old who identifies as gender neutral and uses plural pronouns, is someone who has taken that route, having their breasts removed but with no plans to have genital reconstruction surgery or to take hormones.

Anderson says removing their breasts wasn’t a hard decision. “When puberty hit, when my breasts started to develop, that was very defining. It was just dead weight to my body.”

In the Gender Vanguard

At Oakland School for the Arts, I’m talking gender with principal Mike Oz and creative writing teacher Jordan Karnes, who also runs the Gender and Sexuality Club.

The interview is not what I expect. Neither Oz nor Karnes, both in their 30s, speak as if slowly crafting a press release, something journalists often come up against when interviewing anyone in an official capacity. The conversation is one we might have in a café about an extremely interesting topic.

Oakland School of the Arts High School Principal Mike Oz
Oakland School for the Arts High School Principal Mike Oz (Oakland School for the Arts)

Oz does seem sensitive about one thing, though: that the school might be portrayed as “that transgender school,” obscuring everything else it has to offer. That worry is not without some foundation. Some OSA parents do seem to feel that for better or worse, the school is on the cutting edge of the gender revolution.

Oz recounts how these conversations often start: “‘I hear your school is a place that turns boys into girls.”

Karnes hasn’t heard that before now.

“There’s something about gender that people find so threatening,” she says. “It’s telling that we have a small portion of students that may be nonbinary or trans, that [we] would earn a reputation like that.”

She says she has one or two transgender or nonbinary students in each of her classes.

But many more have begun to reject the male/female dichotomy, Oz says, simply to support their fellow students. That’s not something he saw coming. “That’s the most beautiful piece of this,” he says.

Besides the gender-neutral bathroom, the school accommodates both nonbinary and binary transgender students by changing their email addresses to reflect the new names they have chosen.

Parents are not always on board. Karnes has been at school events, she says, in which students and teachers call transgender students by their new name and pronoun, while parents do not.

There’s one question, impolitic as it is, I’ve wanted to ask:

Is nonbinary identity a trend? A passing fad?

“I really don’t feel like it’s a trend,” Karnes says. “I feel like it’s the future.”

‘Trained to See a Certain Reality’

The acceptable rules and privileges within a binary male-female gender system have long been challenged, and ultimately expanded, by feminists and LGBT activists. And while the concept of other genders may be novel to Americans, it’s nothing new to many cultures around the world.

World Gender Customs

Hundreds of cultures recognize multiple genders worldwide, and polygendered societies can be traced to antiquity on nearly every continent. The concept of an exclusive gender binary is relatively recent in human history. Still, there are dozens of modern cultures that exist with much broader gender diversity.

The biologist Ann Fausto Sterling titled her seminal 1993 essay about individuals who are born with ambiguous sex characteristics “The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female Are Not Enough.”

“If the state and the legal system have an interest in maintaining a two-party sexual system, they are in defiance of nature,” she wrote. “For, biologically speaking, there are many gradations running from female to male.”

If that is so, one may well imagine a number of these “gradations” applying to those who identify as nonbinary. Sari Van Enders, an endocrinology researcher and gender theorist, says while some physiological research has been done on binary transgender people (including studies showing the brains of transgender individuals more closely resemble those of the gender they adopt), she has not come across any addressing people who are nonbinary.

“My sense is [therapists] have been thinking about this longer than scientists and researchers have,” Van Enders says.

Underlying the nonbinary phenomenon is the belief that gender is a social construct, a theory most famously posited by the philosopher and gender theorist Judith Butler. This view sees the duality of gender, so entrenched in human society, as not a fundamental truth, but a perspective.

Gender researcher Dot Brauer, director of the LGBTQA Center at the University of Vermont, agrees. “We were trained to see a certain reality, and now we see it everywhere and we can’t not see it until we work to untrain ourselves. It’s not unlike a lot of other social frames that have shifted in our lifetime.”

“For all of us, gender is complexly biopsychosocial,” says Meg-John Barker, a UK academic, psychotherapist and author. “That means that it’s really impossible to completely tease apart which elements of our gender experience come from our genetic makeup, which from our life experiences, and which from the wider social forces around us.”

‘Not Hiding Myself’

It’s virtually impossible to sit listening to the experiences of young people like Max and Davi Mühlinghaus-Anderson without feeling their deep longing to communicate the truth of who they are, and without experiencing their bravery in continuing to do it.

While the 2010s may yet become the decade that binary gender broke, it’s interesting to note that many of my baby-boomer cohort have not necessarily noticed, preoccupied as we are with refinancing mortgages and herniating discs. While reporting this story, I noticed more than one of my friends who no longer recognize the bands on “Saturday Night Live” rolling their eyes when I told them the menu of gender options, traditionally limited but at least user friendly, had expanded. I myself had been so out of the loop on these developments that I realized that a lifelong predilection for new ideas may have finally met its match. Here, now, was a notion with good potential to turn me into my father, who met the provocative social changes of the 1960s and ’70s by retreating into the refuge of mockery.

Did I now hear an echo of the man in my talks with nonbinary youth? As I sputtered to one interviewee, “You gotta understand, this wasn’t even a thing when I was growing up.”

No matter how organic and authentic the nonbinary movement is, might we assume, in this time of great economic and social dislocation, that once it shows up at the offices and high schools of the great mass of Americans, many are—to say the least—not going to like it?

Colin Jost of 'Saturday Night Live' was criticized for this joke about gender identities after the election.
Colin Jost of ‘Saturday Night Live’ was criticized for this joke making fun of gender identities after the election. (Saturday Night Live)

On this, some of my interviewees, most of them transgender, agree.

“I think you’re absolutely right,” says Dot Brauer, the University of Vermont academic. “And at the same time I think one of the reasons it has gained as much of a foothold as it has is that while politically and in terms of social norms it is revolutionary and radical, inside of people it’s always been there.”

But will our two main gender categories eventually melt away into “infinity,” as Diane Ehrensaft predicts?

On this score, it’s interesting to look at a provocative 2014 Israeli study. Researchers gave 2,135 heterosexual, non-transgender men and women a questionnaire designed to gauge sexual identity. Among the results, significant percentages reported sometimes feeling like the opposite gender, sometimes wishing to be the opposite gender, and sometimes disliking their body because it was male or female.

“We conclude that the current view of gender identity as binary and unitary does not reflect the experience of many individuals, and call for a new conceptualisation of gender, which relates to multiplicity and fluidity in the experience of gender,” the researchers wrote.

I thought about that after experiencing a moment of sadness during my interview with Dot Brauer. We’d been talking about the stringent gender roles both of us had grown up with, and I flashed back to my schoolyard years, when the smallest deviation from acceptable male behavior—backing out of a fight or wearing the wrong color shirt—could prompt insinuations of insufficient masculinity, if you were lucky, a pronouncement of “faggot” if you were not.

Really, it was quite oppressive—we kids, acting as unwitting enforcers in a kind of gender prison camp. So I wonder: As a veil against such rigid scrutiny, which unacceptable parts of myself had been forever disowned?

Many of those strictures, in some parts of the country, at least, have all but faded. (All hail the rise of the metrosexual.) After such a steady dismantling of strict gender codes, you might say binary gender’s lone remaining bulwark against collapse has been biology. If we really are witnessing the first cracks in that wall as well, one wonders if its failure is really a matter of when, not if. (Diane Ehrensaft wishes she could live another 50 years to see it, she said. )

For the current generation of nonbinary pioneers, though, the issue isn’t the ultimate success or not of a breakthrough vision of gender, it’s a matter of simple truthfulness and dignity. At the end of our interview, I asked gender-neutral Davi Mühlinghaus-Anderson how things have been going since coming out.

“Sometimes I feel like I don’t exist because I have to fight my way through the world,” Davi said. “But I certainly feel happier as a being and not hiding myself.”

Says Max, covering all the bases: “It’s a journey and it’s fun. It’s rewarding but it’s also difficult. But it’s worth it.”

  • Lee Anne Leland

    I spent the majority of my life in a closet and I will be damned if I will spend the rest of it in a box. Want my label? I am a non-conforming lesbian transgender woman. Or, as my friends call me, Lee Anne.

    • Richie Tenenbaum

      You are a mentally ill man. And now that your illness is in vogue, thousands of children will be afflicted.

  • Hillary Clintub

    Hallmark will have to start selling birth announcement cards saying “It’s an IT!!” or “It’s a THING!!” I’m sure new parents will be snapping them up with joy.

  • Emilie St Hilaire

    The biological is already very much at play. Micro plastics have been linked to the feminisation of male embryos, see Heather Davis’ great article “Toxic Progeny” about our queer future.

    • jdhammer

      It’s probably just a genius population-management technique by our loving lord and creator

  • Rob

    And the destruction of Gods design continues….The adults in these situations need to be locked up for encouraging this!

    • jdhammer

      You’ve chatted to God about this? He told you no gender fluidity allowed huh..but your prejudice and judgement are fine?

      • Rob

        Truth is not prejudice. Parents letting children make decisions about sexuality is morally wrong. A child should have no idea or drive about sex yet you see 8 and 10 year olds being “coached” into directions that shouldn’t even be on the table. When they are 18 and an adult “THEY” can choose to be whatever they want.

        It’s bad parenting and society is patting them on the back.

        • jdhammer

          If you read the article, you will see that the child always instigates the change.
          I assume you waited until you were 18 to have a crush on someone, kiss someone or have sex? Is that when your sex drive turned on, right on the governmentally-mandated date? That’s so handy for you.

          • Rob

            If we can get arrested for having sexual before 18, then obviously that is the point of reference for adulthood. What is handy is how people take the opinions of children and run with them. When I was nine I wanted to be a dinosaur. Should I be pissed because my parents didn’t let that happen.

            As a society we have too much time on our hands. Don’t worry it’s the beginning of the end of our civilization. Weakness invites strength. It won’t be long now that our country full of pussies gets overrun by a stronger nation…..

            But… but… feelings

          • Marcello Scarnecchia

            Yes it is all planned. Someone wants Occident to decline. Meanwhile Asia and middle-east keep producing real men and women do not embrace our distorted vision, grow more than us and are kicking our butts with economically and with terror. Because we are growing a generation of brainwashed, spineless pussies.

          • jdhammer

            The laws of the government do not necessarily equal the laws of nature. You know very well you had sexual feelings LONG before the age of 18 and you know exactly what gender they were for. I doubt you have changed your mind since.

  • gdwight

    I could sit all day and quack like a duck and proclaim I am a duck. I am not a duck. Unfortunately the above mentioned people are mentally ill but should be treated with respect and helped. They however do not have rights over my rights. The only quack going on is in their heads

  • Sang Fung

    Interesting that Max describes it as a ‘journey’. Journey to where/what? I think the question for all these no-binary people is, ‘What gender are you attracted to, and when you feel that sensation of love/lust?’ If Max feels attracted to a girl, then he should just stay put as a boy and get married and be happy. If he is attracted to a boy, then he is gay. But still a boy. There is no neither ‘he’ nor ‘she’. The use of ‘they’ is stupid and nonsensical, not to mention clumsy and a silly opt-out. If Max does not feel neither sex, then he cannot be BOTH (i.e. ‘they’) sexes at the same time.

  • rafher123

    Non-standard sexuality is either a genetic or psychological aberration….there are only 2 genders. Even a hermaphrodite is an aberration….the neo-stupidity of the neo-science is becoming pervasive. As for me, I sometimes feel like a Lesbian trapped in man’s body!

    • jdhammer

      God makes no mistakes

      • Spartacus

        Now that’s a well reasoned argument if I’ve ever seen one.

  • Shane Landry

    X or Y. That’s it. Anything else is enabling narcissistic, immature behavior by denying the most basic biology of human binary sexes. Sexuality, and the projection of sexual choice through mimicry, may be fluid but genetic sex is not. By encouraging someone to demand to be named as something that doesn’t exist except in their mind in any other case would be enabling a mental disorder instead of treating it. Imagine telling a sufferer from anorexia nervosa to keep up the good work because they believe being that thin looks good on them. Why not encourage a person with paranoid schizophrenia to believe the people after them in their minds are valid because that’s what they believe? To encourage someone to demand to be called by a non existent biological sex sets them up for confrontation their whole lives and does them a disservice.

    • jdhammer

      Gender fluidity is harmful to nobody. Predjudice and disrespect however, are very harmful

      • Shane Landry

        There is no disrespect in telling someone the genetic truth “You are male/female” and there is no prejudice, as you use the word, in scientific fact.

        • jdhammer

          “For all of us, gender is complexly biopsychosocial” That’s science. You are confusing gender identity with genitalia. You should not have to act out a societally constructed gender identity just because of your genitalia… and people like you being judgemental.

          • Shane Landry

            I’m not advocating not allowing anyone to “sexually identify” as whatever made up term they desire nor did I state you “had to act out a …”. You may have judgmentally missed that in my post. The problem I stated is when a genetically identifiable, or expressed through mimicry, female or male demands to be called a “they/them/carrot”. This breaks down basic descriptive language and encourages narcissistic behavior by allowing demands to be called by imaginary pronouns.
            Your opening quote, from your above reply, what is the source? I couldn’t find it. Is it published in a respected journal or in a peer reviewed and accepted academic paper? Not being snarky, I’d like to read it. Many hits did lead to Psych Mod 12 Flashcards which do state that females have two X chromosomes and the Y chromosome is found only in males. To quote you, “That’s science.” I have no problem calling Big Freedia or Caitlin Jeanner she or Rosie O’Donnell sir. I don’t think it’s a good idea to encourage someone to expect to be called e/em, fir/fers, jam/jam, ve/vir or ve/vis…

          • jdhammer

            Dude, the quote is from this article! “Meg-John Barker, a UK academic, psychotherapist and author”
            I see now that you scanned the first few paragraphs and jumped immediately to the comments section.

          • Shane Landry

            Dudette, I apologize for poorly stating my question. A HALO dropped two sentence quote into an entire article with no references is not “proof”. I meant to ask if this statement had scientific backing. Mea culpa. Is there peer review and a paper associated with this species wide assertion by a psychotherapist author. I ask because in a collaborative study done by Brigham Young, Fort Wainwright and the Puget Sound VA found that psychotherapy had a 50% failure rate in benefiting patients with a single diagnosis, which, doesnt put it far ahead of drilling holes in your head to let out the demons IMO.

          • Spartacus

            Could you elaborate on what you mean by the “This breaks down basic descriptive language and encourages narcissistic behavior…” sentence? I don’t believe there’s any substantive narcissism in wishing to be called what you identify with.

            If you’ll briefly suspend any qualms on the idea that a person is right or wrong for identifying as a certain gender, is it not understandable for a person, lets say, a “butch” female to be upset when mockingly referred to as a guy? It’s not unreasonable for them to want people to refer to them by the gender they identify (or in this case indisputably are) with, is it?

            So it goes for those who feel they are something other than what our current widely-held models of gender are. Setting aside arguments about such identifications as being as ridiculous as calling yourself a gerbil in a homo sapien’s body, I don’t think it’s narcissistic for a person to want to be addressed in line with how they identify, just like if a person were to change their name for one reason or another, or when a person prefers a certain version of their name (Chuck, as opposed to Charles or Charlie, or whathaveyou)

          • Shane Landry

            Great handle Spartacus!
            To your first question, what I meant is as I read the article, Max is male and taking hormones. This is not to transition to female but only to suppress secondary male traits. Neither does Max identify as female. Genetically Max is male. Physically Max is male. In his mind, he has decided to be neither. In my other posts here I’ve stated I have no problem calling a transgender by their preferred expressed identity. But I find it’s a stretch to call someone who is a male genetically and physically not he or she but “they”. Or pan, or ze or any other of the ridiculous amount of genders made up recently. “They” as a singular pronoun is a doubly horrible idea since the word already has an unambiguous understanding for “more than one”. I mentioned Big Freedia earlier. Home town raised, love her shows. She is a black gay male New Orleans Bounce performer, who dresses as a woman and prefers to be identified as a female (but answers to either). This reinforces basic descriptive language and identifies through visual cues her preference. If you don’t know who Big Freedia is, from my description I’ll bet you could pick her out of a lineup of 10 random people in no more than 2 tries! But when she goes to a doctor, I’ll bet it’s not a gynecologist.

            I also stated, IMO, that this feeds narcissistic behavior. Google “narcissistic personality disorder” and with that definition in mind reread the article parts focused on Max. I won’t lead you. Tell me what you think.

            On your second, I agree with you. There are 2 lesbians and 1 gay male in my immediate family, another 2 in my extended. All look, dress and act their genetic gender. They have gay friends who do not, but are identifiable as to their preferred gender. I have no problem calling them by such. But the second one demands I call them “zir” or “zer” instead of him or her, I’d laugh in their face. As well I demand they, and you Spartacus, address me as only Lord Shane, and become indignant if they didn’t do so with utmost earnestness because that’s how I indentify and the rest of the world should do so too.

            On your third point, to me, it is just as ridiculous as wanting to be called a gerbil. Spartacus, prepare for a run on of epic proportions. I apologize in advance. It seems to me that someone who demands to be identified as something other than what is biologically possible because they “feel special” that way, demand the rest of society acknowledge their deserved special preferred designation, deserve separate facilities to use, and are extremely fragile to criticism, fits narcissism pretty well.

          • cjm69

            I have no problem with people identifying as whatever sort of gender they may prefer, and behaving accordingly. Sex may be a matter of biology, but gender is very much a social construct. Nobody should be obliged to conform to someone else’s norms, or stigmatized for not doing so.

            However, I think it would actually be *helpful* if there were neutral pronouns (e.g., ve/vir, ze/zir) in more common use. It’s a shortcoming of the English language that personal pronouns are inherently gendered, but using the plural “they” as a singular word is *not* a solution, and only engenders (no pun intended) confusion and ineffective communication. Subject/verb agreement is a thing.

            And given that we don’t live in a perfect world and people who self-identify this way *are* likely to be stigmatized in many settings, clearer and more effective communication would be in everyone’s best interests.

          • Marcello Scarnecchia

            Listen to yourself! “biopsychosocial”, “genitalia”… Big words. Do they actually even exist or just made them up to intimidate others as if you are such educated genius? Usually big words are used to cover up the lack of arguments. Try to restate your sentence using simple words. You will find yourself, and many brainwashed like you, pointless and tossing your speech with politically correct terms like “judgmental”, “prejudice”, “racism”, homophobia” randomly inserted here and there just to look “modern”, “radical-chick”, “publicly viable”.
            It’s plain simple: Penis=boy. Vagina=girl. Especially at 13!!!! For pit sake!! This is madness.

          • jdhammer

            I refuse to stupefy my language to pander to your ignorance. Read some more books, starting with anatomy.

          • Marcello Scarnecchia

            Listen up. I have a master degree in aerospace engineering, I speak 3 languages, English being NOT my native language and yet I can infer you are a phony trying to intimidate and brainwash less educated people with your apparently erudite but truly imbecilic nonsensical language. As an educated person I believe my education is a gift, rather than a privilege, to put it in good use especially for less educated people so I choose to express my concepts in the simplest, more understandable way. You better read some books and don’t worry about stupefying your language, you have already stupefied your reasoning to great extent.

          • jdhammer

            Aw Marco! Time well spent with a thesaurus. Molto Bene as they say in your language.
            What books should I read that teach judgement, conformity and a binary view of gender. Non-fiction, I should clarify, so that rules out the bible.

          • Marcello Scarnecchia

            Look, read and think what you want. No hard feelings. Actually you do not need to read at all. I have simple points that do not require great knowledge:
            1) Science: as mammals human have 2 genders. Male and female. Thus binary gender. Do we really want to give up on science?
            2) Law: Letting a 13 years old mess up with his hormones just because his parents are admittedly lefty should be a crime and those people persecuted as if they let the same kid drink alcohol, smoke, drive a car, vote at 13. But in this madness anything gay or not straight is justified. We are failing our new generations for a stupid ideological fad.
            3) FREEDOM: nature gives us 1 genders. It’s a bodily feature. it is an organ. Society “frames” us as boy or girl for convenience, need, statistics, … according to a biological organ. That’s it.
            What you do with it is your own only business, it is way more profound and private. Trying to frame a person into 5, 37, even “50 shades of gender” according to the choices one makes about how or if to use his/her reproductive organs or image or social life, that is invasive and judgmental to me.
            Be well.

    • Marcello Scarnecchia

      could not be better explained.

  • orchid64

    Meh, David Bowie already did this during the glam rock era. This isn’t new, and it won’t last anymore than it did back then. Once it is seen as what everyone does and is commonplace, people will do something else to appear to be outside the box. The important thing to people who see themselves “on the vanguard” of something is that they frame their choices as daring or unique. It is shallow identity-building based on superficialities – the lowest common denominator of self-understanding/presentation.

    • Dylan Comparini

      Good to know that the way I identify in order to feel like a happy, complete human being is just a shallow attempt at trying to be “outside the box”. 🙂

  • shelly logan

    YEA for your courage in being you, and for the reporter and editor for running the story! I am a 53 year old female who has had a hundred lifetimes’ comments, “You should have been a boy.” simply because I am athletic, outspoken, competitive and physically energetic. I am sick to death of this stereotyping and the behaviours that inevitably come with them. Why should we label behaviour or thoughts as “male” or “female” and how does it even make any sense to do so? YEA YEA YEA you!!!

  • capcomm

    Very in-depth and long form…. propaganda.

  • Bill Brewer

    The difference between propaganda and truth is the former is made up of half-truths orchestrated to advance a particular viewpoint. The present article is pure propaganda cobbled together to put a happy face on moral confusion. The core function of civilization is to propagate itself. To do that, real men and real women must be encouraged to have children and to pass on timeless values to the kids they choose to have. Gender confusion militates against both functions, making parents less common, children even rarer, and the passing on of constructive values nigh impossible.

    Just one example of half-truths: “Right now, taking hormones that prevent the emergence of secondary sex characteristics, such as breasts or facial hair, has bought Max more time to grapple with the choice.” The whole truth should include the fact that taking hormones to delay puberty creates lasting, negative health consequences— something that would be deemed child abuse in morally unconfused society.

    • cjm69

      Wow, you sure do demonstrate an uncritical love for conformity to traditional norms. In what way does this topic have anything to do with morality? How do you get to declare “the core function of civilization”? What are “real men and women”? Why should having children be prioritized in an already overpopulated, resource-depleting world? What do you imagine are “timeless values,” and what if people disagree with you about some of them?

      There are plenty of real challenges people with nontraditional gender identities are setting themselves up to face, no question… some of which are mentioned in the article, and some of which may include health issues. That’s worth acknowledging, but it’s hardly a reason to deny anyone freedom of choice. Your attitude seems likely to make those challenges more difficult, rather than helping with them.

      • Bill Brewer

        Wow!, not an “uncritical love for conformity,” but rather a healthy respect for reality. Thank you for demo’ing my points. A core characteristic of real men/women is the requisite body parts, backed up by minds that appreciate their implications. Being a woman cannot be reduced to a feeling that certain men happen to have– similarly with “real woman.” These things are not hard unless you’re morally confused. Western civilization is threatened by demographic collapse, not overpopulation. All Western nations have native populations procreating at below replacement rate. I’m sorry, but your quibbling with a core function of society being its survival is just asinine. The values that make for just, enduring, and prosperous societies are timeless. Gender development is a stage all children go through. A few have a more difficult time than others. A humane society does not intentionally set out to divert them into lifestyles fraught with all kinds of pathologies. Your attitude enables institutionalized child abuse. Citing “freedom of choice” is a joke, since gender activists want to use force of law to make gender confusion a one-way street. Johns Hopkins Hospital (JHH) stopped doing gender reassignment surgery in 1979 because it constituted cooperation in a mental illness. I’ve heard they will start again, but the resumption is not based on evidence-based medicine, but rather pressure from LGBT activists who want “coming out” to always be a “one-way” street– part of the decadence that leads to societal collapse.

        • cjm69

          Ah, there’s a tell — “Western civilization is threatened by demographic collapse.” That passage has nothing to do with gender, and it’s worded in a way that nobody who’s not a white nationalist would use. You’ve just shot your own credibility in the foot and identified yourself as part of a lunatic fringe. The claim that “the values that make for just, enduring, and prosperous societies are timeless” is pure self-congratulatory reactionary bullshit, and the sheer bigotry of the rest of your post makes it clear that you have no actual concept of justice anyway. ‘Bye now.

          • Bill Brewer

            The idea gender has nothing to do with demographic collapse is comical in its illogic. The divorce of gender from any connection with procreation is what drives demographic collapse. Thanks for showing us some people just don’t have minds worth making up.

    • Marcello Scarnecchia

      How about survival and preservation of the specie?

  • erick

    My favorite part of the article; “there was the men’s room to the right and the women’s room to the left, and Max walked right into the wall, in the middle, to make a point.” I don’t think he did it on purpose….

  • Larry

    Welcome to yet another load of crap !!! Gender identity confusion exactly like sexual identity was figured out in the mid 1800s by none other than Sigmund Freud. The problem stems from failed parenting. It is not genetic. It is wholly mental-psychological. When poor parenting occurs the kids are going to be messed up… end of story! In the case of homosexuality it is purely from not having a proper, consistent father figure. This is the case regardless of the gender of the child. Sexual identity is generally established in mentally healthy, normal. children by around age two or very shortly thereafter. With respect to gender identity, the confusion is caused by poor parenting by either or both of the parents. None of this is rocket science but it is an area that every last garbage pail libtard and their old Aunt Fanny like to obfuscate and lie about. The more they can obscure the truth, the more the psych community can say that their input is needed. It’s all a load of crap! ALL OF IT !!!

    • jdhammer

      How would you like non-cis people making laws about what you can and can’t identify as?

  • Dan Stewart

    Is this a science journal?!

    For the sake of argument, why is there just the tweening of male and female? I see myself as something between a squid and and octopus.

    Goodbye fake science. I don’t have to adapt to your nonsense.

  • DBC

    Seriously stupid and delusional article!
    Recognizing a severe neurological disorder as normal is insane!

  • ice_hawk10

    i dont think anyone 13 years old really knows enough about anything to be able to make definitive choices like this. at that age as a male, your hormones haven’t even really kicked in yet.

    a good 80% of kids who are earmarked as transgender eventually settle on the gender of their birth. many are just homosexual and struggling with the fact they desire the same sex, or enjoy the activities/interests/hobbies of the opposite sex. to be honest that’s really what it sounds like in the case of Max. i’m wary about indulging the non-binary trend too much, especially explicitly raising kids that way. you may end up creating way more problems than you otherwise would have.

    • Dylan Comparini

      Kids know more than adults tend to give them credit for. if I’d known about nonbinary as a kid I would’ve been all over it bc I have never in my life felt comfortable as the gender I was assigned at birth. Not once. Kids are human beings, not little balls of play-doh that are waiting for an adult to come along and shape them into something -they- deem acceptable.

  • Luis Novocastro

    Maybe, the genre isn’t a discrete variable but continuous one!

  • jlo322

    Your behavior creates your gender? Utter nonsense!

  • Yarimar Ramos

    I just…I don’t know what to think about this. I don’t have a lot of background on the subject matter, but It just sounds to me like these kids need some therapy. I have to wonder why there are so, so many kids today going through this identity crisis. It truly just makes me wonder if this is even a real thing or just a trend. You’d think this would be an ongoing matter for decades and it hasn’t been. I grew up in a very city and household and I gotta say I’ve never heard of this before in my life. And honestly, Max sounds like your typical gay teen trying to come to terms with their sexuality except now Max has something else to “hide” behind as opposed to just accepting who he is.

  • mike

    Gender fluidity? We’re officially out of problems if this is what we’re down to. Stop trying to force this nonsense on the rest of us.

    • Dylan Comparini

      No ones trying to force anything on anybody, only bring to light a notion that a lot of people actually live with. I don’t care if you identify as male or female – I’m just happy that someone is acknowledging that I, and people like me, even exist.

  • Marcello Scarnecchia

    I feel very sorry for Max. A poor brainwashed kid, only 13 years old!!! Who has all the rights to grow up, explore and eventually question himself, his sexuality on his own if that is the case. All of us have been doing this for millions of years. Society should provide our kids certainties instead of confusing them with ridiculous “Nonbinary Gender 101” courses. This kid should be provided with the only one truth: “You are a boy, a male, because you have a damn penis.” Let the kids grow and when ready decide what to do with their own sex without external recommendations given by deviated, mentally hill idiots that have in mind only the political gay propaganda and the urge of appear “modern”, politically correct without even considering the disastrous consequences on the new generations.
    This is gone way too far. It’s OK to treat everybody humanly regardless sexual orientations but destroying the future generations for political gay propaganda is not acceptable.
    Shame on this society and “education” system.
    And remember: nuclear power was modern, internal combustion engines were modern, massive industrialization was modern, massive farming was modern. Now we are desperately trying to rimediate to the disasters created by such modernity.

    • Betsy Jacobs

      The only subject of importance as far as I see is that this is still a child being talked about here, one who should not be held up to anyone’s idea of right and wrong who will not held responsible for that. This should not be any child’s burden, and hopefully the real point here.

  • Charles Bedard

    1) wrong.. pronouns are pronouns.. period.. “they” is plural, cannot be used for singular.. grammatically incorrect… invent/create/come up with something else please.

    2) kids are confused.. they are going through a very confusing time, don’t give into the whims as the flavours are changing everyday… pandering to the whims only confuses them more ands creates for them life-long problems…. just because you don’t like to wear a dress doesn’t make you a boy, or “not a boy” either. Just because you aren’t interested in the opposite gender, or any gender, doesn’t make you the opposite gender or no-gender…. it’s called normal people… it’s ok to be confused, it’s ok to experiment, it’s ok to ask questions and question the universe, it’s not ok for society to pander to the whims and provide all kinds of labels, and counselling, and group sessions, etc. etc. .. it only propagates the “problem”… schools should be a place to discuss, learn, teach, grow.. not what they are doing now.

  • Betsy Jacobs

    At 60 years old this feels familiar to me.

    While still a child I had been in an environment with grown people who felt I should be the grownup and enable their immature behavior by trying to have me identified as a sexual being, and as a presumed adult the only one who needed to grow up.

    It was only because I was fortunate enough to have good parents to compare their behavior to could I see the double standard for what it was. I was not to be a sexual being for anyone regardless of any arguments avoiding the inconvenient truth that this really was supposed to be natural for a child and anyone else who was none of their business, and most especially and not despite still being a child.

    This I think is the real reason our population on this planet has gotten so dangerously large. I believe the average human being can and does have that much self control, and it’s been third party tampering in most lives regardless of orientation that has been more the source of the problems that would go with this.

    As I see it this is less about orientation and more about just growing up.

    We are still mammals who live in social groups regardless of how we got here or how long ago and it really does take a village to raise a child.

    I say the anti social one is not the one who shies away. It’s the one who gets in one’s face.

  • Betsy Jacobs

    At 60 years old this sounds familiar to me.

    While still a child I had been in an environment with grown people who felt I should be the grownup and enable their immature behavior by trying to have me identified as a sexual being, and as the already presumed adult the only one who still needed to grow up.

    It was only because I was fortunate enough to have good parents to compare their behavior to could I see the double standard for what it was. I was not to be a sexual being for anyone regardless of any arguments avoiding the inconvenient truth that this really wasn’t supposed to be natural for a child and anyone else who was none of their business, and most especially and not despite still being a child.

    This I think is the real reason our population on this planet has gotten so dangerously large. I believe the average human being can and does have that much self control and this is natural, and it’s been third party tampering in most lives regardless of orientation that has been more the source of the problems that would go with this.

    As I see it this is less about orientation and really IS about growing up. That needs to come first, not later. Don’ t buy the logic that is used against you or you will be at risk in becoming part of the problem. This is still so not thinking outside of that box.

    We are still mammals who live in social groups regardless of how we got here or how long ago and it really does take a village to raise a child.

    Knowing a subject doesn’t automatically mean knowing how to teach it. Third party sexual education should not be in the hands of those who show no respect or understanding of the word “no”.

    I say the anti social one is not the one who shies away. It’s the one who gets in one’s face.

  • Betsy Jacobs

    This is what happens when people insist on children taking sides on adult issues they might not yet had the time to even care about. I applaud the stand taken but wish the impatience of adult agendas had not made it already necessary.

  • redpigeons

    I wonder if this phenomenon is an expression of some kind of environmental effects, e.g. endocrine disruptors, on the fetal development.

Author

Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks is the host and editor of KQED’s health and technology blog, Future of You. He is the former editor of KQED’s daily news blog, News Fix. A veteran blogger, he previously worked for Yahoo! in various news writing and editing roles. He was also the editor of EconomyBeat.org, which documented user-generated content about the financial crisis and recession. Jon is also a playwright whose work has been produced in San Francisco, New York, Italy, and around the U.S. He has written about film for his own blog and studied film at Boston University. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from Brooklyn College.

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