CityPress - - Voices - Voices@ city­press. co. za

ast month, when Cait­lyn Jen­ner in­tro­duced her­self to the world – via a sneak peek of her July Van­ity Fair cover – the is­sue of trans­gen­der iden­tity was pro­pelled into the global spotlight.

Most peo­ple find the rapid shift in so­cial norms we are cur­rently wit­ness­ing un­nerv­ing: from the grow­ing global ac­cep­tance (ex­cept in Africa) of same-sex mar­riage to the le­gal­i­sa­tion of recre­ational weed. So for those who pre­fer an un­in­ter­rupted sta­tus quo, the very public tran­si­tion from Bruce Jen­ner to Cait­lyn Jen­ner is per­haps dou­bly dis­con­cert­ing.

But the winds of change had been brew­ing for some time and Cait­lyn’s in­tro­duc­tion to the world was merely the tip­ping point and con­ver­gence of a move­ment that had been build­ing mo­men­tum for years.

A month be­fore Cait­lyn’s Van­ity Fair cover went vi­ral, the Ox­ford English Dic­tionary an­nounced it would be adding the gen­der-neu­tral hon­orific Mx (pro­nounced mix) – along­side Mr, Mrs, Ms or Miss – to rep­re­sent trans­gen­der peo­ple and those who did not wish to iden­tify their gen­der.

While this may seem serendip­i­tous, Ox­ford English Dic­tionary as­sis­tant editor Jonathan Dent said in the an­nounce­ment that the first recorded use of Mx ap­peared back in 1977 in an is­sue of Sin­gle Par­ent, a US mag­a­zine. Dent ex­plained: “The early pro­po­nents of the term seem to have had gen­der pol­i­tics as their cen­tral con­cern and saw the ti­tle as one which could side­step the per­ceived sex­ism of the tra­di­tional Mr, Mrs and Miss.”

This ad­di­tion to the Ox­ford English Dic­tionary might for­malise the use of Mx, but in the UK, banks and some gov­ern­ment agen­cies are al­ready of­fer­ing their cus­tomers the gen­der-neu­tral Mx op­tion.

These in­clude the Royal Bank of Scot­land, the depart­ment for work and pen­sions, the Royal Mail Group, and the Driver and Ve­hi­cle Li­cens­ing Agency.

Trans­gen­der “per­son­al­i­ties” have also steadily been seep­ing into pop­u­lar cul­ture in the past few years. Last year, Laverne Cox be­came the first trans­gen­der ac­tor to be nom­i­nated for an Emmy Award for her role in the hit se­ries Or­ange is the New Black.

In pol­i­tics, trans­gen­der is­sues have been brought to the fore with Bradley Man­ning, the soldier con­victed of leak­ing clas­si­fied doc­u­ments to Wik­iLeaks in 2013 and now serv­ing a 35-year prison sen­tence. Af­ter be­ing sen­tenced, Man­ning an­nounced she was trans­gen­der and would pre­fer to be re­ferred to as Chelsea Man­ning. In Fe­bru­ary this year, in a ground-break­ing de­ci­sion, the US army ap­proved hor­mone ther­apy for Man­ning’s tran­si­tion to a woman af­ter Man­ning sued the fed­eral gov­ern­ment for ac­cess to the treat­ment.

The army’s doc­tors di­ag­nosed Man­ning with gen­der dyspho­ria, the con­di­tion of feel­ing one’s emo­tional and psy­cho­log­i­cal iden­tity as male or fe­male to be op­po­site to one’s bi­o­log­i­cal sex.

In an in­ter­nal memo at the Fort Leav­en­worth dis­ci­plinary bar­racks, a top of­fi­cial wrote: “Af­ter care­fully con­sid­er­ing the rec­om­men­da­tion that [hor­mone treat­ment] is med­i­cally ap­pro­pri­ate and nec­es­sary, and weigh­ing all as­so­ci­ated safety and se­cu­rity risks pre­sented, I ap­prove adding [hor­mone treat­ment] to in­mate Man­ning’s treat­ment plan.”

This de­ci­sion came af­ter Man­ning’s lawyers pointed out that even the Amer­i­can Psy­cho­log­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion had changed their def­i­ni­tion of gen­der dyspho­ria and no longer con­sid­ered it a “dis­or­der”. The Na­tional Cen­ter for Trans­gen­der Equal­ity added that Man­ning had, there­fore, been di­ag­nosed with a med­i­cal con­di­tion, rea­son­ing that: “If she has a heart at­tack, they have to treat that too. This is no dif­fer­ent.”

This rad­i­cal shift in think­ing will val­i­date the ex­is­tence of a unique sum­mer camp in Amer­ica that caters specif­i­cally for “gen­der-fluid” chil­dren. Camp You Are You was cre­ated to pro­vide for­ward-think­ing par­ents who don’t have gen­der-con­form­ing chil­dren with a safe and free en­vi­ron­ment for their chil­dren to ex­press them­selves with­out so­cial prej­u­dice.

In Swe­den, the con­cept of gen­der neutrality has been ad­vo­cated for some time. The preschool Ni­co­laigår­den is run like the You Are You camp, ex­cept their gen­derneu­tral pol­icy is core to the school’s ethos. They use gen­der­less dolls to en­cour­age and teach emo­tion and self­ex­pres­sion, and their li­brary stocks an equal bal­ance of books with male and fe­male pro­tag­o­nists.

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