Wednesday, March 8, 2017

A Boy named Sue

By Akhila Jayaram

That title makes you take note doesn’t it? Sue, being short for Susan, is traditionally a girl’s name and if we view the world with a binary lens, then much of this may not make sense.

In our current society, life seems to be divided into two parts – male or female, based on biological reproductive organs. Whether it be clothes stores, family roles or the fight for equal rights, seems to be polarized around the two genders. Even those who are born intersex are suggested to undergo reassignment surgeries in order to fit in one of the two boxes.

However, this approach may not suit all. My first experience with someone whose identity went beyond the binary approach towards gender was with a hijra in India. As a five year old, I was perplexed by how they did not partake in traditional gender roles in society yet were somehow seen as a part of it. This thought remained at the back of my mind until I arrived in the UK, where I was exposed to a number of gender identities including neutrois, agender, gender queer which finally led me to the world of ‘gender fluidity’.

What is gender fluidity, you may ask? It is when a person’s preference for gender identity changes over time. For example, they may choose to be more masculine this week, but feel feminine the next. Or they may not feel anything at all. This is usually reflected by their style of dressing, although others may just feel it on the inside. That’s the thing about gender fluidity, there are no barriers to it, imposed by any external construct, but something one chooses for themselves. There is also a need to understand that gender identity and sexual orientation are be two different things; for example, one cannot assume that a gender fluid person is also bisexual.

If you think that gender fluidity is just another passing fad, a survey conducted by the Guardian in 2016 showed that 104 people felt that they identified as non-binary. People in the public domain such as Ruby Rose and Miley Cyrus have come out about how they don’t identify with traditional genders. There might be more out there who are unable to explain how they feel or do not want to speak up due to fear of rejection; the latter could be a genuine concern as evidenced by a study conducted by UC Berkeley which stated that trans and gender-fluid teens were more three times more likely to face physical and mental abuse at home/school than their gender-conforming peers.

That is why, we at the Red Elephant Foundation, are releasing this campaign #BeingGenderFluid. It aims to start the conversation about those who do not identify with the binary gender construct. They are also people with hopes, aspirations and dreams and they deserve to be treated as equal. We campaign passionately about women’s rights, but we also need to think of those who function beyond the binary if we truly want to achieve SDG #5 ‘Gender Equality’.

What can you do to help?
  • If you know someone who is non-binary/gender-fluid and would like to share with the world on what it means for them to be who they are, contact
  • If someone tells you that they are gender-fluid, please ask which personal pronoun (he, she or they) you should use while addressing them.


1. The gender-fluid generation: young people on being male, female or non-binary, The Guardian. March 2016. Link:


2. Trans and gender-fluid teens left with few ‘safe harbors, Berkeley News, Feb 2017. Link: