Oliver: Why more college graduates are learning about the Genderbread person

Language, along with culture, is always changing. With discussions surrounding gender and sexuality, it's imperative for individuals to have resources to reference when they feel confused about something like they/them pronouns. Non-binary, genderqueer and transgender people have always existed — and recently they’re becoming more visible. 

Sam Killermann’s genderbread person graphic is a simple tool that educates people about the fluidity of identity. 

Methods discuss gender, sexuality and romantic attraction as parallel to each other. Yet, the genderbread person uses a spectrum. A gingerbread man, which some decorate when celebrating Christmas, is transformed into the all-inclusive genderbread person. It reiterates that gender and biological sex are not the same thing, while showing the infinite variations of sexuality, gender, sex and identity. 

A person's gender can be described as how they feel inside and how they present themselves to the world; however, those two things can be different. A person’s sex, which was often limited to a man or a woman, also includes intersex — which describes a person born with normal genetic traits that include biological male and female variations.

It wasn’t until 2016 that 55-year-old Sara Kelly Keenan received her correct birth certificate. Born intersex, with male chromosomes, female genitalia and a combination of reproductive organs, Keenan finally received a correct birth certificate which listed intersex as her sex. This New York State birth certificate was believed to be the first one to have a third sex listed on the document.

In order to better understand individuals like Keenan, it is essential that college graduates have a basic understanding of the gender and identity spectrum.

Many cis-gendered, straight Americans have never heard of a gender or sexuality spectrum illustrated by the genderbread person. Research conducted by Angela N. Tharp from the University of New Haven shows that some Native American communities had embraced multiple genders even before colonialism. “Known as Berdache or two-spirit, tribes had specific language for individuals depending on if they were third or fourth gender,” Tharp said. 

“Cultures with genders outside of a binary structure, which focuses only on men and women, can be found on every continent of the world throughout history,” Tharp said.

Most indigenous cultures and languages acknowledge the spectrum of sexuality, gender, sex and identity. Main-stream culture has only recently began acknowledging individuals who live beyond the binary, despite the history showing that they have existed for thousands of years. 

Discrimination because of gender, sex, sexual orientation and identity revolve around their politization. People who do not identify within the binary face systematic oppression that is fueled by ignorant individuals who have the privilege of not facing that discrimination. Understanding a spectrum of identity and deconstructing harmful social norms will ensure that all individuals are safe and respected. 

Mythbusting the binary allows toxic power dynamics found in the patriarchy to crumble. If cis-gendered, straight college grads learned about the genderbread person and understood the fluidity of identity, attraction, expression and sex, they would be introduced to a variety of identities. Shaping our culture to respect gender non-conforming and LGBTQ+ people living their truth will benefit members of those communities and encourage active allyship from those previously unfamiliar with this concept.