Jason Walsh: Taking gender debate out of neutral

“Same hair, a revolution, unisex evolution – tomorrow who’s gonna fuss?” – Paul Westerberg, from the gender-neutrality song “Androgynous,” 1984

Nearly 250 people marched in downtown Santa Rosa on Saturday in a demonstration for transgender rights and in protest of President Trump’s reversal of federal guidelines expanding restroom access to transgender students.

As such it was the first major demonstration in the county since the Nov. 8 election specifically highlighting the issue of gender identity – and the need for greater understanding for those who subscribe to the theory that gender is far more than just an anatomical classification.

The rally in Santa Rosa last weekend called attention to the need for bathroom access for nonbinary youth which, unlike some of the other demonstrations that have taken place across the country in recent months, highlights a specific injustice -- thus better defining the cause for those who are not yet pansexual sympathetic, which numbers many across the country.

Some media pundits – including one controversial quip by Colin Jost on “Saturday Night Live” – have suggested the somewhat rapid ascension of gender identity on the national stage contributed to Democratic losses last fall.

The cover story of Time magazine this week is, “Beyond He or She: How a new generation is redefining the meaning of gender.”

While the idea of transgender seems to be everywhere in the media now, it’s nothing new. Obviously, there have been people who haven’t identified with their girl/boy birth labels for time immemorial. There have been cultures throughout history where this hasn’t been an issue. America clearly isn’t one of them.

In the 1940s, researcher Alfred Kinsey was already defining sexuality on a spectrum – his was actually a number system from 0 (entirely heterosexual) to 6 (entirely homosexual) – and today more advanced biological studies, while not as primitive as Kinsey’s, demonstrate largely the same point: There’s not one type of sexuality, not even two. Same goes for gender.

The Time article quotes a survey conducted by LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD which found that 20 percent of millennials identify as “something other than strictly straight and cisgender (someone whose gender is in line with the sex they were assigned at birth).” That’s compared with 7 percent of boomers – meaning its acceptance and acknowledgement is also generational. Which might lend some credence to certain theories about the transgender effect on last year’s election. But it also lends incredible hope to the future.

And the future is growing up fast. The San Francisco school my wife teaches at grappled with the transgender-bathroom question for the first time about seven years ago. Our children are close friends with a possibly transgender 12 year old who lives down the street – a sweet kid who’s been quietly challenging gender identity since about age 9. About two years ago, the nonprofit Gender Spectrum offered a workshop at the Sonoma Charter School for faculty to better understand “gender spectrum.”

The gender spectrum has always been there. It’s just that the 21st century is only now, finally, catching up. The long-favored parental adage to help kids deal with the world has been, “Just be yourself.” Well, now parents better mean it.

In Sonoma many of them do. At the International Women’s Day demonstration on the Plaza on March 8, multiple generations of women (and a few men) were cheering at the Grinstead Amphitheatre when youth after youth took to the open mic to pledge support for diversity and vow to fight for the rights of all.

But it was an SVHS senior named Moore who got the biggest applause when he succinctly summed up the transgender issue in a way to which everyone – straight, gay, boy, girl, progressive conservative, young, old – can relate:

“We just want to go to the bathroom.”

Email Jason at jason.walsh@sonomanews.com.