The Power Of Words

Living in a town with nearly 40-thousand college students, I often am asked what my field of study is, so I often find myself repeating the same response, “I’m a journalism major and my second concentration is in gender studies.” And then (after explaining what a second concentration is) almost nine times out of ten I hear the same follow-up question, “Well… What are you going to do with that?”

Or maybe something along the lines of, “Is that kind of like general studies?”

And then there’s my personal favorite, “Oh OK. So which gender did you pick to study?”

Enough with my rant and onto my point, although I realize that gender studies may not be “as applicable as a concentration in business” (or so says my advisor); I consider what I learn in these classes far more valuable, because these concepts change the way I look at everyday life.

This field of study really aids individuals in opening their eyes, witnessing the lengths that some will go in order to fit the definition of a specific “norm”. I come to realize more and more each day how utterly obsessed our culture is with gender, or (in the words of Judith Butler) – performing our gender.

Often in class we manage to get onto the topic of discussing the importance of sex classifications (as in, male/female) versus one’s gender identity. Because - when thinking about the big picture - a majority of our society is built on this foundation of categorizing things around the two sexes (think along the lines of bathrooms, men’s vs. women’s clothing stores, sports teams, etc.).

Yet even with something that seems so simple, so extremely black and white - classifing someone’s ”sex” may be one of the most complex tasks imaginable, because (as we all know) it doesn’t always boil down to being just male or just female.

This concept of “in between” is what inspired me to enroll in a seminar at school titled “Gender in Transition” in order to study transgender theory.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been discussing the power of language as well as the deeper significance that specific terminology holds within society; and during one of our more recent seminars, my professor called our attention to a proposed revision made to the APA DSM-5 (American Psychiatric Association DSM-5). This revision on the website basically proposes that:

“…the name gender identity disorder (GID) be replaced by “Gender Incongruence” (GI) because the latter is a descriptive term that better reflects the core of the problem: an incongruence between, on the one hand, what identity one experiences and/or expresses and, on the other hand, how one is expected to live based on one’s assigned gender (usually at birth).”

After we discussed the proposal in class, I took some time to really think about the situation and I realized that if I had never enrolled in this course – I may be just as blind to the importance of this issue as the rest of society (as in…those who may not see the big difference between calling it a disorder vs. an incongruence).

Yet the issue here isn’t just about the use of the term ‘disorder’ (or the fact that it’s insulting an entire group of people); to me it’s more about the lack of knowledge people have about what it means to be transgender.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not claiming by any means to be some sort of expert on transgender theory, nor am I trying to tell anyone how they should feel towards this subject.

I suppose my main point here is (besides sharing the link to the revision proposal) – even though the majority may think one way, it doesn’t always mean that the majority is in the right. Having an open mind to form your own opinions will enrich life so much more – it definitely has mine.

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About Madeline Haller

Madeline Haller

Madeline Haller is an Assistant Editor for MensHealth.com. Haller received her bachelor's degree in journalism from Indiana University, with a second concentration in gender studies. When she's not writing for MSP/MH, you can find her running, enjoying a cup of coffee, or searching for the perfect shade of red lipstick.