The Road Model of Gender
My favorite adage about education runs, “simplicity is useful, but untrue; whereas complexity is true, but useless.” When it comes to gender, two models are primarily used for explanation: the gender spectrum and gender galaxy. I’d like to present a “Road Model of Gender.”
The gender spectrum model has the benefit of simplicity. It’s easy to visualize a gradient between male and female with people along the whole spread. But it’s overly simple. Agender and genderqueer people who are outside that gradient are completely ignored in this model.
“The Transgender Language Primer” describes the galaxy gender model as:
“a galaxy is a 3d object in space that consists of billions of star systems, nebulae, dark matter, and other space objects, all interconnected by the force of gravity. Similarly, gender is an overarching term that consists of incredibly diverse identities that can be expressed in infinite ways. Like a galaxy, gender is an interconnected web between the relation of people’s internal gender, which is unique to them, the expression of their gender, and its relation to the socialization and expectations both within their own societies and elsewhere.”
I suspect this model’s closer to the truth, but too complicated for most people to grasp, and doesn’t acknowledge the corridor most people keep to currently.
The Road Model of Gender
There exists two metropolis cities and a main road that runs between them. One city is men and the other is women. Binary gender people live in the cities. Cis people live in the city they were born in, binary trans people moved to the other city.
Nonbinary people don’t live in those cities. Many live along the road or travel between the cities. Demi-gender people usually live closer to one of the cities. Genderfluid people travel between them. Agender people don’t live in the cities or along the road. Other nonbinary, genderfluid, genderqueer, or agender people might be exploring the rest of the world. The mountain tops and valleys, other cities, maybe even other worlds. All those places exist, though many people in the cities don’t believe them and stay where they feel safe.
Bigender, trigender, multigender, polygender, etc. people have dual/multi-citizenship. Best metaphor would be frequent travel and telecommunication so they’re living and working in multiple places simultaneously.
Anyone can travel. They might move throughout their life, or they may just take a vacation or even a hike. People live where they say they live, even if they aren’t there right now. We really don’t need border control among these cities, thank you very much.
The biggest flaw with the galaxy model is that it focuses entirely on what’s possible but doesn’t provide any framing for why so many people cluster in two groups or between them. The city model helps answer that.
People live in the cities because it’s convenient. Their stuff is there, moving is a hassle, and socio-economic reasons pressure people who hate the city to stay. They provide greater access to services and jobs. The major hospitals are there. Concentrated infrastructure is cheaper. Cities provide the illusion of safety. The city-dwellers imagine it’s dangerous and lonely outside them (it’s not). People stay in the cities because it’s easier and they’re afraid to leave. Better the devil you know than the one you don’t.
Other people just fall in love with one of the cities and that’s the only place they want to be. Telling them to leave feels hostile. Being told cities are inherently bad might feel like an attack on something they love that’s a key part of their identity.
You don’t have to be born in the cities. Plenty of people aren’t. They may move (by choice or force) to one of them very early in life because it’s perceived as easier. They may still be treated as a foreigner or feel like an outsider. Others live their whole lives outside them. The idea of living in a city or wanting to may seem strange to them or outright hostile. The feuds between them may seem silly and unnecessary.
We should make services easily available and accessible to people outside the cities. We shouldn’t punish people for where they live or push them through intentional inconvenience to live places they hate.
Pronouns are a way to say where you’re from. Refusing to acknowledge and use someone’s pronouns is like insisting they live someplace they don’t (maybe someplace they hate). It’s wrong and insulting. People who use multiple pronouns are telling you where they are now as they travel. Other travelers may use one set of pronouns because that’s where they pick up their mail and it’s convenient.
Trying to tell someone they have to fully assimilate if they move and totally abandon their old culture is also insulting. Even if they don’t want to live there, that doesn’t mean some traditions aren’t still meaningful to them. They might still have an accent, and that’s fine. Likewise, someone can be perfectly content in the city they were born in but favor the dress, mannerisms, etc. of a different city. That’s not inherently bad. It can be inspiring and freeing for many people. Ignorance and power structures can make it harmful in some contexts. Culture never exists in a void.
For myself, I live in the woman city, I was born here, I like it here, but sometimes I just have to get out. Travel, go camping, whatever, just away. I really hated it as a kid, but it grew on me. I use she/her, and I look fabulous in a dress. But sometimes (like now) trying to wear woman’s clothing gives me a low-key panic attack. I dreamed of binders decades before I knew they existed. In roleplaying games I’ve played an even proportion of men and women. My last two characters were nonbinary. Because of course if you could turn into a wolf or a bird you could also change your sex characteristics and why wouldn’t you some days if you could? Oh…
I hope this model can serve as a bridge between understanding the gender spectrum model and the gender galaxy model. It’s helped me understand where I live and travel. Maybe one day we’ll all be scattered among the stars, but for many of us they still seem like distant lights.