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  • Writer's pictureKirby Clark, MMT

Gender Free

Updated: Dec 19, 2023

"Massage therapists are told, by educators and professional publications, to learn the language of physicians in order to practice in hospitals; of athletes and coaches to progress in sports medicine; and of corporate culture to succeed as on-site therapists

- and developing such competence is no different when reaching out to clients of another culture, size, gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, or (dis)ability."

-Karen Menehan

I’ve always considered myself as Queer over being Gay. The identity of Gay used to mean a lot to me when I started using it, but these days it doesn’t completely cover who I am as a person. Queer is much more fitting and I like reclaiming it as a slur and using it as a word I use to describe myself positively. Before we get too much further into this topic, I feel like we should review;

Sex Vs. Gender

Sex has long been used to describe physical or biological characteristics to categorize people by. Gender is the social construct often assigned at birth based off a person’s sex. Gender comes with all kinds of norms, roles, attitudes, and behaviors associated with each gender. For the longest time, we used sex and gender interchangeably (and some people still do!) but someone’s Gender Identify doesn’t always match their Sex or the Gender they were assigned at birth. Sex and Gender are both non-binary in nature (meaning on a spectrum of presentation)- sex characteristics can be ambiguous just like gender.

My personal journey with Gender

When I began thinking critically about my Gender Identity, I realized I’d always blindly accepted the gender that others assigned me without question. But the more and more I thought on it, the gender identity of “man/male” never fit perfectly. When I started having more exposure to transgender and non-binary people, I really made a conscious effort to sort out where I felt most comfortable on the gender spectrum. I used to identify as Gender Free or Gender Blind and would use the terms interchangeably. I’ve since ditched the term Gender Blind in favor of identifying as Gender Free. Gender Blind to me meant that no matter who you are, what your gender is, or what the circumstances are, I remain blind to the concept of gender. But as time went on, I began to struggle with reconciling that identify with my sense of compassion. Gender is really important to some people (in fact, its important to most people in my experience), just because Gender was irrelevant to me didn’t mean I had to be blind to other people’s gender identity and journey. Gender Blind began to feel violent to me (that’s not to say I disregard or disparage the identity or label of Gender Blind for others- it just doesn’t work for me anymore). Gender Free however, to me, means that at all times, in everything I do- I try to live my life Free of the constraints of Gender. My gender (or presumed gender) doesn’t mean an awful lot to me at all, and I hope it won’t mean much to you either. This often takes a lot of effort on my part- Gender is so prevalent in our society! To live a life free of the concept of gender is liberating to me. I guess what I’m getting at is that, in my life- especially my professional life- I wish to be thought of as Genderless. My name is Kirby Clark Ellis. I am a Master Massage Therapist. I am Board Certified in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. I am Queer, I am Gender Free. My pronouns are They/Them/Theirs.

Pronouns (not a bad word)

Pronouns are just a part of the English language. Have been for centuries, if not longer! All pronouns are just words that take the place of proper nouns (persons, places, things). Pronouns make language simper, faster, and more efficient. Everyone uses pronouns and have those that are the best reflection of themselves. All pronouns are valid pronouns and should be respected. The most common pronouns these days are; He/Him/His, She/Her/Hers, and They/Them/Theirs. There are also neopronouns that are every bit as valid and deserving of respect as more common pronouns. Remember, you NEVER know for certain a person’s gender or pronouns until you ask or are told. Even if you think you can accurately assume a person’s gender/pronouns, you never know when a mistake on your end can feel violent and invalidating to someone else. Until you are made away of someone’s gender and pronouns, it is best to get in the habit of using Gender Neutral Language.

Gender Neutral Language

Make a habit of referring to a new person (at least in your mind) with They/Them/Their pronouns even if you think you can accurately assume their gender. Do this at least until you are made aware of the pronouns they use or refer to them in another way (there are plenty of adjectives – describing words- out there!)

Instead of honorifics like “sir” or “ma’am”, just drop the honorifics. Instead of “How can I help you sir?”, Try “How can I help you?” or “How can I be of assistance today?

Instead of assuming a person has a mom and dad, use Gender Neutral Language. Instead of “Mother and/or Father”, Try “Parent” or “Guardians”.

Instead of assuming a person is married to or in relationship with someone of the opposite sex/gender, use Gender Neutral terms. Instead of “Husband and/or Wife”, Try “Partner”, “Spouse”, or “Significant Other”.

I know that topics around sex and gender can feel awkward or complicated. But I promise you, discussions about gender will only be as challenging as you make them. The more you practice, the easier it will come. And keep in mind the goal isn’t to be perfect or never make mistakes in the future- the goal is to just make your space in the world a little more inclusive. The action of Inclusion is well worth the effort.

Peace and Healing,

Kirby Clark Ellis, MMT, BCTMB (they/them/theirs)

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