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Gender Identities and How to Appreciate Them While Abroad

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I used to get judged by people for the way I styled my hair, the way I dressed and the way I behaved. Many people think that I am trying to change my gender identity to a female. My family members as well as my friends think that I am going against the cultural and social norms in Myanmar. At times, my family would even ask me to cut my hair and behave more like a guy. My friends would joke on me for that and also ask me if I will be “becoming a gay” soon. But, in reality, I am not trying to change my gender identity to a girl. I dress in a particular way because I think it fits my appearance better. Furthermore, I believe that it is my own personal choice to look in a certain way. student standing and smiling in front of sydney opera house in dark blue jacket

How People Perceive Gender Identity in the United States and Australia

Studying abroad in Sydney, Australia, I do not receive that kind of reaction from people anymore. In general, people in Australia do not guess or stereotype others’ gender identities. They would always seem to be aware of how others perceive themselves and ask them about how they identify themselves in the first place. They accept everyone’s freedom on choice of how they look. I think it is very important for everyone else to realize this too. It is essential to note that Australia has liberal views towards gender identity issues, and the same goes for the United States from my experience. I was well accepted on how I perceive myself and my gender identity while studying in US. However, not everyone knows how to appreciate others’ gender identities. Besides, some people do not even understand why we need to appreciate others’ gender variations.

a symbol representing gender fluidity

Why People Should Care About Gender Identity Variations

I think it is very important that we respect one’s self-identification of gender. Although genetics influences gender identities, it does not solely determine a person’s gender. Social factors such as idealized gender conceptions and stereotypical gender roles are conveyed by surrounding social communities may affect gender identities. However, we should not let those completely overwhelm our personal identities. After all, while sex is a biological determination; gender is developed through consciousness of physical differences, cultural influences, social norms and personal determinations. All in all, we should be aware of variations in gender identity among us. We should accept as well as appreciate them all. Otherwise, it could bring anxiety and depression to those who feel mistreated. I have also gone through those periods of being an outcast in my community for how I look, and I am able to understand how hard it can be.

How People Should Appreciate Other’s Gender Identities

Nevertheless, I was able to overcome my low self-esteem during my study abroad in US and Australia thanks to the communities around me. I would like to share back the ways they have interacted with me. Their interactions have helped me realize that acknowledgement matters a lot in gender. I hope these simple pieces of advice will help encourage those who are dealing with insecurities over their gender identities.
  • First of all, do not simply guess. Not sure? Ask!
  • View gender identity from a broad perspective. As I have mentioned above, gender identity is developed based on various matters, not just biological determination.
  • Understand that it is about how they show it, not just about how you perceive it.
  • Accept the fact that not being the same as some of the people does not mean you should not acknowledge that person’s identity. Minorities do matter!
Phyo Thuta Aung is a Computer Science major with an Applied Math minor at Franklin & Marshall College, Lancaster and studied abroad with IFSA Australia program at University of Sydney in Sydney, Australia in Fall 2019. He served as an International Correspondent with IFSA through the Work-to-Study Program.