The Complex Landscape of Gender Queerness in America


In the United States today, the concept of gender is undergoing a profound transformation. It’s a time of both celebration and challenge, where progress coexists with resistance. According to recent data, about 5 percent of Americans under 30 identify as transgender or nonbinary, highlighting the growing recognition and acceptance of diverse gender identities. However, this surge of visibility and understanding is met with resistance in the form of restrictive legislation. Over 20 states have passed restrictions on gender-affirming care for children, and in 2023 alone, more than 550 anti-trans bills have been introduced across the country.

This complex and often contradictory landscape is explored in a thought-provoking conversation between Masha Gessen, a trans and nonbinary staff writer at The New Yorker, and Lydia Polgreen, a New York Times Opinion columnist. In this discussion, Gessen shares their insights into the evolving social and political shifts around gender in the United States. One of the key topics they touch upon is why gender has captured the conservative imagination. Gessen’s perspective sheds light on how this ideological battleground has emerged and the challenges it poses to the LGBTQ+ community. Another critical issue discussed is the “regret trap” that some LGBTQ+ activists have fallen into. Gessen delves into the complexity of gender identity and the dangers of oversimplifying it, emphasizing the importance of allowing individuals the freedom to explore and express their identities.

Gessen’s assertion that gender expression is a choice rather than something biologically determined challenges traditional beliefs about identity. This perspective encourages a more open and inclusive approach to understanding and respecting diverse gender experiences. In the conversation, Gessen introduces the concept of a liberatory framework focused on protecting freedoms-to rather than freedoms-from when addressing LGBTQ+ issues. This shift in perspective emphasizes the importance of fostering an inclusive society where individuals are free to express their authentic selves. Additionally, Gessen highlights that gender-affirming care is not solely for trans individuals but can benefit anyone who seeks to align their physical appearance with their gender identity, underscoring the importance of accessible healthcare options for all.

The conversation also touches on the role of pop culture in reflecting and influencing societal attitudes towards gender. The making of the 1999 movie “The Matrix” is cited as an example of how rapid social change around trans visibility in the United States is mirrored in popular media. Gessen’s personal experience leaving Russia due to anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments adds a global perspective to the conversation, underscoring the challenges faced by gender-nonconforming individuals worldwide.

Finally, the discussion explores the concept of gender conformity as a social contagion, offering new insights into how societal norms shape our understanding of gender and influence individuals’ decisions about their identities. In a time of contrast and contradiction, this conversation between Masha Gessen and Lydia Polgreen reminds us of the rich tapestry of questions and possibilities that gender queerness opens up. It calls for a more inclusive and understanding society that respects the freedoms of all individuals to define and express their unique gender identities. To listen to the full conversation, you can follow “The Ezra Klein Show” on various podcast platforms.

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