Social Justice Advocates Handbook: A Guide to Gender Understanding I'm Heading to Cairo

My TED Talk: Understanding the Complexities of Gender

by Sam Killermann · 15 comments

in Gender

I recently had the honor of being asked to give a TEDx talk all about gender. You can watch the video below, and see as I try to condense hundreds of pages of my book into 16 minutes of comprehensible, enjoyable, and sometimes-rhyming words. What’s your favorite part? Any feedback? Let me know in the comments on this page!

Written by Sam Killermann

Sam is a writer and performer who uses those skills as an ally to advance progress in the realms of LGBT equality and social justice. He tours the country speaking to college students about stereotypes, prejudice, and oppression, and writes for this site when he's at home in Austin, TX.

  • email
  • Dara Lise Hoffman-Fox

    an engaging summary of what I hope will be the catalyst for many to
    open their minds to the many shades of gender. Can’t wait to share this
    with others!

  • Lara @ condom monologues

    Wicked! This wraps it all up in a package of cleverness: “Gender is something we all learn as kids but we learn a very limited concept of a concept that is truly unlimited.” Bam! Now go forth and make some genders!

  • mera

    hi, i was wondering if you have a transcript for this? thanks!

    • Samuel Killermann

      I am going to type one up and put it on this page, Mera. I’ll let you know when I do.

      • Thomas

        Hi Samuel,

        I think it would be great to have the video translated into other languages. If you and TED are OK with that, I’d be glad to translate it into French (my mother language) once you have the transcript.

        Great performance and great talk by the way.

  • Thomas Rohde

    THANK YOU for this TED Talk. Being hard of hearing, I’d also love to read a transcript, and also English is not my native language, but what I could understand was great, witty, informative, and funny.

    • Samuel Killermann

      Hi Thomas! Sorry I’m just seeing this now. I think I can find some time to type up the transcript and share it on this page. I’ll let you know when I do. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

  • Mal Koci

    Love, love, love this (and your entire website, mission, articles, graphics, salmon pants, etc.) Thank you, wholeheartedly, for doing what you do–making good people better people. You are awesome!

  • Claire

    I’m really struggling with the premise that gender identity and gender expression are dependent on societies definition of masculinity and femininity. How can we define ourselves without using the definitions other people give us? Is crying in the Lion King implicitly feminine? Is driving trucks implicitly masculine? I just can’t get my head around the duality, that only I can define my gender identity but that I need to use society’s binary view to do that.

    • Samuel Killermann

      Hi Claire! The answer to all of your questions is no. There is nothing implicitly feminine about crying during Lion King or masculine about driving a truck. The big thing to keep in mind, and the hardest thing (perhaps) to wrap your mind around, is that gender is a social construction masquerading as a biological imperative.

      “Why do we have to define ourselves based on society’s definition of masculinity and femininity?” Well, because society defines what those things mean.

  • Sara

    Thanks very much for sharing your talk with me. I’ve been thinking about gender a lot more than I have in the past. I’m a mother of two boys and a childminder. I find it very hard to keep challenging my own and societal stereotypes but will continue to try and do so.

  • Nikki Thommen Bingham

    I teach a 9th grade Humanities class in a small town in Oregon. I always work a unit on gender and its social construction into my curriculum, but I often struggle to find texts that are intelligent and accessible (to 9th graders). Bravo on your work in this video (I’m going to look into the book) — you’re engaging, provocative, and truthful. This video has been a wonderful addition to our unit. Thank you so much!

  • ursprung

    Sam, what you are doing here is essentializing what gender is by trying to normalize that feeling like a ‘bro’ has an equal sign. If boys are traditionally understood as this group of traits here and girls are those other traits over there, then there is not essential self of being ‘boy’ or ‘girl’, there is only the social construct of what boys and girls, men and women, should be like which all of us should be fighting against, not reinforcing such stereotypes. Yet you conflate throughout your talk sex with gender. Penis is male, vagina is female and though link to the social constructs of gender, it is simply not gender. Gender is relative because it is culture, it is social. But this does not mean that someone who is born with a penis or a vagina must buy into these binaries. When you discuss those with ‘gender dysphoria’, what is the principle component here is that there is feeling based on the body (ie. being taught to be a boy or girl). One problem of transgenderism is that it is a regressive narrative that attempts to situate gender as ‘properly matching’ a specific body (ie. when you discuss what it means to be man and woman). Those who do not buy into these binaries in totality is pretty much most of the planet. I know of nobody who buys into gender aside from transgender persons. So what attempts to sound like a sound bite for a mind-opening cultural trope is really a narrative to legitimize that one can essentialize being ‘man’ or ‘woman’. If a man wants to wear a dress and make cupcakes, he can be a man who wears a dress and make cupcakes. The only reason why some will take these actions to be ‘associated with being woman’ is because of the fact that so many people have reinforced these actions as ‘woman-like’. So what transgenderism does is to reinforce that ‘in fact’ men should be one way (ie. masculine, pants not too tight, not crying during ‘Lion King’). That someone does not fit the stereotype of man does not make him a woman, it simply makes him a man, like you, who is free to express himself. But when you use words like ‘girly’, you are once again using sexist tropes to legitimize an extremely problematic structure. Nota bene: two spirit has nothing to do with transgenderism. It is all about homosexuality.

  • ortal

    what is the last sentence he said ?

  • Cass Andro

    Thanks so much for sharing this. As someone who has never strongly identified with either of the binaries (as much as I have tried hard to fit them and act the part), this really struck a chord for me. It was just what I needed to hear right now. I’m tired of conforming to the binary, but have felt so lost since trying to break free from it. The way you explain gender makes so much sense. I wish this was taught when I was in school.