Published: April 17, 2019

So you talk like a girl, look like a girl, act like a girl. You're a girl, right?

By Gin Quesada Lara
Course: Language, Gender, and Sexuality (Ling 2400)
Advisor: Prof. Kira Hall; TA Velda Khoo
LURA 2019


This year in Colorado has been very eye-opening for me. I lived in Georgia until last year. I grew up in a typical Hispanic Christian household and really didn’t find out about the LGBT community until my middle school years. Even then, I thought myself to be generally well educated in the fields of sexuality: I knew what they all meant, their colors. What else could I possibly be missing?

Apparently, an entire section concerning gender.

It really wasn’t until I moved to Colorado that I began to meet people who went by they/them pronouns. I’ve always heard about androgynous people, and I sometimes heard about the gender binary, but the idea of nonbinary identities was still a fresh concept to me. Out of what seemed like nowhere, I began to meet many people, both online and in person, who identified as agender, gender fluid, genderqueer. I somehow managed to take off the set of blinders that were prohibiting me from seeing what was very clearly in my life all this time.

And so began my own gender journey. For me, there was always the question of “am I really a woman?” lingering in the back of my mind. But the way I saw it was: well I don’t want to be a man, so female it is. There was also the myth of how you had to look the part: if you were AFAB (assigned female at birth) and identified as nonbinary, you had to have a flat chest, had to have a slim but muscular figure, had to have short hair and features that were both masculine and feminine. It wasn’t until I finally started separating gender identity from the body—applying the same concepts I believed about women and their appearances—that the puzzle pieces started to come together: there is not one way to look nonbinary.

Surprise, Gin, you’re nonbinary.

Joining Kira Hall’s course Language, Gender, and Sexuality, I really didn’t expect much, to say the least. I was expecting a lot of the earlier studies: women speak this way, men speak this way. But I was pleasantly surprised when the syllabus included studies of many perspectives (I blame my Southern upbringing for the low expectations). So when it came around to picking a topic for the final project, I was overwhelmed; there were so many interesting subjects that I could choose from. But when it really came down to it, it was obvious what I had to do. As someone who is multilingual, I was curious how nonbinary people who spoke other languages expressed their identities. And so began my work on the video essay that you can view here.

I began with a theory that many learn in the most basic of linguistic classes: the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis or linguistic relativity. The strong version of this theory essentially states that the grammatical structures of a language determine a speaker’s view of the world. Applying this to my studies, I wanted to see if a language’s use of gendered grammar could connect to a person’s gender identity.

For example, is it possible that as a speaker of a language that includes non-gendered pronouns and words, I found it easier to have a positive experience when coming to terms with being nonbinary? What if I were raised in Costa Rica where they speak Spanish, a language that uses gender in nearly every sentence? Through the process of interviewing two friends who are also nonbinary and bilingual, I started my research on the correlation between one’s experiences with gender identity and their native language.

The research I collected fits almost perfectly with the idea of linguistic relativity. One person who spoke a gender-dependent language had a difficult experience and tries to use English more in order to express their gender fluid identity. The other spoke a language that doesn’t use pronouns as much and, therefore, is comfortable with their language and gender. However, I wanted to think beyond the facts presented in front of me and look past the obvious. As I’ve learned in Kira Hall’s course, not every situation is going to fit perfectly into what seems like easily recognizable guidelines, and you’re always going to want to take a step back to look at things in a different perspective.

While it’s definitely simple to say, “You speak Spanish, you either identify as female/male or had a problematic time being nonbinary,” I try to explore another point of view in my video. Nonbinary pronouns are very much a new topic in our everyday talk, so I tried making my video pretty simple and even a little fun by drawing out all the concepts in hopes to make it accessible to everyone. Whether you’d like to learn more about linguistics or gender identities, I hope my video helps to bring some more knowledge to you!