Redefining Gender with Jacob Tobia
Jacob Tobia is a writer, producer, and leading voice for non-binary, genderqueer, and gender nonconforming people. Listed as one of 2016’s OUT 100, Jacob has been breaking ground and making waves from the East Coast to the West.
He’s been profiled in the GLAAD award-nominated episode of True Life: I’m Genderqueer, created and hosted Queer 2.0— a first-of-its-kind LGBTQ series on NBC News, and is now working on Season 4 of Jill Soloway’s Emmy award-winning series, Transparent.
We’ve been stalking Jacob for a while on Instagram and recently got to meet in person to giggle and chat about all things gender.
What is gender?
Jacob: Contrary to what we’re told, gender isn’t some monolithic entity that is easy to define. Gender is as amorphous and culturally specific as religion, and as broad and diverse as the idea of God. In the same way that every culture has a different way of understanding the divine, each culture has a different way of understanding gender. Some believe that there are only two genders, while some believe that there are thousands, and then there are those who believe there are none at all. The sooner we come to understanding gender as a set of beliefs and not an absolute truth, the faster we can move forward to a more inclusive and wonderful world.
Where did the idea of gender originate from?
Jacob: That depends on how you define it. Gender, as a holistic idea, is as old as time. We have had gender, since humans have had identities. But gender as we understand it, gender as a binary and a predetermined set of sex characteristics with specific types of behaviors, is a very modern understanding. The way we understand gender currently is, at best, 20-30 years old. Every generation regenerates and morphs gender, and recreates it in its own way.
Do you believe we’ve all been conditioned into the binary or that each of us are different?
Jacob: In the context of American young people who were raised in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, yes, most of us have been conditioned to think of ourselves as one option or another within the gender binary. But just because we think of ourselves within the gender binary, doesn’t mean that the binary is true or is the best system for understanding human gender. We are all different: no one person’s gender experience is identical to another person’s.
How about sexuality? Is bisexual or pansexual in terms of sexuality comparable to a gender nonconformist?
Jacob: Pansexuality, bisexuality, and queer sexuality are important interventions into the gender binary. The idea that you are either gay/lesbian or straight reinforces the idea that there are only two types of people to be attracted to. It reinforces that you must be either a man or a woman and be attracted to either men or women. Bisexuality and pansexuality expand the understanding of who is desirable, and expand the idea that you have to be attracted to one or the other. I tend to only date people who identify as queer, bi, or pansexual.
Are there gender nonconformists that are straight, gay and bisexual? Do you know any gender nonconformists that are straight?
Jacob: Gender nonconforming people can use any word they’d like to describe their sexuality. Lots of people are attracted to lots of different kinds of things. Whatever gets you off, go for it bb! As long as it’s consensual and hot!
Does drag affect or offend people in the LGBTQ community?
Jacob: Drag culture is such an important part of queer identity and history. Drag queens have been key leaders in our movements for decades, and have done so much vital work to broaden society’s understanding of gender identity. Despite the vital role played by drag queens, there are still those in the LGBTQ community who seek to marginalize drag performers and push them out of the movement, saying that they are “too extravagant” or “not the best representations of queer life.” To those people, I say, fuck you. Drag queens are, and will always be, a vital part of our community.
What do you identify as?
Jacob: I use many labels, but gender-wizard or witchy femme are two of my favorites right now.
Is coming out and identifying as something important? Or is that too 90’s?
Jacob: I think the idea of being in, or coming out of, “the closet” isn’t a productive way to look at identity. The idea that you are locked in some dark place and have to have some grand moment when you come out into the light just doesn’t feel like it accurately represents the way identity works, ya know? I prefer to think not of coming out, but of unfurling. We are all flags (or long strings of ribbon) who are constantly unfurling, showing new parts of ourselves to the world, becoming more fully ourselves. The unfurling never ends, it just changes as you change. That’s how I like to talk about things.
What message do you want to share with the world?
Jacob: We need to end the violence and stigma confronting gender nonconforming people, and we must do this by changing the way we see our own identities. No one is fully a man or fully a woman; we all contain multitudes. None of us can be boxed in without sacrificing some part of ourselves.