Especially in our fast-paced and digitalized world, young people need space and time to explore what one can summarize under the term identity/identities. Primarily, this concept implies an understanding of oneself which develops from different preconditions and external influences and which shapes the image/s that human beings have about themselves. This process is never completed but one of constant change and will last until the end of one’s lifetime.
During adolescence, young people need support to find a stable identity which allows for positive growing up. They also need help with creating realistic and realizable life concepts for a sustainable future. Together with numerous influences, such as religious or family identities, gender identity plays a crucial role in the self-understanding of human beings. To develop a congruent gender identity or identities, many factors such as one own’s wishes, family expectations, media influences, societal norms, and economic possibilities have to be balanced — challenging undertaking which is prone to breakdown and in the worst-case scenario can lead to devaluation of one own’s personality or that of others. Since the development of „self“ or „identity“ includes differentiation from and demarcation between self and another identity/ies, this process can also lead to devaluation of „others“ or „other“ if a solid foundation is missing.
And the area of gender stereotypes and stereotyping is especially characterized by degradation through comparison. For example, the assumption that boys do better in mathematics includes that girls do worse. Such images affect us and can create their own realities which can, for example, hinder talented and interested girls to develop their abilities. Deeply ingrained sexist beliefs against girls and women, as can be heard for example in a lot of lyrics of mainly male mainstream rappers, influence attitudes of the male YOU*TH who listen to the texts as well as to beliefs of the YOU*TH who are affected by sexist violence. The development of relationships at eye level can be hindered by gender stereotypes.
Furthermore, a rigid system of the gender binary conception leads to the fact that the lived reality of the trans YOU*TH is not acknowledged and that they suffer discrimination and belittlement. Heteronormativity, which is firmly grounded in society and media, comes with discrimination, invisiblizing diversity, and a lack of possibilities for identification apart from the given norms. Heterosexual norms exclude others that do not follow these norms and hinder young people to have relationships that are of importance to them.
Therefore, we have to ask ourselves why young people accept such narrow identifications for themselves, whether it is actually their choice or just a never questioned fact, and what we can do to give more space to ambiguity, diversity and finally, personal freedom. The activities about self-reflection should serve as a building block to engage young people within a given time frame with relevant self-discovery questions. Furthermore, we want young people to talk about this topic and to take active steps towards a society in which one’s gender identity can be lived freely and equally with others.
Put simply: heteronormativity means that heterosexuality — i.e. the attraction felt to so-called “the opposite sex” — is considered to be the norm. Therefore, heterosexual people are regarded as “normal”, while homosexual people are perceived as a deviation from normality. 1