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Welcome to The Highlight’s Gender Issue

Nonbinary adults discuss life in a changing landscape; passing while trans; remembering the “Axe effect”; parents’ tug-of-war over baby clothes; and more.

Anshika Khullar for Vox
Lavanya Ramanathan is a senior editor at Vox. Previously, she was a longtime features reporter covering trends, race, youth culture, and the zeitgeist at the Washington Post.
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We are experiencing a moment of profound clarity when it comes to understanding gender, a shift precipitated by a dramatic turnaround in the acceptance of gay identity and expansion of marriage rights, a new spotlight on trans rights, and a reevaluation of masculinity brought on by the Me Too movement. So what better moment to examine the way we live gender now?

In our cover story, we dispatched photographer Annie Tritt to capture the stories of older adults who have only recently arrived at the language to identify as nonbinary — to acknowledge that they do not fit neatly into male or female boxes, that they are neither, both, or fluid. They shared journeys from fear to self-discovery that affected their relationships with their children, with spouses, and with God.

In a frank essay on her experience as a trans woman, Vox’s critic-at-large Emily Todd VanDerWerff explores the nuances of craving to be feminine, of wanting to “pass,” and the misgivings she feels about her desire for pink razors.

It took having a child this winter for writer Chris Chafin to wonder why we dress infants in either pinks or blues, even at the risk of being wrong about who they are. Turns out we can blame Freud, not to mention the parental instinct to project our likes and dislikes onto our offspring.

Also in this issue, we explore how Axe body spray inundated teenage boys with a vision of masculinity — and sexuality — that still haunts us today; and how a new exhibit reveals compelling truths about the notion of proof for survivors of sexual assault.

While creating the Gender Issue, we turned to diverse writers and artists to tell us their stories in their own voices — even as we imagined our cover, a garden-like “gender utopia” in which the subjects of the issue mingle. In fact, the vibrant world drawn by trans nonbinary artist Anshika Khullar is not so far off from the real one. It’s complex, and it is beautiful.

Life in between: Nonbinary adults, in portrait

Five people on finding the words — and the strength — to be themselves.

by Annie Tritt

Illustration of a woman looking worriedly at items in a makeup store. Annie Mok for Vox

The Assimilationist, or: On the unexpected cost of passing as a trans woman

The trouble with finding my true self in the beauty aisles.

by Emily Todd VanDerWerff

Illustration of two babies dressed in stereotypically gendered clothes and one baby in gray. Zac Freeland/Vox

How baby clothes became a pink and blue battleground

A century ago, we dressed infants the same. So why is it so hard now?

by Chris Chafin

The pungent legacy of Axe Body Spray

For a generation of teens, the fragrance and its iconic ads upheld a bygone image of masculinity.

by Mac Schwerin

Courtesy of Kyle Knodell

Opening a Pandora’s box of truths about rape kits

Artist Aliza Shvarts collected exam kits from across the country. Now, an exhibition is using them to explore evidence, consent, and the standard of care for those who’ve experienced assault.

by Lux Alptraum

Future Perfect

How the US is preparing to fight — and win — a war in space

Even Better

How to make your anger work for you

Future Perfect

We have treatments for opioid addiction that work. So why is the problem getting worse?

View all stories in The Highlight

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