Forget Cinderella and think Moana. Less Beyoncé and more Solange. Leave Coachella behind and embrace Camp Flog Gnaw. Ditch your Levi’s for Universal Standard, Forever 21 for Fashion Nova. Replace Jay-Z with Tyler, the Creator; Sixteen Candles with Love, Simon; Jennifer Aniston with Issa Rae; and the MoMA with Instagram.
Lost? I don’t blame you! It is a lot to take in. I’ll give you a minute to Google it all.
Before you catch your breath, I have news for you: this is the world of fluidity, and your teen (regardless of if they know the term or not) is here for it.
What is fluidity?
Fluidity is a word applied to an emerging disposition to the world common to Gen Z, one which is focused on multitudes of expression, identity, and being. Fluidity values the gray areas of life. It longs for equipoise: a meeting of creativity and imagination, fragmentation and decentralization, impermanence and ephemerality, inclusivity and activism, multiplicity and hybridity. Fluidity wants to eliminate binaries, not just in gender, but in all things.
Equipoise describes behavior which extends from this prioritization of fluidity, something that Gen Z considers its greatest strength. What older generations might see as fickleness or contradiction within Gen Z, they see as simply a web of information that keeps them balanced and capable of integrating differences. In a nutshell, equipoise is the ability to hold things in tension and pursue a true equilibrium. (Some examples Gen Z might be looking to in this regard are teen activist Emma Gonzales, multihyphenate artist Donald Glover, and political wunderkind Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.)
Why is it so attractive?
Gen Z loves fluidity because it knows no bounds. Literally. Fluidity wants to undo any borders, barriers, or boundaries that limit their creativity, self-expression, or identity. It speaks to the truth we have all felt at one point, but especially in our youth, in which we desire our complexities, however seemingly contradictory, to be recognized and respected. Essentially, teens want to feel heard, valued, and respected — and the emphasis on fluidity looks to do exactly that, especially to groups who are typically marginalized or censored.
Fluidity speaks to a desire this generation has to defy labels and disrupt the status quo. They want to reject the leadership of times past and embrace a place in the world that isn’t so concerned with money or power (though they’ll admit money and power are not bad, they simply aren’t focused on them as end-goals). Fluidity is everything that Gen Z values: purpose-driven, transparent, egalitarian, inclusive, structurally elastic, and integral. They can’t imagine anything better.
Regardless of what we think about these ideas, Gen Z is committed to fluidity, and it’s looking like a long-haul ordeal. They are willing to speak out for these principles in order to create what they believe to be a better world. They are dissatisfied with the mess that generations before have left them, and want to roll up their sleeves and start changing it. To them, fluidity is the key to unlock a better and brighter future.
What is at stake?
However, just like anything else, fluidity has its share of major drawbacks, especially when it comes to absolute truth. Most people in the United States operate in moral relativism, and fluidity certainly will not do that any favors. The desire to dispose of binaries is an extension of a decades-long battle against moral absolutes, and fluidity’s value of multitudes of expression, identity, and being will continue to seep into the way this next generation perceives morality — if it hasn’t already. When there is an emphasis on living your truth, you don’t always take the time to adhere to the Truth, found in the person of Jesus Christ. As fluidity extends into more areas of life, it will be of greater importance that we seek to find bridges to the truth of the Good News.
Another thing at stake in a more fluid world is the reality of our identity. A huge focus for this fluid generation is becoming the person they create themselves to be. While this can be extremely liberating in the fight to not conform to harmful expectations people often put each other, it can be rather antagonistic toward recognizing our God-given identity. This already has posed significant challenges around gender and sexual identity from a Christian anthropological perspective, but it also has the potential to chip away at our identities as daughters and sons of God. If identity is everything and nothing at once, then what is it and where does it come from? If identity is anything I create for myself, what does that make of my identity in Christ? These are important questions that will become more and more critical to ask as fluidity takes greater hold of our thinking.
How do we move forward?
Whether your teens are sold out for this idea or have no idea that it even exists, it is important to make room for dialogue with them regarding their own thoughts and ideas about truth, identity, being, and expression. Take time to ask your teen(s): What do you believe? What do you value? What are you passionate about? What do you think about identity (yours, others’)? How do you view those who are different? What role does Christ have in all of it?
Above all, don’t just invite them to share in order to point out all of the flaws in their thinking. Instead, make the effort to truly listen to their ideas and take them seriously. Allow your teen to share their perspectives with you while you focus on being present and listening to understand, not just in the time you already have together but also in intentional time for these kinds of conversations. Consider going out for coffee, taking a walk, or going for a scenic drive together. Challenge yourselves by leaving your phones behind and simply letting your teen share how they look at the world. This kind of dialogue can be extremely profound in encouraging teens to answer the call to be authentic evangelists in an increasingly fluid world.
In addition to dialogue, it is important to demonstrate to your teen that you are not afraid of the complexities, the gray areas, the untidy questions of real life. A key value of fluidity is inclusivity, and being able to listen and learn, to consider all sides, and to welcome people who think differently. It will mean a lot to them that you can model what it means to embrace the tension faced when trying to live the Gospel in a broken world. It will matter not only to demonstrate the way that you wrestle with these realities, but also to show your teen what it means to take these big questions to prayer, to seek counsel and direction from the Church, and to move forward with hope in Christ who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.