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Gender Identity 101

In honor of transgender awareness week (Nov. 12-19), this post aims to help educate people on gender identity. Individuals who identify as transgender or gender non-binary have significantly higher rates of anxiety, depression, suicide and many other mental health disorders. This is often due to discrimination and disparities they experience. There are many misconceptions surrounding gender, and because knowledge is a powerful tool against fear and hate, here is some information to help clear things up:

  1. Sex and gender are NOT the same, and neither are binary

    • Sex is based off presenting genitalia. For example, someone having a vagina and ovaries means their sex is female. While many think the only two sexes are male and female, some people are born with a combination of male and female genitalia and/or gonads, proving that sex is a continuum, and not binary.
    • Gender is NOT defined by one’s sex. To put it differently, just because someone’s sex is male does not mean they are a man. Gender is also not restricted to man or woman. One can be a man, a woman, a blend of both or neither. Gender is a spectrum and determined by 3 factors; body, identity and expression.
      1. Body – how we experience our bodies and how other interact with our body.
      2. Identity – who we internally know ourselves to be.
        • Someone who’s sex assigned at birth and gender identity are the same (ie. assigned sex at birth is female and identifies as a woman) they are considered cisgender. Someone who’s gender identity differs from their sex assigned at birth is considered transgender. There are many other gender identities such as genderqueer, gender fluid, non-binary, bi-gender and agender to name a few.
        • Man and woman are two molds that not all people fit into. It is no different than saying all shapes are either a square or a circle; It is just not true.
      3. Expression – how we present our gender to the world. It is important to understand that you cannot assume someone’s gender identity based on their gender expression. For example, a cisgender male may like to wear makeup but that doesn’t change that they identify as a man. Expression of gender, and even more so the perception of gender expression, is deeply rooted in gender roles and stereotypes. For example the thought that girls wear pink and boys wear blue. These gender stereotypes are constantly changing as well. In fact, traditionally girls wore blue and boys wore pink.
    • A quick additional note. Just as sex and gender aren’t binary, neither are pronouns. She/her/hers and he/him/his are the more well known gender pronouns but there are others. An individual may chose to use pronouns such as they/them/theirs, ze/zir/zirs, and others. It is important to respect people and use their preferred pronouns.
  2. Gender identity is a NOT a choice

    • Just as sexual orientation is not a choice, neither is gender identity. It is a deeply held truth of who we are. Our authentic self.
    • Gender identity may change and evolve over time. Currently the vocabulary to describe gender is expanding, but in the past has been very limited. This can make it difficult for someone to express their inner truth when the words to express that do not yet exist.
  3. Gender and sexual orientation are completely different things

    • Sexual orientation is who you are emotionally, romantically and sexually attracted to.
    • We cannot assume someone’s sexual orientation based off their gender identity.
    • There are many different sexual orientations. Heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, androsexual and gynesexual are just a few.

It is important to understand that being able to live our lives in a way that is authentic and genuine is imperative for optimal health. Suppression of our authentic self is detrimental to our mental, emotional and spiritual health, and beings that the mind, body and spirit are connected, this can also lead to physical illness. Please be open-minded, tolerant and loving to all. By doing so you are supporting the health of others.

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