Gender- Identity & Expression

In life we all have certain roles and responsibilities. There are expectations that are thrust upon us from the moment we are born, maybe even sooner. Some of these expectations are societal and based on our gender. Gender often is assumed to be linked directly to whatever gear we are packing in our pants (penis or vulva). Gender has become such a tool for stereotyping that some people reject the construct of gender all together.  

As we examine gender I want to look at three different parts and the language we use to describe where people are within each. 

The first is how we talk about if our gender aligns with the sex we were assigned at birth. As we learned in the post about sex, the sex we are assigned at birth is not always an accurate representation of our makeup. If we identify our gender as aligning with the sex we were assigned at birth the adjustive ‘cis’ is used. If our gender does not align with the gender we were assigned at birth the adjustive ‘trans’ is used.  

Next let’s look out how we identify. For this post I will specifically be using the gender stereotypes that are perpetuated in mainstream American culture and start by looking at the binary genders of male and female. (Note- these stereotypes do not necessarily align with my personal beliefs on gender roles.)  

Males are strong and powerful leaders. They are assertive and dominate in nature. They have high levels of competition and low levels of emotional expression.  

Females are nurturing care givers. They are compassionate and expressive. Their value their roles as parent and partner and maintaining physical attractiveness.  

What if a person’s gender does not fall into one of these two (binary) categories? Some of these terms provide overlap (much like man and male) allowing for variation in speech and preference in label. 

Nonbinary people have a gender that falls outside the binary of male/female, or rejecting the concept of gender. 

Agender individuals identify as not having a gender. 

Bigender people have a mix of two genders. 

Those who are gender fluid have a gender identity that changes through time. 

Gender nonconforming  people express their gender in a way that does not match societies expectations for their gender. 

genderqueer person has a gender that falls outside the gender binary of male/female. 

Pangender individuals are those having a gender made of a number of genders. 

The way we identify speaks to the way in which we think or our psychological gender. This does not mean that we share all of the stereotypical values of our gender but align the closest with them. Aside from how you identify your gender, there is also how you express your gender. Gender is expressed through levels of masculinity and femineity. Our expression can be seen in the way we act, dress, speak, and more. Masculinity tends to more stereotypically male. Things that are seen as masculine could be wearing pants, having physical strength, athletic ability, skilled with tools, independence, etc. While, femineity is generally associated with stereotypical women. These things may be wearing makeup, styled hair, wearing skirts or dresses, being crafty, emotionally expressive, etc. Gender can also be expressed in the way that we walk, our speech patterns and even word choices.  

I hope that this brief leap into gender helps to open the way people think about gender and all the ways it is impacted from our assigned sex to our identity and our expression. All of the topic that we are tackling in the series are much more complex than can be fully explored in a single post. For resources, references and to learn more click here

Sex- A Biological Factor

Let’s talk about sex! The anatomical kind not the act, but now that I have your attention why don’t we jump right in. 

Sex is a biological factor that is most often assigned at birth and accepted as fact. There is an assumption that whatever presents externally- penis or vulva- is congruent with the chromosomes a person has, their hormone functions, and their internal reproductive structures. You know what they say about assuming though. In a textbook world each human has 23 pairs of chromosomes with either 23 X and 23 Y chromosomes (male) or all 46 X chromosomes (female). However that is not always the case and even when it is, the body’s ability to produce and respond to hormones impact how it develops as well. There are also instances when during the development of the external organs (penis or vulva) is disrupted and ambiguous genitalia form. Often when this occurs doctors and parents decide on a sex to assign and surgery occurs to make the child appear more male or female. If a sex isn’t determined for the child they may receive the sex label of intersex.  

When there is an inconsistency between the chromosomes, hormones, external genitals, and internal structures it is known as a disorder of sex development. There are around 60 different conditions that are considered a disorder of sex development. While some of these conditions are easier to recognize at birth, others go unnoticed until puberty or fertility difficulties become evident, while some may go never discovered. 

There are biological and anatomical factors that are at work when determining sex however, the practice of labeling at birth is to better guide medical professionals as they monitor a child’s growth and screening for congenital conditions. The issue becomes that we assume sex determines gender and use this information to dictate how the child is to be raised and treated.   

The topics we are exploring with this series are complex and cannot be fleshed out in a single post. My hope is that through sharing this small piece of information regarding assigned sex it will help to start changing the way we think about and treat each other. For resources, references and to learn more click here

Sex, Gender, Sexuality

For some reason our world tries so hard to be dichotomous. We attempt to fit everything into two neat and opposing boxes, things are black or white. Our world however has millions of colors and very, very few things are black or white. When it comes to sex, gender, and sexuality things absolutely do not fit into two separate categories. Over the next few weeks we will be diving in to each of these three categories to understand the shades and hues within them. Before we can even dive in however, we need to understand what each one is individually as they are three different yet related things. 

First let’s look at sex. You are most likely familiar with the male and female categories of sex, but they aren’t the only two. We aren’t going to get into all of this here, there will be an entire post dedicated to looking at the categories. For now what you need to understand is that sex is biological. It is determined by chromosomes. Remember X and Y from high school biology class? In theory you get one from each parent and if the cells follow directions well you end up with reproductive organs and external genitals that match your chromosomal make up. But guess what, high school biology was boiled down to the absolute simplest surface level content, it is so much more complex than this. Without turning this into an in-depth biology lesson, sex is assigned at birth. It is not assigned, generally, by looking at chromosomes, but instead by looking at external genitals. This means is a baby has something that looks more like a penis they are labeled as male. If the baby has something more closely resembling a vulva they are labeled as female. If there is uncertainty, depending on the state they may be assigned a sex of intersex or cosmetic surgery may be done and a sex of male or female assigned. 

Now, while sex is assigned as a result of genitals, which could (but don’t always) match chromosomes, gender is not. Again you probably associate the terms male and female, however think of them like the word orange. Orange labels both a fruit and a color but not all fruits that are orange are an orange and all oranges are not orange in color. Gender is how a person identifies in comparison to societal expectation and roles. There are a lot of factors that play into gender and the categories are not just black or white, man or woman. Gender becomes even more rich when gender express is considered as a person can identify as one gender (or no gender, or multiple) but express themselves in ways that tend toward societal norms for another gender such as femininity for women and masculinity for men. 

As for sexuality, you have likely heard the saying “you can’t love someone until you love yourself”. This is a parallel to sexuality. Sexuality is about who you love, but in order to label it you must first know yourself and your gender. Sexuality has been a hot topic for as long as I can remember. I will tell you right now I am NOT talking about sexual preference as a preference implies a choice- I prefer steak to salad but crave both regularly. Sexuality describes who we are attracted to in an intimate sexual way and is not driven nurture or choice. Sometimes inner barriers keep people from accepting their sexuality from an early age and they do not “come out” until later in life. This does not mean that they decided to change their sexuality but rather they have learned to live more authentically. Sexuality cannot be changed, it is not a choice! 

Discussing these terms and how we (feel the need to) label people can be incredibly uncomfortable, but it is a discussion that needs to be had frequently and repeatedly. I really hope that you stick with me in the next few weeks to learn more about sex, gender, and sexuality and then use this information to have these uncomfortable conversations. The more we talk the more comfortable the conversation will become and the only way to make the change needed in this world is by advocating and educating and I hope you will help me with that. 

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