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

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