Gender and Gender Identity 101

Gender Basics

On the differences between sex, gender, and sexuality:

Sex: the social construction of biologically meaningful differences in people’s bodies. In other words, sex is the social and cultural interpretation of specific biological traits, and the subsequent categorization of people based on those traits; namely reproductive organs, external sex organs (aka: genitals), chromosomes, gonads, and sex hormone levels. People are categorized at birth typically as male, female, or intersex.

Gender: A two-fold definition: (s) the social construction of behavioral, and other superficial, expectations associated with a person’s perceived sex. In other words, gender is comprised of the [constructed] social and cultural meanings and expectations attached to the different sex categories. (2) A person’s conception of the self, related, in part, to their sex, as male, female, trans, or otherwise gender nonconforming. People are also assigned a gender at birth that is culturally congruent with their sex classification. Anyone who identifies as the gender they were assigned is cisgender. Those who do not identify as the gender they were assigned are trans, or otherwise gender nonconforming. People may or may not match their physical appearance to their gender.

Sexuality: comprised of who a person is sexually attracted to (aka: sexual orientation), who they are romantically interested in, their sexual behavior, and recognition of their sexual orientation, romantic interests, sexual behaviors, and attached meanings.


Gender identity vs. gender expression:

Gender Expression: the way a person physically presents, or expresses, their gender to others. This can be done through appearance – such as clothing, makeup, jewelry, hair style, etc. – and behavior. A person’s gender expression can be overt or covert, and may or may not match their internal gender at any given time.


Trans 101

Overview: what does it mean to be trans?

Trans/Transgender: Broadly speaking, a trans/transgender person is anyone who does not identify with the same gender they were assigned at birth. There are many ways to be trans; male to female trans folx, female to male trans folx, gender nonconforming folx, folx with non-binary genders, and intersex folx can all be trans. However, some folx who don’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth don’t identify as trans either. There are variety of gender identities and every individual has the right to self-identify. Therefore, “trans” can be an umbrella term as well as a specific gender identity. If you don’t know someone’s gender identity, the best way to find out is to simply ask.

Cis/Cisgender: a term used to describe people who do identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, which is based on their sex class.

Trans Bodies and Transitioning: Human bodies are extremely varied, far more so than male-female sex binary suggests. Most people alter their bodies in some way through cosmetics, hair styles, piercings, tattoos, medication, or medical procedures. The bodies of trans folx, just like cis folx, are their business, and they are the only ones who decide whether or not they have a male, female, androgynous, gender-fluid, non-binary, or otherwise gender queer body. Additionally, trans folx are not required to medically transition (e.g., take hormones, undergo any form of gender affirmation surgery, etc.) or alter their appearance in any way to be ‘really’ trans.


Definitions of important trans-related terms:
Do’s and don’ts for trans allies and other cis folx:

Do respect trans folx’s pronouns, names, and other terminology they use to describe themselves. Everyone has the right to self-identify.

Do engage in self-education. Trans folx often get tired of constantly educating cis folx about their experiences, concerns, and struggles. There are a lot of websites and online communities that would allow you to obtain at least a basic understanding of trans issues. When you do feel the need to ask questions, do so respectfully.

Do prepare yourself for criticism as a cis ally. All allies will make mistakes, and that’s okay as long as you apologize and are receptive to constructive criticism.

Do take the concerns of trans folx seriously. It may be difficult for you to relate to the struggles trans people face or to fully understand why something is oppressive for them. But they have a lot more experience and knowledge about being trans than you do – they’re the experts on being trans.

Do be inclusive at all times, including using inclusive language and having an inclusive attitude and demeanor. Always act like there is a trans person or otherwise gender queer person in the room, because there very well could be.

Do speak up when someone engages in transphobic speech or activities.

Don’t out someone as trans. People have many reasons for not coming out or for selectively disclosing their gender. Their gender is personal information and it isn’t anyone else’s place to disclose their status as trans or otherwise gender queer.

Don’t ask a trans person about their genitals. I don’t know what people do this, as no one thinks it’s acceptable to ask cis people about their genitals.

Don’t make assumptions about someone’s gender based on their appearance.

Don’t make assumptions about someone’s sexual orientation/identity based on their gender.

Don’t give trans folx backhanded compliments or advice about being trans.


What is transmisogyny?

Transmisogyny: is the discrimination of, bigotry toward, and/or institutional oppression of trans women, otherwise feminine of center folx, and anyone who presents feminine characteristics on the basis of those feminine traits.

The below listed article by Laura Kacere is a very good in depth piece on transmisogyny:

Some things to know about trans women:
On non-binary trans lives and issues:

Non-binary folx disproportionately suffer from erasure and invalidation. While trans folx who fit within the confines challenge sex essentialism, non-binary folx also challenge the very [binary] idea of “male” and “female.” Please take a look at the following sources to learn more about the issues non-binary folx.

Trans Resources:
  • Sylvia Rivera Law Project, click here
  • The Trevor Project, click here

Intersex 101:

Defining intersex and what it means to be intersex:

Intersex: an umbrella term for anyone who is born with genitalia, reproductive organs, sex hormonal levels, gonads, and/or chromosomes that are inconsistent with the strictly defined male and female sex categories.

The Struggle for Intersex Bodily Autonomy: Intersex folx are at the greatest risk for genital mutilation and other non-consensual, body-altering procedures. Society and the [western] medical community views intersex bodies as mistakes that need to be fixed rather than one of many natural variations of the human body. Along with parents of intersex children, doctors regularly diagnose and/or surgically alter intersex bodies. This leads to stigmatization of intersex folx, irreversible physical and mental health problems, and a lack of intersex folx to self-determine their bodies, sex, and gender.

What It’s Like To Be Intersex (video transcript found in original source below)


On the population of intersex folx:

Best estimates say between 1 in every 1,500 people and 1 in ever 2,000 people are born intersex. It’s also important to note intersex folx have been around as long as everyone else.


Intersex Resources:
  • InterAct – Advocates for Intersex Youth, click here

One thought on “Gender and Gender Identity 101

  1. Pingback: What the Anti-Trans Bathroom Debate is Really About | Because I Am Human

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