What is Your Gender Identity?
When most people think of gender identity, they are really thinking about biological sex. Actually, sex and gender are very different things.
What sex are you?
What is Sex?
When you describe your sex, what you are really describing is your "plumbing," so to speak. Do you have male genitalia or female genitalia? When determining your sex, you have only three options:
The vast majority of human beings are biologically either male or female. A few are intersex, meaning that they were born with some combination of male and female organs. (This condition was once known as hermaphroditism.)
Who am I?
What is Gender?
It's about to get a lot more complicated!
Unlike sex, which is biologically based, gender is largely a cultural construct. When asked to name the genders in most Western societies, most people would name two: male and female. However, in some traditional societies, there is considered to be a third sex. An example is the Samoan fa'afafine, who are typically biologically male but who dress and behave like women. In India and Pakistan, a similar identity called hijra exists. Hijra can be biologically male, female, or intersex, but are most commonly male. Like the fa'afafine, they usually dress and behave like women.
Other anthropologists have found fourth, fifth, and even sixth genders in some cultures.
As the role of biology and culture becomes better understood in Western cultures, a growing number of genders are being defined by the medical, psychological, and anthropological communities, and by gendered communities themselves. Because so many groups and methodologies are involved, there is frequent overlap between different types of gender identity.
In the West, gender identity is most commonly divided into two main categories:
- Cisgender: Cisgender is just a fancy name for somebody whose biological sex matches their gender identity. If you have a penis and consider yourself male, you are a cisgendered male. If you have a vagina and consider yourself female, you are a cisgendered female.
- Transgender: If your biological sex does not match your gender identity, then you are transgender. Transgender (also sometimes described as genderqueer or intergender, though neither term is completely synonymous) is an umbrella term that incorporates many different types of gender identities.
It's important to note that gender identity is fluid and often a matter of perception more than quantifiable differences in behavior. Being cisgendered does not mean that you must conform to all
of society's stereotypes and cultural expectations about your biological sex. For example, many self-described "tomboys" consider themselves cisgender, even though they do not
conform absolutely to cultural expectations about female behavior. Many others
consider themselves transgender. The difference is not necessarily of behavior, but of perception.
Likewise, being transgendered does not mean you must reject all society's stereotypes about your biological sex. In fact, many transgender individuals embrace aspects of both traditional gender identities.
What is your gender?
Common Transgender Identities
Third Gender: As discussed above, some cultures do not share the binary gender system common in most Western cultures and individuals from these cultures who belong to a third gender may identify as Third Gender in Western society.
Transsexual: Transsexual people are individuals who identify with a different sex than the one they were born with. Most prefer to be referred to by the gender pronouns of their target sex, i.e. a biologically male trans person will generally prefer to be called "she." A trans man is a biological female who identifies as male; a trans woman is a biological male who identifies as female. Some transsexual people undergo sex reassignment therapy in order to become their target sex. Two Spirit, an American Indian/First Nations third gender, is commonly associated with the western concept of transsexual.
Androgyne: Androgynes do not identify fully with either traditional male or traditional female roles and often adopt elements of both in behavior, clothing, and mannerisms, so that it may be difficult to determine which sex the person is.
Pangender: Pangender is similar to androgyny in that pangender individuals take on aspects of both genders. However, where androgynes typically reject elements of both traditional genders; pangender individuals typically embrace both and may switch back and forth between male and female personas depending on circumstances. Sometimes called bigender or genderfluid, though the terms are not exact synonyms.
More Useful Terms
Transvestite: Transvestitism, also known as cross dressing, refers to a behavior, rather than a gender identity. Although it is commonly practiced by transsexual, androgynous, and other transgender individuals, not all transvestities are transgender.
Genderfuck: Genderfuck, like transvestite, refers to a behavior rather than an identity. Genderfuck uses parody and exaggeration to call attention to the inadequacy of the traditional gender binary. For example, a bearded man wearing a dress might be considered a genderfuck. Though most often associated with the transgender community, cisgendered individuals may also participate.
What is your sexuality?
What about Sexuality?
Some of you may be surprised that I've barely mentioned the role of sexuality in gender identity. After all, aren't all trangender people homosexual?
Actually, the answer is no. Transgender individuals may be heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, or paraphiliac, just like cisgender individuals.
For example, the well known British actor and comedian Eddie Izzard is famous for his transvestitism, but he is, in his own words, either a "straight transvestite" or a "male lesbian," attracted to women. He dresses in women's clothes and makeup neither for performance purposes nor to fulfill a sexual fetish, but simply because he likes them. "Women wear what they want," he has said, "and so do I." The majority of transvestites, actually, are heterosexual biological males, though the related term drag queen is most commonly used to refer to a homosexual man who dresses as a woman.
Homosexuals may also view themselves as either trans or cisgendered. Slang terms such as "butch" and "femme" are examples of the way in which sexuality and gender identities are combined in the LGBT community.
For more on this topic, please visit What is Your Sexuality?