What is Gender?
Most people view the terms “gender” and “sex” as interchangeable,
especially in western societies. Yet gender differs from sex
or "biological sex" and is not inherently connected to one’s physical anatomy.
Sex is biological and includes physical attributes such as sex
chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, internal reproductive structures, and
external genitalia. At birth, it is used to identify individuals as male or
female. Gender on the other hand is far more complicated. Along
with one’s physical traits, it is the complex interrelationship between those
traits and one’s internal sense of self as male, female, both or neither as well
as one’s outward presentations and behaviors related to that perception.
What does ‘Transgender’ mean?
Broadly speaking, transgender people are individuals whose gender,
either through outward expression or how they identify inside,
differs from conventional expectations based on their biological
sex. The word “transgender,” or “trans,” is an umbrella term which
is often used to describe a wide range of identities and
experiences, including: transsexuals, FTMs, MTFs, cross-dressers,
drag queens, drag kings, two-spirits, gender queers, and many more.
Some Transgender individuals may identify with both sexes, also
known as Transgender Fluid.
What is the cause of
There are many theories about how gender identities are formed,
including ideas based on biological processes as well as those based
on upbringing and developmental psychology. But the truth is that no
one really knows what causes us to feel the way we do about our
genders. What is known is that different types of cross-gender
and gender different behaviors and identities have been observed
cross-culturally and throughout history. In some cultures, people
who transgress gender boundaries have been accepted without stigma
as respected community members. The use of the term “transgender,”
however, is a relatively recent phenomenon. Whatever the cause,
gender variant people can simply be thought of as a part of the vast
complexity and diversity that is produced by nature.
What is the Gender Spectrum?
Western culture has come to view gender as polar or
binary, with only two possibilities: male or female. When a
child is born, a quick glance between the legs determines the gender
label that the child will carry for life. But even if gender is to
be restricted to basic biology, a binary concept still fails to
capture the rich variation observed. Rather than just two distinct
boxes, biological gender occurs across a continuum of possibilities.
This spectrum of
anatomical variations by itself should be enough to disregard the
simplistic notion of only two genders.
But beyond anatomy, there are multiple domains defining gender. In
turn, these domains can be independently characterized across a
range of possibilities. Instead of the static, binary model
produced through a solely physical understanding of gender, a far
more rich texture of biology, gender expression, and gender identity
intersect in multidimensional array of possibilities. Quite simply,
the gender spectrum
represents a more nuanced, and ultimately truly authentic model of
What is Gender Variance?
variance is when a person’s
preferences and self-expression fall outside commonly understood
gender norms. Gender variance is a normal part of human expression,
documented across cultures and recorded history. Non-binary gender
diversity exists throughout the world, documented by countless
historians and anthropologists. Examples of individuals living
comfortably outside of typical male/female identities are found in
every region of the globe. The calabai, and calalai
of Indonesia, two-spirit Native Americans, and the hijra of
India all represent more complex understandings of gender than the
simplistic model seen in the west.
Further, what might be considered gender variant in one period of
history may become gender normative in another. One need only
examine trends related to men wearing earrings or women sporting
tattoos to quickly see the malleability of social expectations about
gender. Even the seemingly intractable “pink is for girls, blue is
for boys” notions are relatively new. While there is some debate
about the reasons why they reversed, what is well documented is that
until the 1950s, pink was seen as a more decided and stronger color,
and thus more suitable for a boy, while blue, viewed more delicate
and dainty, was commonly worn by girls.
Gender is all around us. It is actually taught to us, from the
moment we are born. Gender expectations and messages bombard us
constantly. Upbringing, culture, peers, community, media, and
religion, are some of the many influences that shape our
understanding of this core aspect of identity. How you learned and
interacted with gender as a young child directly influences how you
view the world today. Gendered interaction between parent and child
begin as soon as the sex of the baby is known. In short, gender is a
socially constructed concept.
picture is male and which is female?
Like other social constructs, gender is closely monitored by
society. Practically everything in society is assigned a
gender—toys, colors, clothes and behaviors are some of the more
obvious examples. Through a combination of social conditioning and
personal preference, by age three most children prefer activities
and exhibit behaviors typically associated with their sex. Accepted
social gender roles and expectations are so entrenched in our
culture that most people cannot imagine any other way. As a result,
individuals fitting neatly into these expectations rarely if ever
question what gender really means. They have never had to,
because the system works for them.
Is being Transgender the same as
being Gay or Lesbian?
No. Not only is "gender" and "sex" two separate entities, so
is "gender" and "sexual orientation." Like all other people,
transgender people can be gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, or
anything in between. How each person defines and experiences their
own sexuality is a highly individual process. Sexual orientation
should not be assumed about anyone, transgender or otherwise!