Gender identity can be a confusing concept for many people. Most people assume that if a person is genetically male or female, then their gender identity will match that genetic makeup. But for some, sex and gender don’t match. A person’s gender is the complex interrelationship between three dimensions:
- Body: our body, our experience of our own body, how society genders bodies, and how others interact with us based on our body.
- Identity: our deeply held, internal sense of self as male, female, a blend of both, or neither; who we internally know ourselves to be.
- Expression: how we present our gender in the world and how society, culture, community, and family perceive, interact with, and try to shape our gender. Gender expression is also related to gender roles and how society uses those roles to try to enforce conformity to current gender norms.
Parents often worry about a child who is having gender identity issues. They wonder if it’s real, or if it’s just “a phase”. They worry about their child’s mental health as well as their safety. Parents are often confused about how to deal with a child’s gender identity issues.
The individual with gender identity issues may be just as confused, whether he or she is an adolescent or an adult. Daily navigation through school, and society in general can be a daunting task for those whose gender identity doesn’t match their sex. The bathroom controversies alone are enough to cause daily stress and concern for both the individual and parents. Transgender people are bullied and assaulted at far higher rates than those without gender identity issues. This requires that transgender people maintain higher level of vigilance in public, simply to be physically safe. The daily battle can be exhausting.
Much like sexuality, gender also exists along a spectrum. This means that some people do not fall completely into either a “male” or “female” category. Some people feel that they are “non-binary” which means that they don’t necessarily fall into one group or the other, or perhaps they feel they belong to both. And some feel that they fall into neither group. This is referred to as “agender”. While many trans, non-binary, and agender people are thriving in their communities, many others are struggling not only to be accepted in their community, but to simply accept themselves.
It is important to understand that gender identity is different from sexual orientation. If you’re confused about the difference, remember this…
Sexual orientation is about who you go to bed WITH.
Gender identity is about who you go to bed AS.
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