I want to make sure we are on the same page when it comes to some fundamental parts of sex and sexuality. “Going Deep” will be rolling out a few columns over the next few months that will help you understand some of the other topics I discuss and that will probably just make you a better human being. If there’s anything you want to know, you can always email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Okay, so gender. That’s where you check the “male”or “female” box off on a form and you’re good.
Well, not really.
Over the years, gender and sex have gotten mixed up in a linguistic tango and have become nearly inseparable. The best way to break it down for you is: biological sex is what’s between your legs and gender is what’s between your ears. Meaning that the parts and hormones you have determine your sex (male, female, intersex), and gender is the identity that you feel suits you. Now it’s pretty obvious that the old “check one” method doesn’t really seem to apply here anymore, isn’t it?
Gender is fluid, meaning someone may be born with a certain biological sex and feel that their gender identity matches that while they’re growing up; when what is between your legs and ears matches up, it’s called being cis-gender.
That person can become a teenager and start to identify with the traits and the roles that society ascribes to another gender. Identifying with a gender that doesn’t match up with the sex you were born with can result in a person identifying as transgender. Contrary to popular belief, a medical or surgical transition does not need to take place to be considered transgender – it’s up to that person to decide how they identify.
The term transsexual is not the same as transgender and is used when referring to people who occasionally dress or act like a gender that does not match their own.
Our hypothetical person can also feel like they have a tough time identifying with any gender and not conform to the roles, expectations, socialization, or pronouns of any gender: this can be called gender-ambiguous, gender non-conforming, gender-variant, bi-gender, pan-gender, genderqueer, non-binary, or—my favorite—gender-creative.
Some indigenous peoples who identify with male and female traits choose to identify as Two Spirit as opposed to the above options. Prior to colonization, Two-Spirited people held a special place in their communities and their ability to understand a multitude of perspectives often meant that they had special status as leaders and medicine people.
There are a whole other variety of genders that people identify with that I could never come close to covering; they’re as varied as the way people experience gender and the way the world interprets it.
So when it comes to gender, it’s important that we respect people’s choices and decisions about their own damn gender. If they would like to be referred to as he, she, they, zir, ze, or whatever, it’s pretty easy to do. It’s not a huge inconvenience to your life and chances are that it will mean everything in the world to that person to have their identity confirmed.
You’re a better person already.