Gender Is More than Male and Female: Here’s Everything You Didn’t Know about Gender Identity
It is fair to assume that if an individual is asked to perform word-association with the word “gender,” they would, most probably, say “man/woman,” or “male/female,” or something along the lines of the binary image most of us view ‘gender’ in. However, gender exists on a spectrum.
‘Gender’ is a social construct, a human-made idea that exists on a spectrum, and is often confused with one’s ‘sex.’ ‘Sex’ is an anatomical indication that differentiates physical constructs based merely on genitals. ‘Gender’ is an identity that an individual, in most cases, is prescribed at birth which they may or may not mould according to their own sense of self as they may progress in life. In precise words, ‘gender’ is associated with one’s mental makeup, whereas ‘sex’ has more to do with one’s physicality.
Gender, furthermore, is defined by one’s ‘gender-identity,’ and/or ‘gender-expression.’ Now you may be wondering what the difference between one's gender-identity and gender-expression is. Don’t fret. One’s gender-identity is their sense of being male, or female, or transgender, and so forth. One’s gender-expression, on the other hand, would be how they may choose to express their gender-identity, for instance, through their behaviour, their choice of clothing, the style of their hair, and so forth. A person may identify as male, but they may express their identity in a way that may be more non-conforming, that is, neither strictly male nor strictly female.
Since gender, as mentioned before, exists on a spectrum, it is, by all means, non-binary. Below are just a few of the many varying gender-identities that exist.
A person is referred to as cisgender when their gender-identity matches their physicality, or the gender they may have been assigned at birth.
Someone is transgender when they identify with a gender that doesn’t traditionally match the gender they may have been assigned at birth. For instance, a person may have a female anatomy, but they may innately feel like and identify as a man. In order to align their sex with the gender they identify with, a transgender person may go through sex-reassignment surgery. However, that is not the case with every transgender person since sex-reassignment surgery is a very expensive procedure.
A genderqueer person does not identify with the traditional, binary gender distinctions, but either identifies with neither, or both, or a combination of the male and female genders.
A third gender identity has been legally recognised in many countries in recent times. It is derived from being genderqueer, and, in most cases, characterizes a non-binary expression. For example, hijras in some Asian cultures, fa’afafine in some Polynesian societies, the khanith in Oman, and the “two-spirit identities” in multiple indigenous North American nations.
A person who is genderfluid does not identify with any one particular gender-identity, but they may identify as male, or female, or both, or any identity on the gender spectrum, depending on their desire of expression during a particular time. A genderfluid person may, one day, express themselves as someone who's more masculine, and another day, as someone who’s more feminine, and so on.
The agender identity is a unique identity in its own. An agender person does not identify with any decimal on the gender spectrum. They’re, quite really, genderless. They express themselves as being free of any gender norms, rules, et cetera. When one’s referring to someone who identifies as agender, they should always employ gender-neutral pronouns, such as “they,” “them,” “their,” and “theirs,” unless specified otherwise. However, an agender person may also use gender-specific pronouns. Therefore, it is always beneficial to respectfully ask the person what pronouns they prefer.
It’s always crucial to remind oneself to not assume another individual’s identity, or expression. To honour the existence of gender as a spectrum, and to honour individual identity, one should always ask the other person how they identify.
At the end of the day, it’s about respecting people for how they may choose to live, be it with labels, or without.
Illustrations designed by Puneet Gaur.