Updated: Apr 21, 2021
Gender is so many things! In this blog post, we talk about the interactions between gender identity, bodily characteristics, gender expression, and other people's perceptions.
Full transparency, I did not know other genders existed for my whole childhood, and I think that’s limiting and unfair. The world is changing, at least it feels like it is in the communities I exist in, and more young people are learning about ideas that I didn’t hear until college; gender identity, pronouns, cisgender and transgender, and so much more. There is definitely a generational learning curve when it comes to learning about gender. I know my fellow Gen Z’s pick up on pronouns much quicker and easier than older generations, and with new educational standards rolling in this might become a national standard (wishful thinking?). So we need intergenerational education on these topics; that means young people teaching our elders, and vise versa.
This week I got to work creating, what I think, is an intergenerational learning tool. The information that makes up this zine post is from multi-generational sources; we have knowledge from large, national organizations, and knowledge from new wave start ups, millennials, kids, and more. The model I use to talk about gender is from the “Gender Triangle Educational Guide,” which was produced collaboratively by GLSEN and InterACT.
There was a ton of information in this guide, and I highly recommend you read it if you’re interested in a deeper dive into this stuff! The guide also offers some interesting questions to ask yourself, which I’ve incorporated into the zine and this blog post.
Let’s get into it.
An important distinction to make is the difference between gender and gender identity. Gender identity is how you see yourself on the inside - it is completely up to you. It’s how you perceive yourself and what feels most comfortable in your body. However, gender is often more complicated because it’s not entirely up to us to decide. Gender is a social identity, and it involves things we don’t have full control over, like other people, our bodies, and social standards. Gender can be thought of as an on-going interaction between gender identity, bodily characteristics, expression, and attribution.
Ideas about gender are often imposed on our bodies, but bodily characteristics don’t have to equal gender. Bodily characteristics include things like body hair, breast tissue development, height, and hormones.
“Some may feel that their bodies are distinct from their gender while others feel that the two are interrelated.” - GLSEN & InterACT
Gender expression is how we choose to present ourselves. This can include our mannerisms, clothing, hair styles, and hobbies. An interesting question to ask yourself is: how am I expressing my gender today?
Gender expression is different from gender attribution, which is how we are perceived by others. As I mentioned earlier, gender is a social identity. Social identities are like conversations; they are created between two people (i.e: me and the person perceiving me), and that means their perceptions sometimes won’t always match with our own understandings of ourselves. This is also known as misgendering. Pronouns are one way to communicate gender identity, but it’s always best to ask someone how they identify to avoid misgendering them! A question you could ask yourself is: how does gender attribution change depending on who I am around?
It is important to remember that gender identity is a part of us that is complex and evolving. It is never just one thing: i.e. our gender is never solely determined by our body, or never solely determined by how we are perceived. You get to explore and decide your own gender identity, which also means it can change over time! Ask yourself: how do I identify today? Is it different than how I felt as a child?
All of this goes to show that there are so many gender identities! We’ve all heard of male and female, but that is just the beginning. Broadly there are two umbrella terms: cisgender and transgender. Someone is cisgender when they identify with the gender assigned to them at birth, and someone is transgender if they don’t identify with the gender assigned to them at birth. Some ways a person might identify is as non-binary, agender, gender expansive, gender fluid, transgender, gender non-conforming, two-spirit, intersex. Check out this gender spectrum and imagine all the possible identity points that could exist here.
My sources for this information were:
GLSEN. GENDER TRIANGLE EDUCATION GUIDE, www.glsen.org/sites/default/files/2019-11/GLSEN-Gender-Triangle-Education-Guide.pdf.
Gender Spectrum image, “Celebrating Pride I: LGBTQIA+ identity and workplace discrimination” Sarah Hayley Armstrong, Medium, https://medium.com/curated-by-versett/celebrating-pride-i-lgbtqia-identity-and-workplace-discrimination-2eac24dd2e19
“The Complete Guide to Gender Identity.” Astroglide, 31 Jan. 2020, astroglide.com/blog/gender-identity.