Sex, Gender and Gender Identity
People have a lot of questions about gender identity and expression. It has been a hot topic in the media and throughout our world. Many people have questions like:
What is my Gender? Is gender biological? What is the difference between sex and gender? Is gender fluid throughout our lives?
If you have any of the questions, you certainly are not alone! I want to clear up and talk about some of the common questions and facts about our gender and what it means to be a transgender human in the world today.
1). Question 1: Are sex and gender the same?
People often use the terms sex and gender interchangeably and this is not quite accurate. Our assigned sex is defined at birth based on the sex organs that are seen and the chromosomes we are born with. This sex goes on our birth certificate and often people assume gender will match the visible sex organs. If someone’s sex organs do not fit what we consider traditionally male or female, they may be labeled as intersex.
Gender is a lot more complex. Gender is about how we might feel on the inside, it’s about social expectations and norms and the roles we think gender should play. Overall sex is about anatomy, biology and chromosomes whereas gender is more about the societal expectations we have, how we feel inside, how we express ourselves and numerous other factors.
2). Question 2: Does gender stay the same throughout the lifespan?
Actually, for many people gender is a fluid concept. Gender fluidity could refer to someone’s gender identity, gender expression or both. Someone may change the way they express their gender with the clothes they wear and their outward expression but their identity could remain constant. Or someone may feel their identity changes but their expression does not.
Children often begin discovering their gender identity as early as 2 or 3 years old, but that does not mean it will always be the same. Often children(and adults!) are exploring with different types of expression to see what feels good for them. Gender fluidity can often show up when a person’s inner sense of self shifts. For some people, gender will remain a constant throughout the lifespan but for many, gender can be a lifelong journey. Remember to support the process and encourage exploration.
3). Question 3: How can I support my child’s exploration of gender and identity?
There are so many things we can do as adults to support our children’s exploration of self. Our society starts distinguishing gender for kids very early. We might refer to certain jobs as jobs for boys versus girls, we may automatically use pronouns based on our kids outward appearance and we even speak to boys and girls using different language. A few things we can do as adults to allow exploration are as follows:
Respect the name and pronouns your child wants to be called. This could change many times, but ultimately it is a great way to let people explore their sense of self.
Allowing children to express their identity through clothing, art, makeup etc can also be a great way to encourage children to find out what feels good for them.
When you take your kid shopping, walk around both sections of clothes. Let your kid pick from either gendered section and let them focus on what feels good versus what they are supposed to buy.
Introduce them to diverse books, media and cultures. By letting children see diversity we allow them to feel safe in exploring what feels good to them
Overall, sex, gender, gender identity are all complex discussions that require support and communication. There is a lot of information out there and it can be hard to navigate what information is accurate and supports safe, healthy and authentic human beings.