Sexuality and gender identity

I tried to do NaBloPoMo once many years ago (back when I used LiveJournal), and gave up half-way through. I’m really hoping to make it through the whole month this time.

Running out of time today, though, because I just spent an hour writing a post about sexuality and gender identity for another forum. But since it’s a topic that interests me, I’m going to use it for today’s post. It’s also relevant, since I think we all benefit from increased awareness and acceptance of people’s sexuality, gender and identity.

Gender identity, gender expression, biological sex, and attraction are all independent things, and different people can fit into different places on each continuum.

Gender identity: This is whether you identify as male, female, something in between, or none of the above (agender). Gender identity is largely about how you feel and how you identify in society. Most people feel either male or female, but some don’t, so they might identify as “non-binary” or “genderqueer” or some such. Your gender is how you view yourself, not how other people see you or label you.

Biological sex: This relates to chromosomes and anatomy. For most people, anatomy matches their gender, but that’s not true for everyone. I’m a cisgender male, because I was born with male anatomy and I identify as male. The “cis-” prefix is the opposite of the “trans-” prefix, and it indicates alignment between gender and biological sex. Also note that some people are intersex – i.e. somewhere between male and female.

Gender expression: This relates to how masculine or feminine you are. I’m not very masculine, but I’m not feminine, either. Different people present and express their gender differently.

Attraction: This relates to who you’re attracted to – in particular, where the people you find attractive sit on the gender spectrum. You might be heterosexual (attracted to the same gender), homosexual (attracted to the opposite gender), bisexual (attracted to both, to whatever degree), asexual (not sexually attracted to others), or somewhere in between. There is some evidence that age of attraction also counts as sexual orientation. Also note that there can be a difference between sexual attraction and romantic attraction. For example, I’m sexually attracted to pubescent and adolescent girls, but I get romantically attracted to older females (teens and adult women).

Transgender: The refers to a discrepancy between your gender identity and your biological sex. Maybe you have a vagina, but you just feel that you’re male. So, you make a transition and start to identify as male in society. Many transgender children, for example, feel a sense of gender dysphoria – discomfort and distress that their body doesn’t match who they really are. In addition to making a social transition, they may also need medical treatment. For example, a transgender girl who is worried about her body changing during puberty might get hormone blockers to restrict testosterone production. Later, she might start hormone replacement therapy to trigger development of more female/feminine characteristics. In adulthood, she might even pursue some form of gender affirming surgery, such as breast augmentation and/or genital sex reassignment.

Transsexual is another term that gets used. Some use transgender and transsexual interchangeably. Some prefer one over the other, for various reasons. Despite some negative connotations with the word “transsexual” in the past, one woman I know prefers to identify as transsexual, because she finds “transgender” too wishy-washy.

If you’d like a more visual way to get a nuanced understanding of gender and sexuality, start with The Genderbread Person:

Illustration: The Genderbread Person

And feel free to ask more questions here. Thank you for taking the time to broaden your understanding!

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