What is Gender?
Gender is a topic that can be confusing to some people. Gender is defined as a social and cultural construct that informs roles, behaviours, expressions, and identities of girls, women, boys, men, and gender diverse folx. Gender does not indicate sexual orientation. Gender is also not always defined by the genitals someone is born with, or the gender they are assigned at birth.
Gender identity refers to our personal sense of self around gender: male, female, genderqueer or another identity entirely. Gender identity is separate from sex, although many people do feel their gender matches their assigned sex at birth. Gender identity is also separate from sexual orientation, as people of any gender can be attracted to people of any same or another gender.
We live in a society which is cisnormative, meaning that people are assumed to be cisgender, or have the same gender identity as their assigned sex at birth until revealed otherwise. This means that people who are not cisgender may struggle to be visible, or be forced to hide their identity. Some people who are not cisgender may go through a long process to accept and understand their gender.
Infants are assigned as male or female at birth based on their external genitalia. While many people feel that this assignation is correct and may never question their gender, not all people fit these assignations.
Because of the expectations around gender matching their assigned sex at birth, it can be very difficult for trans or gender diverse people to have space to explore their gender, or even recognize exactly what it is about their assigned gender that doesn’t fit. Cisgender people may never question their gender, and simply accept that they are male or female as per their assignation at birth. Some cis people may be uncomfortable with some of the gender roles assigned to them, but still feel their gender is “right” for them. Trans or gender-nonconforming people may question or challenge their gender at some point in their life.
This may including struggling with invisibility when they are read as cisgender but don’t identify that way.
One of our favourite resources is Scarleteen:
Rethinking How We Talk About Sex and Gender
Gender Confusion: Being Unsure Doesn’t Have to Be a Bummer
Trans people are people whose gender identity does not align with their assigned sex at birth; and/or people whose gender expression does not match what is culturally expected of them. Trans people have existed across cultures and throughout history.
Some trans people choose to socially, medically, and/or legally transition from one gender to another. Other trans people do not. Trans identities may be binary, either male or female. Or, they may exist outside the binary and not choose to identify solely as male or female. Some nonbinary identities include: bigender, or having two genders; pangender, or having all genders; agender; and genderqueer, identifying outside of binary gender convention entirely. Some people may have gender identities or expressions different than their assigned sex at birth for part or all the time, yet not choose to identify as trans. Self-identification is an important distinction.
Some trans people may have a sense of their gender not matching their assigned sex very early on, others may not come to this understanding until later in life. Some trans people report a time in youth when they had no concept of the possibility of transition, and describe a sense of huge relief when they realize that transition is indeed a possibility. Others may explore certain behavioural or expressive aspects of gender from a very young age, only to face judgment or concern from parents or peers. For instance, a male-assigned young person who wants to wear pretty, feminine clothes may not be allowed to do so or might be bullied.
Trans people of all ages may start exploring gender roles without being consciously aware of what they are doing. For example, a male-assigned-at-birth person might choose to dress in drag for a Halloween costume, and only upon doing this experience a connection with their femininity that they were not previously consciously aware of. Other trans people may consciously choose to explore gender roles more congruent with their understanding of their gender, such as dressing in different clothing or using a different gendered pronoun or name and exploring activities that fit their understanding of their gender.
Some trans people may experience gender dysphoria, which is a feeling of discomfort with one’s physical sex and/or gender roles. This can result in considerable distress about being in a body that feels wrong, and can lead to depression and self-harm. It is possible for young people to be aware of gender dysphoria at a young age, and often this can worsen over puberty when secondary sexual characteristics begin to develop.