Gender Identity, Sexuality, And Expression 101
A Quick Guide To Gender Identity, Sexuality, And Expression
The conversation around sexuality and gender identity has crossed
social taboo boundaries, going from silent whispers to open, everyday discourse. This has emphasized the importance of understanding one another and acknowledging one’s own sexual individuality. An entire generation of LGBTQ2+ youth is continuing to discover their identity and how to express themselves truthfully.
With the conversation having so many voices, it’s easy to get lost in the mix. You may be asking yourself: Where do I start? What are the basics? Are there basics? Thankfully, we’ve distilled everything you need to know about gender identity, sexuality, and gender expression into this easy-to-follow guide that will help you parse the different colors of the rainbow.
Gender identity has to do with which gender a person identifies with. Although not always, our gender identity typically informs how we want to be addressed, express ourselves, and be treated by society-at-large. It is about knowing who you feel is your most authentic self. It may stay the same your entire life, or it may be fluid.
Gender Assigned at Birth
Based on our anatomy at birth, we are assigned one of the two most widely recognized genders in the world: male or female. Some people find that the gender assigned to them at birth is suited to them, while others discover later on that they do not fit into the category they were assigned to. A person can also be intersex, a general term used when a person is born with sex characteristics (including genitals, gonads, and chromosome patterns) that do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies.
Gender expression is how you outwardly manifest and express the gender you identify with. It is different from person to person. Gender expression can include the way you dress, your mannerisms, and your pronouns.
For some, it is enough to change their behaviour and outwards appearance to reflect that. Still, for others, hormone therapy and/or surgery is the final step in their journey of self-actualization.
You might hear about how people “present” themselves – this refers to someone’s preference regarding their gender expression. The way someone presents is not necessarily an accurate representation of their gender, and it can also be fluid.
Passing refers to one’s ability to “pass” as a person of the gender they are presenting. The importance of passing is dependent on the individual. One’s ability to “pass” or go “unlocked” as their chosen gender does not, in any way, determine the validity of their gender. It is not always easy or possible to “pass”, which adds to the controversies and varied feelings on its importance in authenticity.
The subject of passing has been somewhat controversial, as it raises questions about the need or desire to adhere to heteronormative ideals of masculinity and femininity.
Gender Identifiers and Terms
Below are some, but not all, of the common gender identifiers that you might encounter:
Somebody who does not identify as having any gender in particular. The choice to refer to oneself as agender instead of non-binary or genderqueer comes from having little interest or preference in labeling their gender.
A cisgender person is somebody whose gender identity is aligned with the one they were assigned at birth. Not to be confused with being straight.
Also spelled as cishet, this refers to someone who is both cisgender and heterosexual, or solely attracted to the opposite sex.
It refers to the emotional anguish and distress that transgender or non-binary individuals experience over the mismatch between their gender identity and their gender assigned at birth. This is not ubiquitous and trans identity is not defined by gender dysphoria, and it is not required for your identity to be valid and real.
Gender fluidity refers to the impermanence of gender in some individuals, who may find themselves identifying with different genders over a period of time. It is used to describe both the nature of gender and the gender of some individuals.
Genderqueer is an umbrella term to describe someone whose gender is not strictly cisheteronormative. Though they use different flags, genderqueer is sometimes used interchangeably with non-binary to some controversy.
Another umbrella term to describe someone whose gender is nonexclusive or who may feel neutral (neither male nor female) about their gender. Gender-neutral individuals may present as androgynous and may use male, female, or non-binary pronouns.
Someone whose gender does not fall under the male or female binary. Non-binary may refer to someone who is transgender, genderqueer, or another gender altogether.
Somebody who does not identify with the gender they were given at birth. Transgender can refer to a trans man or woman, or someone whose gender is non-binary. A common misconception is that someone who is transgender has the desire to undergo hormone replacement therapy or surgery. This is not always necessarily the case, as someone who is transgender simply doesn’t identify with their birth assigned gender – surgery or transition medication/equipment is not a requirement for identifying as transgender.
Two-Spirit (or 2-Spirit)
Two-Spirit refers to a person who identifies as having both a masculine and a feminine spirit. 2-Spirit is used by some North American Indigenous people to describe their sexual, gender and/or spiritual identity. As an umbrella term it may encompass same-sex attraction and a wide variety of gender diversity including people who might be described in Western culture as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, genderqueer, or gender fluid. This term may only be used by the Indigenous community.
Pronouns are how we choose to define ourselves and, by extension, how we ask others to refer to us.
While some pronouns are “assigned” to each gender, people within the same gender may choose to go by different pronouns or use neo-pronouns.
Recognizing your gender and having your gender recognized in kind is closely tied with identity and being comfortable with your sense of self. We must be mindful of how people choose to be addressed. If you’re unsure about what pronouns to use around a person, do not hesitate to ask; clarifying first is always more respectful and appreciated. For many cishet people, pronouns may seem like a small thing. But for gender non-conformists, it can make a huge difference.
Sexual and Romantic Orientation
Learning about who you are attracted to is a part of everyone’s journey of self-discovery. Sexual identity refers to what kind of person you are attracted to and is entirely separate from your gender. Sexual attraction is also not the same as romantic attraction, which is a desire to form an intimate relationship outside of sex.
Sexual orientation terms:
This is a term used to refer to people who experience sexual attraction, as opposed to people who only experience romantic attraction or are asexual.
Someone who is sexually attracted to masculinity or femininity rather than men or women. Androsexuals and gynesexuals are attracted to the masculine and feminine traits of a person, respectively, regardless of anatomy.
An individual with little to no desire for a romantic relationship, regardless of gender. Being aromantic does not necessarily mean that a person is also asexual.
Someone who experiences little to no sexual attraction to any gender. Asexual individuals may experience romantic love for the same or opposite gender but harbor no interest in expressing that love sexually. Despite this lack of sexual attraction, many asexual people still enjoy sexual pleasure alone or even with a partner. In the asexual spectrum we can also find Grey-asexuality, which describes anyone who falls in some area between being asexual and sexual. They can also be Sex-averse (no desire for sexual relationships), Sex-favorable (may not seek sexual contact but has no negative feeling about it) or Sex-indifferent (with neutral feelings towards sex).
Someone who may still be discovering things about their sexuality and do not wish to define their sexual preferences. There are also people who will sexually prefer a certain gender for the most part but will also show interest in other genders from time to time.
A person who is sexually attracted to both men and women. Recently, bisexual has also come to include people who are attracted to those who present male and female traits.
This sexual orientation, found in the asexual spectrum, describes those who are able to experience sexual attraction once they have established a romantic or emotional connection. Typically, demisexuals do not experience sexual attraction upon first meeting a person.
Typically refers to someone who identifies as male and is attracted to the same sex. However, some lesbians and bisexuals may also sometimes describe themselves as gay.
Heterosexual (or Straight)
Someone who is attracted to the opposite sex. A heterosexual individual may or may not be heteroromantic. May also refer to the heteronormative definitions and traits of masculinity and femininity.
A semi-archaic umbrella term used to describe someone who is sexually or romantically attracted to the same sex in a binary framework. Even though it is still commonly in use today, the fact that it is often too vague to encompass the nuances of modern sexuality – along with its history of being used as a slur – has begun to discourage its use.
It refers to someone who identifies as a woman and is attracted to the same sex or gender.
Pansexuals are individuals who are attracted to people regardless of gender.
Polysexual is an umbrella term that refers to individuals whose sexual preferences encompass more than one gender.
An umbrella term for a wide variety of people across a spectrum of sexual orientations and gender identities. The term Queer was originally used in a derogatory way, but has been reclaimed by people within the community. For some, it still carries an uncomfortable sting from the past association, while others (especially young people) embrace it enthusiastically as a way to identify that they are not cisgender heterosexuals, without using specific labels.
Not to be confused with sexual orientation, romantic orientation refers to someone’s preferences when seeking a romantic partner outside of a sexual relationship. There are people who may be asexual but still crave romantic relationships – these people may be heteroromantic, homoromantic, biromantic, etc.
Gender vs Sexuality: What’s The Difference?
While there definitely is a relationship between gender and sexuality, one does not necessarily define the other. Gender has more to do with how you view yourself and how you identify. Sexuality, on the other hand, refers to your sexual preferences and who you are attracted to.
If you want to read more about the differences, The Genderbread Person is another great resource that breaks down the differences and relationships between anatomical sex, gender identity, gender expression and attraction.
Labels are not necessary, but for some people, it helps them define who they are. A person can have many labels as sexuality and gender spectrums are broad and ever-evolving. Each individual can relate to more than one or none at all.
The depths of human sexuality and gender identity are only beginning to be understood and accepted. As each person’s journey is deeply rooted in their individuality, understanding gender and sexuality is ultimately about appreciating and celebrating ourselves.
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