For decades, society has worked to understand what defines a person’s gender. Many people may be thinking, “You can only be male or female.” You’re right to an extent, but there’s more to gender than meets the physical eye. We’ll break it down for you with the help of our friend, the Genderbread Person. The diagram is intended to be a tool for individuals to understand themselves better, explain their gender to someone else or for individuals not familiar with gender at all.
Gender identity is a person’s private sense of being a man or a woman, biologically as well as socially. The gender identity that most people adhere to is usually unconscious, or forced upon us at an early age; colors like blue or pink are assigned to us at younger ages. When we get older, those identities may fit. However, some individuals sense of self might not match the identity they were assigned. For example, a person was born male may feel differently inside. He may identify as a woman although he still has male reproductive organs. For transgender people, their birth-assigned sex and their internal sense of gender (gender identity) do not match.
The external form of gender identity is known as gender expression. Many people use terms like “masculine,” “feminine,” “androgynous” or express gender-variant behavior. They use their outward appearances to express themselves through clothing, makeup, or haircuts. Typically, transgender individuals match their gender expression with their gender identity. In some cases, they even alter their bodies through gender-affirming surgery align their anatomical sex with their identity and expression.
Our affinity towards another human being based on gender is defined as our sexual orientation. We use terms like gay, bisexual, lesbian or straight, among many other identifiers that delve deep into attraction towards someone’s anatomical sex, expression and/or identity. Romantic attraction is an affinity and love for others through emotional relationships. Some people have both types of attractions while others have none. But in many cases, individuals have a combination of both.
If you’re a man and attracted to women, you’re considered straight. If you’re a man attracted to men and another gender, you identify as bi-sexual. If you’re a man attracted to men, you’re gay. Some people define and experience attraction without gender as a factor; they might identify as pansexual. If you experience romantic attraction but not sexual, you might identify as asexual.
Biological sex, gender identity, gender expression, and attraction are not always connected though. Someone’s sexual orientation doesn’t determine gender expression, gender expression isn’t decided by gender identity, and gender identity isn’t defined by biological sex. Because each category sits on a sliding scale, it means individuals can uniquely determine who they are and how they identify based on the combinations of feelings they possess.
Anatomical sex is the gender you were assigned at birth. It’s the most common form of gender identification in society. You’re a male if you’re born with a penis, and a female if you’re born with a vagina.
In some cases, individuals may be born with both reproductive organs. It’s relatively common, according to the Intersex Society of North America. About one in 2000 births result in some form of intersex identification.