The Ins and Outs of Gender Identities
By Madelyn Collins
Pursuing a journalism and electronic media major at the University of Tennessee. Teach and perform dance on the side as a living.
The days of only identifying as a female or male are over as millions are identifying as something else. Understanding these identities can help avoid a misunderstanding.
In 2014 Facebook lets UK users have 71 genders to choose from. The social media company worked with Press for Change and Gendered Intelligence to find all the ways UK users might describe their gender identity. Brielle Harrison, a software engineer for the site, told the Associated Press, “There's going to be a lot of people for whom this is going to mean nothing, but for the few it does impact, it means the world."
Navigating the field of identities can be tough. Learning a few terms can be beneficial in your future interactions.
Gender Vs Sex
The most important thing to know is gender and sex are different. Sex is biological. Sexual organs determine what sex a person is. The majority of people in the world fall under the dichotomy of having male or female sexual organs. Those who cannot fit under this dichotomy are born with multiple or ambiguous sexual organs and sex chromosomes.
Gender differs from the sexual organs people are born with. It can be a broad spectrum of identities linked to social and cultural differences. A changeable concept depending on the social construct. The list of genders grows and changes constantly as the social norms for society changes.
Listed below are some terms people may use to label their gender identity. This should be treated as a finite list as people may use different labels as well.
Someone who uses the label intersex as their gender is born with male and female sexual organs. Due to having both organs they may choose to identify as male, female, or neither. The decision is theirs to make. Usually the organ they feel more comfortable with is the gender they choose to express.
Non-binary gender chooses to identify as neither male nor female. Someone who identifies this way will take on different pronouns than he and she. If you’re not for sure what to use ask before you assume!
A person who identifies as genderfluid will change their gender to how they feel. One day they could identify as female and dress and act feminine. The next day the same person could identify as male and dress and act masculine. It is also possible this person will identify as neither and dress androgynous. Gender is interchangeable and never permanent for them. Take notice of how they express themselves, and if there is ever ay confusion just ask!
This is a person who identifies with the sexual organ they were born with. Someone with female sexual organs identify as female. Vice versa, someone with male sexual organs identify as male.
The term transgender refers to the gender opposite of the sex someone was born as. A person born with female sexual organs would identify as male. A person born with male sexual organs would identify as female. It is helpful to think of the word ‘opposite’ when you hear someone is transgender. So if a person says they are female but may look male to you, just use the pronoun she and her. What matters is what they identify as!
People who are gender non-conforming uses the gender linked to their sexual organs, but they refuse to follow gender-based stereotypes in their society. Males can choose to wear lipstick and high heels. Females can choose to wear suits and get masculine haircuts. It is good to remember non-conforming genders will adopt social norms opposite of their gender identities.
Genderqueer denies binary genders. This can be similar to genderfluid and non-binary as some may change their genders depending on mood or some may decide to identify as neither. Some may identify as two or more genders or something beyond the concept of gender. Be polite and ask for their preferred identity to avoid an awkward situation.
The best way to handle pronouns is to simply ask what pronoun someone prefers. Guessing a pronoun can be awkward and hurtful if it is wrong. If you do get the pronoun wrong the person will usually correct you. Make an effort to try and use the correct pronoun in the future! For a reference, read the chart below to get an overview of some possible pronouns you might hear.
Knowledge like this is useful to know in today’s world, but remember asking first is always the best move.