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What is Gender?

Gender is complex. Gender has and continues to be studied by experts in biology, medicine, psychiatry, sociology, psychology, and other fields. Gender understanding is constantly evolving. We feel that the following encapsulates a summary of papers and articles we’ve read about gender as well as input from individuals along the gender spectrum. Additional resources are provided at the end of the section.

1.     Gender is Formulated in the Brain.  Gender is an internal knowledge formulated in a person’s brain.   Sex is a biological designation of bodily attributes a person has at birth.  It is important to know that the internal knowledge a person has of their gender doesn’t always match the determination of gender by visual inspection of the body (here the visual determination of gender from the body is referred to as the person’s sex) at birth – or any other time. 

2.     Gender is a Spectrum.  The spectrum of internally known genders is much richer and broader than simple binary male and female.  Although we are used to, and comfortable with, identifying a child as either male or female at birth, even biology is more complicated than male/ female.  People can be born with intersex traits (biological characteristics of both male and female gender) and these can be both seen and unseen traits.  An intersex trait that can be seen is mixed genitals.  There are also a variety of unseen biological traits that can be mixed male and female, such as mixtures of male and female chromosomes, gonads (sexual glands), and unusual mixtures of male/female hormones.  Given the possible variety of unseen mixtures of male and female biological attributes, it seems reasonable that internal knowledge of gender is present in great variety as well, since these biological attributes do impact brain development, self-knowledge, and self-expression.  The Intersex Society of North America has a good article on the subject of intersex http://www.isna.org/faq/what_is_intersex.  National Geographic published a wonderful article on gender that discusses some of the biological basis for the gender spectrum  https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2017/01/how-science-helps-us-understand-gender-identity/.

3.     Sex, Gender and Sexual Orientation are Different

A trans individual, just like a cis* individual can be homosexual - or have a same gender attraction - or bisexual as well as heterosexual.  The people we are attracted to determines our sexual orientation. This is because Sex, Gender and Sexual Orientation are three different things. After learning this distinction from a wonderful researcher at a local university hospital, the following table was created to help visualize the differences between Sex, Gender, and Sexual Orientation. (*Cis is a latin derived modifier that basically means the same side and refers to individual whose Sex matches their Gender.)