Ok kids, it’s 1 Am and I’m feeling philosophical, so get ready for me to lay something heavy on you.

I’d like to talk a little bit about the conceptions of sex, gender identity, and gender expression for a moment.  As a Rainbow Speakers Bureau presenter at American University, I spend a lot of time talking about the difference between these three terms and how they have NOTHING to do with sexual orientation.

So in case you missed the class lecture, here’s a briefing:

Sex is biological- chromosomal, genital, and hormonal.  It’s how many X’s and Y’s you have, whether your nether regions have a penis or a vagina, and the respective levels of estrogen and testosterone floating in your veins.

Gender identity is psychological- is is who we think we are and how we perceive ourselves.  Now this can be perfectly in line with our biological sex, it can be the complete opposite, or it can be somewhere in the middle.

Gender expression is how we chose to “show” our perceived gender.  So if you want to express a masculine gender, you’ll probably wear more pants and fewer skirts.  Again, this does not necessarily line up with your gender identity or your biological sex.  So you can be biologically a woman by sex, and feel like your gender identity matches (as in, you feel that you are a woman inside), but you can chose to express your gender as a man, by wearing your hair cropped close and dressing in suits and waistcoats.  These are all personal decisions.

I think it’s easiest to look at it in terms of a diagram:

BIOLOGICAL SEX

(anatomy, chromosomes, hormones)

male ————————————- intersex ——————————— female

GENDER IDENTITY

(psychological sense of self)

man ———————————- genderqueer/bigender ————————– woman

 

GENDER EXPRESSION

(communication of gender)

masculine ——————————- androgynous —————————— feminine

Perhaps the most interesting parts of this diagram, however, are the center sections, which encompass the genderqueer, androgenous, and intersex people.  Normally we think of gender and sex in dichotomies: male/ female, masculine/feminine.  But there, with all things related to human behavior and identity, there are many shades of gray, which is the space these terms occupy.  So genderqueer people may consider their own gender identity to be a mix of male and female components, existing as both male and female at the same time (two-spirited), or conforming with no gender conception at all.

Now, Scarletteen, which is an AMAZING sex education website for teens has a lot more to say about this and I HIGHLY suggest that you read up on it.  http://www.scarleteen.com/article/politics/i_feel_like_im_in_the_wrong_body_but_my_parents_say_my_feelings_are_whats_wrong-

The Sylvia Rivera Law Project also has a good introductory article to transgender issues: http://srlp.org/node/123

But this is homework for a very important reason, not simply because the question of gender identity and expression is incredibly interesting from a sociological study viewpoint.

What a lot of people need to understand is that we come from a very privileged place in society- and I don’t mean in terms of wealth, status, or connections.  Most of us are born into bodies we believe naturally match our internal conceptions of ourselves.  We take for granted the fact that because we were born a certain way, our mental processes match the way we were born.  Not all people are so lucky.

This is not meant to be a boo-hoo, poor transgendered and gender-non-conforming people post- it’s a statement about understanding.  Because people who do not fit neatly into the pre-ordained categories of gender not only have a tough time coming to terms with their understanding of self, but even more so of explaining that understanding to others in such a highly dichotomized and gendered world.

So while it may not seem worth your while to go grab flashcards and learn the intricacies of gender identity for the sake of humanity as a whole, the education of self goes a long way in transforming the world into a place where we are not bound so tightly by societally-defined ideas of gender and conformity.  This will make the lives of less gender-privileged people infinitely easier, and might even open up a deeper understanding of self for boring ‘ol gender-conforming people like me.

If you’re an old hand at this gender identity stuff, I have some cool articles for you, which I will link from my personal collection to a spot the sidebar.   Susan Striker’s “LGBT (and sometimes I)” talks about the immergence of the transgender movement and their struggle for acceptance and visibility in a large and vocal gay scene during the 1970’s.  It really highlights the way that trans and gender non-conforming people have been pushed to the sidelines in the rush for gay rights and recognition, but also looks to the very potent push-back from the trans community. 

 Striker wrote another article “Transgender Terms and Concepts” as part of a complete work which I don’t have access to, but this particular section looks in-depth at the various elements that compose gender identity and expression, as well as the political and social connotations behind a variety of vocabulary words used in discussion gender.

ALSO ALSO ALSO- KinkforAll held a conference this past year with a speaker (forgive me, I don’t know his name!) who gave a brilliant presentation on dichotomies in sex and gender.  It’s a little long, but so worth watching.  I have the full
text included in my file sharing section as well.

http://vimeo.com/9304697

And now…it is time for bed.  Goodnight everyone.

Advertisements